Politics in 2007: From Iraq to the 'Obama Girl'

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2007 had no shortage of drama, comedy, joy and tears in the theater of national politics.

The presidential campaign heated up faster than ever before. Democrats began the year in charge of Congress for the first time in 12 years. And President Bush and loyal Republicans did their best to ruin their victory every chance they got.

The following are some high and lowlights of the year in politics.

The New Road to the White House

Not a single vote has been cast and this election season already has smashed previous spending records and broken new barriers. This is the most diverse field of presidential candidates ever, with a Mormon (GOP candidate Mitt Romney), a woman (Democrat Hillary Clinton) and an African American (Democrat Barack Obama) all offering viable candidacies to be the next president.

This election also has been marked by the evolution of the Internet. Candidates big and small are wielding their power in new ways to pump cash into their campaigns and get their messages out.

Candidates' fans, too, have had the chance to make their views known.

Early in the year, the "Obama Girl" music video featuring a shapely lip-syncher swept the broadband spectrum. The video's creators followed up with tributes to Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, and copycats followed up with odes to other candidates.

YouTube — one of the central online points of Campaign '08 — became a tradepost for candidates to share their advertisements, but it also was a place for opponents to dig up old images to let voters decide for themselves over the captured moments, which otherwise likely would have been lost to local news video archives or government library stacks.

The video-posting Web site even got its own spotlight in the national television debates when it paired with a cable news network in a pair of debates to allow viewers to make their own clips to quiz the candidates.

Other new-media ventures into the 2008 conversation included News Corp.-owned MySpace's collaboration with MTV, and the pairing of Yahoo! with Huffingtonpost.com and Slate.com. And the trend will continue in 2008 when the popular social-networking Web site Facebook will team with ABC News in a debate before the New Hampshire primary.

The new formats didn't run without a few hiccups. At the CNN-YouTube debate featuring the Republican candidates, it turned out that one of the questioners was a volunteer for the Clinton campaign — and bloggers watching the live debate were able to quickly identify him as such before the cable network was able to do so.

The campaign said it had nothing to do with Keith Kerr's appearance at the debate — he was an unpaid volunteer — but the Clinton campaign already had faced questions over planting a question at an earlier event. A student attendee appeared to be asking Clinton her own question about climate change, but the student later said a campaign worker provided her the question.

The campaign has also led to a few stranger moments.

One of the weirdest turns of the campaign season — which turned out to be little more than a blip — was when a man claiming to have a bomb took over Clinton's campaign office in Rochester, N.H. No one was harmed.

But then again, Dennis Kucinich's revelation that he's seen a UFO — while visiting Shirley MacLaine — might also be a contender for that spot. He has since denied another claim in MacLaine's new book that he heard a message from the UFO.

And in case it hadn't been noticed, the campaign is earlier than it ever was before. GOP candidate Fred Thompson was the latecomer announcing in September that he was joining the race. Most candidates made their intentions known before the end of last year.

Congress: In Action or Inaction

Democrats took over Congress in January in an emotional tide, controlling both the House and the Senate for the first time since the 1994 GOP sweep. But the results this year were mixed.

While Democrats had the majority -- bringing with them the first woman speaker of the House -- they didn't have the numbers to break a filibuster in the Senate and couldn't come up with a veto-proof margin in the House. In the end, they came up nil on their biggest 2006 rallying cry: Stop the war in Iraq at all costs and bring the troops home.

In fact, the minority Republicans were able to band together with the White House to help force gridlock on Capitol Hill and muster enough support to give President Bush $70 billion in the last days of 2007 to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The amount was well short of the $200 billion the president had requested but well in excess of the Democrats' hope for zeroing out the war budget and bringing the troops home. Even as the number of battles falls in Iraq, the war is sure to rage on Capitol Hill in 2008.

Despite the quiet ending to the war debate in 2007, it had been a loud and raucous fight earlier in the year. At one point, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called for cots to be wheeled into Senate chambers so colleagues could get their rest in an all-night debate. That ploy, and many others, ended in Democratic losses.

