Hillary strikes back on health insurance

She predictably touts her involvement in
the issue dating to her days as First Lady. Stresses that her plan opens the
congressional health plan to those who cannot afford insurance on their own. She denies Obama
s suggestion that the congressional plan is too expensive for some, saying that her plan would make sure it is affordable by instituting premium caps.Both stay away from the single-payer, government-subsidized insurance regularly attacked as the beginning of socialism by GOP candidates, even though when Hillary mentions it in passing, she is met by strong applause from the audience.

The differences come out

L.A. Times Washington bureau chief Doyle McManus asks what their biggest differences in policy are. Obama criticizes Hillarys health insurance plan of mandating families to purchase insurance, saying it does not provide enough assistance to those who cannot afford it. He also suggests that if Clinton were to become president, it would be “politics as usual” in terms of lobbyists’ influence in Washington. And of course he takes a jab at Clinton for her initial support of the war, another of his regular critiques. Hillary does not get a chance to answer, for some odd reason.

Opening salvos….

….are subdued. Obama is cautious in his expected call for “change,” from George W. Bush specifically, not from a Clinton dynasty. But in a subtle jab, he says the race is not about black versus white, young versus old or about gender, but about looking “to the future, and not to the past,” his by now-oft repeated mantra that presents him as the future, and the Clintons as the past. Hillary is much more careful, does not overtly or covertly dig at Obama, only says one of the two will take the oath of office in January 2009 and inherit “a stack of problems” from a “failed administration” — Iraq, the economy, healthcare, etc. She presents herself as the kind of “problem-solver” that can tackle those issues. Not a word about experience, surprisingly.

It’s crunch time…

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One more view outside shows the carnival atmosphere of this place, with drums and chants echoing up from the courtyard. Meanwhile the first serious female and African-American contenders to the U.S. presidency already in the building and there is a tinge of history in the air.

A final thought before the debate, to back up that sense of history: A man I met on the subway on the way here (yes, subway in L.A.), Tom, 61 from Temple City, said the enthusiasm he feels when he hears Obama speak reminds him of the same emotions he felt as a high-schooler at San Gabriel High, when John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency.

“He is the closest thing to Kennedy we have had, in my opinion, until now,” Tom said as we traveled under Hollywood.

Polls show Clinton lead dwindling in Cali

According to The Nation, the latest Rassmussen poll shows Clinton’s lead over Obama in the Golden State at just three points, a much tighter margin than the double-digit advantage given to the New York senator by previous polls.

Is it just another statistical glitch like in New Hampshire, where polls showed Obama with a commanding lead going into a primary that he eventually lost? Or is it a sign that Obama’s strong showing in South Carolina and his campaign’s heavy courting of local Latinos and labor leaders like Maria Elena Durazo is actually working?

‘Mamas for Obama’

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That is one of the many signs being waved outside the Kodak Theatre in the Hollywood and Highland courtyard. In fact, it looks like Obama’s folks are drowning out Hillary’s supporters outside, with signs for the Illinois senator easily outnumbering those for Clinton. And it seems like Obama’s supporters are aware of his apparent weakness among Latinos and are openly pandering to that voting bloc: one of the most prominent pro-Obama signs is a dual sided placard that reads “Si Se Puede!” or “Yes We Can!”, the famous slogan of the farm workers’ movement led by Mexican-American patron saint Cesar Chavez. They have plastered the sign all over the background of Wolf Blitzer’s dais in the front lobby, and they are chanting it in both languages in the courtyard.

Behind the scenes

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Inspired by my colleague Dan Abendschein and his insightful coverage of yesterday’s GOP debate, here is a photo of the press filing center here at Kodak. We are crammed elbow-to-elbow in the top-floor lounge area, with multiple flat screens providing non-stop CNN coverage of the events going on below us. It’s mostly print and foreign broadcast media up here, with the national and domestic TV and radio networks having commandeered the mezzanine downstairs, next to the actual debate hall.

Speak of the devil…

Just as I uploaded my post on Hillary’s advantage among Latinos, there was Antonio downstairs, speaking with Wolf about the importance of the Latino vote and his support for Clinton. I wish I could send you an actual photo, but here in the press filing center, we only have access to the actual goings-on via plasma screen. Now excuse me while I go fight the guy from Asahi TV (Tokyo) for the last remaining turkey sandwich box lunch.