The unanimous lead is George W. Bush’s decisive win over John McCain in South Carolina’s Republican primary. Even though McCain succeeded in drawing larger-than-usual numbers of independent and Democratic voters to the polls, they were far outnumbered by the state’s Republicans, who rallied behind Bush. Bush won in virtually every demographic group and even swayed half the veteran voters to his side. The Washington Post summarizes the import of the primary nicely: “The magnitude of McCain’s deficit among Republican voters raised questions about the long-term strategy of a candidacy built more on a maverick’s appeal to independent voters than to the party’s conservative core.”
Over 500,000 voters cast ballots, double the 1996 turnout. As the Los Angeles Times points out, Bush defied predictions that high turnout would help McCain and that voters would stay home because of the nastiness of the sniping between the two candidates.
The New York Times idly notes that without religious conservatives, McCain would have won by a small margin. All papers agree that Bush won by playing to the state’s hard-core conservatives and stealing McCain’s reformist mantle. McCain lost by alternately broadcasting and then yanking negative ads about Bush: first he tarnished his do-gooder appeal when he aired a commercial that compared Bush to President Clinton. But by then ceasing negative ads entirely, McCain left himself open to Bush’s own ferocious attacks.
All the papers prognosticate that Bush’s swing to the right in South Carolina will hurt him in the general election. In her op-ed column, Maureen Dowd quotes Bill Kristol: “The compassionate conservative has become the cutthroat conservative … Bush has done more damage to Bush than to McCain.”
McCain reacted to his defeat by writing South Carolina off as the work of archconservatives–“Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell ought to be congratulated,” said his political director–and vowing to capture Michigan and Arizona in Tuesday’s primaries. But another NYT front-pager explains how tough this may be: Michigan Gov. John Engler is running a supercharged drive to deliver his state to Bush, enlisting legions of of state legislators, county executives, and small business owners to campaign on Bush’s behalf. Engler is about to lose his seat to term limits and is counting on a plum post in the Bush adminstration. The race is too close to predict, but the WP notes that McCain’s support has eroded in the last few days after attacks on his conservative credentials by the Bush campaign and Michigan’s most powerful anti-abortion organization.
The WP reports that over 20 polling places in heavily black and Democratic neighborhoods in South Carolina were shut for the day, requiring voters to go to alternative sites. South Carolina GOP officials blamed the closings on poll volunteers who didn’t pick up ballots. But even if they’d been open, it might not have helped McCain much: The NYT reports that black voters, turned off by both candidates’ refusal to condemn the display of the Confederate flag over the state Capitol, stayed home anyway.
A NYT front-pager says that while individual citizens are paying more in taxes than they were before the current economic expansion, corporations are paying much less. Individual contributions have risen from 13 cents on the dollar in 1990 to 15 cents in 1997. Taxes paid by companies on profits slid from 26 cents to 20 cents during the same period. Explaining the rise in personal contributions is simple: More people have moved into higher tax brackets during the current economic expansion. The decline in corporate contributions, on the other hand, stems from a profusion of dodgy tax shelters. Respectable companies such as Colgate-Palmolive, Compaq Computer, and UPS have engaged in elaborate tax evasion schemes concocted by equally respectable accounting firms and Wall Street investment houses. The businesses are willing to play “audit roulette” because they are desperate to increase profits and know that the IRS finds fewer than 10 percent of these deals and that the agency’s auditing resources have been shrinking. The game, according to a conservative estimate by the Department of the Treasury, costs the government $10 billion a year.
The papers report that conservatives lost control of Iran’s legislature in last week’s elections. If current returns are indicative, candidates supportive of Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi’s program of political and cultural liberalization will hold a majority of seats. (For a closeup view of the elections–as well as a backstage look at the “fixers” behind most of the foreign coverage you read–check out this week’s Slate “Diary.”)
An op-ed in the WP Opinion section notes that this month America’s prison population will surpass the 2 million mark for the first time and suggests that no new prisons should be built until the drug war is ended. There is no “increase in public safety when the government incarcerates a person for using or even selling drugs,” and “drugs are not rendered less available by locking up drug offenders.” Moreover, since prison space is limited, “violent criminals will sometimes be released from prison in order to make room for drug offenders.”
The NYT fronts a new and extreme angle on the now-familiar housing crisis in Silicon Valley. Apparently the shelter shortage is so severe that even those with household incomes of around $50,000 a year are becoming homeless. Last year, 34 percent of the 20,000 homeless people in the area held full-time jobs, up from 25 percent in 1995. Advocacy workers claim that “many of the valley’s landscapers, construction workers, and fast-food workers are homeless” and the reporter states that “even some high-tech workers, those in the entry-level jobs, end up on the church soup lines.” This last statement seems less than credible, since the story doesn’t feature a single example of a homeless high-tech worker.
A piece in the NYT “Week in Review” section reports that an Italian daily illustrated an article about a recent conference on breast cancer prevention with a shot of a nude starlet stroking her bare breasts. “The picture is both reassuring and suggestive,” the editor of the Italian paper explained. “It shows women that they should not be afraid to touch their breasts.”