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Campaign Notebook

Obama offers idea to help save Social Security

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November 12, 2007

Democrat Barack Obama said yesterday that if elected he will push to increase the amount of income that is taxed to provide monthly Social Security benefits.

Obama and other Democratic presidential candidates have previously signaled support for this idea. But during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama said subjecting more of a person's income to the payroll tax is the option he would push for if elected president.

He objected to benefit cuts or a higher retirement age. "I think the best way to approach this is to adjust the cap on the payroll tax so that people like myself are paying a little bit more and people who are in need are protected," the Illinois senator said.

Currently, only the first $97,500 of a person's annual income is taxed. The amount is scheduled to rise to $102,000 next year. Obama's proposal could include a gap to shield middle-income earners from paying more in taxes, he said.

On the campaign trail and in TV ads, Obama has said Hillary Clinton has dodged tough questions about Social Security finances. "It's not sufficient for us to just finesse the issue because we're worried that, well, we might be attacked for the various options we present," he said. Clinton has said a growing economy will pump more money into Social Security's coffers. She has also said she would create a bipartisan commission to recommend solutions. (AP)

Huckabee on offensive

If Mike Huckabee is right, the millions of dollars that his rivals for the White House have poured into their campaigns have been wasted.

Buoyed by polls that show him in second place among Republicans in Iowa, the former governor of Arkansas has turned aggressive on the stump, picking fights last week with his competitors. He is also promising to hit the airwaves with the $1 million he raised online last month. Huckabee has moved almost his entire Little Rock operation to Des Moines and is preparing to hire more Iowa staff to help put across his mix of social conservatism and economic populism.

Last week, Fred Thompson called Huckabee an opponent of abortion "but liberal on everything else." Mitt Romney recently accused him of supporting "special tuition breaks" for the children of illegal immigrants. Huckabee says he has cut more taxes than he raised, and says it is unfair to punish immigrant children for things their parents did.

"Suddenly, I seem to be in the crosshairs of every predator who is out there," he said. "As a hunter, I know that a good hunter never aims his gun at a dead carcass." (Washington Post)

Playing the numbers

Questions linger about how much stock to put in the polling data coming out of Iowa.

Figuring out who will vote is always the most basic challenge for any pollster. Past results provide a guide but can never be taken as foolproof, because turnout dynamics change from election to election.

This is especially true in Iowa's caucuses, in which a very small number of registered voters turn out to participate, voters can register the day of the caucuses, and turnout patterns fluctuate widely from caucus to caucus.

"In general elections in Iowa, about 3 in 4 registered voters turn up at the polls," said J. Ann Selzer, the director of the Des Moines Register's Iowa poll. "This makes polling much safer, as an additional 100,000 showing up unexpectedly will not affect the outcome all that much. But at a caucus, this would be tantamount to a tsunami."

Some candidates are hoping for a major turnout spike. Barack Obama's campaign has spent a lot of time in Iowa organizing young people, who generally do not show up in great numbers at caucuses. (Washington Post)

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