Hillary Clinton started off this year's presidential contest as the woman to beat. She was the undisputed frontrunner who had the luxury of staying above the fray while the longshots, no-shots, and underdogs kept scrapping with each other as they jockeyed for position. Her closest rival for most of last year was Barack Obama, whom she rarely engaged for the first half of the year.
All of this changed, however, after Iowa and New Hampshire. Longshot candidates Richardson, Biden, and Dodd dropped out, thus leaving Clinton a bit more exposed. It's easy to maintain one's frontrunner aura when you are sharing the stage with six or seven other candidates. But when that number was reduced to three, it became much easier for voters to make clear distinctions between the candidates.
On top of this, Clinton placed third in Iowa. This third place finish is what gave Barack Obama both legitimacy and momentum. Clinton was able to eke out victories in New Hampshire and Nevada (though Obama won more delegates in Nevada), but Obama countered with the first true blowout in South Carolina. No longer was Clinton the clear frontrunner. For the first time, the Democratic race was truly a tossup. Both Clinton and Obama were essentially co-frontrunners. They were equals. And they matched each other step for step on Super Tuesday.
However, in politics, perception matters. The perception of Obama was that he finally caught the frontrunner Clinton. With Clinton, however, she got caught by Obama. Implicit in these statements is the idea that Clinton was either on a downward trajectory or had stagnated while Obama was trending higher. So the two candidates may have been equals, but they were clearly on different paths.
After about a five-week period in which Clinton and Obama could legitimately be called equals, Obama began to run up the score by winning 11 straight contests after Super Tuesday. Clinton was able to win a stay of execution by winning Ohio and Texas, but the fact that she had become the underdog could not be denied. And given the lack of pledged delegates yet to be won, the lack of contests remaining, and the margins of victory she would need to win the overall popular vote, Clinton is in serious trouble.
Now Hillary Clinton has become what John Edwards used to be after his third place showings in New Hampshire and Nevada--the decided underdog with little chance of winning the nomination. There simply aren't enough votes left. Clinton may claim that the race is "dead even," but it's not, at least not anymore. And even though Barack Obama cannot become the nominee without the help of superdelegates, it would be very hard for these delegates, many of whom are elected officials, to overturn the will of the people and nominate Hillary Clinton. The party that argued so passionately for Al Gore and his popular vote victory in 2000 could not credibly deny the winner of the popular vote in the primaries in 2008. So unless something cataclysmic happens that renders Obama unelectible (e.g., Jeremiah Wright Part 2 or Eliot Spitzer/David Vitter/Larry Craig Part 794), Obama looks like the Democratic presidential nominee.
So why is Clinton still in the race? Here are three possible explanations:
1. The "I still have a chance" scenario. Again, Clinton could be waiting to capitalize on a major gaffe or scandal that wounds Obama so badly that he must abort his campaign. (This was the John Edwards strategy until he ran out of money.) And despite the clamoring from others to drop out and the fact that her campaign is running short on cash, Clinton has vowed to stay in the race until the party convention. On top of this, the next primary will take place in Pennsylvania, where polls suggest a probable Clinton victory. So it would seem foolish for her at first glance to drop out of the race when the next thing coming down the pike is a likely double-digit victory.
And what about the legions of women who are hardcore Clinton supporters and do not take kindly to other men telling her she should get out of the race? Hearing people like Senator Pat Leahy tell Clinton to drop out only emboldens and angers these women. They want Clinton to keep on fighting when they hear these kinds of remarks. So that could be good for her fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts.
2. The "I see the writing on the wall, but I want to leave on my own terms" scenario. Could it be that Clinton knows she has less than a 10% chance of winning and is simply waiting for the right timing? Remember, she has had a tough two weeks as she had to deal with the embarrassment stemming from her embellishing her trip to Bosnia as First Lady, losing the endorsement of former Bill Clinton cabinet official Bill Richardson to Obama, the subsequent furor over James Carville's comparing Richardson to Judas, and Obama receiving the endorsement of Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey.
Timing is everything in politics, and right now is not the right time for Clinton to leave the race, even if she wants to. Simply put, politicians want to bow out on a high note. Leaving the race now would put a rather sorry bookend on her presidential campaign and would be the last memory most average voters have of Clinton before she returns to the Senate to finish out the rest of her political career. That would almost be worse than losing. So the bottom line is that if she's going to drop out, she should at least do it when all the other negative stuff has made it off of Page A1.
3. The "I want to be the nominee regardless of the damage I cause" scenario. I recently wrote about the anger this protracted campaign was causing, as a significant amount of voters claimed to be more apt to support John McCain than their own party's nominee. This is the scenario that Democrats most fear. Clinton and Obama are neck and neck. Pledged delegates aren't really bound to anyone. Superdelegates should vote their conscience even if that means overturning the expressed will of the voters. The nominee should be determined by the electoral votes of the states won. I would not have stayed at that church had I known Jeremiah Wright was making anti-American remarks even though this story died a week before I decided to express my outrage about it.
These are the kinds of comments that make Republicans squeal with delight.
Once again, every candidate has a right to run. And Clinton's chances at winning the nomination are far better than Dennis Kucinich's or Mike Gravel's. But if this third scenario is what's keeping Clinton in the race, she risks putting her own presidential ambitions ahead of the party's, and she may very well cause irreparable damage to it. Black voters in particular are still angry with Clinton and may decide to stay home on Election Day. And moderate Republicans and independents who like Obama may do so as well or simply vote for McCain.
This is not to say that a Clinton nomination would instantly inflame the Democratic Party and tear it apart. However, if her nomination reeks of kitchen sinks and backroom deals without a compelling case against the true frontrunner at present, Hillary Clinton's legacy and the Democratic Party will both go up in flames.
Hillary Clinton started off this year's presidential contest as the woman to beat. She was the undisputed frontrunner who had the luxury of staying above the fray while the longshots, no-shots, and underdogs kept scrapping with each other as they jockeyed for position. Her closest rival for most of last year was Barack Obama, whom she rarely engaged for the first half of the year.
Gallup has recently released a poll that sheds light on the extent to which the ongoing fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has damaged the Democratic party. According to the poll, 28% of Clinton supporters would back McCain over Obama in the general election while 19% of Obama supporters would back McCain over Clinton. These findings suggest that both Clinton and Obama have rendered each other unacceptable to a significant amount of each other's supporters. The idea that 1 in 5 Obama supporters or 1 in 4 Clinton supporters would back McCain over their own party nominee should give all Democrats pause.
However, while Gallup's findings may make for good fodder for the punditry, I believe it would be prudent to take a step back and view this poll with a bit more skepticism. Democrats may be angry and polarized, but they are not so rash as to completely undermine the issues important to them. Instead of a true warning sign, this poll gives angry Democrats the opportunity to vent their frustrations a bit and do so in a way that should not inflict long-term or permanent damage to the Democratic Party.
There are simply too many ideological differences between the Democrats and John McCain to make partisan Democrats pull the lever for him at the ballot box in November. Consider the following:
1. The Democratic Party clearly wants to find a way out of Iraq, either through immediate withdrawal, the implementation of timelines, or via a redeployment to the surrounding countries. John McCain will probably not give them that. And he may even be more likely to get involved in a military confrontation with Iran.
2. Control of the Supreme Court is something Republicans are keenly aware of, especially given the age of Justice Paul Stevens, who is perhaps the most liberal of the nine justices. (He turns 88 next month.) One gets the sense that this is not as much of an issue for Democrats though. But should Justice Stevens retire and be replaced by a conservative appointee, that would have a tremendous effect on issues that conservatives have been trying to overturn for decades--especially abortion rights. Democrats are generally pro-choice when it comes to this issue. John McCain, who is under pressure from social conservatives, would probably appoint a Supreme Court justice in the mold of John Roberts, Sam Alito, or Clarence Thomas. In other words, voters to whom abortion rights matter will not vote against their self interests by supporting someone who will likely restrict them.
3. Democrats are trying to brand McCain as an extension of George Bush. The new line of attack seems to be "John McCain is running for George Bush's third term." Democrats overwhelmingly disapprove of the Bush presidency, so why would they vote for someone whom they argue would only continue it? So many polls suggest that voters want the next president to take the nation in a new direction. Are Democrats really prepared to throw all this out the window and support McCain just because their own candidate didn't win the Democratic presidential nomination?
The idea that Obama's supporters, who are likely more liberal as a whole than Clinton's supporters, would even entertain supporting McCain is not credible. The only way I could see 1 in 5 Obama supporters defecting to McCain is if that 1 in 5 consists of independents and moderate Republicans who are drawn to Obama's message of unity and bipartisanship. Wealthy, well-educated liberals are not going anywhere. Liberals don't vote for conservatives, just as conservatives don't vote for liberals. Black voters are not going anywhere. Republicans traditionally lose the Black vote by about 8 to 1. Young voters are not going anywhere. A 24-year old will simply have trouble relating to a candidate who is three times older than her.
