Today's Papers

Desperate Hours

The New York Timesleads with news that President Bush acknowledged yesterday that the country faces “economic challenges” and noted “recent economic indicators have become increasingly mixed.” Although Bush didn’t say anything about a recession, it marked a shift in message for a president who has always been decidedly upbeat about the economy, and it’s the clearest sign yet that the next big Congress vs. White House fight will be over the best way to stimulate the economy. USA Todayleads with preliminary FBI statistics that show murder fell 6.5 percent in the country’s largest cities during the first half of 2007  but increased in smaller cities. Violent crime as a whole fell almost 2 percent, which marks the first time in two years that there’s been a decrease.

The Los Angeles Timesand Washington Postlead with the presidential campaigns and the last-ditch efforts to convince New Hampshire voters before today’s primary. Both papers note that the “five-day sprint from Iowa to New Hampshire” (WP) has clearly taken a toll on the candidates. Sen. Hillary Clinton choked up for a moment and her eyes “welled with tears” ( NYT) when answering a question about the campaign, while Sen. Barack Obama had a hoarse voice and sometimes messed up his lines. The LAT notes that a record 500,000 people are expected to cast a ballot today. The Wall Street Journal also leads its world-wide newsbox with New Hampshire and says some “Clinton associates” have been pushing the senator to quit the race early if she loses big today, and several senators who had been undecided are in talks to sign up with Obama’s camp.

The WSJ reported yesterday that congressional Democrats are working on legislation to boost economic growth, and today the NYT points out that the differences between Republicans and Democrats on the issue “could dominate the 2008 election campaign and the remainder of the Bush presidency.” Despite the more negative words about the economy, administration officials made clear that, as the Post reported late last year, Bush still hasn’t made up his mind whether a stimulus package is even needed and will probably hold off an announcement until closer to the State of the Union address later this month. The NYT points out that Democratic leaders haven’t made up their minds either, but it looks like they’re trying to take advantage of the White House delay to announce their own plan first. There seems to be general agreement among the Democrats that a stimulus package would have to be temporary and target lower- and middle-income households by, for example, offering rebates or restoring tax credits to families that currently don’t qualify for them.

Clinton’s response to a question about how she manages to remain composed during long days on the campaign trail gets Page One play in all the papers except USAT, and everyone says it was probably the most emotional the senator has been during the yearlong campaign. The LAT points out that while some were quick to say the display of emotion might hurt her, others suggested the opposite because, as one expert said, it “adds some humanity” to her candidacy. It helps that, “as displays of emotion go, this one was tasteful and reserved,” writes the Post’s Robin Givhan. “It was like one of those perfect flickers of sadness that won Helen Mirren an Oscar for The Queen. … dignified, yet human.”

Although there’s virtually no chance that Clinton will drop out of the race after what is predicted will be a big loss today, the Post and NYT point out that her strategists are likely to shift focus to a national campaign and concentrate on winning big on Super-Duper Tuesday. Although there are currently debates going on about how negative the campaign should go against Obama, there’s little doubt that Clinton will continue the current strategy of forcefully pointing out the differences between the two.

The switching of front-runners on the Democratic side has caused an interesting trading-places scenario for Clinton and Obama, notes a story inside the NYT. Clinton has suddenly become more accessible to reporters and is more open to answering questions from voters, while Obama has taken the attitude that Clinton had for so long of staying on message and “studiously trying to avoid missteps.”

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney is also trying to focus on a national strategy, as it’s increasingly likely that he’ll lose to Sen. John McCain today. Yesterday, he was already looking beyond New Hampshire and saying that he would be the best candidate to compete against Obama, since McCain is a Washington insider and voters are hungry for change. Although Romney’s strategy was always about winning big in the early states, analysts agree that since the Republican nomination continues to be up for grabs, he can clearly stay in the race for a while.

Everyone points out—the LAT on Page One—that the key to victory today lies with the independent voters, who make up 45 percent of New Hampshire’s electorate and can vote in either primary. McCain and Obama stand to benefit, and the Post’s Dan Balz says most think that more will go for Obama, particularly since the state has become more Democratic in recent years and everyone expects that trend will continue.

The NYT fronts, and everyone notes, that Iranian boats threatened U.S. Navy warships in international waters Sunday. The Iranian boats “maneuvered aggressivelly” and the American ships received radio threats that they would be blown up. The Americans were close to firing against the boats when the Iranians finally turned around. The event illustrates “how easily a military confrontation could develop between U.S. and Iranian forces,” says the LAT.

The Post’s Howard Kurtz points out that “the media overall are being swept up by a wave of Obamamania,” and even conservatives are busy praising him. Those who are more skeptical also recognize that Obama’s story is very appealing and say he’s a very charismatic politician. What does all this gushing mean? “Obama has been spared … the kind of frontal assault that might otherwise greet a surging liberal Democrat,” Kurtz writes.

In an op-ed piece for the NYT, Gloria Steinem writes that the election has reinforced how “gender is probably the most restricting force in American life.” In the end, the Iowa primary was merely “following a historical pattern of making change” that can be traced back to how black men were given the right to vote earlier than women of any race. Steinem makes it clear she’s not trying to push a “competition for who has it toughest” but does say she’s worried that Obama “is seen as unifying by his race while [Clinton] is seen as divisive by her sex.”