Today's Papers

One Up, One Down

The New York Timesand Washington Postlead, while the Los Angeles Timesoff-leads, late-breaking news out of Venezuela, where voters narrowly defeated President Hugo Chávez’s quest to consolidate his power through a series of constitutional amendments. By 51 percent to 49 percent, voters handed Chávez his first electoral defeat since he became president nine years ago. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with Russian President Vladimir Putin winning big as his party got more than 60 percent of the vote in yesterday’s parliamentary election. There was a large turnout for the election that was billed as a referendum on Putin’s presidency, but opponents said there was widespread abuse and vowed to challenge the results in court.

The LAT leads with a look at how Sen. Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney are launching new tactics after a Sunday poll revealed that both of their early Iowa leads have been rapidly disappearing. Clinton launched an aggressive attack against Obama yesterday, where she questioned his character and integrity. Meanwhile, Romney announced that he will give a speech on Thursday about religion, which is a move many have been urging for a while as voters continue to have doubts about putting a Mormon in the White House. USA Todayleads with news that foreigners coming into the United States will soon have to submit to a scan of all 10 fingerprints, instead of two as had been the norm since 2004. The new program, which the Department of Homeland Security contends will allow for more precise matches, will begin this week at one Washington-area airport and will be phased in at other points of entry throughout next year.

Voter turnout in Venezuela was lower than expected at 55 percent, which was particularly surprising since, as the LAT notes, analysts had said the opposition could win only if it managed to get a large proportion of the country to show up. But some say the results illustrate how Chávez no longer has unanimous backing from Venezuela’s poor. The Post quotes a voter who suggests that Chávez may have simply overplayed his hand, as even his traditional supporters were wary of giving him more power. “We’re not stupid like he thinks. It’s that simple.” There were concerns that a lack of international monitors would translate into rampant fraud, but Chávez conceded defeat soon after the results were announced. “Those of you who were nervous I wouldn’t recognize the results, you can go home quietly and celebrate,” Chavez said.

The results of the Russian election were hardly a surprise, and the WP goes as far as to say that 60 percent was less than many in United Russia had expected, although the party would still get enough seats to change the constitution. The LAT points out that many voters “seemed utterly oblivious that they were voting for parliament,” which was clearly Putin’s goal all along. The Post notes that the ballots listed the names of the three top officers in each party, “except United Russia, which listed only one name: Putin.” For the past few weeks, opposition parties have been complaining of harassment and media bias, while workers claimed their employers were pressuring them to cast a vote for United Russia. The LAT notes many had to cast ballots in “plain view,” while monitors and journalists were prevented from entering polling places. The White House called on Russia to investigate all claims of irregularities.

The NYT off-leads the Russian elections and focuses on how no one is really sure how Putin will choose to use  his power. Putin has vowed to step down, but still hasn’t said who he will endorse or what role he will play in Russian politics, although there’s talk he might be prime minister. Whoever does take over will have to deal with a very powerful Putin, who could make a comeback either in 2012 or if the next president decides to resign early.

The latest poll out of Iowa showed that Clinton trails Obama, 28 percent to 25 percent, while Romney had 24 percent of Republican support, compared with Mike Huckabee’s 29 percent. Given the margin of error, the poll still shows an incredibly close race, but the WSJ points out that perhaps more important is the fact that more than half of Iowa’s voters who said they have a preference claim they could change their minds before the Jan. 3 caucus. It’s just another example of how hard the caucuses are to predict, but it’s clear that neither Romney nor Clinton wants to take any chances.

The Post fronts a look at the increasingly aggressive campaign and notes that Clinton has made it clear that she she’ll attack Obama not only on policy but also “on one of his strongest selling points: his reputation for honesty.” Clinton said she’s been on the receiving end of much criticism from fellow Democrats and now plans to fight back. “Well, now the fun part starts,” Clinton said in a statement that was immediately criticized by Obama, who said that the “campaign isn’t about attacking people for fun.” The new aggressiveness could backfire on Clinton, particularly since Iowa voters already see her as the most negative Democratic candidate. The LAT notes that a lot of Clinton-Obama fighting could end up benefitting John Edwards.

Romney’s speech this week is widely being compared to the one John F. Kennedy delivered almost 50 years ago about his Catholic faith. The comparison seems almost inevitable, particularly since Romney will speak less than 100 miles from the site of Kennedy’s speech. The NYT fronts a look at Huckabee’s surge and notes that he’s not as well organized or funded as the main Republican contenders, which might make it difficult for him to capitalize on any momentum that he might get from an Iowa victory.

The WSJ fronts an analysis of subprime loans and says that many were given to people with credit scores that would traditionally be high enough to qualify for a conventional loan. Although industry analysts say that a credit score is not the only factor when determining what kind of loan to award, there is increasing evidence that borrowers were pushed into accepting loans with unfavorable terms that they didn’t necessarily understand.

The NYT revals that a poll found the least favorite Christmas song among people who like the genre is a recording of “Jingle Bells”in dog barks. The Danish recording was ranked last out of 579 Christmas songs.