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Joe Biden’s Invisible Campaign in All-Important Michigan

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Joe Biden’s Invisible Campaign in All-Important Michigan

Four years ago, Don Sabbe made what he calls a devastating mistake. Determined only to cast a vote for a candidate he believed in, he left the top of his ballot blank in the 2016 presidential election. This year, the 83-year old former Chrysler employee says hell definitely vote for Joe Biden, but hes getting concerned about Bidens campaign here in Michigan.

I cant even find a sign, Sabbe says outside a Krogers in Sterling Heights, where surrounding cars fly massive Donald Trump flags that say No More Bullsh-t and fellow shoppers wear Trump T-shirts for their weekend grocery runs. Im looking for one of those storefronts. Im looking for a campaign office for Biden. And Im not finding one.

The reason Sabbe cant find a dedicated Biden campaign field office is because there arent any around here. Not in Macomb County, the swing region where Sabbe lives. Its not even clear Biden has opened any new dedicated field offices in the state; because of the pandemic, theyve moved their field organizing effort online. The Biden campaign in Michigan refused to confirm the location of any physical field offices despite repeated requests; they say they have supply centers for handing out signs, but would not confirm those locations. The campaign also declined to say how many of their Michigan staff were physically located here. Bidens field operation in this all-important state is being run through the Michigan Democratic Partys One Campaign, which is also not doing physical canvassing or events at the moment. When I ask Biden campaign staffers and Democratic Party officials how many people they have on the ground in Michigan, one reply stuck out: What do you mean by on the ground?’

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden walks out in between pickup trucks before delivering remarks in the parking lot outside the United Auto Workers Region 1 offices in Warren, Mich., on Sept. 09, 2020.

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden walks out in between pickup trucks before delivering remarks in the parking lot outside the United Auto Workers Region 1 offices in Warren, Mich., on Sept. 09, 2020.

Chip SomodevillaGetty Images

All this means there are no young volunteers in Biden shirts pounding the pavement for their candidate, no clusters of posters marking the Biden field offices in various precincts, few bumper stickers on the highways. There are more Biden signs than Hillary Clinton had in 2016, locals say, but not enough to give the impression of an enthusiastic presidential campaign in a crucial swing state. When Biden visited Michigan last week, only a handful of supporters came to see him; his campaign didnt disclose the location of the event in advance, even to the local Democratic county chair, because it didnt want to attract a crowd that could spread COVID-19 or violate Michigans prohibition on gatherings of more than 100 people.

In short, in one of the most important swing states in the country, Bidens campaign is all but invisible to the naked eye. His lack of a physical footprint is all the more striking because Trump flags festoon everything from pickup trucks to massive airplane parts being transported down the highway. Roughly 30 Trump supporters gathered to protest outside the Biden event last week, waving their flags and cheering as passing cars honked. (Roughly eight Biden supporters showed up.) After driving around some of the states swing districts for the past week, talking to than dozens of voters, the only reason youd think Biden was up in Michigan is because the polls have consistently said so.

Trying to evaluate the strength of the Biden campaign in Michigan is like trying to determine whether the Emperor has no clothes or is actually wearing an elaborate invisible suit. The Biden campaign says its swarming the state; you just cant see it.

Bidens Michigan team says its campaign is significantly bigger than Clintons and may be the largest program in the states history. The campaign says it reached out to 1.4 million voters during the Democratic convention and the weekend that followed, with 500 digital-organizing events and 10,000 volunteer signups. In the week before Labor Day, the campaign sent 500,000 texts to Michigan votersone every half-second. It has just replaced the trappings of a traditional ground gamevolunteers knocking on doors, distributing literature, and so forthwith a digital field operation.

This strategy makes sense during a global pandemic. The campaign is prioritizing public health at a moment when Trump is flagrantly disregarding it. But the juxtaposition of Trumps loud and proud campaign and Bidens invisible digital operation makes some Democrats increasingly anxious. We dont see the presence, says Lori Goldman, the founder of Fems for Dems, a grassroots political action group with nearly 9,000 members in Michigan. They should have people who are like Jehovas Witnesses, zealots, preaching the gospel of Joe Biden out there in the community. There needs to be someone out there Biden-izing. People dont even know where to volunteer for Biden. Goldman says she gets roughly 15 calls a week from women asking where they can canvass, and she doesnt know what to tell them. Meanwhile, she says, there are Trump signs that look like they should be on an expressway, theyre so big.

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather across the street from the United Auto Workers Region 1 offices where Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak in Warren, Mich., on Sept. 09, 2020.

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather across the street from the United Auto Workers Region 1 offices where Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak in Warren, Mich., on Sept. 09, 2020.

Chip SomodevillaGetty Images

Democratic officials in Michigan and the Biden campaign say theyre confident that Biden will carry the state, where he has maintained a consistent lead by nearly every metric. The difference between now and four years ago is immeasurable, and Im very optimistic, says Ed Bruley, chair of the Macomb County Democrats, who says he sees a steady stream of supporters coming by to pick up yard signs.

