Showing posts with label democrats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label democrats. Show all posts

9/01/2008

The Democrats' Missed Opportunity

During the speculation leading up to Barack Obama's vice presidential selection, a lot of attention was being paid to Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia. Kaine and Obama have a good personal relationship and a Kaine selection would have burnished Obama's outsider and change messages. Kaine was even whom I predicted would be joining Obama at the bottom of his ticket. However, one of the biggest problems with the Virginia governor was his relatively short tenure as governor and his lack of foreign policy credentials. The volatile situation in Georgia probably allowed Joe Biden to win Obama's favor at the expense of Kaine.

Republican strategist Karl Rove had an interview with Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer early last month and was dismissive of Kaine's credentials:

"With all due respect again to Governor Kaine, he's been a governor for three years. He's been able but undistinguished. I don't think people could really name a big, important thing that he’s done.

[Kaine] was mayor of the 105th largest city in America. And again, with all due respect to Richmond, Virginia, it's smaller than Chula Vista, California; Aurora, Colorado; Mesa, or Gilbert, Arizona; North Las Vegas, or Henderson, Nevada. It's not a big town."
Richmond's population as of 2007 was about 200,000. The population of Wasilla, Alaska, where Sarah Palin served as mayor, is only about 5% of Richmond's population, at about 9800. Kaine has served as the governor of the 12th largest state since January 2006. Palin has served as the governor of the 48th largest state since December 2006, so Kaine has about a year more of gubernatorial experience than Palin.

For Democrats to not be able to capitalize on this quote is astounding. The debate over Palin has largely centered around comparing her to Barack Obama in terms of experience. These criticisms were predictable, as I mentioned earlier, and have probably led to a stalemate. Unfortunately for Democrats, they forgot that one of the most potent weapons in politics is to use your opponents' words against them. That's far more damaging than making the case yourself.

Karl Rove's criticisms of Tim Kaine's tenure as mayor of the "105th largest city in America" is political manna. And there are probably other incriminating videos or statements from other Republicans, such as this one, downplaying Kaine for similar reasons. Barack Obama and/or his Democratic allies could then parlay these attacks as being "the same old politics" and "predictable partisanship and hypocrisy." This would undercut Palin's selection without attacking her directly. After all, it would be Rove who was attacking Palin, not sexist and hypocritical Democrats. But now Democrats run the risk of "being against small town America."

Talk about turning lemonade into lemons.

The Democrats may have the right message to win this election, but the Republicans are much better at the actual politics involved.

8/21/2008

Obama Veepstakes: Predictions

The major political buzz this week has centered around Obama's vice presidential selection. One of the main parlor games among pundits and the Washington crowd every four years is to guess the nominee and convey that they have more wisdom than the next guy in terms of identifying and disqualifying possible picks.

This wait is almost over now as Obama has announced that he has made his selection. This selection will be revealed either Friday or Saturday by text message. So in true political fashion, The 7-10 will join in the fun by offering my own take on the Obama veepstakes and why some of the more popular names being circulated won't pan out.

1. Obama has made great pains to avoid stepping on his own message by hitting John McCain below the belt. Even though his supporters may want him to go nuclear against his Republican rivals, Obama's message of "new politics" and "change" are preventing him from doing so. As I recently argued, he can't tarnish that message. Likewise, he is running as an outsider who represents fresh ideas. That's another message. Thus, even though there are some strong picks he could make who are currently serving in Washington, Obama's commitment to not diluting his brand may prevent him from taking them on board.

This eliminates Joe Biden, Evan Bayh, and any other active congressman or senator. Biden and Bayh in particular have received a lot of buzz and would be strong choices (especially Biden). But if Obama doesn't want to go against his message, he may have to grudgingly pass over both of them.

2. One of the responsibilities of the vice president is to cast the tie breaking vote in the Senate. Even though the Democrats are still poised to gain several seats, there are several influential senators who do not vote the party line, such as Senators Jim Webb of Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. So on some votes, Democrats' possible 55-seat majority could really be a mere 51-seat majority. Thus, it makes little sense for Obama to have his vice president, who doubles as the president of the Senate, be a Republican.

This eliminates Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, and any other Republican whose name has surfaced as the bottom half of a unity ticket. Interestingly, Obama could actually make the Senate math more favorable for Democrats by tapping a few Republican senators to serve in his cabinet if he wins the election. These senators would then be replaced by their states' governors. If the Republican senator hails from a state with a Democratic governor, that could be a way for the Democrats to pilfer a few seats while allowing Obama to appear bipartisan at the same time.

3. Obama cannot risk looking weak or bullied. He's already having to deal with the image that he is not a strong and decisive leader, especially when compared to the Navy veteran and former POW John McCain. Any gesture that is perceived as acquiescence or caving in to a particular interest group would likely only exacerbate the image of him as weak. Of course, politicians have to respond to voters and retool their messages every day, but his selection of a vice president should be his decision, and his only.

