Friday, May 19, 2006
The Morning Grind
Race, economics or union density?

Does a Hispanic population that is double the national average give Arizona the edge in the competition to join Iowa and New Hampshire as one of the nation's first presidential proving grounds for Democratic candidates in 2008? Or will having the fourth largest black population in the country -- as in South Carolina's case -- be enough to convince the Democratic National Committee to choose the Palmetto State for this right?

Perhaps, geography should be a deciding factor. Wait, what about economics and union strength? Hmmm, experience in conducting such an important early contest?

How about all of the above?

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee is struggling with these questions and more as it debates how many and what specific states should be awarded the opportunity to play a key role in deciding the Democratic Party's next presidential nominee.

Arizona and South Carolina join 10 other states (including the District of Columbia) vying for a coveted "pre-window" position on the nominating calendar. Historically, this right has been reserved for Iowa and New Hampshire, but the DNC will choose between one and four states to move their nominating contests up into this time frame. The other states vying for an early spot include: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada and West Virginia.

"We still have not decided the number of states that will go forward within the pre-window, nor have we decided the dates," Alexis Herman, co-chair of the RBC, said yesterday during a telephonic meeting of the committee.

Still, early signs point to the DNC slotting a caucus between the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary to help preserve each state's unique status. An additional primary would be added after the New Hampshire contest, but before the window opens up to allow every state to schedule nominating contests. And early odds are that one contest would be held in the West and another in the South.

RBC members were presented a four page chart yesterday that broke down each state's racial demographics, labor presence, population estimates, percentage of registered Democrats and the party's recent presidential results, among other statistics, to help in the decision making process.

The goal of many RBC members is to reach a decision on specific states and dates by July 23 and then present the recommendations to the full DNC for a vote. But some dissenting members, such as South Carolina's Don Fowler oppose the idea of naming the states until after the November elections. And during yesterday's meeting, he argued that the RBC needs to formally vote to adopt the recommendations of a special DNC commission that endorsed the idea of changing the nominating calendar.

Despite some minor protest to Fowler's request, it was agreed the RBC will further discuss the merits of changing the calendar. And the RBC also decided to ask follow-up questions of each state. The next RBC meeting will occur telephonically on June 22 with an in-person meeting taking place on July 22 and 23.

President Bush's approval rating might be stuck in the low to mid 30's these days -- 36 percent in a new CNN poll -- but he told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux yesterday that he has no plans to change course.

"We've had a very strong legislative record," he said in an interview at the U.S.-Mexico border. "I will continue to sign good law because I'm working with members of the House and Senate. We're going to win the war on terror. I'm doing my job, what the American people want me to do."

Bush hits the campaign trail today, as does his wife, First Lady Laura Bush. The president attends a 12:40 p.m. ET fundraiser for Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Virginia) in Virginia Beach and then heads off to a 3:45 p.m. ET event at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky, to make remarks on the "American Competitiveness Initiative." At 5:35 p.m. ET, Bush puts his campaign hat back on and attends a fundraiser for Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Kentucky) at the Hilton Cincinnati Airport in Florence, Kentucky. He arrives back at the White House in the evening. Meanwhile, the First Lady attends a fundraiser in Essex Junction, Vermont for Martha Rainville, who is running for Vermont's congressional seat. At 6:20 p.m. ET she attends a fundraiser for Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island) in Providence, Rhode Island. On Saturday, the First Lady delivers the commencement address at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Vice President Cheney delivers the commencement address at Louisiana State University today at 1 p.m. ET in Baton Rouge. Tomorrow, Cheney travels to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend a Tennessee Republican Party event.

House Democrats hold an 11 a.m. ET news conference today on the Cannon Terrace to blast the Republican Party on a number of issues; the Senate Democratic Policy Committee holds a 10 a.m. ET hearing in room 138 of the Dirksen Building to examine "FEMA Trailer Maintenance Contracts; and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) travels to Cleveland Saturday to join Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) -- who is running for the Senate -- in a discussion about the Democratic energy plan.

And a busy weekend for potential 2008 presidential candidates, kicking off with Sen. John McCain's (R-Arizona) 2:30 p.m. ET commencement address today at The New School in New York City. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is scheduled to address the Wisconsin Republican Convention in Appleton, Wisconsin and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) attends the Polk County Democrats Spring Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa.

On Saturday, Bayh spends the day in Iowa attending fundraisers for state Rep. Mike Reasoner and state Rep. Paul Shomshor as well as speaking at the Woodbury County Democrats Truman Club Dinner. Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) delivers the commencement address at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio; retired Gen. Wesley Clark (D) gives the commencement address at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York; McCain attends fundraisers for Rep. Mike Castle (R-Delaware) and Rep. John Sweeney (R-New York).

On Sunday, former President George H.W. Bush (41) and former First Lady Barbara Bush serve as commencement speakers at the George Washington University in Washington, DC; Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) delivers the commencement address at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York; and New York Gov. George Pataki (R) speaks at New England College's graduation in Henniker, New Hampshire.

And if you are wondering if former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) is seriously considering a run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, well, we will let his own words speak for themselves. Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that Daschle was planning to visit Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, Daschle is e-mailing political allies an article from a South Dakota newspaper detailing his upcoming travel schedule.

