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Transcript of a politics chat with Globe reporter Scott Helman

Scott Helman: Hi everyone, sorry for the delay. Let's get chatting.

Pat: Prediction: Will Joe Lieberman pull a Zell Miller and speak at the 2008 Republican Convention?

Scott Helman: Boy, that would be a big snub. But many Democrats backed his primary challenger last year, Ned Lamont. Would he really get back at them for that? Seems doubtful.

Philip: Aside from Hillary Clinton returning the 850K to Norman Hsu, do you predict any larger fallout from the Democratic fundraiser's actions?

Scott Helman: That's a good question. It seems clear that we haven't heard the end of the story. I think you will also see scrutiny of other donors beyond Hsu. In the crazy clamor for money, there hasn't been much attention paid to donors' and supporters' backgrounds.

Dina: What do you think of Giuliani speaking in the 9/11 ceremonies and Clinton not?

Scott Helman: I don't know if that was by design or not. Clearly, this is Giuliani's calling card: His campaign is rooted in that day (go to his website today, joinrudy2008.com, if you don't believe me).

Pat: Some suggest this may be the year for a Bloomberg or Hagel to emerge and run a credible and well-financed independent campaign. If one did emerge, what campaign would they have to run to be successful? A centrist one? One based on fiscal responsibility ala Perot? An antiwar message? Your thoughts?

Scott Helman: Bloomberg loves to flirt with the idea of running, but at the same time he constantly downplays his intentions. Is he being coy? Does he just enjoy the attention? Who knows. I think an independent candidate would have a steep hill to climb, but Bloomberg has the money to do it. Yes, I think a lot of Americans are tired of the partisanship, but it's a big leap of faith to jump to an independent candidate. And I'm just not sure enough Americans would be willing to do it.

Ted from Tewksbury: To what effect would you say the capture of Mullah Omar or Osama Bin Laden have on the course of the upcoming election?

Scott Helman: It would cause a big ripple, to be sure. Some Democrats openly worried during the last presidential election that Bush would engineer such a thing to help his candidacy. Republicans would be able to say, "Look, the war on terror is working." Democrats would have a tougher time. They would have to credit the administration for capturing Omar or bin Laden, while at the same time persuading voters that their approach on counterterrorism was more effective.

Billy2: Do the Dems realize MoveOn.org's absurd views hurt them not helped them in 2004? Is Gen Petreaus really a smart target to go after like MoveOn is???

Scott Helman: I think that moveon.org ad in yesterday's New York Times has backfired to some degree, and it has given Republican candidates for president a nice, easy target. One problem for that ad is that David Petraeus is a respected general. A personal attack on him is a risky strategy.

Burglar: Have the conspiracy theorists started in yet on which rival campaign broke into romney's campaign office over the weekend? I swear it wasn't me - I have four alibis...

Scott Helman: The campaign and the police said there were no indications it was politically motivated, but you can't help but wonder, right? It's hard to imagine anyone would do such a thing -- and what they would gain from it -- but we'll keep watching it to make sure. (And you better have those alibis lined up in case we call you!)

dauber23: Hi Scott. Thanks for taking my question. What are the implications of Gen Petraeus's report on Congress? Moreover, I know there is a long way to go but how do you foresee the 08 House & Senate elections going? It seems the left-wing Dems feel as though the House has not done what they wanted in Iraq. Are many of the liberals who voted in 08 going to stay home and allow the GOP to regain control?

Scott Helman: The Congressional testimony by Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is THE political story this week, and all the candidates are trying to figure out how to respond to it. Republicans say it shows we need to give the mission time. Some Democrats say the lack of political progress in Iraq confirms their belief that it's time to go. As for the House and Senate elections, I'd be surprised if liberal Democrats stay home, even if they are disappointed in some of their leaders. All signs point to a tougher road for the GOP, especially in the Senate, where they will be defending more seats.

Jack: Are voters in other states aware of Romney's long record of real "flip flopping" on issues? What's been the reaction?

Scott Helman: Some voters are aware of Romney's changes in position or tone on major issues, but not all. If he remains the front-runner in Iowa and New Hampshire, though, you can expect a flurry of TV ads from his primary opponents making sure voters do know all that. So far, Romney has obviously done well despite his shifts, but whether he can weather the ads is an unknown at this point.

jj: Romney, what if any is his downfall

Scott Helman: It's hard to see one at this point, though it's entirely possible that, as I said in my previous post, voters will turn on him once rivals' TV ads hammer away at his changes in position on issues such as abortion. Some still believe his religion -- Romney is Mormon -- will hurt him, but that has been a nonissue in recent months, so maybe he's past it.

swimmerkennedy: Why isn't Hillary's dirty money scandal ($850 grand) more prominent news? If this were a GOP candidate it'd be a HUGE scandal.

Scott Helman: How isn't it more prominent news? The story was broken by the country's major newspapers, who continue to probe. You haven't seen the end of it, either. So I disagree that somehow this fund-raising flap has gotten less attention because she's a Democrat.

mittman: In your opinion, if you had to make an educated guess, who is going to win each nomination, why, who will win the general and why.

