Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Campaign 2012

Elections: Building a following with NationBuilder

Arizona polling place
One of the dominant story lines of this political season has been the power of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's money -- how the millions of dollars spent by him and an allied "super PAC" have vaporized his rivals' leads in states such as Florida and Ohio. And as impressive as Romney's fundraising has been, his cash pile may be dwarfed by the billion-dollar war chest that President Obama is expected to amass for the general election.

NationBuilder, a tiny Los Angeles-based start-up, just raised a few million dollars of its own to support a different kind of politicking. For as little as $20 a month, the company offers a way to build a grass-roots organization at virtually no cost, opening the door to candidates who don't have personal fortunes or deep-pocketed friends. The idea is to combine publishing, communications, relationship-management and lead-generation tools into a cheap and easy-to-use package, harnessing the networking power of the Internet to pull candidates out of obscurity.

It's probably not the kind of service that could send any old Mr. Smith to Washington. Campaigns for Congress and the presidency are largely waged on television, while NationBuilder is better suited for the retail politics of a city council or school board race. Nevertheless, as money plays a growing role even in state and local politics, it's refreshing to see a company try to provide a tool that helps campaigns by encouraging donations of time and labor, not just cash.

Jim Gilliam, the company's founder and chief executive, came up with the idea after using the Web to build grass-roots support for Brave New Films, a company he co-founded that produces left-of-center documentaries. A network of friends online had also helped Gilliam, a cancer survivor, persuade surgeons at UCLA to perform the double lung transplant he needed after undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy.

These experiences made him wonder about how to create a service that would enable people to build an influential community of followers through the Web. The Internet is rife with tools to gather people with common interests (e.g., Facebook), publish content (WordPress, Twitter) and raise money for a project (KickStarter, Causes). There also are plenty of companies that offer to help candidates raise money, recruit volunteers and get supporters to the polls, typically for a monthly fee.

What was missing before NationBuilder, Gilliam says, was something that brought all those tools together, integrating systems for publishing, recruiting, fundraising and messaging into a system for community organizing.

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Time for Mitt Romney to change his tunes

Mitt Romney in Mississippi
The bigger the campaign, the lamer the playlist.

Mitt Romney's presidential campaign released a 19-song Spotify playlist on Friday, and in the grand tradition of presidential candidates, it was chock full of inoffensive hits. Not that the songs were bad (well, maybe this one is) or that it strains credulity to think of Romney listening to country music. It's just that nothing about the collection of tracks said, "Mitt Romney." It's the kind of stuff just about anybody might listen to between stops by the tour bus.

Frankly, publishing any kind of playlist is a lose-lose proposition for a candidate. The musicians included may not like having their music associated with the campaign. And the ones who embrace the candidate may do things that embarrass the campaign. Maybe that's why Romney included only one rock 'n' roller (The Killers) and one rapper (the often noncontroversial Kid Rock). But then, Willie Nelson and Toby Keith aren't exactly choirboys.

The one good thing that might come out of such an exercise is if a candidate succeeds in being at least a little bit hip. That wouldn't be the case with Romney's selections, which tend toward the familiar and time-honored. President Obama's Spotify playlist has a few songs that come within hailing distance of the cutting edge -- a little Arcade Fire, a little Florence + The Machine. But by gathering tunes from a wide variety of genres, Obama's campaign just seemed to be pandering.

Speaking of which, I wonder why Newt Gingrich hasn't offered a different playlist for every state he's visited?

Look, I want to be helpful, not just critical. So I took the liberty of pulling together a new Spotify playlist for  Romney. It's more rockin' than the one his campaign put together -- how could it not be? -- but it's not going to rattle the windows of the bus. There are some tracks from genres he missed in his selections, just to spread the love a little. And there's enough hip to more than match the incumbent's offering.

Let me apologize in advance for including a song -- "Having an Argument With Myself" by Jens Lekman -- that includes a profanity that probably never sullies the candidate's lips. But look at the title! It's perfect for Romney. And to think Lekman is from Sweden, not Rick Santorum's campaign staff....

A track-by-track accounting of Romney's original playlist and my suggested alternative appear after the jump.


