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Do hard labor with Edwards, for a fee


Presidential campaigns are very creative at linking with voters -- especially when it comes to obtaining their names and e-mails for fund appeals. Remember helping pick Hillary Rodham Clinton's official campaign song? Barack Obama's campaign invited selected donors of small amounts to dinner. John McCain sends a copy of his new book in return for a donation.

John Edwards' newest gimmick? He wants five people to join him next month for some hard labor: helping build in a poor New Orleans neighborhood. But it'll cost you. The catch is, in order to do this volunteer work, he'd like you to give him money for the privilege.

"Help John rebuild New Orleans with a [campaign] contribution today," says an e-mail from David Bonior, campaign manager. Exactly how giving money to Edwards helps the New Orleans neighborhood is not explained. But Bonior adds, "By giving between now and the end of the quarter on Sunday, Sept. 30, you -- and four other supporters -- could have the opportunity to work alongside John. . . .

"This campaign is about creating big, bold change on the issues that matter -- so we're not offering you gimmicks," the Bonior e-mail continues. "We're not offering you a fancy dinner. And we're not offering you the chance to hobnob with celebrities and former presidents."

Just the chance to buy a chance to sweep and hammer with a former senator.

A smaller line of type just like this at the end of the Edwards e-mail says, "No purchase or contribution necessary to enter."


Awaiting a Kucinich surge

No one ever accused Rep. Dennis Kucinich of joining the pack to chase the most votes.

According to last week's Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, the six-term Ohio congressman, who seems to be perennially campaigning for president, has voter support ranging from 1% of Democrats in South Carolina all the way up to 3% in New Hampshire, which loves mavericks who tell them how important they are.

Recently the House voted on a commemoration resolution establishing Sept. 11 "as a day of remembrance, extending sympathies to families of victims . . . and honoring those who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq."

The vote was 334 to 1. Guess who voted against it? Kucinich says the resolution should have mentioned numerous lies that took the U.S. into Iraq, keep its soldiers there, are setting the stage for a war against Iran, and undermine U.S. civil liberties.

Fresh from that vote and a recent chat with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Kucinich, 60, and wife Elizabeth, 29, headed for that political linchpin, Hawaii. He says he's the first candidate of either party to work the Hawaii vote. Kucinich is obviously aware of the state's history: No Democrat has ever won the presidency without winning or losing there.


Survivor, the GOP edition

Mike Huckabee, the affable former Arkansas governor, is still riding high on his second-place showing in last month's largely irrelevant Ames, Iowa, straw poll. Huckabee said visits to his campaign website are up, as is fundraising, though he couldn't say by how much. Hmmm.

In fact, the quest for money is what brought Huckabee to Orange County and L.A. last week. He spoke before a Lincoln Club group in Irvine (not a fundraiser, but you can bet one will be planned), and then he attended a Beverly Hills fundraiser hosted by Suzi and Fred Wehba, a real estate investor whose holdings include the Watergate in Washington, D.C.

But the post-Iowa cash influx hasn't been enough for Huckabee to upgrade his travel arrangements. He's still flying commercial, an everyman experience just as frustrating and time-consuming for him as the rest of us. "One of the first things I do as president," he joked, "is I fix the air traffic control system."


Hot topic, or not?

Last week's Times/Bloomberg poll in the early-pick states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina underscores what has been evident by listening to the candidates: the importance of the illegal-immigration issue depends very much on one's partisan inclinations.

In a nutshell, the survey found that few Democratic-leaning voters in those states rate the matter as the top priority for White House contenders. By contrast, a healthy slice of Republicans in those states rank it high.

The findings help explain why illegal immigration rarely gets a mention among the Democratic presidential candidates and why it's a hot topic in the GOP race. In Iowa, 9% of Democrats chose illegal immigration as the top issue; among GOP voters, the figure was 30% (basically tying with the Iraq war and with protecting the United States from terrorists). The gap was comparable in New Hampshire (5% versus 25%) and South Carolina (7% versus 23%).

A similar divergence was found on healthcare with the roles reversed -- especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. Many more Democratic voters than Republicans ranked that as their main priority.


She stays under the radar

Candidate spouses have become increasingly prominent in presidential campaigns, perhaps a consequence of the elongated process of seeking the White House.

One who has not is Barbara Richardson, wife of Bill. She has been by his side throughout his political career, but she's always been low-profile.

"I'll never be as outspoken as some other candidates' wives, because they're more comfortable at it," she said in a recent Associated Press interview.

"I would feel free to tell [Bill] what I thought of an issue, but in terms of day-to-day advice, I don't," she said. Besides, she added, "he's not even around day to day. He goes out for eight to 10 days at a time. He comes back for a day of rest. The last thing he wants is me yammering on about an issue."

Many couples can relate, we think.


Excerpted from The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at topoftheticket. Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.

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