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Transcript of a politics chat with James Smith

Boston Globe national political editor James Smith discussed the Globe's politics coverage, the latest fund-raising results, and other Campaign 2008 news.

James Smith: Greetings and welcome to this week's political chat. Judging by the calendar and the thermometer, it's clear that we've entered the high-stakes phase of the primary campaign, so there's plenty to chew on. I'm also happy to answer questions about the Globe's coverage as well as the races themselves.

Macka: In your opinion, who is the most qualified for the job? I look at all of these candidates and don't see much more than being wealthy and a few years in the US Senate as Junior Senators with little actual influence.

James Smith: I hate to start with a diplomatic evasion, but that's precisely the job of the voters -- to decide which candidate is most qualified. You raise a good point about experience: There are a few governors or ex-governors who have had hands-on executive experience (Huckabee, Romney, and Richardson remain, after Tommy Thompson pulled out). And Giuliani has been mayor of a city bigger than most states. They will push hard on that theme, saying that serving in the House or Senate doesn't require leadership and administrative skills to the same extent.

Jenna: Hi James -- I learned a lot about Fred Thompson from his profile in Sunday's paper. Why did you start your series of profiles with him? When (and who) will be the next one?

James Smith: We felt that Fred Thompson was among the lesser-known candidates apart from his television roles, and was a newcomer to the race. So it felt like it made sense to start with him. Frankly, we're trying to figure out ourselves the exact order for the upcoming profiles, but our goal is to publish them all by mid-November at the latest.

NickM: Is there strategy involved in Hillary Clinton's delaying the release of her campaign fund-raising numbers? Obama, Richardson, and Edwards have already released their numbers ... Has she raised so much money that it simply takes longer to count?! :)

James Smith: Certainly there is strategy at work here. Clinton has just released her figures, and she tops the list of all candidates for the third quarter, having raised $22 million just for the primaries. It appears she wanted to let the others report their numbers and then trump them all. But this strategy may not work. After all, many news organizations, including the Globe, put the fund-raising story on the front page today, with Obama getting the headlines. It'll be interesting to see if the second-day story gets as much ink. It may feel incremental. But you can bet the campaign teams are weighing these choices very carefully as they figure out how to release this important information. The fund-raising is another form of opinion polling, after all.

PoliticsFan: Hello Mr. Smith -- Is there any room for contributions from 'outsiders' to your coverage? I'm a local college student and would get involved in politics coverage.

James Smith: We are developing ways to give citizens more ways to get their views across on the website -- and you raise a good point, we should also do so in the paper. One online vehicle we are working on is video. We are talking to colleges in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to invite students to contribute video reports on the campaign. Also, we will soon enable the "comment" function on our Political Intelligence blog, to get more feedback on stories we write on the blog. The website has been frustratingly slow in enabling comments, for technical reasons I don't understand. E-mail me (jsmith@globe.com) and we'll see if we can come up with more. Do you have specific suggestions?

Macka: With the electoral map reading similar to as it has for the past 2 elections, how does a candidate court the left to win the Democratic primary without alienating the middle/right for the general

James Smith: In some ways, the caution of the candidates is a barometer of their expectations for winning the nomination. For example, Clinton came under fire last week in the debate in Hanover, N.H., for what many saw as evasive replies on questions about Iran and Social Security. The consensus was that she was afraid to commit to raise taxes on SS, for example, because she didn't want to hand the Republicans ammunition to use against her in the general election. That is, she suggests she expects to be the nominee and has to be particularly careful. But that could alienate Democrats in the primary phase. The conclusion has to be that she's less concerned about that than she is about the general election.

Biden08: What do you think of Joe Biden's chances?

James Smith: Biden's failure to make much progress in the polls so far may have more to do with coming from a small state and simply having been a fixture on the political stage for many years. But there's no doubt that he has been willing to challenge the conventional wisdom and to go after the sacred cows, positioning himself as the truth-teller among political opportunists. And he has won increasing support for his belief that the only solution in Iraq is a decentralized government that amounts to partition. His experience certainly makes him a strong candidate for secretary of state in any future Democratic administration.