Rush Limbaugh's blind spot

McManus: No quit in these candidates

California's phone ban: Maybe not such a bad idea after all

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Mitt Romney, campaigning in Mississippi on Friday, indicates how many hours it took him to come up with his new playlist. Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press

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Romney's Southern strategy: Admit he's a stranger

Mitt Romney in Mississippi
Mitt Romney is catching grief for describing himself as an "unofficial Southerner" during a Mississippi campaign swing.  "I'm learning to say 'y'all'," he said. "I like grits. Strange things are happening to me." More proof of inauthenticity and phony outreach, his critics say.  

The new comments are  reminiscent  in their awkwardness of his infamous  "regular guy" gaffes, like his  statement that he once had worried about receiving a pink slip.

But I'd cut Romney some slack on this one.  To call yourself an unofficial Southerner is to admit that you're not a real one. He acknowledged that eating grits was a strange experience for him -- strange in the sense of foreign or unfamiliar, not strange in the sense of the banjo-playing boy in "Deliverance."

Even in the 21st century, Northerners visiting the South can feel like strangers in a strange land  (and vice versa). Regional differences still exist -- in politics, religion and culture. One example: Southerners -- including teenagers -- are startlingly more polite than Northerners. Watch any TV report about a natural disaster below the Mason-Dixon line -- the victims usually address the correspondent as "sir" or "ma'am."

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

Romney's candor about his un-Southernness will strike some Southerners as endearing, perhaps prompting them to paraphrase Lyle Lovett: "That's right you're not from Mississippi, but Mississippi wants you anyway."

Or maybe not.


Will California's vote count?

GOP race: Bring back the brokered convention

Mitt Romney, the pandering chicken hawk on Iran  

--Michael McGough

Photo: Mitt Romney waves to the crowd at the Port of Pascagoula while campaigning in Mississippi on March 8. Credit: Amanda McCoy / Sun Herald/Associated Press 

GOP race: Bring back the brokered convention

I wasn't  kidding on Super Tuesday evening when I tweeted "Brokered Convention! Brokered Convention!" Even if it opened up the possibility of a Sarah Palin draft, a genuinely deliberative Republican convention would make for more compelling television (and tweets).

I can already see the candidates, flanked by texting aides, streaming into meetings with state delegations between the 14th and 15th ballots. And every day a new dark horse. ("CNN can report that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has emerged as the latest compromise acceptable to both the Romney and Santorum camps.")

A brokered convention might also revive interest in two masterpieces of American political fiction: Gore Vidal's 1960 play (later a film) "The Best Man" and "Convention," the 1964 novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, the authors of "Seven Days in May." 

 "The Best Man" climaxes dramatically when a liberal favorite for the nomination pulls out of the race and throws his support to a governor who had entered the convention as a long shot.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

The dust jacket for "Convention" described the nominating process of what was soon to be a bygone era: "In our whole political scene, nothing captures the imagination like the tense, emotional atmosphere of our party conventions."  Conventions made for riveting fiction not only because of the suspense factor but because so much of the action took place in backrooms. In his notes for "The Best Man," Vidal wrote: "Politicians, like magicians and safecrackers, do not enjoy being explicated."  This was pre-C-SPAN, of course, and pre-Piers Morgan.

Political business still gets done in backrooms -- and PAC rooms -- but nominees are chosen long before the delegates get off the plane. But maybe not this year. A change might do politics, and the political novel, some good.


It's not time for Newt Gingrich to go

Mitt Romney, the pandering chicken hawk on Iran

Making California's primary matter -- it takes more than luck

--Michael McGough

Photo: Supporters of Rick Santorum listen during his Super Tuesday election night party at Steubenville High School in Ohio. Credit: David Maxwell / EPA

It's not time for Newt Gingrich to go

Newt Gingrich in Atlanta on Super Tuesday
In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, many Republicans were pained to see that the day's 10 primaries and caucuses did nothing to unify the party. Mitt Romney widened his lead in delegates, but his rivals did well enough to keep their campaigns going -- possibly all the way to the national convention in August.

Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) probably would have continued his campaign regardless of his showing Tuesday, even though he's never had much of a chance to win. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, on the other hand, are arguably preventing each other from unifying mainstream conservatives into a winning base of support. Under this view, Gingrich should bow out and let Santorum, who has won significantly more states and delegates, make an unencumbered run at Romney.

Personally, I'm hoping Gingrich sticks it out. Not because he's entertaining, although he is that. It's because Gingrich uniquely forces the other candidates to elevate their game. He is the self-described candidate of big ideas, and that's what a presidential campaign should be about. He's the antithesis of Romney, a Mr. Fix-It who talks often about his ability to turn around troubled enterprises but rarely about what a retooled federal government could accomplish.