But after conversations with more than a dozen Democratic Members of Congress, state representatives, local party chairs and party operatives, a slightly more anxious picture emerged. Top Democrats believe the race is closer than the polls suggest, and some are privately urging the Biden campaign and state Democrats to reconsider physical canvassing. I think Biden could absolutely do more, says Michael Heitman, chair of the Democratic Party in Isabella County, a small county in central Michigan which voted for Barack Obama twice and then for Trump in 2016. Id really appreciate if the Biden campaign had someone specifically for his campaign here.

Some top Democrats say that the visibility of Biden campaigning in Michigan is as important as the campaign itself. I think we need a more visible Biden campaign presence in the state, that is soup to nuts: from yard signs to surrogates to visits, says U.S. Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, who represents Michigans 8th District. I would love to see a steady drumbeat that made clear, even to the most apolitical person, that Joe Biden cares about Michigan, and he has plan.

Granted anonymity to share candid assessments of the campaign, other top Democrats are more pointed. Calling a telephone number isnt a connection, says one leading Michigan Democratic official. Some of the same people that said everything was okay four years ago are the same people saying everythings okay now.

President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally in Freeland, Mich., on Sept. 10, 2020.

President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally in Freeland, Mich., on Sept. 10, 2020.

Scott OlsonGetty Images

Since Clintons loss, Michigan Democrats have been terrified of repeating the mistakes that cost her the state by just over 10,000 votes and helped tip the election to Trump. And compared to Clinton, who took Michigan for granted and skimped on resources in the state, Biden is certainly doing a lot right. The Vice President visited last week to give a major speech about manufacturing and meet with union workers, while Dr. Jill Biden visited the state on Tuesday. Michigan officials, from members of Congress down to state representatives, say they have an open line of communication with the campaign, unlike in 2016.

Democrats in Michigan have been organizing nonstop since 2017 without pausing in between election cycles, thanks to the One Campaigns unified field effort. In 2018 they flipped two House seats, kept a Senate seat, and elected a Democratic governor. Last year they knocked on more than 85,000 doors. In the August state primary, Democratic turnout was at a record high. The success has been beyond my wildest dreams here, says U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who spearheaded the One Campaign.

Then came Covid-19. Early in the pandemic, the Biden campaign and the One Campaign decided that mounting a traditional field operation, with canvassers knocking on doors, was not worth the public health risk. Instead, theyre running a digital field operation, recruiting volunteers to make phone calls and send text messages for Democrats.

There is nothing better than that face-to-face contact, says Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. But nobody I know of has ever tried to campaign in the middle of a global pandemic. Contact with people, if not done correctly, is dangerous.

On a national call with reporters on Sept 4, campaign manager Jen OMalley Dillon said the Biden campaign had invested $100 million in on-the-ground organizing nationwide, but did not plan to focus on door-knocking. OMalley Dillon is a veteran organizer who was Obamas battleground states director in 2008. She calls this a new organizing model, and says the campaign had 2.6 million conversations with voters in battleground states in August.

What matters about organizing is engaging with voters and having real conversations, OMalley Dillon said in a Politico forum on Tuesday. We spent so much time talking about tactics, but fundamentally, knocking on a door and not reaching anyone doesnt get you much except leaving a piece of lit behind.

Still, Democrats are used to measuring their strength by their ground game, and without physical boots on the ground, the effect can be unsettling. It brings up uncomfortable questions about whether a digital field operation can really replace a traditional field operation without something being lost. Sure, it sounds like digital field organizing should work. But does it actually? Nobody knows, because its never been tried on this scale before.

Goldman of Fems for Dems says shes ready to dispatch her army of women to knock on doors for Biden, if only the campaign would ask. The Biden campaign calls her for help finding Republican women who might be inclined to vote for Biden (you might as well ask me to find you a unicorn, she says), but not for help recruiting volunteers to knock doors. I want them to ask me, Give us a hundred womens names and let us send them out like soldiers into the neighborhoods. Shes worried that focusing entirely on phone calls and emails means ignoring voters who may not show up in the data. If youre not in the system, she says, Joe Biden doesnt even know how to reach you.

Besides, she adds, Michigan is opening up. If youre allowed to go to Michaels, or youre allowed to go to Target, I dont see why they cant go to a campaign office, Goldman continues. Her voice starts to shake as she adds: Im afraid were losing. Im afraid were going to lose.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden talks with journalists before departing the Detroit Metro area in Romulus, Mich., on Sept. 09, 2020. Biden was campaigning in Michigan, which President Donald Trump won in 2016 by less than 11,000 votes, the narrowest margin of victory in state's presidential election history.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden talks with journalists before departing the Detroit Metro area in Romulus, Mich., on Sept. 09, 2020. Biden was campaigning in Michigan, which President Donald Trump won in 2016 by less than 11,000 votes, the narrowest margin of victory in state’s presidential election history.

Chip SomodevillaGetty Images

Even though Biden isnt knocking on doors in Michigan, other Democratic candidates are. Goldmans army of women is canvassing to flip the Michigan statehouse and elect Democrats to school boards and county commissions. Slotkin has been working doors in a socially distanced way, dropping off literature in her tight swing district in what she calls a contactless canvass. State Rep. Darrin Camilleris team has knocked on more than 15,000 doors for his re-election campaign this year. None of them have any Biden literature to hand out, because the state Democratic Party hasnt finished printing it.