The same could be said for Clinton's supporters. The 1 in 4 voters that would prefer McCain to Obama probably consists of older White blue-collar Reagan Democrats who would vote against their own economic self interests and support the Republican nominee because they are more uncomfortable with Obama's candidacy than other more liberal voters. The Jeremiah Wright controversy probably greatly offended them and rendered Obama unacceptable in their minds. Or perhaps this 1 in 4 consists of voters who have too many reservations about Obama's perceived inexperience.
The rest of Clinton's coalition, however, is not going anywhere. Women are not going anywhere, especially with the Supreme Court hanging in the balance. Latinos are not going anywhere either, especially since John McCain will be much tougher on illegal immigration than either Clinton or Obama.
In short, Obama's and Clinton's supporters are justifiably angry. However, it would be incredibly shortsighted of them to punish the party and work against their own self interests by supporting someone who is so antithetical to the causes and values that are so important to them. Therefore, we should not read too much into the Gallup poll. Rather than jumping aboard McCain's ship, a more likely outcome would be for these disaffected Democrats to simply stay home on Election Day. That would be bad for the Democrats, but not nearly as bad as hemorrhaging support to the Republican nominee.
When the Democratic race is finally decided, the nominee will have a bit of work to do in order to win over the support of those who voted for the nominee's former rival. It would seem that it would be easier for Obama to win over Clinton's supporters than for Clinton to win over Obama's supporters because if Obama does not become the nominee, especially despite winning more states, more pledged delegates, and more popular votes, the enthusiasm among his supporters will immediately disappear and there will be a sense that the election was "stolen" from their preferred candidate. But even if that happens, most voters usually "come home" on Election Day, even if they have to hold their noses at the polls. Remember, even John Kerry was able to get 48% of the vote. So right now, the Gallup numbers look more like hot air than a real political emergency.
In my last post, I addressed presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's potential vice presidential picks. I primarily examined the merits of former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. However, there was one prominent name that I deliberately left unmentioned because I felt he deserved his own post. That potential pick is former presidential rival and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney received a bum rap during this year's presidential campaign. Some of it was unfair because it pertained to issues beyond his control that should not have even been issues to begin with, such as his religion. Other problems he experienced were of his own doing, such as exaggerating, changing his positions on several key issues, and a general sense of artificiality or detachment because of his wealth and perceived "perfect" family and personal image. But all in all, he had run a decent campaign and was methodically putting together support in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire until two things happened:
1. Fred Thompson's candidacy wounded Romney in that Thompson assumed the role Romney was trying to fill, but with a lot more name recognition, buzz, and fanfare. This essentially relegated Romney to second fiddle in the minds of voters who were searching for an authentic, consistent conservative. However, Thompson turned out to be a disappointment. This, coupled with Rudy Giuliani's flagging campaign, was excellent news for Romney until...
2. The meteoric rise of Mike Huckabee, who was able to rocket up the polls on a shoestring budget. Huckabee's perceived authenticity and humility contrasted greatly with Romney, who had come to be seen as trying to buy votes because of how much of his personal fortune he had invested in his campaign. In addition, Huckabee's exploitation of the discomfort some Republicans had regarding Romney's faith took Romney off message and forced him to deliver a speech on faith in America, which was symbolically similar to the speech Barack Obama gave on race earlier this month. Time he spent addressing his religion was time he could have spent shoring up his support in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
In the end, both Thompson and Huckabee led to Romney's undoing. Thompson was a nonviable candidate, but he ended up draining votes that could have gone to Romney in Iowa and South Carolina. Huckabee had a bit more support than Thompson, but didn't have the money and was seen as a one-dimensional candidate (a religious conservative) who could not go the distance against McCain. Had Romney stopped Huckabee in Iowa, Huckabee's campaign would have been stillborn and Romney very well may have won South Carolina.
By the time Florida came around and it appeared that the conservative candidates' cannibalizing each other was doing nothing but clearing the way for the distrusted and perceived moderate John McCain, conservative Republicans wizened up and began to rally behind Romney. However, it was too little too late and McCain was well on his way to becoming the presumptive nominee.
Since then, Romney's name has been bandied about as a possible vice presidential choice. Despite his previous stances on core conservative issues, Romney is now much closer to the Republican base than McCain is. And given how attractive he ultimately ended up in comparison to the flash-in-the-pan or one-dimensional candidacies of Giuliani, Huckabee, and Thompson, it is reasonable to assert that Romney's stock value increased significantly in the minds of conservatives. Thus, Romney could be seen as the face of the New Republican Party in 2012 if John McCain's campaign ends in failure.
So could McCain groom Romney by tapping him to be his running mate this year? It's possible, but I view it as unlikely for the following reasons:
1. Romney and McCain do not personally like each other. McCain has hit Romney hard in the debates for his flip-flopping and mockingly referred to him as "the candidate of change." Both men may be able to swallow their distaste for each other, but it seems a bit far-fetched to think there could be a true sense of synergy between them. McCain-Romney seems about as awkward as Kerry-Edwards.
2. Conservatives were unhappy with this year's Republican field because there wasn't a credible, consistent conservative in the running. Thompson, Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, and Romney all had at least one fatal flaw. But now the race is over, and John McCain can choose anyone he wants. His pool of potential vice presidential picks is far richer than the pool of actual Republican presidential candidates. Romney may be more in line with conservative Republicans now in comparison to his former rivals. However, there are many more current and former Republican governors, senators, and congressmen who are even more attractive to the base than Romney is. And Romney will likely have to compete with these more attractive candidates in 2012 as well, should he decide to run again. Despite his current ideology, Romney is still an emotionally sterile candidate who is seen as a flip-flopping opportunist to many voters. For the charismatically challenged John McCain, Mitt Romney would not complement him much in this regard.
3. Romney's candidacy would take several traditional Republican weapons off the table in the general election. Wedge issues like gay marriage would not be as effective because of its legalization in Romney's home state of Massachusetts. Attacking "socialized medicine" also wouldn't work because of the healthcare system Romney enacted during his gubernatorial term. And how would Second Amendment defenders feel about Romney, especially if the eventual Democratic nominee chooses a muscular Democrat like Virginia Senator Jim Webb for the #2 slot? In short, having Romney on the ticket would force the Republicans to reconcile several inconsistencies that exist between their presidential ticket and their common criticisms of their Democratic opponents.
4. Romney would not "deliver" a state or help deliver a region in which McCain is weak. Republicans will not win Massachusetts this fall. It just won't happen. And McCain is strong enough to put New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey in play without Romney. But more importantly, Romney probably will not help McCain at all in the South. Barack Obama has performed quite well in the South, where there are high percentages of Black voters. This is not to say Obama's support is only high among Black voters, but if Blacks make up 30-40% of the vote and Obama is winning 85% of these votes, that gives him a very high floor from which he can expand his support. Mike Huckabee won several Southern states, but Mitt Romney got completely shut out. Hillary Clinton will probably take Arkansas and could put Tennessee and Florida in play, while Barack Obama could legitimately contest North Carolina and Georgia. Mitt Romney will probably not do much to stem this.
My sense is that Romney's window has closed and there's nowhere else for him to go except in a future Republican president's cabinet. This year's Republican presidential field is similar to the Democratic presidential field in 2004 in that both fields consisted of relatively weak candidates. Should McCain lose this year's election, there will be a new wave of conservative presidential aspirants looking to lead the party out of the wilderness. At least one of these aspirants will be the consensus candidate that unites fiscal, social, and foreign policy conservatives--and probably do so more effectively than Romney ever could. And the fact that Romney will likely have to contend with such candidates in 2012 does not preclude him from having McCain consider such candidates right now.
Seeing that the race for the Republican presidential nomination is essentially over, the only real storyline on that side of the ledger now concerns whom John McCain will chose as his running mate.
Vice presidents are chosen for a variety of reasons. They are tapped to bring ideological balance to a ticket (e.g., a conservative trying to broaden his appeal by selecting a moderate), add geographical balance (e.g., a Northeasterner selecting a Southerner), or simply deliver a state (e.g., choosing a governor from State X to take it out of play for the opposing party in the general election). Other vice presidential picks are chosen for reasons unrelated to state-by-state electoral calculus, such as complementing one's resume (e.g., a stiff policy wonk choosing someone more charismatic who can connect with regular people) or to even placate one segment of the party base (e.g., a Republican moderate on illegal immigration choosing a hardliner as his running mate).
There are some factors that may preclude a nominee from selecting a particular running mate that are not due to any weakness of the potential running mate himself. For example, if a Democratic nominee likes a Democratic senator that hails from a state which has a Republican governor, there's a good chance that the Republican governor would appoint a Republican senator, thus changing the balance of the Senate. So in that case, choosing this particular Democratic senator as a running mate may do more harm than good, especially if the Democrat's presidential bid is ultimately unsuccessful.
In the case of John McCain and geography, he has effectively taken Arizona off the map because that is his home state. Democrats had been looking at Arizona as a possible pick-up opportunity, but that will have to wait until 2012 at the earliest.