Some of Gingrich's ideas are wacky, and it's not clear that he has the managerial acumen to realize even his more rational ambitions. But it's clear that he's thought a great deal about the federal programs that need to be overhauled and how to go about doing it. His experience working with the Clinton administration to reinvent welfare helps him considerably in that regard.

Admittedly, Paul is an ideas candidate too. Not only are some of his ideas bolder than Gingrich's, his view of government is more coherent and seemingly less impulsive. All the same, Gingrich is the guy who really sells the notion of having a governing vision. He makes wonkery interesting, even as his ego and acknowledged grandiosity make him seem like the wrong guy to trust with the keys to the White House.

George H.W. Bush famously dismissed the "vision thing" before running for president in 1988, so it's not a prerequisite for winning the Oval Office. On the other hand, the senior Bush's tenure will be forgotten long before his predecessor's.


Goldberg: Birth control agitprop

The legal case against attacking Iran

Kinsley: Limbaugh and the hypocrisy on both sides of the gaffe

-- Jon Healey

Credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images

Making California's primary matter -- it takes more than luck

Will the Golden State matter to Republicans after all? This morning, after Rick Santorum's strong Super Tuesday showing, and Newt Gingrich's win in Georgia and his vow to press on through the Texas primary in May and the California vote on June 5, it's possible that this state may finally enjoy the clout it deserves.

Except -- don't hold your breath. Mitt Romney may not have sealed the deal, but he is inching closer. By the time it's our turn to vote three months from now, chances are we'll still just be going through the motions. The candidates love us for our money, but they spend it in states with earlier primaries.  June may be just too late.

That makes California a poster child of sorts for the issue that troubles so many citizens about U.S. politics: Even in the states where candidates have spent so much money to reach the hearts, minds and voting fingers of the people, the basic unit of electoral choice often appears to have become the dollar instead of the vote. How much more true does that seem, then, in California, where so much of the money is raised but where primary voters are likely to weigh in after the race is effectively over?

It wasn't like that four years ago -- for the Democrats. California moved its traditional June primary to February, which the parties decided would be a new, early Super Tuesday. Voters here mattered. Democrats went for Hillary Rodham Clinton; Republicans picked John McCain. Clinton didn't end up with the nomination, but California voters had a voice.

But the 2008 primary was an anomalous election year precisely because Democrats are in charge here. They moved up the election not so much because they wanted their constituents to be able to make a difference but because several top Democratic incumbents in the Legislature were about to be termed out. They hoped that while nominating a presidential candidate in February, voters would also approve a measure loosening term limits -- allowing those same incumbents to run for another term in the second primary election in June. The ploy failed, but both parties (especially the Democrats, because they are the majority here) too readily make elections their playthings.

We were on course to have another February primary this year, but Gov. Jerry Brown -- a Democrat -- signed a bill sent to him by Sacramento's Democrats to move the election back to June, on the same day as the legislative primary, ostensibly to save money. So Republican voters here may lose out on their king-making power.

Isn't there a middle way? California does not have to go through another expensive double primary to be heard at the ballot box. Nor do we have to try to have the first-in-the-nation vote, jumping ahead of Iowa, New Hampshire and the rest. There's no reason that California couldn't combine its legislative primary and its presidential primary on Super Tuesday in 2016 -- giving Republicans and Democrats a chance to name their nominee. If Californians without big checkbooks don't like sitting on the sidelines until the game is virtually over, they should say so, loudly and clearly, to their parties.


Super Tuesday results: Live commentary

Romney won't be a pushover in November

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

--Robert Greene

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves after speaking to supporters on a campaign stop in Los Angeles on July 20, 2011. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Super Tuesday results: Live commentary

Super Tuesday
No matter which GOP presidential candidates win Tuesday night’s seven primaries and three caucuses, the race will look much the same on the day after as it did the day before. Mitt Romney will still lead in the race for delegates, but he’ll remain far short of the number needed to claim the nomination. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul will all still be well behind, albeit with most of the delegates yet to be claimed.

Nevertheless, there will be plenty of interesting developments to watch for as the results come in. Will Gingrich gain any traction outside of his home state of Georgia? Can Paul notch his first win? Can the Romney campaign’s barrage of attack ads in Ohio and Tennessee derail Santorum? And what damage has Romney done to his own standing in the process?