These candidates insist that canvassing, when done carefully, can be safe even amid a pandemic. I went door-knocking on Sunday with Camilleri in Gross Ile, Mich., and he had the choreography down: ring the doorbell, tuck his campaign literature into the door handle, take two big steps backwards, and wait 20 seconds. If the voter answerswhich they often do, since everyone is homehe waves and shouts to be heard through his mask.

Camilerri, a 28-year old former high school social studies teacher, was first elected to represent a region called downriver in the Michigan House of Representatives in 2016 after personally knocking on 17,000 doors. Its an area full of the union workers and pocketbook voters that were once gettable for Democrats, but helped elect Trump that year. Door knocking is the only way, in my opinion, that any Democratic campaign can win in this area, he says, noting voters in this area voted for Trump and they voted for me.

When Camilleri approaches a small house in a neat neighborhood, Mark Ferrera answers the door, takes Camilleris mailer, and stops to chat as his dog scratches at the screen door. A retired union autoworker, Ferrera says hes a lifelong Democrat who voted for Clinton in 2016. Camilleri will get his vote, but Ferreras still not sure whether hell vote for Biden. Right now, the way hes campaigningI want to hear what he can do, not just bashing Donald Trump, he says. I havent heard anything from Joe Biden yet.

These are the conversations that Camilleri says have helped him keep his seatand which spell trouble for an all-digital campaign. Thats what Im worried about going forward, that weve got another presidential campaign that is taking votes for granted, says Camilleri. Theyre using data, and they say, Well, these people should vote for us. No ones gonna vote for you until you ask.

On Camilleris canvassing route, some Democratic voters were still waiting to be contacted by Bidens campaign. Michelle Kirk, a 46-year old middle-school English teacher, was so excited to see Camilleri canvassing that she ran out of her house in her bare feet. Standing in her driveway without shoes or socks, Kirk said she planned vote for Biden in November. But had she heard anything from his campaign? I dont want to say no, she says. But not really.

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Public Hype Over Indonesia VP Candidate Gibran After ‘rude’ Gesture Against Opponent in Live Debate

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Public Hype Over Indonesia VP Candidate Gibran After ‘rude’ Gesture Against Opponent in Live Debate
Vice presidential candidate number 2 Gibran Rakabuming Raka (right) expressed his views during the Fourth Debate for the 2024 Presidential Election at the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC), Jakarta, Sunday (21/1/2024). ANTARA PHOTO/M Risyal Hidayat

The performance of Indonesian vice-presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka who is also the son of incumbent President Joko Widodo – has come under fire for his seemingly rude antics during a live debate over the weekend.

It was a stark contrast to the buzz generated by him last month following a second debate organised by Indonesia’s General Election Commission (KPU) that saw Gibran stacking up against his more experienced rivals, with some netizens now calling the antics of the president’s eldest son as cringe.

The debate on Sunday (Jan 21) was the fourth in a series of five debates where presidential candidates and their running mates try to lure voters to the polling booth by promising what they could do should they be elected as Indonesia’s next leaders in the upcoming election on Feb 14.

Sunday’s debate saw the vice-presidential candidates discuss issues such as energy, carbon tax, environment as well as agrarian matters among others.

During the debate involving the three vice-presidential candidates, Gibran – who is the running mate of defence minister Prabowo Subianto made a “ducking” gesture and pretended to search for a lost item, in response to an answer that was given by his rival, Mahfud MD.  Mahfud is running in the election alongside former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo.

The third vice presidential candidate is Muhaimin Iskandar a seasoned politician who has paired up with former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.

Gibran had earlier quizzed Mahfud about how greenflation can be dealt with in the country. Greenflation refers to inflation caused by green initiatives.

In response, however, Mahfud spoke about the green economy instead of greenflation.

“I was looking for Prof Mahfud’s answer. I was looking for (the answer but) how come I couldn’t find (it)?” asked Gibran while making the “ducking” gesture.

“I asked about the issue of green inflation, but you explained the green economy instead.”

Mahfud then claimed that Gibran was “(making) things up out of thin air”.

“If an academic asks a question like that, it’s not worth answering. There is no point in answering,” he retorted.

On social media platform X, a post featuring videos of the interaction gained over 2.5 million views in less than a day.

 

 

 

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Trump mocks Nikki Haley’s first name. It’s his latest example of attacking rivals based on race

“You have to dissect politics as politics. It’s not personal,” said Scott. “He’s not intending to demean her or degrade her in any way. He’s just doing that to garner votes.”

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Trump mocks Nikki Haley’s first name. It’s his latest example of attacking rivals based on race
Nikki Haley Not a tough question. Photographer: Sophie Park/Getty Images

Donald Trump used his social media platform Friday to mock Nikki Haley ‘s birth name, the latest example of the former president keying on race and ethnicity to attack people of color, especially his political rivals.

In a post on his Truth Social account, Trump repeatedly referred to Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, as “Nimbra.” Haley, the former South Carolina governor, was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, as Nimarata Nikki Randhawa. She has always gone by her middle name, “Nikki.” She took the surname “Haley” upon her marriage in 1996.

