by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Petersburg, Fla.
November 29, 2007
IN THE WHIRL: RUMORS, BOUNCERS AND A BRAWL IN THE SPIN ROOM
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Nov. 28, 2007 -- One of the hottest items at the CNN/YouTube Republican Presidential Debate here Wednesday night was not on stage - it was snapping back and forth through the blogosphere and its teeming representatives at the Mahaffey Theater's media filing room.
The rumor: That Sen. John Kerry, Vice-President Al Gore and Sen. Ted Kennedy will endorse Barack Obama Thursday for the presidential nomination two of those men have won. Like so much of the verbiage we heard, it was untrue.
And oh, yes, that the CBS presidential Debate scheduled for Dec. 10 in Los Angeles may be scuttled - and that was made fact by an announcement from the DNC that candidates would not cross a picket line thrown up by striking Writers Guild members in a strike that has shut down almost all live television production in Hollywood, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The clash over immigration between ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was every bit the equal of the Obama-Clinton clash in Las Vegas on Nov. 15, but while the latter two talked over each other, the charges that flew back and forth about sanctuary cities and sanctuary mansions went out to the wide world.
From one point of view the big winner of the clash was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Told by a journalist from InsiderAdvantage.com that an "instant poll" of Iowans and tv viewers showed that he won the debate and was winning in Iowa, I immediately asked Huckabee about it. "They say you're winning," I began. "And they're very smart!" Huckabee shot back, adding, " ...in Iowa."
A CNN "scorecard" showed the real winner was Ron Paul, though, with 47 percent of the vote. Paul's supporters also had, by far, the largest demonstration of support outside the Mahaffey, marching, chanting and cheering for hours as the debate approached.
Unfortunately, before we could get a few more words out of him a Huckabee campaign aide, Drake Jarman, who had repeatedly jumped in front of me to block my access (apparently so the candidate would step up to the tv platform) chose that moment to block me for the final time, rising up under my arm and forcing me sideways. I pushed him just above his center of gravity and he went flying into the crowd of photographers as he fell onto his back. I couldn't believe he had actually fallen down - he was several inches taller than me, and an awful lot younger. ▒ Listen to the incident here.
Then Gov. Huckabee suddenly turned around, saw his man on the ground and pointing at me said, "Get the security!" I tried to protest ▒ see NBC video here ▒ and ▒ independent video ▒ here that I hadn't meant to put his aide on the ground, to no avail - everyone had seen me tug his sleeve downwards, I guess. But they hadn't seen me trying time and again to get to the left or right of his back. He had no right to block anyone's access to Huckabee, and certainly not when the Governor was in the middle of answering my question.
But there we were, and dozens of photographers and tv cameras started taking pictures as the police, called by some ditzy blonde on her cell phone (Dana Bash, actually), decided to have me taken away. The police were generally very well-behaved, but did threaten to taser me, and I ended up getting ushered out of the the Spin Room with nothing worse than a bruised elbow. (Later on, I looked at the debate transcript. The very first question Anderson Cooper had was for CNN correspondent Gloria Barger: "Gloria," he said, "a lot of elbows being thrown on the campaign trail ... What are you expecting tonight?" "Well, I think tonight you might see a lot of elbows being thrown at Mitt Romney," she replied
One of the truly low blows struck was against Ron Paul, whom John McCain attacked for his opposition to the war. McCain stooped a little closer to the mud than normal when he charged that "we allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement."
My poor wife, who videotaped my interview with Ron Paul ▒ Hear his response to the 'appeasement' charge here ▒ and was waiting to do others, was worried sick as she watched five police officers leading me away, of course, but that was pretty much the end of it. I was told by one officer that he was charging me with simple battery, and I told him I would make a citizen's arrest of the Huckabee aide in that case; a wiser head prevailed, and we just ended up going home early. They told me later the other guy chose not to press charges, which was probably more important.
Ironically, my great-grandfather Patrick, who sired the only Republican to win a Manhattan election since Reconstruction and was grandfather to the second winner 45 years later, was killed when he was pushed down a flight of stairs in an election riot at the turn of the century. I should remember that the next time I get irked.
So who won the debate? Not me. I apologized as strenuously as I could to CNN's p.r. person, a marvelous auburn-haired woman who brought water to my wife and I and was very solicitous, and she understood what I was saying about the affair. The police said the video proved that I was at fault, but I don't know whether they believed there was a provocation or not.
On the way back to the car, a SWAT team member gave me a brief salute. I think he understood.
The debate's setting, in a grand theater that sits directly on a gleaming bayfront marina, was a sharp contrast to the tone onstage. It was clear that Romney was gunning for Giuliani, who was more than ready for him.
No sooner had Romney charged him with running a "sanctuary city" than Giuliani shot back, charging Romney had hired illegals when he was governor to work in his mansion and had six sanctuary cities in his state.
"For example, in his case, there were six sanctuary cities. He did nothing about them. There was even a sanctuary mansion. At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed...(Applause) ... not being turned into by anyone. And then when he deputized the police, he did it two weeks before he was going to leave office, and they never even seemed to catch the illegal immigrants that were working at his mansion. So I would say he had sanctuary mansion, not just a sanctuary city," the former New York City mayor and famed federal prosecutor said. ▒ Romney spokesman Kevin Madden took issue. ▒
"First of all, it's not a mansion. I've been there, and it's not a mansion," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told The American Reporter. If that was the campaign's official reaction, I thought to myself, if it wasn't a mansion but just a big house, how could Romney not know or check the legal status of his employees? The Boston Globe reported last year that the illegals were independent contractors who took care of the lawns, not maids or butlers.
The topic that was hurting Giuliani, at least out in media land, were some potentially campaign-killing revelations concerning his alleged use of city funds to rendevous with his second wife, Judith Nathan, while telling New Yorkers they had no relationship at the time.
Before the debate, on the Lou Dobbs show, Dobbs and Jack Cafferty opined that the exposÚ was the end of the road for Rudy. But that road has so many tw3ists and turns between now and Election Day that even a strong-willed prognosticator like Cafferty could go awry.
The crowd was generally appreciative of all the Republicans gathered for this clash of also-rans, as the polls indicate Republicans are this year. It's always very unwise to count them out, because the digging that penetrates their inmost thoughts and most private experiences is still going on; who knows what blood-sucking wounds may be laid bare on the stage at the next debate?
I was delighted by the opportunity to be there, to be able to have my wife film a live interview with a real presidential candidate, the gracious Rep. Ron Paul, to ask Gov. Charlie Crist about the fact that all Democratic and half of Republican primary votes may not be counted toward delegates ("I believe they will be counted," he said), to sup again as in Las Vegas at CNN's fine table, to enjoy the generous hospitality of the St. Petersburg Times, and to survive my confrontation with the Huckabee team.
I also chatted with Sen. Mel Martinez, who insisted that the GOP had not been very hard on him about his positive stance on the immigration bill, afterwards, a man who'd listened came up to me and said, "they gave him hell."
I know how it feels, Senator.