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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 01/ 4/2008

Fact Checker Hits the Road

By Washington Post Editors

Saturday 4:30 p.m.

Senator John McCain is still trying to defend himself against accusations that he was in favor of an amnesty and social security payments for illegal immigrants. A questioner at the Town Hall meeting in Peterborough, NH, raised these charges again this afternoon, echoing a recent ad by Mitt Romney. In the street outside, Ron Paul supporters waved banners proclaiming "Stop McCain's amnesty." McCain angrily denied both charges.

It is untrue that McCain ever "voted to allow illegals to collect social security," as Romney put it in his recent radio ad. McCain was one of 11 Republican senators who voted to table an amendment in May 2006 that would have barred immigrants whose status was legalized from collecting social security for work performed while they were undocumented. But that negative vote is not at all the same thing as a vote in favor of social security for illegals.

The other charge depends on how you define "amnesty." The McCain immigration bill, which Romney initially supported, did not give a blanket pardon for illegal immigrants. Instead, it proposed a path by which they could obtain citizenship after paying thousands of dollars in fines. It is worth noting that in November 2005 Romney himself described the McCain proposal as "quite reasonable" and "very different from amnesty."

Join me and my colleague this evening for a live fact check of the Republican and Democratic debates from New Hampshire.

Saturday 10 a.m.

Forgive me for not filing earlier on the Mike Huckabee rally in Henniker. Since New Hampshire hotels are chock full, I am staying with in-laws across the border in Massachusetts. My brother-in-law is a serious oenophile, and I felt obliged to respond to his generous offers of hospitality. The Pouilly Fuisse led to the 1990 Pichon something-or-other which led to the vintage port, by which time I was in no condition to even think about fact checking Huckabee's speech. (Contrary to what some people think, it is not all politics, all the time, in these parts.)

It is interesting to compare Huckabee with Obama. They both score highly on the likeability index, and they are both accomplished practitioners of the politics of hope. Huckabee reminds us about his modest beginnings in Hope, Arkansas; Obama jokes that his enemies have labeled him a "hope-monger." But they are also very different. Obama reminds me of some exotic bird, soaring above the crowd. You want to believe his promises, but your skeptical nature holds you back. Huckabee is the regular guy down the street, who entertains you with his guitar and his stories, not all of which are believable.

True to form, Huckabee bounced on stage with Chuck Norris, whom he promptly named as his first secretary of defense. After telling us that he only got one and a half hours sleep the previous night, he said he wanted to prove that Republicans could have "more fun" than Democrats. That was the cue for a half-hour rock and roll show with a group called Mama Kicks, featuring Huckabee and his hand-crafted wooden guitar.

After a warm-up like that, it seems churlish to argue over a few facts, but I will go ahead nonetheless.

  • He claimed that "80 percent of all jobs in this country come from small businesses." That is not the case. According to the Small Business Administration, which tracks such things, small businesses (defined as businesses with up to 500 employees) generate 60-80 percent of new jobs in the economy, but they only employ about half the total workforce.

  • He claimed that he won the Iowa caucuses despite being "outspent 20-1." That seems like an exaggeration. According to the New York Times, Romney outspent Huckabee 6 to 1 in television advertising, the main component of campaign expenditures.

  • He argued that Americans are funding the "other side of the war on terrorism" every time they fill their cars up at the pump. This is a huge stretch. It is true that Saudi Arabia funded religious madrassahs in Pakistan and elsewhere that fueled the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. But oil profits are not the principal source of funding for terrorist groups. Besides, it did not take a huge amount of money to fund the destruction of the World Trade Center.

  • After pledging to make the United States "energy independent" within 10 years, he went on immediately to complain about a 70 cent increase in the price of gasoline. That seems like a contradiction in terms. What incentive is there to make the country energy independent if gasoline prices remain low?

  • I am off to Peterborough to hear John McCain. I will be fact checking the debates live at 7 p.m. this evening from Manchester, so join me then.

    Friday 3:30 p.m. Henniker, N.H. I have just come from a Hope-filled Obama rally in Concord, and now realize that there is one essential gizmo I forgot to bring with me to New Hampshire. I remembered the GPS gadget and the Airport, but what I really need is a Time Machine. Obama speeches, in particular, are short on facts but crammed full of promises, many of them so grandiose that they will keep historians busy for decades to come. Here is a sampling from his just concluded 30-minute speech at Concord High School ("Home of the Crimson Tide" and host so far to 11 different presidential candidates).

  • End the Iraq war

  • End the Genocide in Darfur

  • End U.S. dependence on foreign oil

  • End tax breaks for companies who ship jobs overseas

  • Stop climate change by putting caps on greenhouse gases

  • Stop the import of lead-laden toys from China

  • Close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay

  • Make health care "affordable" and "accessible" to all

  • Cut health insurance premiums by at least $2,500

  • Preside over a White House that is no longer "run" by lobbyists.

  • Actually, that last promise is a scaled-down version of an earlier pledge. As Politico noted back in December, Obama was greeted with loud applause on the campaign trail in Iowa when he announced that lobbyists "won't work in my White House." Evidently, that promise was a little too sweeping (there are 35,000 registered federal lobbyists after all) because Obama now merely says that lobbyists "won't run" his White House.

    Remind me to check back in 2012 to see if all those promises are met.

    In the meantime, I've moved on to New England College in Henniker ("Home of the Pilgrims") to listen to the Republican victor in last night's elections. The noise from the warm-up band is deafening as we wait for Mike Huckabee (with the ever-present Chuck Norris tagging along) to entertain us with his rock band act.

    12:45 p.m.
    This is a big experiment, so bear with me if there are some glitches. Even a Fact Checker has to get out of the office occasionally, so I am hitting the road, blogging from New Hampshire. I am headed to Manchester on Southwest Airlines (Boarding Group B) with all the tools of the blogger's trade: laptop, Blackberry, digital camera, digital recorder, GPS locating system (a Christmas present) for tracking the candidates, and a gizmo known as an Airport which will hopefully allow me to keep you up to date from the middle of nowhere. I am a complete novice at this but I am fired up and ready to go, to borrow a phrase I have heard recently.

    Over the course of the next five days, I hope to attend rallies and town hall meetings by all the major candidates. First up, Concord, New Hampshire, where Barack Obama is holding a victory rally. Then on to Henniker, a ski resort a few miles to the west, to hear Mike Huckabee. Ace researcher Alice Crites will be backing me up in Washington. If the victors make any questionable claims or statements, I will alert you. I will also let you know if their speeches are fact-free, feel-good exercises, as they were last night.

    On Saturday evening, I will be at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, for the back-to-back Republican and Democratic debates. We have assembled a team of crack fact checkers to keep track of the charges and counter-charges. Guest fact checkers will include Glenn Kessler, the Post's diplomatic reporter and a former economics writer, who has been fact checking presidential debates for years, and veteran political reporter John Solomon, who used to truth squad for the Associated Press before joining the Post for the 2008 campaign. Environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin, who has covered Congress for the Post and is now following the campaign, will be joining me in New Hampshire. We will also be consulting outside experts.

    By Washington Post Editors  | January 4, 2008; 12:45 PM ET
    Categories:  Candidate Watch  
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    Next: Saint Anselm College Presidential Debates

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