On Monday's "The Early Show," CBS anchor Harry Smith charged that the leading Republican presidential candidates are "mudslinging," contending that their campaigns have "turned nasty," but then suggested that Democrats are "playing nice." While the ABC and NBC morning shows portrayed candidates in both parties as "going negative," CBS's Smith hinted that Democrats were "playing nice" even after CBS correspondents had just referred to Obama as "attacking" other Democrats, and to John Edwards as portraying "corporate powers and Washington lobbyists" as "enemies of ordinary people." (Transcript follows)
Smith teased Monday's "The Early Show": "Pick me: It's a dead heat in the Iowa polls as Democrats fall into a virtual tie, and Republican leaders sling more mud."
Introducing the show, after co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez recounted that the major Democratic candidates are tied in Iowa, Smith continued his negative portrayal of the Republican candidates' campaign: "And we're also going to look at why the Republican campaigns have turned so nasty. Perhaps the mudslinging works out there."
Correspondent Dean Reynolds then reported on the Democratic side of the campaign, and characterized Barack Obama as "attacking" his opponents: "And in these waning days, Barack Obama is also lacing his speeches with direct criticism of his rivals, repeatedly attacking by name Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards."
Chip Reid then focused on Edwards' surge in the polls, and contended that the former trial lawyer was catching up by portraying "corporate powers and Washington lobbyists" as "enemies of ordinary people." Reid: "As a trial lawyer, John Edwards won millions for injured clients by portraying his corporate opponents as enemies of ordinary people, a technique he now applies to politics. ... These people are the corporate powers and Washington lobbyists who he says are crushing the middle class, sending good jobs overseas and blocking universal health care."
Reid soon finished his report, after which Smith immediately suggested that Democrats were "playing nice" as he introduced a report by Jeff Greenfield elaborating on the battle between Republicans Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Smith: "The Republican front-runners aren't playing anywhere near as nice as the Democrats."
After Greenfield's report, Smith even contended that many Republicans preferred "none of the above" over the current candidates as he transitioned into a story about the possibility that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would run for President on a third party ticket. Smith: "Yeah, it's so interesting. The last couple of months we've talked a lot about it. 'None of the above,' the choice for so many Republicans in Iowa. Now the papers here in New York and Washington are filled with this notion of this big meeting in Oklahoma of independents, and Mike Bloomberg suddenly is starting to surface again."
On ABC's "Good Morning America," while the show's correspondents focused on the negative campaigning between Huckabee and Romney without mentioning such examples on the Democratic side, substitute anchor Claire Shipman seemed to vaguely allude to candidates in both parties "going negative." Shipman: "It's almost always considered a no-no in the final days before a caucus, a primary, a campaign, to go negative, but everybody seems to be going negative." ABC also avoided using such relatively strong words as "mudslinging" or "nasty" to refer to the GOP campaigns.
NBC's "Today" show similarly avoided using words like "mudslinging" or "nasty," but correspondent Lee Cowan did mention some negative campaigning by Democrats as he referred to Edwards' "criticism of his rivals" getting "stronger," and his "populist message" getting "angrier," while Cowan also referred to Obama accusing Edwards of being "hypocritical to denounce special interests while still benefitting from them." The NBC correspondent did not try to portray either party as being "nicer" as he then turned to Republicans: "The sparring is no softer on the Republican side."
Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Monday December 31 "The Early Show" on CBS, "Good Morning America" on ABC, and the "Today" show on NBC, with critical portions in bold:
From "The Early Show":
HARRY SMITH, in opening teaser: Pick me: It's a dead heat in the Iowa polls as Democrats fall into a virtual tie, and Republican leaders sling more mud.
MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: The countdown this morning in Iowa just a matter of a few days now until we find out who's celebrating there. Right now, Democratic Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards are tied. John Edwards will join us live this morning to talk about his last-minute surge and what he says is connecting with voters.
SMITH: And we're also going to look at why the Republican campaigns have turned so nasty. Perhaps the mudslinging works out there.
DEAN REYNOLDS: And in these waning days, Barack Obama is also lacing his speeches with direct criticism of his rivals, repeatedly attacking by name Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.
CHIP REID: When John Edwards was a trial lawyer, he was famous for mesmerizing juries with his passionate closing arguments. Now he's doing the same thing with voters on the campaign trail and arguing that he will be a fighter for the middle class.
JOHN EDWARDS: Corporate greed is stealing your children's future.
REID: As a trial lawyer, John Edwards won millions for injured clients by portraying his corporate opponents as enemies of ordinary people, a technique he now applies to politics.
EDWARDS: It is time to tell the truth about what's happening in this country that we all love so much. You can't stand quietly by. You can't make deals with these people.
REID: These people are the corporate powers and Washington lobbyists who he says are crushing the middle class, sending good jobs overseas and blocking universal health care. What we need in a President, Edwards says, is someone who will fight those powers and beat them, just as he did in the courtroom.