Cageylefty: Hi, so who did raise the most money in the last quarter? Globe says Obama at $20m, Hillary says $26m for her campaign. Did she "deke" Obama?

James Smith: We need to compare apples to apples. Hillary raised $22 million for the primaries to Obama's $19. Her total of about $27 million announced today includes $5 million that she raised for the general election, and can only be spent then. Obama raised only a million or so for the general election. Of course, as I said above, Hillary's willingness -- and ability -- to raise so much for the subsequent general election can be interpreted as a sign of confidence in her campaign and among voters that she'll ride her front-runner status to the nomination. We shall see.

Lucy: How much time and access do the candidates give reporters/editors for these candidate profiles?

James Smith: It varies a lot. Some candidates have been very stingy with their time, and control access very strictly. Others are eager for coverage. Fred Thompson gave us considerable time, over an hour, I think it was, but we have struggled to arrange for one-on-one time with other candidates, including Giuliani and Clinton. First, they are all extremely busy. But second, many of the front-running candidates are being very cagey about extended sit-down interviews where views can be probed in depth. They are often more accessible to local media on visits to communities on campaign swings.

ross perotski: Do you think Hillary comes across as too shrill during speeches simply because she's a woman?

James Smith: She doesn't strike me as shrill. Her cackling laugh has drawn differing reactions. Some find it annoying, but others think it has made her seem more like an ordinary human being and less calculating.

W: I know this may sound weird but I'm hearing that Hillary will be the next president and that she won't be because most Americans are just plain sick and tired of the Clintons, and if she gets elected it will be 4, if not 8, more years of Bill. Your thoughts?

James Smith: It's a legitimate question whether a country of the size and diversity of the United States should be governed nonstop for, potentially, 28 years (e.g. Bush 1, Bill twice, Bush 2, Hillary for one or two terms) by two families. And hey, there's Jeb still out there to keep the streak going. It begs the question whether voters will rebel against this dynastic method of leadership.

go sox: Any thoughts on a third-party candidate splitting the GOP vote if Giuliani runs and the Christian Conservatives run their own candidate? Is that a real possibility?

James Smith: I know there's been talk about it in recent days, but even within the Christian right, some leaders have urged caution. I think Gary Bauer, for example, said be careful here because the risk of splitting the GOP vote and virtually handing the election to the Democrats is very real. It depends heavily on whether Giuliani emerges as the likely nominee because he seems to earn the most ire from the conservative Christian movement. But I would be surprised if it happens.

Lucy: Am I correct in saying that the Globe did not cover the Maryland debate from which the top GOP candidates did not participate? How do you determine which debates to cover?

James Smith: We carried a short item on it in our Campaign Notebook feature. We have covered every single debate where all the candidates took part, and many forums as well. We also wrote a staff story about the fact that the leading Republican candidates skipped that debate, and whether they were dissing the black and Latino vote by not taking part. That seemed the more important story to write in this case; the debate itself, without the most prominent candidates, seemed to be less significant. But having watched every debate thus far and editing all the debate stories of our writers, I can assure you we have stuck with them relentlessly. Feels like dozens of debates so far! And more to come.

go sox: Should Sen. Clinton win the nomination, will there be a lot of support for the first woman president -- regardless of her being a Clinton or having high negatives? And will the GOP have to address that in nominating a woman as VP?

James Smith: It could be a great counterpunch by the Republicans to nominate a woman VP candidate. Can you think of prospective VP nominees who could balance the ticket and offset the Hillary novelty? Interesting strategic question for the GOP.

James Smith: Well, my time is up. I appreciate the questions, and the close attention you are paying to our coverage. Contact me by e-mail, jsmith@globe.com, if you have questions, complaints, or suggestions (or praise).

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