The Times’ Doyle McManus, Michael McGough, David Horsey and I will be following the returns and sharing our thoughts 140 characters at a time. Read out tweets below and interact with us here and on Twitter.

--Jon Healey


Political junk mail you pay for

Counting down the hours to Super Tuesday results

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

Photo: A poll worker assists as voters prepare to cast their ballots at a polling place during Super Tuesday voting on March 6 in Youngstown, Ohio. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Counting down the hours to Super Tuesday results

Republican voters in Georgia
Super Tuesday may not be quite so super this year, with seven states holding primaries and three holding caucuses. That's down from two dozen, California included, that participated in 2008's version of Super Tuesday. And although front-runner Mitt Romney is expected to win more of the contests than any other candidate, the GOP's rules will prevent him from building a rival-crushing lead in convention delegates.

So it's not likely that the results will prompt any of the also-rans to pull a Herman Cain and return to their day jobs on K Street, no matter how lackluster their showing may be. Several analysts have projected that Romney's lead in delegates could become insurmountable after Tuesday's voting, but he still may not be able to lock up enough to win the nomination outright. That's reason enough for Newt Gingrich, who's a distant third and seemingly dead in the polls, to keep campaigning all the way to the convention.

Gingrich's main hope Tuesday is his delegate-rich home state of Georgia, where polls show him holding a healthy double-digit lead over Romney. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is focusing on the three caucus states -- Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska -- where his grass-roots organizational strength makes the greatest difference. Rick Santorum is favored in Oklahoma and is running neck and neck with Romney in Tennessee and Ohio. Romney is favored in Massachusetts (where he served as governor), Vermont and Virginia (where he and Paul were the only candidates to qualify for the ballot), and has moved up strongly in Ohio and Tennessee in recent weeks.

All those projections are mere speculation at this point. The results start rolling in shortly after 4 p.m. Pacific -- that's poll-closing time in Vermont, Virginia and Georgia. Expect a trove of exit-polling data to become available then too.

My Washington-based Opinion section colleagues Doyle McManus and Michael McGough will join me and David Horsey from The Times' Top of the Ticket blog in tweeting about the results as they come in. Be sure to check out The Times' homepage for those tweets.


Political junk mail you pay for

Goldberg: Birth-control agitprop

Romney's campaign revs the inevitability engine

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Voters cast ballots in Marietta, Ga., on Super Tuesday. Credit:  Erik S. Lesser / EPA


Romney's campaign revs the inevitability engine

Mitt Romney in Youngstown Ohio
With a big block of GOP delegates up for grabs in 10 states Tuesday, the media meme of the moment  is that the race has, at long last, reached a tipping point. The Times' front page on Monday declared,  "GOP ready for this fight to end." The other Times proclaimed,  "Before Super Tuesday, Big Names Rally to Romney." Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee pronounced  on Fox News, "The momentum is with Romney.... [P]eople are saying, 'OK, look, if he's going to win, let's go ahead and get behind him.'"

The "big names" cited by the New York Times include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whose state's primary is almost certain to be won by Romney. That's because only Romney and Cantor's Libertarian-minded colleague, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), are on the ballot. Nevertheless, Cantor's support  is significant because of his standing among tea party voters,  a group that Romney has yet to impress.

And maybe we have, in fact, arrived at the point where Romney separates himself from the pack. Tracking polls  show his popularity reaching new heights as rival Rick Santorum becomes the latest anti-Mitt to fade. If Romney wins in Ohio and Tennessee, where blue-collar and conservative Christian voters had given Santorum a sizable edge just a few weeks ago, along with Virginia, his home state of Massachusetts, neighboring Vermont and Mormon-rich Idaho, he'll have strung together victories on an impressive range of playing fields.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

But the commentariat has be wrong repeatedly about this race. Remember when it was suddenly a two-man race between Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry? Then a two-man race between Romney and Newt Gingrich? Remember when the Florida primary was supposed to wrap things up for Romney once and for all?

It's something of a formula in political journalism: anoint a favorite, then continue writing about the front-runner's nomination as an "inevitability" until it finally comes true.