Trump, himself the son, grandson and twice the husband of immigrants, called Haley “Nimbra” three times in the post and said she “doesn’t have what it takes.”

The attack comes four days before the New Hampshire primary, in which Haley is trying to establish herself as the only viable Trump alternative in the Republicans’ 2024 nominating contest.

Trump’s post was an escalation of recent attacks in which he referenced Haley’s given first name — though he’s misspelled it “Nimrada” — and falsely asserted she is ineligible for the presidency because her parents were not U.S. citizens when she was born in 1972.

The attacks echo Trump’s “birther” rhetoric against President Barack Obama. Trump spent years pushing the conspiracy theory that the nation’s first Black president was born in Kenya and not a “natural born” U.S. citizen as required by the Constitution. That effort was part of Trump’s rise among Republicans’ most culturally conservative base ahead of his 2016 election that surprised much of the U.S. political establishment.

Haley has dismissed Trump’s latest attacks as proof that she threatens his bid for a third consecutive nomination.

“I’ll let people decide what he means by his attacks,” Haley told reporters in New Hampshire on Friday when asked about Trump’s false assertions that her heritage disqualifies her from the Oval Office. “What we know is, look, he’s clearly insecure if he goes and does these temper tantrums, if he’s spending millions of dollars on TV. He’s insecure, he knows that something’s wrong.”

Trump’s campaign did not reply to an inquiry about his comments.

Since Monday’s Iowa caucuses — which Trump won by 30 points over Ron DeSantis, who placed second — Haley has aimed to portray the rest of the GOP primary battle as a two-way race between Trump and herself despite her narrow third-place finish. Haley’s campaign is aiming for a stronger showing in New Hampshire, hoping for a springboard into her home state South Carolina, which holds the South’s first presidential primary next month.

For his part, Trump bounces between declarations that the nominating fight is already effectively over and blasting Haley as if the two are indeed locked in a tight contest. Trump still criticizes his other remaining rival, DeSantis, but his preferred pejoratives for the Florida governor, “Ron DeSanctimonious” or “Ron DeSanctus,” have nothing to do with race or ethnicity. DeSantis is white.

Trump’s focus on Haley’s name comes as far-right online forums have for months been littered with mentions of her given name alongside racist commentary and false “birther” claims. Haley’s name and family background also have become talking points on the left. Some widely circulating social media posts have called her a hypocrite for saying America was “never a racist country” when she likely experienced racism herself.

Pastor Darrell Scott, a Black man who has led a diversity coalition for Trump’s previous campaigns, defended the former president’s latest attacks as “slings and arrows” that come in election season.

“You have to dissect politics as politics. It’s not personal,” said Scott. “He’s not intending to demean her or degrade her in any way. He’s just doing that to garner votes.”

Scott said Trump “has a compassionate side that most people don’t see” and defended his aggressive approach as a “goose-and-gander situation” for a public figure constantly “under attack for everything.”

Tara Setmayer, senior adviser to the Lincoln Project group that opposes Trump from within the conservative movement, agreed that Trump’s rhetoric works in a Republican primary. But she said that’s a damning reality for the party and does not excuse his behavior.

“These are the rantings of an incredibly, almost pathetically insecure man who has demonstrated over his entire career his racism and bigotry,” said Setmayer, who is multiracial and calls herself a former Republican and now a conservative independent. “Why would anyone expect it to be any different now, when an entire political party has enabled this level of morally questionable behavior?”

Amid the fallout Friday, Trump won the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican and formerly a presidential candidate himself. Haley appointed Scott to the Senate in 2012, during her first term as governor.

Trump has a long history of using race, ethnicity and immigrant heritage as a cudgel.

For years, he has referred to Obama as “Barack Hussein Obama,” putting an obvious emphasis on the 44th president’s middle name. Obama was the son of a white American mother and a Black father from Kenya. He was born in Hawaii, though Trump spent years asserting Obama had manufactured the story and a birth certificate to support it. Trump eventually admitted his claims were false but then, during the 2016 general election, said he did so only to “get on with the campaign.”

When David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, encouraged Republican primary voters to back Trump in 2016, Trump responded in a CNN interview that he knew “nothing about David Duke, I know nothing about white supremacists.”

Trump is also among many Republicans who deliberately mispronounce Vice President Kamala Harris’s name. Rather than the correct “KA’-ma-la,” Trump sometimes says, “Ka-MAH-la.” Harris, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent, is the first woman to become vice president and the third non-white person as either president or vice president, following Obama and Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover’s vice president who had Native American ancestry.

Leading up to Trump’s 2017 inauguration, civil rights icon John Lewis, then a Black congressman from Georgia, said he would not attend Trump’s inauguration because he considered him an illegitimate president. Trump reacted by blasting Lewis’s Atlanta-based district as being in “horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).” The district includes downtown Atlanta, Coca-Cola’s world headquarters, the Georgia Institute of Technology and principal sites of the 1996 Olympic Games, among other attributes.

During his presidency, Trump questioned during a meeting with lawmakers why the U.S. would accept immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” across Africa instead of countries like Norway. He did not explicitly mention race but the White House followed disclosure of his comments with a statement explaining that Trump supported granting access to the U.S. for “those who can contribute to our society.”