But there was an upside to the bitterness in Washington: A spat between Reid and conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh turned into a $4.2 million windfall for a foundation catering to children of fallen Marines and law enforcement personnel.

That outcome was the result of Reid taking offense at Limbaugh, and sending Limbaugh's boss a letter signed by 41 Senate Democrats calling on Limbaugh to apologize over a comment about "phony soldiers." Reid argued the remark was insulting to troops who oppose the war, but Limbaugh said he was referring to ex-soldiers who lied about their service in Iraq.

Limbaugh put the letter up for auction on eBay. When it sold for $2.1 million to the Eugene B. Casey Foundation, Limbaugh matched the sale price. The proceeds were donated to the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation.

The Iraq war again spilled into the domestic sphere when the antiwar organization MoveOn.org placed its controversial ad headlined, "General Betray Us," in The New York Times. The ad came on the day that Gen. David Petraeus — among the most widely respected U.S. military leaders and the man tapped to lead the war effort against the insurgency in Iraq — was to testify on Capitol Hill on progress on the president's troop surge.

The ad drew fire from Bush, congressional Republicans and some Democrats. MoveOn critics with a bone to pick with "the liberal media" got an added bonus when it turned out The New York Times gave MoveOn a sweetheart deal on the ad, selling the ad space for half price and violating company ad policy.

But it wasn't all bitterness over the war all the time in Congress. Lawmakers passed a sweeping energy bill, a minimum wage hike, new ethics laws and broader homeland security measures.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Stalls Again

One encompassing issue that didn't pass Congress was illegal immigration. Despite early Spring protests around the country, the huge debate over illegal immigration again grinded to a halt in 2007, much like it did in 2006.

Republicans who last year supported a similar measure this year shied away as fear over greater losses in 2008 took hold. Conservative talk radio shut down the Capitol Hill switchboard after egging on callers to dial their representatives to tell them to oppose the legislation that would have beefed up border security while giving illegals a path to legal residency and eventual citizenship.

Even though Bush dispatched top deputies — Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez — to hammer out a deal with Congress that might withstand conservative opposition, the slim margins were too narrow to overcome.

It didn't. The final plan that the Senate was working on couldn’t get past claims of amnesty for illegal immigrants, and went to defeat in June.

Oh, and That Senator With the Wide Stance

The headlines in September were dominated by the antics of Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, arrested on charges of lewd conduct and solicitation after allegedly tapping his foot and exhibiting other suspicious behavior in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall.

Craig, initially indicating he'd resign, is staying put for now saying he has done nothing wrong, and loudly disputing what he calls a smear campaign by his local newspaper. Craig, who has faced earlier allegations of homosexual behavior, proclaimed this year, "I am not gay." A judge, however, refused to overturn his misdemeanor guilty plea.

His explanation to the undercover police officer who nabbed him, released on tape to the media, ushered in a new idiom for the American lexicon — "I have a wide stance" — which is now frequently used when someone offers a weak excuse for his actions.

Craig isn't going to run to keep his seat next fall. That would put him among nearly two dozen other Republicans in the Senate and House who have announced they won't be seeking re-election next year, although none of the others had a skeleton like this to explain the retirement plans.

White House Exodus Continues

If Republicans in Congress are slipping out the door, President Bush's White House has a conveyer belt leading out of the West Wing.

The most bitter exit was that of Alberto Gonzales, a longtime friend of the president's who was mired in a number of disputes with Congress — and is skating on the edge of a perjury investigation. He was at the center of the debate over torture, domestic wiretapping and the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 who were believed to be victims of political disputes rather than civil servants not making the cut.

The end of Gonzales' tenure didn't mean that Congress went easy on his successor. Democrats nearly derailed the nomination of retired federal judge Michael Mukasey over his response to a question over the interrogation method known as waterboarding: While he said it was "repugnant," he declined to say whether it is illegal.

Karl Rove, another political lightning rod, also decided to bow out from the administration he had served since Bush took office in 2001.

