- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2007

Florida leapfrogs

Florida lawmakers, hoping to give their state more influence in national politics, yesterday moved up the state’s presidential primary to the last Tuesday in January.

Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, said he would sign the measure, which also orders most touch-screen voting machines to be replaced with equipment that will produce a paper trail.

Moving the primary to Jan. 29 will put Florida ahead of about a dozen states that have presidential primaries scheduled for Feb. 5, Reuters news agency reports.

“With an earlier presidential primary, Florida will now take its rightful place near the front of the line in determining the next leader of the free world,” Mr. Crist said.

The state’s primary will now be preceded only by the New Hampshire primary and caucuses in Iowa and Nevada.

Hillary’s plunge

“Hillary’s pollster Mark Penn recently claimed that she was leading the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in all states in all the polls. Not so fast, Mark,” Dick Morris and Eileen McGann write in the New York Post.

“The latest Rasmussen poll, concluded on April 26, shows Sen. Barack Obama ahead of Sen. Clinton for the first time, albeit by the slim margin of 32-30. Two weeks ago, Rasmussen had the race tied; before that, he had her constantly in the lead. Almost all the national polls show Clinton’s lead dwindling, and most show her with only a single-digit lead over Obama,” the writers said.

“The sense of Hillary’s inevitability as the Democratic nominee is clearly vanishing.

“Why is Clinton losing steam? Because we are discovering that we don’t like her. Gallup has her favorability rating dropping from 58 percent in February to only 45 percent in April. The decrease in her popularity spans all demographic groups. Gallup has her dropping sharply even among her core constituencies: Democrats, liberals and single women.

“Her popularity has dwindled not because she is under fire or being hit with negatives. And, for once, she’s not being chased by scandal. She’s falling simply because she doesn’t come across well. As Americans get to know Clinton better, they are coming to regard her as scripted, dogmatic, defensive, rigid and programmed.”

Recycled agenda

“Reading the John Edwards plan for ending poverty in 30 years, I had the sense of deja vu,” Don Surber of the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail writes at his blog, blogs.dailymail.com/donsurber.

“I had heard this all before. More than 30 years ago. It is LBJ’s War on Poverty all over again,” Mr. Surber, citing a long list of promises made by the former North Carolina senator in his current Democratic presidential campaign.

Mr. Edwards: “Create 1 Million Stepping Stone Jobs for Workers Who Take Responsibility.”

Mr. Surber: “Isn’t that called Job Corps?”

Mr. Edwards: “Raise the Minimum Wage to at Least $7.50.”

Mr. Surber: “Didn’t both houses of Congress just raise it to $7.25? … But as I recall, 35 years ago, I worked for $1.60 an hour. [The minimum wage] is now $5.15. We still have poverty.”

Mr. Edwards: “Establish a New Era at HUD.”

Mr. Surber: “Didn’t the old HUD create the very problem of concrete ghettoes that he wants to fix? Don’t we already have housing vouchers?”

Mr. Edwards: “Strengthen Public Schools.”

Mr. Surber: “Don’t we already lead the world in school spending per student? Don’t we already have Head Start? Have they improved literacy? Has any study since 1965 showed that Head Start does more than add a letter to a child’s alphabet? …

“What Edwards is doing is recycling ideas — some good, many bad — that we already tried. He is promising to give voters something they already have.”

High-placed worker

“A legal secretary at one of Washington’s most prominent and well-connected law firms, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, has been suspended after telling her bosses she secretly worked at night for the escort service run by the so-called D.C. Madam,” reports Washington TV station WJLA, Channel 7.

Jeane Palfrey, the “D.C. Madam,” told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on “20/20” tonight that the woman took clients “and, at times, helped to run the business.”

Akin Gump, whose prominent Washington-insider partners include perennial Democratic presidential adviser Robert Strauss and Vernon Jordan, former House Speaker Tom Foley and Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson, said it would not make public the suspended secretary’s name.

“According to e-mails the woman sent to Miss Palfrey on her Akin Gump account, she ‘enjoyed and even missed’ the work she did at night for Palfrey, who has been charged by federal prosecutors with running a large-scale prostitution ring,” WJLA reported.

“ ’Perhaps not the weekly grind, but was thinking that a day a week would be fun and spa money,’ ” the legal secretary wrote to Palfrey last year, after Palfrey had closed her business and was considering whether to reopen it. “Palfrey said the Akin Gump secretary would at times ‘answer the phones’ and assign women on nights when Palfrey was unavailable,” reported Channel 7.

School days

A few education advocates, including Microsoft chief Bill Gates, have been gathering troops and pounding the drums lately in an effort to ensure that the 2008 presidential candidates talk about how to improve American schools — an issue they complain has been largely ignored so far in the race for the White House.

“Education is central to America’s future, but we need to start talking about it,” former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, chairman of the Strong American Schools campaign, said prior to last night’s 2008 Republican presidential debate. “The American people deserve to hear this discussion. … If our candidates aren’t talking about education, they are not truly talking about our future.”

His group is pushing an “Ed in ‘08” campaign aimed at both Republican and Democrat presidential candidates and bankrolled by Mr. Gates and business leader Eli Broad, who have pledged up to $60 million through November 2008.

The group complained loudly that the education issue was noticeably absent from the first 2008 Democratic presidential debate, held April 26 on the campus of South Carolina State University. In preparation for last night’s Republican debate, the group focused on Los Angeles, working with MTV and high school students to challenge candidates to start talking in earnest about American education.

Protecting Obama

The Secret Service yesterday began protecting Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat running for president, but would not comment on the reason why, Reuters news agency reports.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff authorized the additional security protection for Mr. Obama and “the Secret Service is now implementing that protection,” said Eric Zahren, a Secret Service spokesman.

“We’re not going to discuss … any of the deliberations or assessments that went into making that decision,” he said.

c Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected]

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