He also has said that four congresswomen of color should go back to the “broken and crime infested” countries they came from, ignoring the fact that all of the women are American citizens and three were born in the U.S.

Trump’s mother was born Mary Anne MacLeod in Scotland and came to the United States between the two world wars. His paternal grandfather, Frederick Trump, was a Barvarian-born immigrant from Germany in the 1880s. Trump’s first wife, Ivana Zelníčková before their marriage, was born in what is now the Czech Republic. His third wife, former first lady Melania Trump, was born Melanija Knavs in what is now Slovenia. That means four of Trump’s five children also are children of immigrants.

Haley frames her family’s story as proof that the U.S. “is not a racist country.” She sometimes highlights her role in taking down the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina statehouse grounds after a racist massacre in her state — though she had sidestepped requests to remove the banner earlier in her term. And Haley has for years navigated Trump’s penchant for racist rhetoric.

“I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK,” Haley said during the 2016 primary campaign after she had endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio over Trump. “That is not a part of our party; that is not who we want as president.”

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AP/Bill Barrow

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Donald Trump’s Grip on Republican Politics is Put to The Test in Ice-Cold Iowa’s Caucuses

Donald Trump’s rally was briefly interrupted by protesters in Iowa Sunday— the first time it’s happened in years. “You’ve taken millions!” a woman shouted as Trump was mid-rally, prompting the crowd to respond with a “Trump!” chant to drown her out. (Jan. 14)

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Donald Trump’s Grip on Republican Politics is Put to The Test in Ice-Cold Iowa’s Caucuses
Republican candidate former President Donald Trump. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Voting is set to begin Monday night in icy Iowa as former President Donald Trump eyes a victory that would send a resounding message that neither life-threatening cold nor life-changing legal trouble can slow his march toward the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination.

The Iowa caucuses, which are the opening contest in the months-long Republican presidential primary process, begin at 8 p.m. EST. Caucus participants will gather inside more than 1,500 schools, churches and community centers to debate their options, in some cases for hours, before casting secret ballots.

While Trump projects confidence, his onetime chief rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is fighting for his political survival in a make-or-break race for second place. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the only woman in the race, stands in DeSantis’ way. The two have competed aggressively in recent weeks to emerge as the clear alternative to the former president, who has alienated many Americans and could end up being a convicted felon by year’s end.

“I absolutely love a lot of the things (Trump) did, but his personality is just kind of getting in his way,” said Hans Rudin, a 49-year-old community college adviser from Council Bluffs, Iowa. He said he supported Trump in the past two elections, but will caucus for DeSantis on Monday.

Polls suggest Trump enters the day with a massive lead in Iowa as Haley and DeSantis duel for a distant second. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson are also on the ballot, as is former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who suspended his campaign last week.

With the coldest temperatures in caucus history expected and dangerous travel conditions in virtually every corner of the rural state, the campaigns are bracing for a low-turnout contest that will test the strength of their support and their organizational muscle. The final result will serve as a powerful signal for the rest of the nomination fight to determine who will face Democratic President Joe Biden in the November general election.

After Iowa, the Republican primary shifts to New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina over the coming weeks before moving into the rest of the country this spring. The ultimate nominee won’t be confirmed until the party’s national convention in July, but with big wins in the opening contests, Trump will be difficult to stop.

Trump’s political strength heading into the Iowa caucuses, which come 426 days after he launched his 2024 campaign, tells a remarkable story of a Republican Party unwilling or unable to move on from him. He lost to Biden in 2020 after fueling near-constant chaos while in the White House, culminating with his supporters carrying out a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. In total, he faces 91 felony charges across four criminal cases, including two indictments for his efforts to overturn the election and a third indictment for keeping classified documents in his Florida home.

In recent weeks, Trump has increasingly echoed authoritarian leaders and framed his campaign as one of retribution. He has spoken openly about using the power of government to pursue his political enemies. He has repeatedly harnessed rhetoric once used by Adolf Hitler to argue that immigrants entering the U.S. illegally are “poisoning the blood of our country. And he recently shared a word cloud last week to his social media account highlighting words like “revenge,” “power” and “dictatorship.”

Republican voters have been undeterred.

“Trump is a Christian. He’s trustworthy. He believes in America. And he believes in freedom,” said 71-year-old Kathy DeAngelo, a retired hospital administrative employee waiting in subzero weather to see Trump on Sunday. “He’s the only one.”

The final Des Moines Register/NBC News poll before the caucuses found Trump maintaining a formidable lead, supported by nearly half of likely caucusgoers, compared with 20% for Haley and 16% for DeSantis. Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, and DeSantis, the Florida governor, remain locked in a close battle for second. Trump is also viewed more favorably than the other top contenders by likely caucusgoers, at 69% compared with 58% for DeSantis and just 48% for Haley.

On the eve of the caucuses, Trump predicted he would set a modern-day record for an Iowa Republican caucus with a margin-of-victory exceeding the nearly 13 percentage points that Bob Dole earned in 1988. He also sought to downplay expectations that he would earn as much as 50% of the total vote.