Regarding ideology, McCain has two paths available to him. He could make a play for the center by selecting a moderate Republican or he could firm up his base by selecting a conservative. McCain still enjoys relatively favorable ratings among moderates, independents, and even Democrats because he is not seen as a hardcore partisan. If he wants to drive a stake in the heart of Democrats everywhere, he would choose a popular Republican governor from a blue state. Former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania would seem to be a particularly wise choice because Pennsylvania is one of the most important swing states that the Democrats have been able to win in recent elections. Should the Democrats lose Pennsylvania, they would have to flip Ohio or Florida to offset it and hope that Michigan doesn't slip through their fingers.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist may also be a wise choice because Florida is not nearly as Republican as Georgia and Tennessee are. Governor Crist has good looks, strong favorability ratings, and a youthfulness that cancels out McCain's age. And more importantly, taking Florida off the map would force the Democrats to compete elsewhere. A Crist selection seems plausible because of his endorsement of McCain before the Florida primary. So McCain owes Crist.
Of course, the weakness of selecting Gov. Ridge, Gov. Crist or any moderate would be a potentially dispirited conservative base. McCain was pummeled in the primaries for not being sufficiently conservative on taxes and illegal immigration. In fact, John McCain would not have been the nominee had Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Fred Thompson not all split the conservative vote. Would evangelical Christians and staunch conservatives stay home, or will they vote for the Constitution Party nominee? If these conservatives don't turn out at the polls, swing states like Missouri and Virginia could go blue.
Why would these conservatives rather stay home instead of vote for McCain even if that means they are helping the liberal Democratic candidate? It's because they want to send a message to Republicans that conservatives and conservatism matter. These conservatives care more about ideology than party. In other words, they are more conservative than Republican.
The second ideological tack McCain could take would be to select a conservative as a running mate. This would certainly please the base. However, the problem here is that the most fertile conservative territory is to be found in the South. Tapping Senator John Cornyn of Texas or Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia is not going to help much. Running up the score on Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in Alabama and Oklahoma is not going to bring McCain any closer to the nomination because those Southern states are states he should carry anyway.
Governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Haley Barbour of Mississippi are strong conservatives, but neither of them will help McCain win any states he shouldn't already be able to win by virtue of being a Republican. Even if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, South Carolina and Mississippi are decidedly uphill climbs for Democrats, especially in presidential elections. Conventional wisdom says these two candidates are good choices, but I ultimately believe their selection is unlikely. Gov. Sanford did not endorse McCain until long after the South Carolina primary and Gov. Barbour would probably rather remain as Mississippi's chief executive so he could help rebuild the state after Hurricane Katrina.
Geographically speaking, McCain would be unlikely to choose a candidate from the West. In addition to a lack of candidates to choose from in that part of the country, such a pick would not add much geographic balance to the ticket. On top of this, most Western and Plains states have small populations that would not be of much help electorally. This would eliminate otherwise attractive candidates like Senator John Thune of South Dakota.
McCain could also choose a personal friend as his running mate. The advantage to this would be the natural rapport between the two candidates. The Kerry-Edwards and Gore-Lieberman tickets seemed a bit awkward and forced. That would be akin to McCain choosing someone like Tom Tancredo. Two of McCain's closest friends happen to be the two senators that joined him on his most recent trip to the Middle East--Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Both senators would be safe picks in that they hail from states that have Republican governors (who would therefore likely appoint Republican Senate replacements) and they would be acceptable to both conservatives and moderates. Sen. Graham is a center-right senator, rather than a hard right senator. And Sen. Lieberman is seen as Republicans' favorite Democrat. Lieberman could give the Democrats fits because they need his seat in the Senate even though liberals are flummoxed by his defense policy. Then again, partisan Democrats may already view Lieberman as a traitor because of Iraq, so they may be happy to see him go. Lieberman has not expressed much interest in another White House run, but if his good friend McCain asked him, who's to say he would refuse? Another point worth considering is that Lieberman could also put the light blue states of Connecticut and New Jersey in play.
And lastly, no serious discussion of the McCain veepstakes would be complete without assessing his last serious rival for the nomination--Mike Huckabee. Conventional wisdom says that Huckabee would be a good fit for McCain because he could consolidate support among Southerners and evangelical voters. And they both needed each other to beat Mitt Romney. However, I disagree that Huckabee is a likely choice for McCain because 1) his economic populism likely would not go over well with fiscal conservatives, and 2) Huckabee may have worn out his welcome by staying in the race too long and potentially embarrassing McCain. Of course, Huckabee could have been sowing the seeds for another run at the White House in 2012 instead of trying to further endear himself to McCain, so maybe Huckabee doesn't care about McCain's decision.
Of course, all of this is idle speculation. Until the Democratic race gets settled, it would be prudent for McCain to focus more on improving his own relations with the GOP base, rather than worrying about his vice presidential pick. And besides, there's no sense in choosing a running mate before you even know who your own general election opponent is. McCain's choice should be at least partially be based on countering what the Democrats ultimately decide on. Suppose an Obama-Clinton ticket actually does materialize, despite my skepticism. Could McCain then look to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice or her predecessor Colin Powell? What a coup that would be!
In the meantime, considering all current and recent governors and senators, it would appear that Tom Ridge, Charlie Crist, and Joe Lieberman have the inside track.
As you may know, The 7-10 was voted the winner of the Political Blogging Scholarship awarded by College Scholarships.org. The winner of this scholarship must write a victory/acceptance speech which will be posted on the College Scholarships.org website. I have never written such a speech before because I had always considered myself more of a political blogger, rather than an actual politician. But I guess this is something I needed to learn how to do. I've already submitted my speech to the scholarship president, but I felt I should post a copy of it here as well.
It is with great honor, pride, and humility that I accept this award from Collegescholarships.org. What an amazing opportunity and thrilling experience.
Before going any further, I would like to congratulate David Manes and Jake McGuire for their selection as finalists and for putting together quality blogs that inspired me to improve my own blogging. I hope that both of you will continue to share your insights on the daily political news cycle on your blogs, and I wish you both success in your academic and professional endeavors.
There are so many people whom I would like to personally thank for their tireless effort, unwavering support, and unshakable dedication to this cause. There may be too many people to list here, but I'm going to try. I owe so much to my new and old friends, current and former coworkers, current and former teachers and supervisors, friends of friends, coworkers of coworkers, the University of South Carolina faculty and student body, the Duke University community, my wonderful friends in Japan, the Mixi community, those who left supportive comments of me and my blog on the Collegescholarships.org webpage, and anyone else who supported me at the ballot box and told their friends about this wonderful opportunity.
I would also like to give special thanks to Reginald and Shannon Williams, Oshri Hakak, Tala Ono, John Bailey, the Nohara family, the South Carolina blogosphere, the faithful readers of my political blog, my old Duke friends, and of course, my beautiful wife Eriko, my wonderful sister Brandi, my supportive Aunt Judy, my loving mother, and the rest of my family for their ideas, encouragement, inspiration, get out the vote efforts, and sticking by me regardless of how far up or down I was as the votes were being counted. And lastly, I must thank Collegescholarships.org for providing this unique opportunity and Taegan Goodard and the Political Wire team for informing me of it. To all of you, this honor could not have been achieved without you.
As an independent blogger, winning this scholarship shows that people are not as bimodal in their thinking as the media, punditry, and chattering classes often lead us to believe. No one political party has a monopoly on good ideas, nor is one political party incapable of foolishness. Democrats have good ideas, and Republicans do too. I strongly believe that voters respond when you respect their political intelligence, call it like you see it, act with integrity, and are not afraid to go against the grain that is nominal partisanship. You need two wings to fly a plane, and I'm glad the voters took note of this in this scholarship campaign. I can only hope that real politicians do so as well regarding elections whose stakes are far higher.
Politicians who pick up on this and try to integrate the best parts of both parties into their own platforms stand to go far in their political careers because politics is not about beating the Democrats or teaching Republicans a lesson. It's about the intelligent and meaningful exchange of ideas and looking for practical ways to integrate these ideas into the public square for the betterment of all.
Political blogging may be what I do for fun now, but this scholarship contest has made me think about participating in politics on a more substantial level myself. This experience has been quite educational and has provided me with some unique insights on the way politics is conducted and what goes into political campaigns. It is great to now have a bit of firsthand experience regarding the intensity, organization, determination, creativity, strategy, and networking required to achieve success in this profession.
I will use this scholarship to continue my journalism and political science studies at the University of South Carolina. However, the lessons learned from this scholarship campaign should serve me well in the professional life that awaits me beyond. I don't know exactly what lies ahead or where this political blog will take me, but I sincerely hope that we can take that next step together.
Thank you all for your continued support of me and The 7-10.
The big political story this week concerns the much-anticipated speech on race that Barack Obama gave in Pennsylvania. This speech was mainly in response to the controversy surrounding the firestorm brought about by remarks from his pastor Jeremiah Wright, but one can't help but wonder if it was also in response to the lingering racial tone the presidential race has taken over the past few months starting with Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of his campaign and Bill Clinton's race-baiting in South Carolina.