The administration also saw its top public relations face leave when White House press secretary Tony Snow submitted his resignation citing the need for a salary boost. Karen Hughes, who was the White House communications director in Bush's first term, who had returned to Washington to fill a State Department role in boosting America's image abroad, but said she'd be ending her run, too.

Pardon me? CIA Leak Case Closed

Administration critics howled when the former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence was commuted, but supporters took some solace in seeing that a loyal and tireless worker wouldn't do jail time — unlike former New York Times reporter Judith Miller who did 85 days in the slammer in 2005 to protect her source, who turned out to be Libby.

The case, built on the charges that someone in the White House outed CIA employee Valerie Plame, which turned out not to be true, ended up putting the media on trial as much as it did the former White House aide. The story showed that reporters' notes and memories were sometimes as sketchy as reluctant administration witnesses.

In the end, Libby was convicted on four out of the five charges he faced in the case that was likened by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to a baseball umpire getting sand thrown in his eyes.

In March, a federal jury convicted Libby of obstruction of justice, making false statements to the FBI, and perjury in front of a grand jury. Bush commuted his sentence in July, leaving in place a $250,000 fine, despite protests by Libby's supporters for a full pardon. Libby paid the fine, but dropped the appeal of his sentence in December.

Madam Who?

A black book. An alleged prostitution ring. Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. And possibly some of Washington's most important names? Could it get better?

Probably. But still, Deborah Jeane Palfrey — now known simply as the D.C. Madam — managed to get the nation's capital's attention in a few brief moments this summer. She faces federal racketeering and conspiracy charges for running an alleged million-dollar prostitution service, although she claims she ran a legitimate escort service.

Palfrey has opened her phone records to anyone who cares to look and cross-reference old numbers with other records to figure out who was on the phone with the escort service. She says that those on the list will vouch for her innocence.

As a result of the phone numbers being released, former State Department official Randall Tobias resigned in May after being identified as a client of Palfrey's firm, Pamela Martin Associates.

But the biggest embarrassment — so far — came for Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who ended up apologizing in July when his number was revealed to be among those in Palfrey's records. In a bit of irony, the married Vitter first won a congressional seat in 1999, taking the district vacated by Bob Livingston after the would-be House speaker's extramarital affair was revealed, ending his political ambitions.

A local Louisiana prostitute came forward in September claiming to have had an affair with Vitter, but Vitter only responded through a spokesman to say that he and "his wife have addressed all of this very directly."

Vitter was pushed into the spotlight by none other than attention seeker and self-appointed First Amendment protector Larry Flynt. Flynt, who offered $1 million to anyone who linked lawmakers to illicit sexual behavior, says he wants to especially highlight the lives of those who say they stand for family values and other upright behavior, but don't practice what they preach. Vitter has been an advocate for laws protecting marriage.

A year of comebacks

Al Gore made a triumphant if not fully satisfying trip to the Oval Office in November. He didn't get to stake a claim to the desk, which remains occupied by his 2000 arch-rival and contested election winner George Bush — but he did have a Nobel prize in hand.

Gore, whose film "An Inconvenient Truth" raised a global rallying cry to the dangers of manmade climate change, took home a trifecta of awards this year. In addition to the prize from Stockholm, his film won an Oscar and an Emmy.

Gore took some licks this year over energy consumption at his Nashville, Tenn., mansion, but that didn't quiet fans' calls for him to join the 2008 presidential race. He has repeatedly declined a run this year.

Leaving nearly as quickly as he made his comeback, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., has left the Senate to reportedly work in the lobbying sector.

Lott had been living in political purgatory since he made a verbal gaffe in 2002 that stirred racial tensions all over again. At a birthday celebration for the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, Lott said that had the country supported Thurmond's segregationist presidential campaign against Harry Truman, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years."

That sentence ended in his losing the majority leader spot in the Senate — the top post — but he clawed his way back. After last year's elections, Lott won the minority whip post, becoming the Senate's No. 2 Republican when Congress reconvened in January. His farewell, widely welcomed by opponents, was sadly received by Republican colleagues.