Whether he hits that number or not, his critics note that roughly half of the state’s Republican voters will likely vote for someone not named Trump.

“Somebody won by 12 points and that was like a record. Well, we should do that,” Trump said Sunday during an appearance at a Des Moines hotel. “If we don’t do that, let ‘em criticize us, right? But let’s see if we can get to 50%.“

“Brave the weather and go out and save America,” he later added.

The temperature in parts of Iowa on Monday could dip as low as negative 14 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 26 degrees Celsius) while snow drifts from Friday’s blizzard still make travel hazardous across the rural state where unpaved roads are common.

Forecasters warned that “dangerously cold wind chills” as low as 45 degrees below zero Fahrenheit were possible through noon Tuesday. The conditions, according to the National Weather Service, could lead to “frost bite and hypothermia in a matter of minutes if not properly dressed for the conditions.”

Over the weekend, signs positioned on key roadways warned motorists in large flashing orange letters: “TRAVEL NOT ADVISED.”

And the winter weather, intimidating even for Iowa, will make an already unrepresentative process even less representative.

Many elderly Iowans, who are the backbone of the caucus, are wondering how they will make it to their sites. And only a tiny portion of the participants will be voters of color, given Iowa’s overwhelmingly white population, a fact that helped convince Democrats to shift their opening primary contest to South Carolina this year.

Iowa’s caucuses are also playing out on Martin Luther King Day, which is a federal holiday.

Last month, some presidential campaigns were expecting close to 200,000 Republican voters to participate in the caucus. On the eve of the contest, many now wonder whether the 2024 turnout will exceed the 118,411 Republicans who showed up in 2012.

Still, each of the campaigns is claiming a powerful get-out-the-vote operation that will ensure their supporters show up.

Haley rallied a room packed with Iowans and out-of-state volunteers on Sunday in Ames, drawing frequent cheers from the pink necklace and boa-clad “Women for Nikki.”

The 51-year-old former South Carolina governor repeated her frequent call for GOP voters to elect her as a “new generational leader that leaves the negativity and the baggage behind and focuses on the solutions of the future.”

Nearly 200 miles away in Dubuque, DeSantis dismissed questions about his position in the polls as he courted voters.

“I like being underestimated. I like being the underdog,” the Florida governor said. “I think that that’s better.”

Meanwhile, not all voters were excited about their options.

Jake Hutzell, 28, hasn’t participated in a caucus before, and he isn’t sure that he will Monday, either. He follows politics, but he said he’s part of a generation that’s skeptical any of it makes a difference.

“There’s never been anyone I feel strongly about,” the Dubuque resident said. “If I’m going to throw my name behind who I think should be the president, I would like to very feel very strongly about it.”

_____

AP

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Are Indonesia’s Presidential Hopefuls Ganjar and Anies Ganging Up on Prabowo?

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Are Indonesia’s Presidential Hopefuls Ganjar and Anies Ganging Up on Prabowo?
Presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo is a former governor of Central Java province. ANTARA/Aditya Pradana Putra

Pollsters have put Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto as the strongest contender for Indonesia’s upcoming election on Feb 14, with an electability of more than 40 per cent.

Indonesian presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto was jointly attacked by his two opponents again in another televised election debate, in a tag-team move that has appeared to lower the defence minister’s winning chances.

But analysts are split on whether the seemingly uncoordinated offensive by ex-Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo would pay off for them in shaving Prabowo’s lead in time for the Feb 14 presidential election, or if it might even backfire.

In the third of a five-debate series, the candidates were grilled on Sunday night (Jan 7) on the topics of defence, security, international relations and geopolitics.

It’s familiar territory for Prabowo, 72, who has been Indonesia’s defence minister for almost five years, though that did not stop his two rivals from criticising his performance at the ministry, such as accusing him of mismanaging defence procurement.

Prabowo was notably upset and said at a press conference after the debate that his rivals were not citing accurate data.

“I was a little disappointed with the quality (of the debate), especially the narratives conveyed by the other candidates. In my opinion, first of all, their data is wrong,” said a visibly sullen-looking candidate.

“Secondly, (they want to) use the issues of defence to score political points, which, in my opinion, is not permissible for statesmen.”

Political analyst Ujang Komarudin from the University of Al Azhar Indonesia said Prabowo is being attacked because he is the frontrunner.

“Those were hard and continuous attacks because Prabowo is considered a common enemy given his high electability.

“All surveys have put Prabowo on the first spot and far ahead of the electability of Anies and Ganjar. Therefore, to bring down Prabowo, he must be attacked during the debate.”

On Saturday, pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, for example, released its latest survey. It shows that Prabowo’s electability is 46.9 per cent.

Anies came in second with 23.2 per cent, while Ganjar secured the last spot with 22.2 per cent.

However, a survey by the daily newspaper Kompas after Sunday’s debate showed that 79.7 per cent of its 210 respondents nationwide were satisfied with Ganjar’s performance.

A total of 71.4 per cent were satisfied with Anies’ performance, while only 48.9 per cent were satisfied with Prabowo’s performance.

