Today's Papers

The Road Ahead

The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and USA Today lead with news that six U.S. soldiers were killed, and four injured, when a booby-trapped home exploded yesterday in Iraq’s northern Diyala province. The U.S. military also reported that three American soldiers were killed Tuesday in a neighboring province. “The two-day toll makes the latest effort to flush out the militant group al-Qaida in Iraq the deadliest military operation in months,” says the LAT.

The New York Timesstuffs the news out of Iraq and, along with the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox, leads with the presidential race. While the Democratic race has effectively become a two-person contest, and the Republican side remains wide open, all the contenders were planning their strategies for the upcoming states. The WSJ emphasizes that candidates must now appeal to voters in big cities and minorities. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico is dropping out of the race after coming in fourth place in Iowa and New Hampshire.

On Tuesday, the military launched Phantom Phoneix, its latest offensive against Sunni militants that stretches across four provinces in Iraq and involves 24,000 U.S. soldiers and 130,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers. Military officials expected to face stiff resistance in Diyala, but discovered that most of the insurgent leaders who were their targets had fled in advance of the attacks. The trend continued yesterday. “I’m sure there’s active leaking of communication,” said the northern commander, Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling. But it was clear that in Diyala, the insurgents “left behind a deadly calling card” ( LAT) in a house that, according to the WP,had a “for sale” sign on it. The attacks, and the speed with which insurgents left the area, are seen as a sign that Sunni militants remain strong in certain parts of Iraq. Although Iraq has been off the front pages lately, the NYT helpfully reminds readers that 16 Americans have already died there in 2008. A new study by the World Health Organization says 151,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the three years following the U.S. invasion.

The WP fronts a look at how U.S. officials have undergone a “quiet policy shift” where they now emphasize that they will simply let Iraqis figure out what works best. “We try to come up with Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems,” said the leader of a provincial reconstruction team with U.S. troops in Fallujah. Some think this shift that abandons many of the lofty goals espoused by the Bush administration during the invasion is simply a realistic acknowledgment that much of what has been tried in Iraq hasn’t worked. But others see all this talk of “Iraqi solutions” as a way for the Bush administration “to turn a blind eye” to the multitude of problems that still plague Iraq with the goal of getting U.S. troops out of there.

On the Republican side of the presidential contest, the next big focus is Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday. The state is critically important to all the Republicans, but more so to Mitt Romney, who furiously wants to avoid another major loss and decided to drop his television advertising in South Carolina and Florida in order to concentrate on the state where his father was governor. Both he and Sen. John McCain traveled to Michigan yesterday and appeared at rallies where they focused on economic issues.

The LAT fronts a dispatch from South Carolina, which will be a key test of whether McCain can appeal to conservative Republicans. In 2000, “South Carolina was McCain’s Waterloo,” as the LAT puts it, and he must now work hard to woo voters that might still remember the race against Bush that featured lots of strong personal attacks.

The WSJ emphasizes that a candidate’s ability to raise millions is now more critical than ever before. The candidates have to campaign in a number of key, large states in the coming weeks and expensive television advertising is a crucial tool.

For the Democrats, all the talk of how donors were moving to back Sen. Barack Obama vanished immediately after Sen. Hillary Clinton’s victory in New Hampshire. The NYT says that both campaigns “have abandoned their previous assumptions that the nomination would effectively be settled on Feb. 5” and settled in for a long ride, trying to figure out how best to spend their resources. “For the first time since 1988, this is a delegate race,” the communications director for Clinton’s campaign said.

As could be expected, all the papers try to figure out how Clinton, despite all pre-election polls, ended up winning New Hampshire. The LAT and NYT front a look at how voters seemed to have responded to her “human side” that was on full display both when her eyes welled with tears on Monday and at Saturday’s debate when she expertly handled a question about her likability. The LAT also highlights that some think she got an advantage out of homing in on economic concerns with the help of a strongly organized campaign. The WP has a good front-page story for those that are interested in the ins-and-outs of campaigning about “the turmoil of the past few weeks” in the Clinton camp and how it resulted in a more muscular attack against Obama, which appears to have resonated with some voters. But that’s not everything, and the WSJ notes that perhaps the weather was more important than most realize, as the warm temperatures might have motivated a larger number of older voters to go to the polls, and they mostly favored Clinton.

As for how the pre-election polls could have gotten it so wrong on the Democratic side and so right on the Republican race, both the LAT and the WP point to the theory that perhaps the polls simply stopped measuring at a critical time when many people were still making up their minds.“With Hillary Clinton’s victory last night, any shred of reputation that pollsters have for being accurate barometers of public opinion goes out the window,” one of the leaders of the NBC-WSJ poll said.

In the NYT’sop-ed page, the president of the Pew Research Center says that a “possible explanation that cannot be ignored” is how pre-election polls often overstate the support that black candidates will receive from white voters. This is particularly significant with “poorer, less well-educated white people” who refuse to answer poll questions more often. So polls “adjust their samples” without taking into account that these voters “tend to have more unfavorable views of blacks than respondents who do the interviews.” In the WSJ, Karl Rove writes: “The dirty secret is it is hard to accurately poll a primary. The unpredictability of who will turn out and what the mix of voters will be makes polling a primary election like reading chicken entrails–ugly, smelly and not very enlightening.”