Scott Helman: It's dangerous to guess these things. I do think Barack Obama will make a stronger-than-expected challenge to Hillary Clinton, and I think Mitt Romney will be tough to dislodge if he captures Iowa and New Hampshire. The big unanswerable question is how much Iowa and New Hampshire will determine the outcome. If they do, Romney has a great shot, at least from how it looks now. If they don't, Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson look good going into the mega-primary of Feb. 5.

dauber23: OK...been wondering this for a while as the 08 presidential election heats up. Getting into the way back machine...in 1988, (and I know hindsight is always 20/20) but what was the thought-process behind VP Bush selecting Quayle as his running mate? Did it seem like a smart move at the time?

Scott Helman: I wish I could say, but frankly I have no idea what the thought process was. I think I was in eighth grade at the time. Who do you see as likely VP choices this time around?

podmate: how are your geraniums?

Scott Helman: They're fine, thanks for asking. (I recently wrote a piece in the Globe magazine about someone stealing my flowers.)

Cait: What about Romney's lack of experience? He was barely a 1 term governor, with no foreign relations background. Could that (hopefully) be a downfall for him?

Scott Helman: It's possible that could hurt him if the election is about world affairs. But he has a wealth of experience -- pun intended -- from his years spent in business, and he's a quick study and a voracious reader. And consider the field: John McCain knows a lot about the world, to be sure, but can Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson claim a truly superior grasp of geopolitics?

Cait: I had my flowers stolen off my front porch this spring too!

Scott Helman: Really? I feel your pain. Where do you live?

Billy2: Regarding the Romney break-in, what is the temptation to resort to dirty tricks when they are least necessary? Remember Nixon won 1972 in a landslide. Today polls favor Dems in 2008. Maybe there's more to the break-in that meets the eye....

Scott Helman: Perhaps. And as newshounds, we can only hope. Maybe it wasn't Democrats. After all, it's the Republican primary rivals who need to derail him first ...

Cait: Cambridge. Quiet neighborhood. It was a shocking affair.

Scott Helman: That is shocking. I live in Jamaica Plain, where others have been victims. If you're interested, here's the piece I wrote about it.

mittman: Mitt will go with Rudy most likely and Hillary will go with John Edwards damning her chances of getting elected. Thoughts?

Scott Helman: These are your VP predictions? I'm not sure. Giuliani doesn't necessarily bring any states with him, and Edwards could be seen as too much of a do-over. But it's possible. There are also some governors out there who make attractive candidates, politically speaking.

dauber23: It's a tough one. I do honestly believe that if Sen Clinton wins the nomination, the GOP will seriously consider a woman (Dole? Hutchinson?) Among the Dems -- buy really hard to say now. Depends on who wins. If it's Hillary -- maybe Mark Warner if he doesn't run for Senate. Obama -- Sebelius (gov of Kansas). But who knows. Clinton selecting Gore was a bit of a shock as he picked another Southern Dem (albeit a more liberal one).

Scott Helman: These are interesting ideas. Your thought about the GOP picking a woman is a good one. Mark Warner is a possibility, though he is reportedly pondering a Senate run for John Warner's seat. Sometimes you hear the other Virginia senator, Jim Webb, mentioned as a potential running mate for the Dems. And how about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford for the GOP?

Cait: Mitt would have choose a far more conservative VP than Rudy if he wants the family values voters, wouldn't he?

Scott Helman: Likely, yes. How about Huckabee?

Scott Helman: Since I started late, let's take a few more questions, if anyone has them ...

J Dems 08: Do you feel Obama has a good chance to catch Hillary within the next couple months and regain momentum?

Scott Helman: I do. I don't know if he will, but he's got a ton of grass-roots support out there that shouldn't be underestimated. Organization matters in states like Iowa, and he's got a pretty formidable ground force. The experience question will continue to nag him, but I can see this becoming a very right race.

c rock: do you think that Mitt is the likely nominee for the GOP?

Scott Helman: Likely is probably a bit further than I would go. I think he's a very good shot, though. As you may know, he leads in NH and Iowa polls, and also fares well in Michigan, which could hold an early primary, too.

mittman: But does Mitt need a less conservative VP to win the general?

Scott Helman: You could argue that, I guess. But if Romney wins the nomination, I assure you he and his team will work very hard to be appealing to the general electorate. They will have to be careful, given that he has changed positions on issues already, but look for him to swing back to the center, at least in tone, if he gets the GOP nod. Remember that it also matters what states, or at least what regions of the country, running mates come from.

Billy2: Assuming Florida is critical again how does immigration play for each party there? Especially with the influential Cuban community?

Scott Helman: Good question. The Cuban community has its own set of issues and beliefs. But more broadly, anti-immigrant sentiments have not played as well there, so I think Republican candidates have to be careful. Some key political leaders of Florida, including Governor Charlie Crist, have favored a more moderate approach on immigration.

dauber23: OK...does the perception that Thompson does not truly have his heart in this race seem real to you?

Scott Helman: The perception is certainly out there. And Thompson has acknowledged that he hasn't yearned to be president, and that opportunities in his life have often fallen in his lap. (He didn't help dispel such notions when he rode around the Iowa State Fair recently in a golf cart.) But his appeal is real, too, especially in South Carolina. I know Romney's campaign thinks that they can outwork Thompson, which, given Romney's incredible energy level, seems possible.

Cait: So Bill Richardson...doesn't stand a chance, huh?

Scott Helman: He's got challenges, certainly. But history shows that governors who sit low in the polls (Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter) have sometimes figured out a way to the top. So don't count him out yet.

Scott Helman: Thanks for chatting, everybody. Be sure to check our politics page frequently for regular campaign updates. Find it at boston.com/politics. Talk to y'all soon!

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