NOT THE FIRST ATTACK

During the first debate on Dec 12 which covered areas in law, human rights, eradication of corruption, governance, improving public service, strengthening democracy, tackling disinformation, and managing civic harmony, Anies also focused his criticisms on Prabowo while Ganjar was more reserved.

The second debate was for the vice presidential candidates – Muhaimin Iskandar, who is teaming up with Anies, Gibran Rakabuming Raka who is Prabowo’s running mate and Mahfud MD who is the vice presidential candidate of Ganjar.

The third debate was for the presidential candidates again, and Anies and Ganjar took aim at Prabowo’s military procurement strategy as defence minister.

Anies criticised Prabowo, who is vying for the presidency for the third time in a row, for procuring billions of dollars for weaponry, while many Indonesian military personnel do not own a house.

He even went beyond by highlighting Prabowo’s personal wealth.

“While half of our soldiers do not have official residences, its minister owns 340,000 ha of land,” said Anies, claiming to cite the data President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, used during the 2019 presidential debate when the latter ran against Prabowo.

The defence minister denied Anies’ claim, but the latter continued his criticism of Prabowo on another front.

During Prabowo’s tenure, the government introduced a programme called food estate, which is coordinated by the defence ministry and aimed to establish large-scale agricultural plantations in several parts of Indonesia to ensure food security nationwide.

Depending on the location of the plantation, the crops were supposed to be rice, cassava and potato.

But Anies claimed the defence ministry’s food estate is a failed project because cassavas can barely grow on the hundreds of hectares of land procured for the scheme.

Meanwhile, Ganjar highlighted the defence ministry’s budget, saying it should account for at least 2 per cent of the gross domestic product.

However, he noted it only accounts for 0.7 per cent, and that Prabowo should have pushed for a bigger budget that included soldiers’ welfare.

“Your planning is too reckless, and you are not serious about managing the domestic defence industry,” said Ganjar. “I am doubtful about how you manage the defence budget in Indonesia.”

Both Anies and Ganjar also criticised Prabowo’s move in the past few years, where he has bought used military equipment, claiming it was a waste of money.

However, Prabowo said it is not an issue. “When it comes to military equipment, it is not about whether it’s not new or used. But it is about the age (of the equipment).”

For example, if it is a plane, it is the flying hours, he said. Prabowo claimed the flying hours of the equipment he procured are still good.

At one point, Anies and Ganjar seemed even to be targeting Prabowo jointly.

When it was Anies’ turn to ask Ganjar a question, he asked him how he would rate the performance of the defence ministry.

Ganjar gave a five out of 10, which Anies said is too good.

“It is 11 out of 100,” said Anies, whose laughter prompted the audience to follow suit.

THE FRONTRUNNER IS THE COMMON ENEMY

Analysts spoke to said the attacks by Anies and Ganjar will continue until the last debate involving the presidential candidates set to take place on Feb 4.

“I think this pattern (of attacking other candidates) will continue to be repeated to expose the rivals’ weaknesses as part of efforts to seek public support, especially swing voters,” said Wasisto Rahajo Jati, a political expert with the Indonesian National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN).

However, political analyst Ray Rangkuti from the Jakarta-based think tank Lingkar Madani told, that Anies and Ganjar were just taking advantage of the fact that Prabowo is the current defence minister.

“Because Prabowo’s argument so far has always been it is not necessary to talk much (to the public and media). What is important is to work, work, work,” said Rangkuti.

“But when the two other candidates asked about his work, he couldn’t explain himself.”

While there is a pattern that Prabowo is being attacked by the other two, Wasisto from BRIN is doubtful about its effectiveness.

“I think it depends on the public perception because, basically, the attack is part of an effort to attract the public’s attention towards the capabilities and problem-solving abilities of each presidential candidate,” he told.

Ujang from the University of Al Azhar Indonesia thinks the attacks on Prabowo have left the debate with no winner.

“Regarding the attacks, no one won the debate because the method was not elegant. An elegant way is a soft way, a good way, a way that is pleasant for people to hear and see,” he said, adding that the offensive against Prabowo could even backfire for Anies and Ganjar.

Ujang cited, for example, how Ganjar’s electability according to opinion polls has decreased each time he and his party PDI-P criticise Prabowo.

However, Rangkuti from Lingkar Madani believes Anies and Ganjar should continue attacking Prabowo if they want to win as it would show their stance.

“For Anies, there is no other way because his stance is different (from Prabowo’s). Therefore, he needs to show that. In comparison, Ganjar’s stance is more moderate,” he said.

Prabowo is campaigning to continue Jokowi’s programme, while Anies wants a change. On the other hand, Ganjar wants to continue what he believes are good programmes under Jokowi while introducing his own schemes.

Rangkuti believed Prabowo was probably also eager to counter-attack his opponents during the debate but did not have much material to do so since the former governors have never been involved in defence matters.

Citing the Kompas post-debate survey showing how Prabowo was deemed to have fared poorest, Rangkuti also thinks attacking the defence minister would not hurt Anies and Ganjar.

“The election debate can be very influential because, according to surveys, almost 30 per cent of potential voters are still undecided,” the analyst added.