EDWARDS: We're going to stand up. We're going to fight back. We're going to show some backbone and some strength.
REID: And that populist argument appears to be working. The crowds are huge, he's getting standing ovations, and he appears to be getting some momentum in the polls. Harry?
SMITH: Chip Reid, live in Iowa this morning. Thank you very much. The Republican front-runners aren't playing anywhere near as nice as the Democrats. CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield is live in Des Moines with that part of the story. Good morning, Jeff.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Good morning. Well, by far the biggest surprise this whole campaign year has been the rise of ex-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee from cash-starved obscurity to the leadership here in Iowa. That may be changing in recent days, and the key to this shift may be timing.
MITT ROMNEY: She's a cute girl, I'll tell you. She's hot, too. Wow.
GREENFIELD: If Mitt Romney was in a light-hearted mood in Mount Vernon, Iowa, Sunday, he may have had good reason. Late surveys suggest he has pulled even with Mike Huckabee and may have recaptured the lead. One reason? A barrage of ads, part of a $6 1/2 million Romney blitz, targeting Huckabee as soft on crime.
CLIP OF AD: He granted 1,033 pardons and commutations.
GREENFIELD: And soft on immigration.
CLIP OF AD: -backed in-state tuition benefits for illegals.
GREENFIELD: While an independent ad blasts Huckabee for the ultimate Republican sin: raising taxes.
CLIP OF AD: To stop massive tax hikes, conservatives have to be united, but listen to Mike Huckabee when he was Arkansas governor.
MIKE HUCKABEE: There's a lot of support for a tax at the sale level for tobacco, and that's fine with me.
GREENFIELD: In his ads, Huckabee is attacking attack ads themselves.
HUCKABEE, in ad: -reject their negative campaign, quit tearing each other down, and start now building up our country for our kids.
GREENFIELD: And he is challenging Romney's political character.
HUCKABEE: If you get a job by being dishonest to get it, how can you be trusted to be honest once you're in that job?
GREENFIELD: Huckabee has also suffered some self-inflicted wounds on his foreign policy expertise, or lack of it, but one of his biggest problems may be the timing of his assent. By taking the lead weeks ago, Huckabee gave his opponents time to criticize him as someone who doesn't walk the Republican line on taxes, immigration, loyalty to President Bush, to suggest in fact that Huckabee is something of a liberal. That has cost Huckabee here in recent days and made the Republican race something of a dead heat as well, Harry.
SMITH: Yeah, it's so interesting. The last couple of months we've talked a lot about it. "None of the above," the choice for so many Republican in Iowa. Now the papers here in New York and Washington are filled with this notion of this big meeting in Oklahoma of independents, and Mike Bloomberg suddenly is starting to surface again.
From "Good Morning America":
CLAIRE SHIPMAN: It's almost always considered a no-no in the final days before a caucus, a primary, a campaign, to go negative, but everybody seems to be going negative. What is the thinking out there? [MATTHEW DOWD, ABC News contributor, former Bush campaign strategist]
From the "Today" show:
LEE COWAN: Edwards' criticism of his rivals has gotten stronger, and his populist message about corporate greed has gotten louder, even angrier, some say. But he's been dogged by questions about some of the very interest groups he detests, called 527s, independent groups who nevertheless are spending money on ads that support him.
JOHN EDWARDS: I've been opposed to 527s. I think they should be illegal. I've made that absolutely clear. I've said publicly numerous times now that I call on them to stop any ads that they're running.
COWAN: His rivals, especially Barack Obama, call it hypocritical to denounce special interests while still benefiting from them, whether intended or not. The sparring is no softer on the Republican side-
MIKE HUCKABEE: He's trying to dodge his own record.
COWAN: -where Mike Huckabee took the gloves off on Mitt Romney in an appearance on Meet The Press.
HUCKABEE: Mitt Romney is running a very desperate and, frankly, a dishonest campaign.
COWAN: The McClatchy/MSNBC poll shows Huckabee's lead over Mitt Romney has evaporated, with Romney at 27 percent now to Huckabee's 23, a change Huckabee blamed on Romney's string of negative ads.
TIM RUSSERT: But has Mitt Romney said anything that's untrue about you?
HUCKABEE: How long do we have on the program today? He's said many things that are untrue.
COWAN: For his part, Romney's attention is focused on both Iowa and New Hampshire, where John McCain is nipping at his heels, who Romney also hit pretty hard as being soft on immigration.
MITT ROMNEY: I respect Senator McCain. He campaigned for me during my elections. But he and I simply disagree on some very important issues, and I think in a campaign it's important to point that out.
COWAN: Now, Matt, the important thing to remember about these polls, too, is they still show that there are a fair amount of people who haven't made up their mind yet. And even those who say they have made up their mind say that they very well may change it at the very last minute.