Romney is a cinch to claim a lot of delegates in Tuesday's primaries, thanks in large part to Santorum's failure  to get on the ballot in Virginia and to file all the necessary paperwork in Ohio. What's at stake Tuesday isn't delegates, though,  it's perceived momentum. That's why voters and donors may continue rallying to Santorum if he wins in Oklahoma, as expected, and Tennessee and Ohio, where the races are tight.

For Gingrich, the hurdle is higher. He's likely to win big in his home state of Georgia, but such victories don't usually mean much in national campaigns. He's not expected to win anywhere else, but if he can outpoll Romney or Santorum to finish second in Oklahoma and Tennessee, maybe he can continue to argue credibly that the race will be settled at the Republican convention in August. 

As for Paul, I can't offer even a credibility-straining argument that the Texas Republican could somehow win the nomination. But I'm sure his supporters will do so in the comments section below. One admonition before you start typing, folks: It's not why he should win, but why he could.


McManus: Israel's brinkmanship, America's peril

Mitt Romney, the pandering chicken hawk on Iran

Andrew Breitbart: Dead wrong on race, and much else

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Mitt Romney campaigns in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday. Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images



Mitt Romney, the pandering chicken hawk on Iran

Mitt Romney in Georgia on Sunday

So this is getting seriously stupid, all the campaign-season rhetoric about Iran.

First, President Obama, speaking Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, says:

"I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power. A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

"Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment. I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I've made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."

Sounds clear and tough-guy enough, right?

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

Well, apparently not to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who, The Times reported from Snellville, Ga., reacted to Obama's speech this way:

"If Barack Obama is reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change," Romney told a crowd of more than a 1,000 people at a pancake breakfast that his campaign hosted in this Atlanta suburb.

When an 11-year-old boy asked the candidate how he would keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, Romney said Obama had not imposed "crippling sanctions against Iran." "He's also failed to communicate that military options are on the table and in fact in our hand, and that it's unacceptable to America for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

"I will have those military options. I will take those crippling sanctions and put them into place," he said. "And I will speak out to the Iranian people of the peril of them becoming nuclear …. I'm not willing to allow your generation to have to worry about a threat from Iran or anyone else that nuclear material be used against Americans.”

Oh, and have some more pancakes, young fellow. I want you big and strong for when I send you off to war!

But seriously. Obama said all options were on the table -- and Romney still called him out. What is this, the second-grade playground?

C'mon, fellows, stop and think a minute. If you don't want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, does it make sense to keep bombarding it with threats of military action? I mean, I'm pretty sure they've got the picture by now. 

Do you really have to make a bunch of paranoid types more paranoid? Isn't this why Israel says it fears Iran -- because it has threatened to destroy Israel?

So how do all of these threats to attack Iran make it want the bomb less?

The bottom line: This is political gamesmanship at its worst. Romney and the GOP candidates court pro-Israel votes by taking an ultra-hard line on Iran. Which forces Obama to hew to a hard line as well.

But it's a very dangerous game. It could lead to war. It could get lots of people killed.

And yes, for me, it's personal too: I have two sons.One just turned 18, at which point you are -- yes, still -- required to sign up with the Selective Service System.

Frankly, I'm getting tired of hearing pandering politicians cast about for votes by offering up the lives of other people's kids in the name of national security.

Take Romney's sons: Did he offer them up as cannon fodder? Check out this New York Times story in 2007, the last time he ran, when he was asked about whether they had served in the military:

Mr. Romney expressed appreciation for the country's "volunteer army" and said "that's the way we're going to keep it." He explained his sons had made different career choices in life and had not chosen to serve in the military, but he mentioned a niece whose husband, he said, had just been called up by the National Guard ….

But he wound up his response with this: "It's remarkable how we can show our support for our nation, and one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected, because they think I’d be a great president. My son, Josh, bought the family Winnebago and has visited 99 counties, most of them with his three kids and his wife. And I respect that and respect all of those in the way they serve this great country."

Yes, well, Mitt, the campaign trail is a rugged place, that's for sure, especially in a Winnebago.

But ask the fathers and mothers and husbands and wives of the thousands of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan about real war.

And then, just maybe, you -- and, frankly, Obama too -- might decide to take your finger off the trigger.

And quit playing politics with the lives of American kids.


Afghanistan on edge

Staying out of Syria's conflict

Move over, Egypt, Iraq and Syria 

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Mitt Romney speaks Sunday at a pancake breakfast at Brookwood High School in Snellville, Ga., outside Atlanta. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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