____

CNA

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Indonesia Presidential Frontrunner Under Fire as Rivals Attack Defence Plans

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Indonesia Presidential Frontrunner Under Fire as Rivals Attack Defence Plans
Indonesia's Defence Minister and presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto speaks during a televised debate with his opponents Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan, at the Istora Senayan stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 7, 2024. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana

Indonesian presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto suffered a barrage of attacks in a heated election debate on Sunday, with his two opponents taking aim at his military procurement strategy as defence minister, calling him reckless and wasteful.

Third-time candidate Prabowo, a former special forces commander, has held a strong lead in opinion polls for the Feb. 14 election, but his military modernisation drive drew flak in a second televised face-off focused on security and geopolitics.

Former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan denounced Prabowo’s plans to procure used military equipment, including a fleet of Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets from Qatar, and accused his defence ministry of failing to protect itself from hackers who last year threatened to leak confidential information.

“Ironically, defence ministry was hacked,” Anies said. “The 700 trillion rupiah ($45.13 billion) budget cannot be used to contain it. Instead, it is used to buy second-hand military equipment.”

Dressed for the debate in an air force-style bomber jacket, the ruling party’s candidate Ganjar Pranowo said the jets deal, which the government has delayed over budget issues, was “reckless planning”.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy has for the past decade lagged regional peers in defence spending as a share of gross domestic product.

Prabowo justified the strategy to buy used hardware as essential in modernising the armed forces, adding the 15-year-old jets had a 25 to 30 year lifespan.

“The narrative about using used equipment, I think, is misleading. The important thing is flying hours,” he said.

“In reality we need equipment to cover the current gap,” he said, adding new jets take longer to arrive and not all defence confidential data can be divulged to the public.

President Joko Widodo on Monday was quoted by local media as saying that the data is confidential “because it’s related to the nation’s big strategy,” adding that people were disappointed by the personal attacks launched in the debate.

The president did not mention who launched such attacks.

Most polls have Anies neck-and-neck with Ganjar, though far adrift of leading candidate Prabowo, who has picked as running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the son of the popular two-term President Joko Widodo.

Anies said that choice showed Prabowo had “compromised ethics standards”, after Gibran was only beneficiary of an acrimonious court ruling that changed eligibility rules just days from election registration.

The candidates were also asked how they would address long-running disputes over the South China Sea.

Prabowo said Indonesia needed better technology to defend its territory, while Anies said it should become a dominant leader in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to ensure a common position.

Ganjar proposed a review of the bloc’s much-criticised decision making approach and said a 2002 agreement between China and ASEAN countries to avoid maritime disputes had failed.

“We can take the initiative through temporary agreements to avoid higher risks,” Ganjar said, without elaborating.

____

REUTERS

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Indonesia’s Presidential Hopefuls Face Off in Debate

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Indonesia’s Presidential Hopefuls Face Off in Debate
Indonesia's Defence Minister and presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto speaks during a televised debate with his opponents Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan, at the Istora Senayan stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 7, 2024. FILE/Telegraf

Indonesia’s presidential candidates held a second debate on Sunday, where they discussed defense, geopolitics, and diplomacy.

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, and former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan will compete in a Feb. 14 election to lead the world’s largest archipelagic nation.

Nearly 205 million people are eligible to cast their ballots in the vote, aiming to determine the successor of President Joko Widodo after his 10-year tenure.

Frontrunner Subianto stated that if elected, he would strive to maintain positive relationships with all global powers in line with Indonesia’s “non-aligned” foreign policy.

“With good relations with all powers, we can secure our national interests,” Subianto said in the debate broadcasted across Indonesian television screens. “A thousand friends are too few, one adversary is one too many. We will pursue a good neighbor policy.”

The former special forces general emphasized the importance of bolstering military power to defend independence as he expressed concern about situations akin to the challenging circumstances faced by Gaza during the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Indonesia is a staunch supporter of Palestinian independence. It has called for a resolution to the conflict based on internationally agreed parameters set by the United Nations, which include a two-state solution.

Pranowo outlined a proposal for a temporary agreement on the disputed South China Sea, underlining Indonesia’s status as a non-claimant in the region.

He said the temporary agreement was necessary in light of China’s ongoing military modernization, expected to be finalized by 2027.

“[The resolution efforts] have been more than 20 years, and there has been no progress,” he said.

He also pitched the need to strengthen patrols by the Indonesian navy.

“We need floating tankers that can be used by our Navy to patrol. This makes logistics very cost-effective,” he said.

Baswedan raised the issue of non-traditional threats such as a rise in hacking incidents, pledging the establishment of a cyberdefense structure.

“The key doesn’t solely lie in the technology itself. The essence lies in the comprehensive involvement of everyone,” he said.

He also said that he would make Indonesia a decisive leader in the global setting, not “merely a spectator,” through its soft power such as the arts.

“Through these efforts, we aim to make Indonesia both a gracious host in its own land and a charming guest in other countries,” he added.

Subianto is ahead of his rivals in opinion polls since choosing Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the president’s eldest son, as his vicepresidential candidate.

Pranowo is far behind in second place.

Recent surveys suggest that Baswedan, in third place, might have a chance to beat Pranowo and be in the second-round runoff vote.

____

AFP

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