Many pundits have already written about this speech and came to various conclusions. Liberal Democrats who liked Obama generally liked his speech and felt energized by his uplifting rhetoric. Many claimed that it was the best speech since "I Have a Dream." Conservative Republicans who didn't like him much to begin with were generally unimpressed. Some of them said it was more political than courageous.
But liberals and conservatives are not the people Obama needed to address. The audience Obama should have been the most concerned about is soft supporters, mild skeptics, independent Whites, moderate Whites, and blue-collar Whites. These are the voters that could vote for John McCain (and maybe even Hillary Clinton) just as easily as they could vote for Barack Obama.
The biggest problem with Obama's speech is that it was a bit too cerebral for the voters who most needed to hear it. This is not to say that downscale Whites, for example, are unintelligent or bigoted. However, to appreciate the full value of Obama's speech, one needs to invest the time in sitting down and reading the entire transcript of the speech or watching it on YouTube. However, most voters, regardless of ideology, simply don't do that. Either they don't have regular access to the internet or they simply don't have the time because of their other responsibilities. Or perhaps they do have the time, but aren't interested enough in doing this research on their own. For better or worse, we live in a soundbyte political culture which explains why simple slogans like "cut and run" and "he was before it before he was against it" trump nuance and complexity every time.
These voters who didn't hear the speech in its entirety will only see snippets of it on the 6:00 news or read a short article about it in their morning newspaper. More troublesome for Obama, the clips they show on television will usually be immediately followed up or preceded by Jeremiah Wright's incendiary remarks about the government deliberately starting AIDS in Black communities and the United States' bringing September 11 upon itself because of its foreign policy. Playing a 10-second soundbyte from Obama's speech is not going to offset the anger that Wright's comments created among these voters.
Of course, Obama was asking voters of all races to be honest with themselves about their own private apprehensions regarding their prejudices. That's fine. And voters who don't feel they need to have this discussion or engage in this introspection are essentially missing the point of the speech. However, politics is not about speeches, nor is it about how well people understand these speeches. It's about how they react to them. My sense is that blue-collar Whites probably did not (or will not) react favorably to this speech even though this is not necessarily their fault or Obama's fault. In these voters' minds, Obama may be well-spoken and inspirational. But when they listen to his pastor's words, they are offended and disturbed. And when they consider the fact that Obama has been closely associated with this pastor for 20 years, they will wonder exactly how much Obama and this pastor have in common.
These voters aren't necessarily racist. However, Obama's new problem is that the race issue is now turning into a patriotism issue. Just a few years ago, Americans were eating "freedom fries." Knowing that an aspirant for President of the United States spent 20 years of his life attending a church whose pastor says "Goddamn America" and makes the same unpopular arguments as Ron Paul regarding September 11 probably renders Obama unacceptable to the very voters he needs to wrest away from John McCain. Even worse, Wright's comments contradict Obama's message of unity, hope, civility, and reconciliation.
Republicans are surely licking their jowls over this Wright development and Obama's subsequent speech. They had been hoping for a Hillary Clinton nomination because they thought she would be easier to beat than Obama. But now it's looking more and more like Obama is the paper tiger who won't be able to hold the Midwestern states that are chock full of Reagan Democrats who were more likely to be put off by Obama's speech. States like Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan suddenly look a bit more winnable for the GOP.
And the more time the media spend dissecting Obama's speech and the fallout from it, the less they are comparing Obama with McCain or covering Obama's positions on Iraq, the economy, and healthcare. And because neither Obama nor Clinton can secure the nomination via pledged delegates alone, Hillary Clinton can make a compelling argument to superdelegates in these swing states that Obama is too risky.
Obama is turning into the "Black candidate." This is not entirely his fault, but the longer everyone is talking about Black churches, Black pastors, and Black racism, the worse off Obama is. Obama should watch his polling numbers in the Midwestern states mentioned above carefully because once these Reagan Democrats and independent and moderate Whites are gone, it will be very difficult for him to get them back. Jeremiah Wright represents everything that makes many non-liberal Whites uncomfortable about Blacks, and in their mind, Obama's speech simply didn't go far enough in repudiating him. To these voters, Obama may talk a good game, but he is still "one of them."
John Edwards is probably wishing he hadn't dropped out of the race so soon. And Democratic superdelegates who aren't particularly enamored with Hillary Clinton are probably lamenting the fact that there isn't a third option available.
Again, Obama's speech was courageous, well written, well delivered, thoughtful, and powerful. Other politicians, pundits, and media figures cannot credibly criticize him for this speech because they likely could not give such a speech with even half as much class, eloquence, and balance. But eloquence and thoughtfulness don't win elections. Votes do. And Obama is probably going to hemorrhage them because in his critics' minds, his speech did not address the true source of their concerns.
Politicians, political parties, national leaders, and voters are going to have to do a bit of soulsearching and get serious about how they go about electing future presidents. As entertaining as the 2008 primary season has been so far with its intricacies and unpredictable storylines, it has revealed some very troubling weaknesses that do not reflect favorably on our political institutions and ultimately provide a disservice to the nation.
The Presidency of the United States is the single most important institution on Earth. Issues of war and peace, the international economy, and the freedoms we enjoy are all dependent on this one person. Shouldn't the importance and seriousness of this office be determined by a process that is equally serious?
Here are, in no particular order, criticisms of this campaign that should be addressed.
The 2008 field was winnowed too much too soon. Even though the presidential election is still about eight months away, the campaign essentially started more than a year ago. Now the remaining candidates (particularly Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) have torn each other down so much and have rendered themselves so unattractive to the broader electorate that one can't help but wonder why there aren't any more appealing candidates from which to choose.
Even though there are 50 states in the union, the Republican contest essentially got shut down on Super Tuesday, when only about half of the states could have their say. Even worse, the Democratic race was essentially weeded down to two candidates after South Carolina, where the fourth contest was held.
Now Republican voters in the later states are forced to accept John McCain, even though he is considered unacceptable by many in the GOP base. Any votes Mike Huckabee received in Mississippi, for example, were protest votes. Their votes don't matter. And Democratic voters in the later states are forced to choose between the negative Hillary Clinton and the controversial and fading Barack Obama (courtesy of his church).
A handful of voters in a handful of small states wielded a disproportionately large influence over the process, and not in a good way. John Edwards is probably wishing he didn't drop out of the race so soon. And the invisible second-tier candidates, such as Chris Dodd (who was often maligned for being a boring old Washington hand in the debates), suddenly look a lot more attractive as Clinton and Obama go at each other's throats. Nobody would be talking about controversial pastors, inexperience, race-bating, and rhetoric with no substance. But a few thousand voters in Iowa completely shut his candidacy out. The same could be said of Duncan Hunter (the authentic conservative Republicans were looking for), Joe Biden (the muscular and charismatic Democrat the left was looking for), and a few other lesser known candidates.
By the time September rolls around, most Americans will be sick of hearing about McCain, Obama, and/or Clinton. And many voters will lament that they don't really like any of those candidates. And on top of this, these candidates were thrust upon us too soon by an accelerated and frontloaded calendar. What a long time voters have to deal with buyer's remorse.
There should be a more equitable, more orderly, and better paced schedule of primaries and caucuses. Before the schedule became finalized, there were rumblings that the first primaries and caucuses would take place before Christmas last year, which is absurd. It is easy to understand why everybody wants to be first, but there should be better reasons to justify why some states should have their contests before others.
"Tradition" is not a good enough reason to keep rewarding the same states over and over again by granting them the first bite of the apple. Claiming that Iowa and New Hampshire should go first because they are small states also doesn't hold water because there are several states that are even smaller in terms of population and/or size. Why not let Delaware or Montana go first? Or why not give Alabama a chance? Saying that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire take politics more seriously is only an affront to voters in other states who would undoubtedly display the same amount of seriousness if they had the same opportunity. What would make a voter in Concord, New Hampshire, more serious about politics than a voter in Concord, North Carolina?
I have written much about ways to improve the primary process (read Primarily Stupid and Primarily Stupid: Part 2 for more information). Perhaps the most logical idea would be to assign the order of the primaries according to voter turnout in the previous presidential election. This way, voters in all states would have an incentive to turn out, even in "noncompetitive" states like New York or Texas. Imagine being a Democrat in Idaho or a Republican in Hawaii. Your vote would actually count for something! States that display the highest percentage of voter turnout should have their primaries be scheduled earlier. Such states would have proven their seriousness and would deserve to go first. States that display lower turnout should be lumped together and have their primaries take place later. And because the order of the primaries would change from cycle to cycle, politicians would be unable to canvass the same states every presidential cycle even before the primary and caucus dates are established. This proposal would bring more voters into the process and encourage healthy competition.
There is no grown-up in the room, which has led to chaos. All the states were tripping over each other to be first this time around. And two states, Michigan and Florida, rightfully stand to be penalized for trying to break the party rules. Now there's the specter of a fight on the convention floor if the delegates from those two states aren't seated. But if the Democratic Party does not penalize them, then what will prevent another state from violating the calendar and the party rules by setting up their 2012 primary right after the 2010 midterm elections? And if those states are allowed to revote, then they will essentially be rewarded for breaking the rules. It's absolute madness. If the national parties are unable to maintain control over their state parties, then the parties should either be disbanded or sanctioned by an entity with more authority. Having a firm and enforceable primary order (with flexible primary dates) is an idea worthy of serious consideration. And as for the unfortunate voters in Michigan and Florida, like Glenn Beck aptly suggested, you should stop crying about how the big bad Howard Dean and the national parties disenfranchised you. The real culprits are closer to home.
