Today's Papers

Race to the White House

The New York Times leads with  a new presidential poll that was sponsored by the New York Times and CBS News. The Washington Post leads with a different poll that the paper apparently finds more important, this one done by Washington Post-ABC News. The Los Angeles Times breaks news about a new U.S. strategy in Iraq, which focuses on reconciling Sunni fighters and the Shiiite government. USA Today leads with a jump in FBI-investigated mortgage scams. The Wall Street Journal features a story on coincidental stock buys by investment firms that are advising the same company on acquisition matters.

The investment banks argue that the fortuitous timing is simply good luck on their part, and that they were not trading based on any specific information. “These purchases were made on behalf of our clients and were totally appropriate,” says a spokesman for J.P. Morgan, which pulled off a suspicious-looking trade. The reasoning in the defense is instructive, as it implies that banks wouldn’t break the law merely “on behalf of our clients,” as opposed to in their own personal portfolios.

U.S. military commanders point to the “Sunni Awakening”—when Sunnis broke with al-Qaida and began working with America—as the most important cause of the decline in violence in Iraq. Now, says the LAT, the United States wants to shift those militia—dubbed concerned local citizens, or CLCs—to the responsibility of the Shiite government. The Iraqi government, however, is highly resistant to the former insurgents, causing the U.S. military to fear that the window for this opportunity might close. “If it doesn’t embrace it, you could have the different Sunni Awakenings coming together as a Sunni army that tries to overthrow the government, pushing the country into civil war,” a military aide said. “It’s possible.”

The FBI opened more than 1,000 mortgage-fraud cases in fiscal year 2007, reports USAT, nearly triple the number in 2003. The bureau expects them to continue to rise, as folks with ballooning mortgages get desperate.

The New York Times/CBS News poll finds that Democrats are now much more convinced that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is “electable”—up from 14 percent in December to 35 percent. Slightly more believed that New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was. Obama opened his lead among African-American voters, with 49 percent saying they’d vote for him versus 34 percent for Clinton. Interestingly, fewer black voters said that the country was ready for a black president than said they would vote for Obama.

The poll holds bad news for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has plummeted to 10 percent support nationally after hanging tight with Rep. Ron Paul in the New Hampshire primary. Arizona Sen. John McCain is now considered the Republican front-runner, with the race seen as highly fluid. The Post poll also has Giuliani tumbling, clocking in at fourth place, behind McCain, Huckabee, and Romney, in that order. The Post survey has Obama only five points down to Clinton, a tighter race than the Times sees, but both papers had Obama rising sharply since December. Clinton’s lead is strong among registered Democrats at eight points in the Post poll, with Obama holding a 13-point lead among independents.

The biggest concern among those polled by the Times was the economy, with 62 percent saying that it was getting worse, the most since 1992, “when such discontent fueled the presidential candidacy of Bill Clinton,” the paper notes, leaving out Ross Perot. In a separate piece above the fold, the Times finds strong evidence to support the fears of those 62 percent: Spending by consumers, after an unchecked spree since 1991, may be falling amid rising debt, sliding home prices, a rocky stock market, and soaring fuel costs. Stores from Target to Nordstrom to Tiffany all report lower business and American Express found a dip in spending among its cardholders, with many of them overdue on their bills.

Not everything is down: Americans bought just as much gasoline and even more flat-screen TVs, the story notes. The struggling economy, it appears, is creating some difficult decisions for consumers. “You have to make choices,” Jinal Shah, 22, told the paper, handing it a kicker. “I get the Wii, or I go out more. I am just much more aware of the tradeoff now.”

The Times’ Adam Nagourneyweighs in around-the-fold with a look at the rising racial tensions in the Democratic contest, which Politico’s Ben Smith highlighted on Friday.The Obama campaign has been pushing back hard against comments Sen. Clinton made comparing President Lyndon Johnson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., with Clinton supporters charging that Obama is exploiting race to peel black voters away from Clinton. The Post goes below the fold with a similar piece, headlining the story with Obama’s reference to Clinton’s King comments as “ill-advised.” USA Today goes inside with the tensions.

The Washington Post also fronts news that melting is increasing in Antarctica in areas that scientists had presumed would be safe for a time, raising the possibility of significant sea level rise if the trend continues.

Now that freedom and democracy have become something like bad words in the Middle East, the Wall Street Journal reports that President Bush has shifted his rhetorical focus to “justice” during his talks with Arab leaders.

The LAT is inside with a profile of Thunder Parley, a Google software engineer who has become a top food critic of the company’s 17 free gourmet restaurants. Chefs herald his endorsements, and employees flock to dishes that he recommends.

The LAT also fronts a piece on the Golden Globe awards ceremony, which, because of the writers’ strike, was reduced to “a cheerless news conference playing to a largely empty ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.” In solidarity with the writers, TP ain’t telling who won. Take that, GE!