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Political Books Write a New Chapter in Election Season

Sept_7_2010_Woodward_bookcoverAP.jpg

Grade school kids aren't the only ones hitting the books this fall.

A veritable cavalcade of political tomes hit bookshelves in the weeks surrounding the midterm elections-from political insiders like Bob Woodward and former President George W. Bush, to up-and-comers like Meghan McCain and the GOP's "Young Guns"-and they may have more at stake than a spot on the bestseller list. By strategically releasing memoirs and tell-alls at the height of election season, authors and publishers may capitalize on the public's political interest and in turn sway the electorate.

Democrats saw great gains in 2006 and 2008, but pundits are already predicting this year's midterms will reverse that trend. Some argue books critical of President Obama, in a climate sour on the Democratic leadership, stand to sell big in advance of the election.

Of particular interest this cycle is Bob Woodward's upcoming release, "Obama's Wars." The book got its title just three weeks before its scheduled September 27 release and just three weeks after Woodward finished writing it. Though the book focuses on foreign policy-instead of the hot-button issue of the economy-some argue the process was expedited specifically to take advantage of the political fever pitch before November 2. Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) tells Fox News that regardless of the focus, Obama's performance is a major selling point for books this cycle.

"Publishers, generally speaking, like to sell books, and so they're going to put the book out when they think they can get the most attention to it," Santorum says. "The eyes of the country are on Barack Obama between now and the election. This election is a referendum on him and so anything about him is going to sell more books."

Democratic strategist Jane Kleeb agrees, but thinks the effect on election results will be minimal at best. "I do think with Woodward's book in particular there is a strategy," she tells Fox. "If you're [writing] a political book, you obviously want to release it around the election. But I really do think the reality is, the bottom line is, those who buy political books are pretty much deeply rooted in their political beliefs and voting patterns. So these books aren't necessarily a persuasion tool, but they most certainly are a tool to energize the base."

"Obama's Wars" is Woodward's first book on the Obama administration, following four increasingly critical books on former president George W. Bush's handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Woodward's bestseller "State of Denial," out two days before its scheduled October 2, 2006 release date due to overwhelming demand, sold more than a half million copies and dominated the political news cycle leading up to that year's midterms. That book-Woodward's third in his Bush at War series and one of the first to allege the administration misled the American public leading up to and during the Iraq War-came at a time when public opinion on the Republican leadership was decidedly negative, and Republicans saw heavy losses that November. The Washington Post writer has been uncovering intimate details from behind closed doors in White Houses stretching back to Nixon-and his reporting along with Carl Bernstein on Watergate led to that president's resignation.

Also a first is former "Car Czar" Steven Rattner's tell-all, "Overhaul," which bumped up its release date nearly a month to keep pace with media reports and leaks. Rattner's book is the first from a former Obama staffer, and publishers promise revealing details on "political warfare" amid "one of the severest crises of President Obama's first year in office."

Kleeb says that description appeals to political junkies but isn't likely to make it to the average American's coffee table. "These tell-all gossip books, you know, are interesting for politicos-we love them because we see the personalities, like Rahm [Emanuel, White House chief of staff], as movie stars, so we like to see how they act behind closed doors," she says, referring to a much-talked-about excerpt from "Overhaul" in which Rattner describes an aggressive and profane Emanuel during heated auto negotiations.

Santorum believes the timing of Rattner's book release may be about sparing the administration a second blow, saying a potentially explosive tell-all released after November 2 may add insult to injury. "This election could be so devastating for this president that anything coming out after would look like piling on," he says.

Democrats aren't the only subjects of this season's book bonanza. Republican congressmen Eric Cantor (Va.), Paul Ryan (Wisc.) and Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) are the self-described "Young Guns" in their book, out September 14. Their joint effort is all about bringing the Republican Party back to its Grand Old roots and translating them for the 21st century. Publisher Threshold Editions writes that these values include "economic freedom, limited government, the sanctity of life, and putting families first," but Kleeb sees the "Young Guns" philosophy as an archaic option compared to the new Republican Party Meghan McCain describes in her book, "Dirty Sexy Politics," out now.

"Those are essentially on both ends of the Republican ideological spectrum," Kleeb says. "I think Republicans and conservatives are really looking for the identity to shape their party for the long haul."

"If we just take 'Dirty Sexy Politics' and 'Young Guns,' you know, it's either kind of going status quo-which 'Young Guns' are clearly talking about... or going down this road of a more inclusive Republican Party like Meghan McCain is really pushing for."

This public debate poses a problem for the Republican establishment, Kleeb continues. "From [House Minority Leader John] Boehner's perspective it's going to pose a problem, because he does not want to see debates happening about where republicans are ideologically," she says. "It's going to further divide the Republicans and keep some more moderate Republicans at home" on Election Day, but, Kleeb argues, such a debate is good for the party's long-term development.

There's no telling whether McCain or the "Young Guns" will be the next big thing in Washington, but at least one power player reached best-seller status before he reached the nation's top office. Then an upstart young senator, President Obama released "The Audacity of Hope" in 2006 and enjoyed the #1 spot for 16 weeks. The popularity of that book spurred a revised and reprinted Dreams from My Father-first released in 1995-on to the top position too.

For his part, former President George W. Bush is staying out of the pre-election political frenzy. Bush's memoir, "Decision Points," focuses on key moments in his eight years as president, and it arrives in bookstores a week after Election Day.

Santorum thinks Bush made the right call. "The election should be about Barack Obama, not about George Bush, and having Bush come out with his memoirs right before the election all of a sudden takes us back, if you will, to the Bush Administration," he says.

Furthermore, he argues, Bush stands to gain by waiting until the political mood settles to release his book. "It'll be given, I think, a much fairer shot at an analysis than something that would be done in a sort of hyper-partisan period right before an election." Former President Bill Clinton put out his autobiography, "My Life", in politically insignificant May 2005 and saw that book reach #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

Kleeb agrees, arguing Bush would be better off selling his book as a stocking stuffer before Christmas than as an explosive memoir that could sway the election. "I think President Bush has actually made a very calculated move not to get into the fray of the election cycle and that he didn't want his book being used as a political tool," she says. "[That's] a very good strategy for President Bush-he continues to be above the fray with a lot of the political fights. I think that's how he wants to see his legacy seen over these next couple of years."

Regardless of whether authors or publishers have a political agenda to help their party win in November, by taking strategic advantage of the political fervor in the country right now, they stand to win big at the bank.

 PHOTO CREDIT:

Cover provided by Associated Press via Simon & Schuster Publisher