Today's Papers

Follow the Leader

The New York Timesand USA Today lead with new national polls that show voters think Sen. Barack Obama has a better shot at beating Sen. John McCain. In both polls, Obama beat out Sen. Hillary Clinton by a significant margin for the first time (extra credit goes to the NYT for mentioning USAT’s survey). In the NYT/CBS poll, 54 percent of Democratic voters said they would want to see Obama nominated compared with 38 percent who preferred Clinton, while the USAT/Gallup poll shows a 51 percent to 39 percent lead for Obama. USAT’s poll shows Republicans agree with Democrats that McCain would have an easier time if he were to face off against Clinton.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with a plan by Senate Democrats to change the bankruptcy law in order to give judges the authority to change the terms of a mortgage. Under the terms being discussed, a judge would be able to reduce a mortgage or its related interest rates during bankruptcy proceedings. The country’s lenders, largely backed by Republicans, are deeply against this proposal and contend that it would force them to increase mortgage rates in order to cover the added risk. “If this proposal becomes law, it will amount to a new tax on homeowners,” the chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association said. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with the suicide bomber who assassinated a top Pakistani army general on a day that saw the first major outburst of violence since the elections. He was the most senior military officer to be assassinated in recent times. The Washington Postleads locally but off-leads a look at how Obama’s rise is due in large part to his speeches and general oratory skills, which are opening up a new line of attack from his opponents. Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt “has a presidential candidate been propelled so much by the force of words,” says the Post.

The NYT poll quantifies what has been evident in the latest primaries: Obama’s base of support has expanded substantially among the Democratic electorate. His most significant increase in support has come from men, 67 percent of whom now back the senator from Illinois, which is a marked increase from 26 percent in December. He’s also gained support from voters with household incomes less than $50,000 (48 percent now from 35 percent in December) and moderates (59 percent compared with 28 percent). Although Obama has made strong gains with women, they are still divided among both candidates, and Clinton continues to have an edge with white women. And, as USAT also makes clear, despite all these gains, more voters still see Clinton as better prepared for the White House than Obama. McCain handily beats both of the Democratic contenders as far as experience is concerned, and, despite some continued misgivings from the more conservative wing of the party, almost all the Republicans polled said he would likely make an effective president.

The WP deconstructs Obama’s speeches and says they’ve retained the same basic structure: “A statement of why he is running now, an account of the movement the campaign is building, a subtle argument for why voters should not ‘settle’ for Clinton, a list of the things he would do as president … and finally an invocation, and rejection, of the arguments against his candidacy.” Although the process might seem natural, he has worked at improving his oratory skills by learning from past mistakes. The real question now is whether he can keep it up until Election Day. “Can that eloquence be maintained? No, it can’t—it’s impossible,” a rhetoric expert tells the paper.

In addition to the Pakistani army general, the suicide bomber also killed seven people who were nearby. Hours later, gunmen set off bombs in the offices of a British aid agency in the North-West Frontier Province and killed at least three Pakistani employees. The attacks come at a time when the winning parties of last week’s elections have signaled that they want to move away from relying on the military and want to hold talks with Taliban insurgents.

In a related Page One story, the LAT notes that the big loss suffered by the Islamist parties in last week’s elections shouldn’t be seen as a sign that Pakistanis are ready to support more military strikes against extremist groups. “The feeling in our population is that we’ve become targets of militants and bombers because an alien war has been dragged onto our land,” a member of Parliament tells the WSJ.

The WSJ notes that the Turkish government told the Bush administration it was planning on sending troops to northern Iraq and received no objections. As the fighting extended to its fifth day yesterday, Iraq’s interior minister said the United States needs to intervene  and pressure the Turkish troops to return home. The LAT, which is the only paper that has a dispatch from northern Iraq, says the Kurdistan regional government has emphasized that it won’t hesitate to get involved in the fighting if the Turkish troops begin to attack citizens.

In other Iraq-related news, the WP notes that Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli now seems to be the most likely to succeed Gen. David Petraeus by the end of the year since the other two main contenders have recently been assigned to other positions.

Back to the U.S. presidential campaign, all the papers note that Clinton compared Obama to President Bush yesterday because of his limited foreign-policy experience, continuing a trend that began over the weekend after a largely cordial debate last week. The WSJ points out that Clinton has alternated between appearing as a “compassionate underdog … and an aggressive opponent” and she must decide what route she’ll take tonight in what the paper says “could be the most important debate in her political career.” Clinton risks alienating voters by going too negative, but as polls show her lead in Ohio is getting smaller and the two Democrats are battling neck-and-neck for Texas, the former first lady clearly has to do something to stop Obama’s momentum.

All the papers fold yesterday’s much-talked-about picture of Obama wearing traditional Somali clothing into their campaign stories. The Drudge Report posted the photo, claiming it had been circulated by Clinton’s campaign. The picture overshadowed all other campaign news yesterday as Obama’s campaign accused Clinton’s camp of engaging in “the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party.” While neither confirming nor denying the claim, Clinton’s campaign countered that the picture was nothing to get worked up about as the former first lady has often worn traditional clothing when visiting foreign countries.

The WP’s Philip Kennicott writes that after a day of discussing the picture, “the only clear message … is that whoever was spreading the image was not particularly sophisticated about the way images work in our new media world.” To be effective, this type of image needs to build momentum by circulating among people who believe it represents “documentary evidence of something that is being suppressed.” If a photograph immediately gets out to a mass audience, the question of who sent it suddenly becomes more important. “Successful political photographs emerge when an audience finds an image it is already inclined to believe,” writes Kennicott. “This photograph seemed to be an image in search of an audience, and it got shot down before it could find one.”