The primary system should be more equitable for the less well-funded and less well-known candidates. The 2008 roster initially included around twenty different presidential aspirants--Fred Thompson, Mark Warner, Mike Huckabee, Bill Richardson, Sam Brownback, and Dennis Kucinich, to name a few. They each represented a unique slice of the electorate and offered their own particular skill set. Regardless of their electoral chances, they all deserved to be heard. The reason for this is that the less well-funded and less well-known candidates were caught in a real bind. The only way they could increase their visibility was to raise money for advertising and campaign operations. But the only way they could raise this campaign cash was for them to increase their visibility. As a result, you had potentially attractive candidates who were forever mired in the second and third tiers, such as Duncan Hunter of the Republicans and Joe Biden of the Democrats. You also had promising and unique candidates who were intimidated by the fundraising juggernauts of the bigshot candidates and ultimately decided to drop out prematurely, such as Russ Feingold and Tom Vilsack.
Now the Democratic race has come down to the two candidates who had sat atop the field since the beginning: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The winner of the Republican race had to travel through the fire and escape political death a few times, but John McCain finished where he started a year ago--as the frontrunner.
John Edwards was never able to crack the armor of the top two Democrats. Bill Richardson flirted with the so-called top tier, but never could get over the top. Sam Brownback was essentially running in place before his defeat at the Ames Straw Poll. And Tommy Thompson struggled to get voters to think of him when they heard the name "Thompson," instead of the better known actor known as Fred.
Only Mike Huckabee was able to make a real surge that was unexpected by most pundits and media practicioners (though it was no surprise to me), but he was unable to translate this surge into electoral gold (at least not this time around) because of Fred Thompson, whose presence ruined Huckabee in South Carolina.
First Amendment advocates would probably say nothing is wrong with the system. And they would even defend the airing of all sorts of misleading or inaccurate ads and the distribution of misleading and outrageous campaign literature as free speech that is protected by the Constitution. However, when a poor candidate is able to dump millions of dollars from his personal fortune into the race while an honorable or better qualified one can't raise any cash needed to retort, it's not particularly fair.
Freedom of speech is a moot concept if some people have more freedom than others. This could be remedied with public financing of elections, but no politician wants to part with his war chest. However, when a candidate receives donations from Interest Group X or Company Y, that weds a candidate to this entity's interests. And spending more time legislating, campaigning, or debating seems more productive and more beneficial for our democracy than simply racing from one fundraiser to another.
The media should promote and conduct debates that matter. There was certainly no shortage of debates last year and even earlier this year when the field was so crowded. However, the media really missed some opportunities to ask meaningful questions and address the issues that matter to real people, rather than dwell on the minutiae of the daily news cycle. Of course, voters are complicit in these disappointing extended campaign ads and stump speeches that masquerade as debates. Voters should reward politicians that get into specifics, don't talk around questions, and articulate their views in a mature and thoughtful way. If the media understand that this is what voters want, they will adapt.
Some politicians, particularly the lower-tier candidates, lamented their inability to get their message out in the debates. When eight or nine candidates are competing for talking time, it can be difficult to balance the questions. A potential remedy would be to divide the debates so that half of the candidates could participate in one debate while half participate in the other. Or half of the candidates could participate in the first half of one debate while the other candidates participate in the second half. The main point is that nobody really benefits when there are so many candidates duking it out on stage, especially given politicians' propensity to be so longwinded in their responses or take awhile to warmup and actually address the moderators' questions.
American politics may be entertaining, but given the stakes of this year's election, entertainment should take a backseat to competence, pragmatism, and fairness. Unfortunately, the campaign season thus far has been anything but that. And everyone has a responsibility to fix it.
Imagine you are a middle-of-the-road or unaffiliated voter.
You think abortion is morally wrong but should be legal at least in some situations, you have less sympathy for illegal immigrants even though you also realize most of them are otherwise law-abiding people, you want to resolve the Iraq situation quickly and without a rapid pullout, you would accept paying higher taxes if that's what it takes to balance the budget or fund social programs, you do not view the government as an enemy so long as it functions efficiently, you think religious groups have too much influence over the government even though you are religious yourself, you support entitlement reform, you support workers' rights and consumer protections, you strongly believe in personal accountability and condemn handouts, you don't care about identity politics, you think affirmative action should be based more on class rather than race and not be scrapped altogether, you respect the Second Amendment so long as it doesn't defy common sense, you think the war on drugs is a waste of money, you would like the option of having national health insurance even if you don't choose to pay into it, you support federalism, you think politicians should pay more attention to consumers than to businesses, you want a competent and experienced hand at the helm of the nation, and you could care less about partisanship or which political party gets credit for any legislative accomplishments.
Your views are set. You know what's important to you, and you don't care who delivers it. You like some of what the left stands for, and you have no qualms with certain elements of the right. And then you look at the roster of candidates for president this year and shake your head in frustration.
This year, voters have to choose between John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. And many voters, particularly moderates and independents, don't like what they see.
John McCain is the candidate for Republicans, as conservatives really don't have anywhere else to go unless they vote for the Constitution Party nominee.
Barack Obama is the candidate for liberal Democrats. The academia crowd, twenty-somethings, and Blacks are quite comfortable with him.
Hillary Clinton is the candidate for Clinton loyalists. These are Reagan Democrats, women, and older voters. Some of their support for Clinton may be based on resentment of Obama's race, his perceived inexperience, and his maleness.
John McCain seems about right on illegal immigration, personal accountability, entitlement reform, and bipartisanship, but seems to want to continue President Bush's policy regarding Iraq and Iran. This scares you. In addition to this, he is beholden to the religious wing of the Republican Party. As a result, you wonder if abortion rights will become a thing of the past under his administration, courtesy of the departures of Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Stevens. This scares you even more.
Barack Obama seems even less partisan than John McCain and sounds good when considering his views on workers' rights, consumer protections, abortion rights, and national health insurance. Then you get queasy when you hear him ascribe more blame to exploitative corporations for illegal immigration than to the illegal immigrants themselves. And you get even more worried because even though his judgment was correct regarding Iraq, saying you were against it from the start doesn't address the reality on the ground now. So you wonder if he is truly up to the job.
Hillary Clinton brings back memories of Bill Clinton, whose presidency you were generally happy with, although you grew tired of the scandals. Having Bill Clinton back in the White House could potentially mean a return to economic prosperity for average people who aren't investors. Hillary Clinton is probably not too different from Bill Clinton, so if you were fond of him, you'd probably approve of her as well. But then you listen to her surrogates slime Barack Obama regarding race, drugs, and religion and you question your desire to reward this kind of campaigning at the ballot box and go through four more years of kneecap politics, four more years of potential scandals, and four more years of "us vs. them" rhetoric even though the Bush presidency has shown that this is not healthy for the country.
Where do moderates and independents go? It's as if McCain, Obama, and Clinton are akin to the game of paper, rock, and scissors. McCain is good on immigration (he's a hardliner without being a neanderthal about it), but poor on Iraq (we can't stay there indefinitely while we drain our treasury). Clinton is good on Iraq (she's advocating a cautious and responsible redeployment), but poor on unity (nobody likes her and her political opponents will try to block her every move). Obama is good on unity (it's his signature issue), but weak on immigration (he seems to be more of an advocate for illegal immigrants than actual citizens). This brings us back to McCain.
McCain is good on entitlement reform (revamping welfare and curbing spending), but poor on abortion rights (his Supreme Court nominees would presumably severely restrict them). Clinton is good on abortion rights (she's a woman; she understands), but poor on healthcare (nobody should be mandated to do anything). Obama is good on healthcare (no mandates), but poor on entitlement reform (he's a traditional liberal). This brings us back to McCain again.
McCain is good on personal accountability (it's a signature issue for Republicans), but poor on the economy (he seems to favor the fiscal health of the stock market more than the fiscal health of regular people). Clinton is good on the economy (the 90s were great for a lot of people), but poor on ethics (the 90s were also embarrassing for a lot of people). Obama is good on ethics (so long as there isn't much more to the Tony Rezko and Jeremiah Wright stories), but poor on personal accountability (he seems to place more of the blame for the subprime loan mess on predatory loan companies, rather than fiscally irresponsible consumers). And yes, that brings us back to the senator from Arizona.
In short, a lot of McCain's semi-conservative positions seem practical and fair. But his war positions and social conservatism make many middle-of-the-road voters uncomfortable.
Hillary Clinton would probably bring back the good parts of the 90s and benefit a lot of middle- and lower-class people. But she would also bring back the bad parts of the 90s, as a lot of people have already been put off by her 2008 campaign.