"I thought you might like to see this article," the former Democratic leader writes in an e-mail obtained by CNN's Ed Henry. "I am deeply grateful for the encouragement that I have been given. I want to emphasize that this is only exploratory. We will certainly keep you up to date. Tom"

Enough said.

While Bush might be Cheney's boss, the Vice President is wealthier than the President, according to annual financial disclosure reports filed with the Office of Government Ethics earlier this week. CNN political researcher Xuan Thai estimates that Bush is worth between $7.5 million and $21.4 million, while Cheney has assets worth between $20.1 million and $94.6 million. So much for being the Leader of the Free World.

GRIND EXTRA -- A Ford, Not a Lincoln

By Robert Yoon
CNN Political Research Director

We asked our alert readers to name the presidential offspring who played a small but pivotal role in the 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally." No, it was not Tad Lincoln. Nor was it Grover Cleveland's son Francis in two non-consecutive scenes.

The answer, as many of you guessed, is none other than Steven Ford, the third son of Gerald and Betty Ford. Steven Ford, who incidentally celebrates his 50th birthday today, played "Joe," Meg Ryan's pre-Billy Crystal love interest. He was the tall blonde fellow kissing Sally in the airport early in the film, and his character ultimately was responsible for Harry and Sally's first romantic encounter.

"I didn't have the sense at the time that this was going to be a classic that would last the years," Ford told the Grind from his office in southern California. "Not all films are going to go down in history."

Since that airport scene, Ford has gone on to appear in over a dozen feature films including 1997's "Contact" with Jodie Foster and the 1998 blockbuster "Armageddon." But it was his roles in "When Harry Met Sally" and the 2001 film "Black Hawk Down," about a disastrous 1993 Army mission in Somalia, that he considers his proudest cinematic work.

"Both are important films today. One makes you laugh; the other makes you rethink world politics," he said. "I've really been blessed to have these roles in movies that will last forever."

Ford recalls asking his father what he and his mother thought of "Black Hawk Down," and the former president said, "I really, really enjoyed it, but your mom ... it was too intense for her so she had to leave after the first half-hour."

Steven Ford began his acting career in 1981, several years after his father had left the White House. He had a bit part in a Western where "they needed a guy who could fall off horses and do stunts." He then landed a seven-year gig on the daytime soap "The Young and the Restless" as Detective Andy Richards, whom he doesn't recall ever actually solving any cases.

Times were lean in those early years. Ford had a four-year contract where he could be fired for no reason every 13 weeks. Fearing sudden unemployment, this son of a former president saved money by living out of his car.

"I showered and changed in the studio, and after work, I would drive my Honda Civic to a residential neighborhood, put down the seat and sleep in a sleeping bag. My parents would ask, 'Where are you living in L.A.? Where can we call you?' and I would say, 'Uh, I don't have a phone number yet.'"

Ford has long since moved out of his car and still takes on a few acting jobs a year "just to keep the insurance up." He still gets residual checks from his various television and movie appearances over the past 25 years. Recently, he received a check for a guest spot he did on a 1981 episode of "Happy Days." The amount: 9 cents. After taxes, it was 6 cents.

"I stopped cashing them," he says. "I'm gonna start framing them and screw up some accountant somewhere trying to track down 6 cents."

Today, Ford spends most of his time giving corporate speeches, as well as motivational talks to student groups on a topic very important to his family: alcoholism. Despite his mother's well-publicized battles with addiction, Steven Ford also suffered from alcoholism for part of the 1980s and early 1990s.

"That shows you how sneaky a disease it is, because Betty Ford's son should know better," he says. "It's that tough. Even when you have all the information at hand, you can still make those bad choices that lead you down that road."

The younger Ford, now sober for 13 years, was once reluctant to talk about his past, but now uses humor to broach the delicate topic, with the hope that he can help others learn from his mistakes.

"I remember telling mom, 'I can't go to the Betty Ford Center. That's like going to the high school where your mom is the principal,'" he said. "But maybe I could have gotten the family rate."

He estimates that in the past few years, he's spoken to over 65,000 students about his experiences.

Ford describes himself as a "moderate Republican" and a "fiscal conservative." He says that he is "not happy with the way Congress has been spending." And although he considers himself "politically active," he has no desire to be a political figure himself, beyond playing one on TV. His political acting roles to date have been a U.S. Senate candidate on a TV show he can't quite remember anymore, and "Secret Service Agent #2" in the 1981 film "Escape from New York."

As for the health of his famous father, who was hospitalized for pneumonia earlier this year, Steven Ford says, "He's doing well. He still reads five newspapers a day. I'm going down there in a couple of weeks, and he wants to play a round of golf, which is always a good sign."

** Congratulations to our neighbor to the north Don Berkowitz of Maple, Ontario, Canada, who not only answered "Steven Ford," but also was randomly selected from among the correct answers by CNN's own senior political analyst Bill Schneider. You win a highly sought-after CNN refrigerator magnet. You'll be the envy of all of Maple, Ontario. **
Posted By Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit: 5/19/2006 10:16:00 AM ET | Permalink
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