This eliminates Hillary Clinton. She also contradicts his message, which he is loathe to do. Many people say it's up to Barack Obama to heal the party by accommodating Hillary Clinton. But if Hillary Clinton wishes to advance her chances of being President someday, it's incumbent on her to do her part to ensure that her supporters rally behind Obama. All eyes will be on her at next week's convention, so she will have as much responsibility for achieving unity as Obama does.

4. Obama needs someone who knows how to campaign and work a crowd. This person has to be someone who knows how to throw a punch, how to connect with audiences, and how to campaign without overshadowing the presidential nominee himself. Running mates have two main responsibilities: 1) to do no harm to the nominee, and 2) to serve as an attack dog.

This eliminates Bill Richardson and Kathleen Sebelius. Bill Richardson tried to run as the grownup in the room after the Iowa caucuses, but lost badly. Richardson may help deliver a contingency and some Southwestern states, but he is not an energizing figure and is not particularly aggressive on the campaign trail. As for Kathleen Sebelius, she certainly can't be pegged as a Washington insider. However, she may be a little too cool (read noncombative) on the campaign trail and have a hard time putting on the brass knuckles.

This leaves former senators, current and former governors, and former cabinet officials. The gubernatorial ranks seem to be the most fertile grounds from which Obama can choose his running mate. They're not insiders, they have records of accomplishment, they don't threaten the balance of power in the Senate, and they have served in an executive capacity. Of all possible picks, governors probably do the least harm and the most good at the same time.

The 7-10's bold prediction: Virginia Governor Tim Kaine

(But don't be surprised if news breaks that Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was asked first.)

What are your predictions?

8/14/2008

The Clinton Convention Conundrum

Like a festering wound, Hillary Clinton continues to make news that complicates Barack Obama's convention plans. After a few weeks of wrangling and negotiating, Clinton and Obama finally reached a deal that would allow Clinton's name to be placed into nomination at the convention to ensure that "all 35 million people who participated in this historic primary election are respected and heard."

The significance of this deal is that it should provide Clinton's supporters an opportunity to reach a sense of closure. Hearing delegates proudly proclaim their support for Hillary Clinton at the convention in front of millions of viewers would indeed be a historical moment that would demonstrate an act of good faith on behalf of Obama and a forging of unity on the Democrats' highest stage.

Obama's hand was clearly forced by Clinton, as he most certainly wants the Clinton saga to be put to rest. So he accommodated Clinton to help the party move on. The sooner he brings the Obama vs. Clinton storyline to a conclusion, the more time he has to consolidate his base and ensure that the rivalry storyline stays out of the headlines. Unity is important, and Clinton's campaign should be commended. However, one has to wonder just how far Obama is willing to bend to satisfy a group of voters that he may ultimately never win over. Does this undermine his strength and resolve?

This begs the question of why Obama even owes her anything to begin with. Yes, she won 18 million votes. But some of these votes were from Republicans who were engaging in mischief, such as Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos." And many more of these votes likely came from voters who have since transitioned from Clinton to Obama simply because they accept him as their party's nominee. And others still may have voted for her and since regretted doing so because they were turned off by her antics. So even though Clinton may remain popular, perhaps her support is overestimated.

There are several scenarios that could result from this convention deal:

1. Clinton receives fewer delegate votes than she expects during the roll call vote and there is a decided lack of energy surrounding the moment, thus substantially weakening her and damaging her 2012 plans. One of the risks to Clinton is having her supporters be seen as making empty threats.

2. Clinton receives token support, thanks the voters for their dedication, and calls upon them to rally behind Obama. Her supporters grudgingly accept Obama as the nominee, everyone moves on, and talk of dissension and division gets buried. This is the scenario Obama is rightfully expecting to happen.

3. Clinton's supporters become vocal and make a scene at the convention. This would be met by boos from the larger Obama contingent, be plastered all over the airwaves, and lead to headlines of division among Democrats. This would undermine Obama, play right into Clinton's private wishes, and send John McCain into a state of jubilation.

Yes, there are undoubtedly ulterior motives at work. "Catharsis" and "unity" are not what really matters to Clinton, who is shrewdly playing both sides of the fence. Her goal is to win by losing, though neither she nor her supporters will ever say that in public. Clinton will be a good soldier and say all the right things about Obama and how she supports his campaign. This should placate Obama, who would very much like for her and her supporters to get in line behind him so everyone can move on. However, the static between them is palpable and her deeds speak far louder than any unequivocal endorsement she may make. She clearly has the power to silence the PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) wing of the Democratic Party, but she is allowing their demands to persist by feigning helplessness.

Clinton is secretly rooting for John McCain this November. She wants Obama to be humiliated so that she can run again in 2012 and capitalize on Democrats' buyer's remorse. However, this would assume that Democrats absolve Clinton of any responsibility for Obama's 2008 defeat and that they are willing to give the Clintons yet another chance. Should Obama lose, it will be difficult for another Democrat in 2012 to run on "change" again because even if voters want it, they will remember Obama's failed campaign and likely gravitate to a candidate who knows how to fight. Advantage Clinton.