Barack Obama represents the future and could dramatically change the way Americans and international observers look at the United States. But he is an unproven and unknown quantity whose positions on a few key issues are a bit more liberal than what they are comfortable with.
Hardcore Republicans and partisan Democrats will support their respective nominees, even if grudgingly. But moderates don't really have a candidate, as all three remaining candidates could potentially draw large numbers of them. McCain is more of a center-right Republican rather than a hard-right Republican. Clinton can capture blue-collar Reagan Democrats who lean liberal on economic issues and lean conservative on social issues. And Obama can win over moderates and independents by virtue of presenting himself as a post-political nonpartisan.
What does all of this mean? It means that 2008 could be like 1992 in that there is ample room for a credible independent candidate. However, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg poured cold water on speculation that he would run for president and the Unity '08 initiative seems to have stalled. Lou Dobbs has yet to slam the door on his own presidential run, but it's looking increasingly unlikely.
Knowing this, there's a potential windfall of support that awaits the candidate (McCain, Clinton, or Obama) who is best able to placate the majority of voters who don't reside beyond the political 30-yard lines. Given the the unpopularity of Iraq, the reservations voters have about Obama's qualifications, and the ability of Hillary Clinton to triangulate, it would seem that Clinton has the most to gain in terms of moderates' support. Most of her political problems stem not from ideology, but rather ethics and virtue. This seems easier to remedy than one's voting history or lack thereof.
Then again, even though voters commonly decry negative politics, the fact remains that such politics can be highly effective. Hillary Clinton may be at low tide right now, but if she is somehow able to wrest the nomination away from Barack Obama, it is quite possible that she can make amends with the Democratic base and expand it in time for the general election. A lot of attention is currently being paid to identity politics and various demographic groups, but the true electoral gold lies with moderates who feel a bit ignored and independents who have yet to be enthused.
Hillary Clinton supporter and 1984 vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro recently threw the latest stinkbomb into the Democratic presidential race:
"If Obama was a White man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."Uh oh.
When pressed for a reaction to Ferraro's comments, the Clinton campaign initially offered this muted response:
"We disagree with her."Of course, the Obama campaign was livid about this, especially given how hard the Clinton campaign came down on Obama recently for one of his advisers' calling Hillary Clinton "a monster." That's when the chairs and fists started flying and the Democratic presidential race descended to a whole new level of ridiculousness. The fact that Ferraro did not apologize, but rather identified herself as a victim only made things worse.
(There are too many twists and turns in this story, but MSNBC's First Read offers a good timeline of this controversy.)
Ferarro's remarks strike at the crux of an angry sentiment percolating just beneath the surface of voters of all ideologies and races everywhere regarding Obama and Clinton. Race, gender, and experience have congealed into a total mess that has forced Democrats and liberals to wrest with issues they normally criticize Republicans for being unable to adequately deal with on their own.
Let's examine these issues one by one.
One of the most enduring criticisms of Barack Obama is that he is too inexperienced to be President. And yet, he's the frontrunner. This dovetails with Ferraro's remarks by reminding (White) voters of how non-Whites may be at an advantage when it comes to hiring and university admissions courtesy of affirmative action even though they may be less qualified than their White counterparts.
There may be some validity in this argument, and it shouldn't be dismissed as sour grapes or resentment among "racist Whites." However, voters need to realize that race is not what's responsible for the advances Obama has made in his political career. Simply put, Barack Obama could not have gotten where he is without millions and millions of voters of all races putting him over the top in election after election. Obama would not have even made it to the Senate if the voters of Illinois didn't show up at the polls. And it's not Obama's fault that his Republican opponent at the time was the inept Alan Keyes.
Voters had the chance to reject Obama's inexperience in Iowa and New Hampshire, but that didn't happen. The three most experienced candidates (Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd) placed a dismal fourth, fifth, and seventh in Iowa. After Biden and Dodd dropped out, voters had another chance to vote for a similarly "inexperienced" White man, John Edwards, but he got routed in New Hampshire, was demolished in Nevada, and had nowhere to go after his weak finish in his backyard of South Carolina. A diversity-conscious political human resources office did not reject John Edwards' job application. The voters did.
When people criticize Obama for his inexperience and attribute his success to his race like Ferraro did, they are essentially attacking the millions and millions of fellow citizens who have entrusted him with their votes and campaign donations, and this is quite insulting to them. There is no affirmative action when it comes to the privacy of the ballot box. There is no political overseer who is trying to fill a quota when it comes to providing election results. Obama simply received more votes than any of his opponents in most of his elections thus far, regardless of race. The failings of his White opponents cannot be attributed to their Whiteness. It's because they were poor candidates, did not connect with the voters, or were not offering what voters were looking for.
Another point worth keeping in mind is that the very first contests of this presidential season took place in overwhelmingly White states. Obama's detractors cannot say he performed so well in those states just because of his race. The Black vote in Iowa is negligible! Black voters weren't even warming up to his candidacy until the Clintons began race-baiting in South Carolina. Republicans and rogue Clinton staffers were the ones peddling the Barack "Hussein" Obama meme. Bill Clinton was the one comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson. This race-baiting pushed Blacks firmly into Obama's corner, but there simply aren't enough of them in Utah, North Dakota, or Vermont to make a difference. Obama romped in all these states too, and it's because voters there were rejecting Hillary Clinton and the way she was conducting her campaign.
These Obama detractors' anger is misplaced. However, this is not to say that Obama, his campaign, and his supporters are without fault. Hypersensitivity has led to absurd accusations of racism against anyone who dares criticize Obama. Of course, this hypersensitivity is what turns off a lot of White Democrats who would otherwise be supportive of Obama's campaign. It's gotten to the point where no one can talk about Obama without the injection of race at some point. But instead of Democrats battling Republicans on the issue, as was commonly the case even before Obama, it is now Democrats attacking Democrats.
At least Republicans, for all their faults, seem to have figured identity politics out. Issues of race and gender don't really matter as much to them as they do to Democrats because Republicans value ideology more than demographics. And despite the Republican Party's current unpopularity, it has actually been quite progressive regarding those who have served at the highest echelons of power. Consider former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former National Security Adviser and current Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and current Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.
The Republican Party's problem with women and people of color is not so much its policies, but rather its marketing. As a result, perceptions of the GOP as being anti-woman, anti-Black, anti-gay, and anti-immigrant persist and make purple states and purple districts harder to win. As the nation becomes more diverse, the GOP risks being stranded in the political wilderness if it doesn't hone its message to non-WASP communities.
But that's a longer term problem the GOP will have to face. For now, Republicans can find solace in the fact that they are looking far more attractive to independents, moderates, and nonpartisans than the Democrats who seem to be doing everything in their power to give voters a reason not to vote for them. It is doubtful that disaffected liberal Democrats will vote for conservative Republicans in November, but at the very least, they may decide to sit this election out.
Again, Geraldine Ferraro made a valid point, but the substance of her argument got overshadowed by her antagonistic delivery and the media firestorm that followed. Reagan Democrats (blue-collar Whites who voted twice for Ronald Reagan and twice for Bill Clinton) probably agree most with Ferraro and are less likely to support Obama as a result. Now that she's out of the Clinton campaign, a lot of these voters may simply reduce the complexity of this story to "Ferraro spoke out, Ferraro got called a 'racist,' Ferraro got kicked out of the campaign." This condensed narrative may be factually true, but it ignores the complicated reality lying beneath the surface.
These Reagan Democrats may be fed up with Republican leadership on the economy and the war, but they may be even more fed up with all this talk about race, and that's why John McCain may have a chance. Ferraro's comments could be seen as yet the latest race-baiting salvo to come from a Clinton surrogate in an attempt to marginalize Obama as "the Black candidate," but the more tainted Clinton becomes by this kind of campaigning, the more unelectable she renders herself to the Democratic electorate she needs to win over if she even wants to make it to the general election.
Pundits shouldn't be too surprised to find John McCain getting a second look from voters because he appears to be the grownup in the room right now.
As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to fight for every delegate, both pledged and super, in their quest for the nomination, the fight over endorsements has largely died down. At this stage of the game, most major political figures have already publicly thrown their support behind one of these two candidates or have decided to remain neutral. Among those who have yet to endorse a candidate are former presidential candidates Bill Richardson and John Edwards.
However, one political figure looms far larger than any other. That candidate is Al Gore. Even though his endorsement of Howard Dean in 2004 did not amount to much as far as Dean's candidacy was concerned, 2008 is a different story. Obama and Clinton are deeply divided, and there's the possibility that this situation will become even more convoluted should the delegates from Florida and Michigan not be seated at the convention and a fight erupts on the convention floor.
Gore knows the Clintons well and has become an elder statesman in the Democratic Party. He's been in the news mostly because of the attention surrounding a possible Gore endorsement. However, the more Obama and Clinton tear each other apart and render themselves unelectable in the general election, the greater the possibility that Gore could make news in an entirely different way: by being the alternative to both candidates.
