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New book on 2008 presidential campaign electrifies political circles

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2010-01-11

A new book about the 2008 US presidential campaign is electrifying political bloggers, sending spokespeople for Washington's big players into damage control mode, and has one top Democrat fending off calls for his resignation.

It’s been over a year since the obsessively followed 2008 presidential race drew to a history-making close, but US politics junkies are getting ready to dive back in.

“Game Change”, a behind-the-scenes tell-all about the campaign by well-known political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin hits bookshelves on Monday on a wave of gossipy buzz following the advance release of some particularly juicy excerpts.

The authors based their work on interviews with more than 200 campaign insiders, granting all their sources anonymity and providing no concrete documentation for much of what they disclose. Still, the book The New York Times calls “a spicy smorgasbord of observations, revelation and allegations” is electrifying political bloggers, sending spokespeople for Washington power players into damage control mode, and has one top Democrat fending off calls for his resignation.

That politician, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is quoted in the book as saying that an African-American candidate like Obama was popular with voters because he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Reid issued an apology over the weekend, and President Obama and other high-profile black politicians released their own statements forgiving and even praising the Democrat who is currently neck-deep in final-stage healthcare reform negotiations. But the Republican opposition has pounced on the comments, with African-American party chairman Michael Steele demanding that Reid step down. Reid vowed late on Sunday that he would not resign and would run for re-election in November’s congressional elections.

A less explosive assertion, but one that is bound to set off waves of speculation and scrutiny, is that presidential candidate Obama and his vice president pick, then-Senator Joe Biden, had a chilly, distant relationship on the campaign trail.

Halperin and Heilemann write that Obama became increasingly angry with Biden’s much-publicised gaffes – including his prediction that the world would quickly test Obama, as a young president, with an international crisis – and Biden himself was often frustrated with the campaign’s direction. A spokesman for Biden this weekend said the book’s authors never verified their claims with Biden’s staff, and stated that “the president and vice president have worked together very closely and successfully this past year."

Perhaps predictably, a central character in the book is one of American politics’ most consistently talked-about figures: one-time presidential hopeful and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Among the tidbits attracting the most attention on the blogosphere over the weekend were a claim that Clinton was so sure that she would win her party’s nomination and ultimately the presidency that she asked an advisor to plan her White House transition one year before the general election.

“Game Change” also mentions a conversation during the summer of 2008, after Obama had won the Democratic nomination, in which Clinton allegedly insisted that the Obama campaign had cheated in the Iowa caucuses and called the Obama-McCain match-up “a terrible choice for our nation”, as well as Clinton’s initial refusal of the job of secretary of state for the reason that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, would be “a problem.”

In a book certain to satisfy those eager for exclusive glimpses into the private lives of public figures, the authors also describe the Obamas’ marriage as warm and committed and the McCains’ as strained and sometimes openly hostile.

But in an interview with, prominent left-wing political blogger Rich Boatti drew attention to passages dealing with former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin – specifically, “that Palin didn't know why there are two Koreas or what the Federal Reserve does, and believes that Saddam Hussein orchestrated 9/11”, a version that has been denied by Palin’s spokesperson.

According to Boatti, in a book mostly concerned with gossip about people's private lives, the most notable parts concern the ability of these politicans to do the job. Referring to Palin, he says: “The real issue is how someone with such limited knowledge of basic facts could actually become the governor of a US state and a vice presidential candidate.”

Date created : 2010-01-11