Al Gore is unique in that he could very well be the single candidate who can bridge the divide between the Democrats' two squabbling presidential aspirants. He is well respected by most in the party and is arguably a more formidable candidate than either Clinton or Obama. Gore has repeatedly denied that he wants to run for president again. However, the door has been left ever so slightly ajar. It seems that Gore would very much like to be president even though he most definitely does not like campaigning. But if the pledged and superdelegates throw their support behind him, how could he refuse?
Gore is essentially a hybrid of Clinton and Obama. He is sufficiently liberal to the Democratic base and has tapped into the youth vote and the grassroots that have powered Barack Obama's candidacy. He also can't be branded as inexperienced and is not nearly as polarizing as Hillary Clinton. Gore provides a link to the establishment that the Clintons brought to prominence and an open door to the new Democratic Party that Obama purports to represent.
In addition to being a statesman who got Iraq right from the very beginning, Gore has the experience of mounting a national campaign. Having learned from his previous campaign mistakes, Gore would likely not wither under the pressure of a rigorous no-holds-barred general election campaign the way many Obama supporters quietly fear. His path to the White House would entail cobbling together victories in all the states he won in 2000 and winning his home state of Tennessee this time around. He would also be more competitive in purple states that Clinton might not be able to deliver, such as Virginia, Ohio, and Missouri. His environmental positions may also allow him to play in Western states like Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.
By adding Obama to the bottom half of the ticket, it would allay the fears of many Democrats that Obama is not quite yet ready for the top job just yet. So while he's vice president, he could serve as a goodwill ambassador to the rest of the world while being groomed for the presidency in 2012 or 2016. Voters who haven't bought into the Obama hype or don't trust him with the reins of the presidency just yet would have a chance to ascertain just how effective and politically competent he is without the consequences of any missteps being so severe because wouldn't be in the top slot.
Hillary Clinton has become the respository for the Bill Richardson-Chris Dodd-Joe Biden wing of the party. Since those experienced candidates did not survive Iowa and New Hampshire, their supporters grudgingly threw their support behind Clinton, even though she is not particularly "experienced" herself. A Gore candidacy would prompt these soft Clinton supporters to defect to him en masse.
The personally wealthy Gore would also be able to pour a lot of his own money into the campaign, thus minimizing the importance of fundraising. And Gore's wealth, combined with Obama's stellar fundraising ability, would be very difficult for the GOP to overcome. Republicans could not criticize Gore and Obama for their available cash without invoking class warfare, something they commonly rail against. This cash advantage would allow the Democrats to spend more time on offense against a beleaguered Republican Party.
Also, John McCain is not particularly well known for his charisma and his ability to connect with voters. Knowing this, Al Gore should not be at a disadvantage regarding perceptions of him as stiff. And for voters who fault Obama for being light on specifics, Gore's trademark wonkiness should be seen as a virtue rather than a demerit as in 2000.
Given how deeply divided Democrats are between Obama and Clinton and the risk their battle poses to the Democratic Party in general, giving the nomination to a respected party elder like Al Gore could forge a reasonable compromise. Obviously, should Barack Obama win more states, more pledged delegates, and more of the popular vote, he would have a stronger case to run at the top of the ticket (and not Gore or anyone else), but Clinton is showing no signs of bowing out without a fight. And depending on what happens with Florida and Michigan, it is entirely possible that Clinton can emerge with more popular votes even though Obama has more states and more delegates. This kind of split decision would spark an intense fight among the two candidates and Democrats in general. However, a Gore nomination would end such a fight decisively, and that is what makes him worth considering.
Seeing that John McCain has all but officially snared the Republican presidential nomination, most of the political action is taking place on the Democratic side of the ledger between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. While last week's contests were newsworthy because of how they gave new life to Hillary Clinton's campaign, they were also important for another reason. Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas, combined with Obama's victory in the Wyoming caucuses, perfectly illustrate the dilemma confronting Democratic voters. How this dilemma gets resolved depends entirely on how Democrats choose to answer a simple question: Do they want to solidify their base, or grow it?
Hillary Clinton has won the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. Her victories in Michigan and Florida are illegitimate.
Barack Obama has won the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington DC, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. He is also well positioned to win the Mississippi contest next week.
In short, Clinton has won most of the large states, most of which have voted Democratic in recent presidential elections. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has won most of the smaller states, many of which have traditionally voted Republican.
Clinton argues that she should be the nominee because she could carry the states that Democrats absolutely must carry in order to win the presidency. This is a valid argument, as any Democrat who can't hang onto California, New Jersey, or Connecticut will almost certainly be in for a landslide defeat. (Clinton's possible November finish is illustrated by this Survey USA electoral map.)
Obama counters that he can expand the electoral map and potentially encroach on Republican turf. He could make Republicans not take the South for granted and potentially turn purple states like Colorado, Virginia, and Missouri blue. (Obama's possible November finish is illustrated by this Survey USA electoral map.)
Both candidates offer their own unique paths to victory in November. Clinton will not win in a rout. But at the same time, she has a high base of support that will prevent her from being routed by John McCain. Clinton will likely finish with anywhere from 48-52% of the vote. She's the safe choice. Voters know what they're getting with Hillary Clinton--warts, controversy, and all. Her November strategy will basically be to keep all the states John Kerry won and focus mainly on Florida, Missouri, and Ohio. In other words, it would be a real political knife fight in a few purple states.
Barack Obama has a much wider trading range. When he's at his best, he is commonly compared to JFK. His routs in Wisconsin and Virginia suggest that he could steamroll John McCain in November. However, when Obama is flat, voters pay more attention to criticisms of him being risky, nothing but fluff, unable to close the deal, or too inexperienced. This is when Democrats fear that Obama is more like Jimmy Carter than JFK. If this is indeed true, Obama's support could crater, Reagan Democrats would flock to McCain in droves, and more liberal Democrats would stay home. This could lead to losing more states than John Kerry did. Will Obama win with 55% of the vote, or will he lose with 45%?
So whose argument is more credible? Both Clinton and Obama make good points, but their arguments both have a few flaws. To start, a lot of Clinton's victories came in closed primaries in which only Democrats could participate. Her appeal among independents and Republicans is considerably less than Obama's, so who's to say that she will be able to hold the same primary states she won in the general election?
Another point to consider is that some of these states are so Democratic that it wouldn't matter who the Democratic nominee was because no Republican would bother contesting them. Barack Obama did not win the New York or California primaries, but he almost certainly would win both states in a general election, and probably by double-digit margins. Democrats may be divided between Clinton and Obama now, but the prospect of a McCain presidency should force them to unite for the sake of their party and support whoever their party nominee may be in November.
The fact that the Republican race ended several weeks ago also may have inflated Clinton's support. Influential Republicans and conservatives, such as Rush Limbaugh, have told their listeners and followers to support Hillary Clinton in the primaries. While some of this may merely be political mischief to drag out the Democratic nomination fight or to even punish John McCain for being insufficiently conservative, it must be said that support from these non-Democrats likely pushed Clinton over the finish line more than once. Would Clinton have really won Ohio without conservatives' support?
Having said this, Obama's electoral arguments are not without flaws as well. For example, Obama has done very well in caucuses, which require well developed organization at the grassroots level. This organization paid off in Iowa, Wyoming, and other caucus states. However, by the same token, this organization at the local level should have put him over the top in some of the closer primary states as well. Texas is a unique case, as Obama won the caucuses there, but lost the primary.
Caucuses are time-consuming events that may provide Obama with a unique advantage. Clinton commonly criticizes the caucus format because many of her core supporters, such as blue-collar workers and seniors, are unable to either take half a day off from work or make it outside for a few hours to participate in a hectic, drawn out caucus. Primaries favor Clinton, as people simply show up at the polls whenever they want and vote in the privacy of the voting booth. Could it be that caucusgoers may have reservations about Obama, but do not voice their concerns for fear of being ridiculed? After all, caucuses are held in public where people are forced to justify their support for their preferred candidate. Obama is the trendy politician who supposedly represents the new Democratic Party. Who wants to go against that? And what about women with children (e.g., Clinton's base) who were unable to attend the caucuses because they couldn't find a babysitter? Did Obama really defeat Clinton by as much as his voting margins suggest?
It is true that Obama has won states that Democrats are not used to winning. He may have a case in swing states like Missouri, Virginia, Iowa, and Wisconsin, but nobody is expecting Utah, Nebraska, Alabama, or Alaska to vote for a Democrat in a general election. It simply won't happen. Obama may be good for getting House and Senate candidates elected in these red states, but he may be overstating his ability to actually win these states for himself.
That's what this race all comes down to. If Democrats are feeling jittery about November, perhaps Clinton would be the better candidate. But if they're feeling bold, maybe Obama would be a better fit for them. Both candidates represent two different Democratic Parties, and it's up to the voters to decide what is more important to them: winning in November, even if it comes at all costs, or ushering in a new era, even if it ultimately results in defeat.
With his victories in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont, John McCain has amassed enough delegates to effectively clinch the GOP nomination. More loose ends were tied up when rival Mike Huckabee ended his presidential bid and threw his support behind McCain. Meanwhile, the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama remains in flux. As of this writing, Clinton has won Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas while Obama won Vermont.
Two months ago, few politicos would have predicted that the Republican nomination race would be settled long before the Democratic one. Republicans had to deal with five strong candidates who conceivably could have won the nomination as they tried to don the cloak of Ronald Reagan. Some pundits were even dreaming of a brokered convention in which social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, defense hawks, and moderates were pitted against each other.
And yet, despite all this, the Republicans have emerged in a far more advantageous position than they ever could have dreamed of, especially given all the factors working against them, such as the poor economy and the unpopularity of Iraq and the Republican president.
Even though John McCain only generates lukewarm feelings among several wings of the Republican Party, he is at least an acceptable consensus candidate. Democrats, on the other hand, are deeply divided. Barack Obama is drawing his support from twenty-somethings, college graduates, Blacks, independents, and wealthy voters. Hillary Clinton's base consists of women, Latinos, blue collar Whites, and organized labor. And the longer these two candidates slug it out, the longer it will take for the eventual victor to heal these divisions. And regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, there will be a lot of resentment among voters who were not in that candidate's camp. And should Clinton secure the nomination via the "smoke-filled room route" (as Political Insider terms it), this resentment could be even stronger.
Many pundits were writing off Hillary Clinton prior to Junior Super Tuesday, but given her performance tonight and judging from her Ohio victory speech, she will likely fight all the way to the party convention in Denver. This is good news for her, bad news for Obama, and excellent news for the GOP.
John McCain and the Republican Party couldn't have asked for a more favorable scenario. While Obama and Clinton continue to attack each other, they inadvertently give the GOP new weapons they can use against them in the general election. In addition to this, Obama and Clinton will continue to pump millions of dollars into attack ads and campaign operations for Pennsylvania, Indiana, Oregon, and North Carolina. And remember, Pennsylvania provides the next contest which is about seven long weeks from now. This time and money they spend attacking each other is time they can't spend raising money for the general election against the Republicans. Instead of concentrating on opposition research against McCain and trying to frame the debate, Obama is forced to continue the debate over experience and judgment.
Republicans had been expecting to face Clinton in the general election. They were nervous about Obama because they simply weren't prepared to face him. And his shorter resume offered less information for them to troll over. But now that Obama will be occupied with his Pennsylvania campaign, the GOP will be able to test their arguments against him and define him as a raging liberal who can't be trusted with national security. Should Obama win the nomination, he will enter the general election as a predefined candidate who will have to reintroduce himself to voters with a diminished halo. That costs money and will take Obama off message. Advantage GOP.
So right now, Obama is getting hit from all sides. McCain and the Republicans are attacking him relentlessly. A reinvigorated Clinton will unleash a new assault on him in Pennsylvania. And the media are showing signs of ending their honeymoon with him. Obama can't focus too much on McCain because Clinton could still plausibly become the nominee. And if Obama focuses on Clinton too much, he will risk elevating her and losing his perception as the frontrunner. And given the fickle nature of the Democratic superdelegates, he can't rely on "mathematical near certainties" regarding delegate counts to put him over the top. Not a good position for Obama to be in.
The continued attacks by Clinton, coupled with the attacks from McCain who is free to attack both candidates, only serve to weaken Obama and make him less appealing to the moderates, independents, and disaffected Republicans currently backing him. Clinton did McCain a huge favor with the NAFTA debate which clearly hurt Obama in Ohio. This issue would probably cause Obama to hemorrhage support among Reagan Democrats (that Clinton won) and send them over to McCain. Meanwhile, McCain can shore up his own Republican base (he will receive President Bush's blessing tomorrow) and present a united front to the voters. United parties trump divided ones every time.
John McCain's victories and Mike Huckabee's withdrawal tonight are obviously great news for him and his campaign. Hillary Clinton should be beaming from her Ohio and Texas victories. Political junkies are obviously grinning from ear to ear because the campaign will go on. Even Democratic voters, especially those in the later states, should be happy because they will have more opportunities to assess their candidates and avoid buyer's remorse.
However, no group is happier right now than the Republican Party. The longer Obama and Clinton tear each other down, and the more money they spend doing so, the more advantageous the GOP's position becomes.
(Note: This is the second half of an extended piece about Hillary Clinton. To read the first half, click here.)
3. Stop complaining and fight. At the most recent debate in Cleveland, Clinton started the debate off by whining about "being asked the first question" and sarcastically chided the moderators for not asking if "Barack [Obama] wants another pillow." This was a stunningly stupid thing for her to say because it only reinforced her negatives, reminded voters that she was losing, sounded petty instead of presidential, and wasted time that could have been better spent articulating her views on something that actually mattered to voters. One of the most basic rules of politics is that when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. (Regarding her actual complaint, Dan Abrams of MSNBC argued that she had a point, but her poor delivery crowded out her actual message.)
Clinton needs to accept the fact that underdogs don't get treated as well as frontrunners do. Just ask Chris Dodd. What she needs to do is suck it up and work with what she has. She should be thrilled when she is asked a question because that gives her more opportunities to make her case to the voters. Obviously in politics, it's usually better to rebut than to go first because it gives you extra time to think and new avenues for attacking your opponent, but when you don't have this flexibility, you just have to work with what you've got.
She needs to return to the ironclad message discipline and trademark unflappability that defined her campaign last year. When sharks smell blood, they attack. And that's what the media did after the debate. Her overall performance at the Cleveland debate was actually quite steady and commendable, but because of her whining, a lot of time was spent responding to that instead of lauding her grasp of policy.
4. Wait. As I just mentioned, aside from her complaining, Clinton turned in a reasonably strong debate performance. Democrats in Texas and Ohio would be wise to follow New Hampshire's lead and keep her in the game just a little longer because she is a very strong candidate who offers a skill set that Obama cannot match. This is not to say that Obama is underqualified or that he is a poorer candidate than she is. However, her knowledge of foreign affairs and her political pragmatism cannot be denied even though Obama has a clear opening when it comes to Iraq.
Republicans are going to ignore Obama's superior oratory skills and focus more on him being "the most liberal senator" and "out of the mainstream." Will Obama wither under these kinds of attacks? As for Clinton, while she defines herself as a "progressive" and has a left of center voting record, there are several issues on which she is more of a centrist. So perhaps she would be better able to parry these attacks.
There is still enough time for Clinton (with the Republicans' unsolicited help) to plant these doubts in the minds of enough voters to turn the tide in her favor. And there always exists the possibility of a gaffe, a skeleton in someone's closet, or an unforced error that would render Obama unelectable. In addition, it is unlikely that Obama can sustain the momentum he has generated thus far, so if Clinton is able to ride out this wave, she could emerge victorious.
5. Turn Iraq into an advantage. It is true that Clinton is vulnerable on Iraq because she wasn't against it "from the very beginning" like Obama. Obama was also able to successfully turn Iraq against her in the most recent debate by reminding voters that "she drove the bus into the ditch to begin with."
However, Obama's "purity" on Iraq is only a winner among Democrats and liberals. Despite the financial burden, increased regional instability, and loss of American lives that the Iraq War has caused, the broader electorate feels that regardless of our reasons for going to war in the first place, the fact remains that we are there now and we have to handle our responsibilities there as carefully and as pragmatically as possible. Saying you were against the war from the very beginning does not change the reality on the ground, does not bring a single soldier home, and does not secure Baghdad.
Should Obama remind Clinton that she was duped by the president, Clinton could turn this back on him by asking if the majority of Americans were also duped because they supported engaging Iraq militarily. And while these Americans may have been "duped," they cannot be faulted for wanting to take actions that they thought would best defend this country. Clinton will never be able to out-dove Obama on Iraq, so she should try and seize the mantle of being a pragmatist on the issue while reminding voters that despite his superior judgment, it does not account for the current reality of our situation there.
National security is the best card Republicans have left to play. They will relentlessly attack Obama for wanting to "surrender" to the terrorists, even if the merits of their argument are suspect. It would be harder for them to make this argument against Clinton because she voted with John McCain on Iraq. The contrast Clinton could make with McCain is that while they both voted to enter Iraq, she is thinking about how continued operations there weaken the United States overall and make the nation less able to respond to another conflict elsewhere. It might not necessarily be a winning argument, but it as at least more credible than trying to apologize for her war vote without explicitly apologizing. At the very least, this argument would allow Clinton to somewhat blunt the natural advantage Republicans have on national security by displaying a bit of competence on the issue. Moderate and conservative Democrats should also find this pragmatism appealing.
Again, Obama is in a much better position to win the Democratic presidential nomination and could potentially deliver a fatal blow to Clinton on March 4 if she gets shut out in both Texas and Ohio. However, Clinton is not as helpless as the punditry may think. There are several things she can do right now to right her ship and position herself as a credible alternative to Obama that doesn't make Democrats want to hold their noses in the event that they must vote for her. Neutralizing Bill Clinton, acting presidential, staying on message, and not giving up are all strategies she can employ that are independent of Obama. While Obama obviously controls his own destiny (the race is currently his to lose), Clinton has a bit more control than she thinks, but only should she choose to exercise it.