And for Barack Obama, he is running the very real risk of having the loser of the primaries become the main story of his convention. Clinton's supporters' antics are threatening to push Obama off center stage and also relegate his actual running mate to a mere afterthought. That makes him look weak, not presidential. And it would greatly neutralize the bounce he will receive after the convention. John McCain could always take away Obama's bounce by announcing his running mate immediately after the convention, so it is imperative that Obama take full advantage of what is supposed to be his week. That is why he must definitively defuse this situation at the convention because there's not much time left anymore.

Clinton's supporters claim they want her name placed into nomination at the convention for the sake of "catharsis." However, Obama is not obligated to provide this for them. Hillary Clinton ran this campaign and Hillary Clinton lost this campaign. She did not lose because of racism, sexism, disenfranchising voters in Florida and Michigan, media bias, John Edwards, arcane caucus rules, or the inequitable primary calendar. She lost because she made too many mistakes, ran on the wrong message, and did not right her ship until it was too late.

Barack Obama has been more than accommodating since the primary season ended and has worked hard to earn their support. He has asked his fundraisers to help retire her debt, he has scheduled joint campaign appearances with her, and he held his tongue when Bill Clinton could not definitively say he was ready to be president. Obama is probably biting his tongue as these convention plans go forward, but he should ensure that this latest gesture of acquiescence puts the final bookend on the Clinton campaign. Any further nagging or demands from Hillary Clinton or her supporters should prompt Obama to call them out with an ultimatum--either hold your nose and support me or stop whining and vote for McCain. It's really that simple.

Barack Obama is the nominee of the Democratic Party. He needs to realize this, and Clinton's supporters need to accept this. It's his party, he needs to assert control over it, and her supporters should respect this. If Obama wants to be able to fully engage the Republicans, who will come at him relentlessly after Labor Day, he will need to have these other distractions out of the way, and permanently.

7/07/2008

The Veepstakes: Hillary Clinton

Any discussion about Barack Obama's potential running mates would be incomplete without Hillary Clinton. I first shot down the idea of an Obama-Clinton ticket back in February and have expressed reservations about it since then despite her obvious strength.

However, time has bolstered Obama's political footing. He is now in a significantly stronger position now than he was two months ago when Clinton was winning Pennsylvania and running up the score in West Virginia. Time has worked to Obama's benefit in that a lot of the hard feelings among Democrats have dissipated and the negative attacks have stopped. Now there is greater unity among the Democrats as they prepare for the fall campaign against John McCain. Hillary Clinton is out of the headlines, thus ceding the stage to Barack Obama. This lack of exposure is gradually weakening her leverage.

In addition to this, polling in various battleground states further weakens Clinton's hand. According to these polls, Obama is leading in Montana, Colorado, Virginia, New Mexico, Florida, and Indiana while trailing by fewer than 5 percentage points in Georgia, Mississippi, Alaska, and North Carolina. These states all voted for Bush in the 2004 election.

The longer Obama remains ahead of John McCain in these polls, the less likely he will need Hillary Clinton on the bottom half of the ticket. Clinton's strongest argument was that she could win the states Democrats needed to win in order to win the election. Also, by claiming that "she wanted her supporters to be respected," she was implying that her supporters were too angry to warm up to Obama and were ripe for McCain to harvest. Some of her supporters are indeed still upset about her defeat and, fairly or unfairly, are penalizing Obama for this. But the polls I cited earlier suggest that Obama is doing just fine with the support he currently has. This, of course, weakens Clinton's main rationale for her candidacy. Either Obama is overperforming, Clinton's supporters were bluffing, McCain is not able to capitalize on these supposed divisions among Democrats, or some combination of the three is happening.

In terms of the electoral map, Hillary Clinton could probably deliver Arkansas and make the neighboring states of Tennessee and Missouri more competitive. Bill Clinton could also be deployed to the Appalachian areas of western North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, central Pennsylvania, and southern Ohio and appeal to the rural Reagan Democrats there. Voters who have good memories of the economy during Bill Clinton's presidency may make voters in the economically depressed Midwest (e.g., Michigan and Ohio) a bit less likely to support John McCain as well.

In terms of her personal image, Clinton has rehabilitated herself in the eyes of Democrats who gained a lot of respect for her because of her grit and her ability to fight. Even Republicans concede that she is tough. She does not have a glass jaw and will not let any Republican attack go unanswered. If Obama is unable to sufficiently beat back Republican attacks with his traditionally soft approach, Clinton could easily clean up the mess because hand-to-hand combat is her political forte. So she could be an effective attack dog for Obama, which is probably just fine because that has traditionally been the role for potential vice presidents on the campaign trail. Of course, Republicans may criticize Obama for not reining Clinton in if she goes on offense, but any attempts to silence her would likely be met by anger from her supporters who are still sensitive about perceived sexism-related injustices Clinton (and themselves by extension) faced during the primary.

The negatives associated with Hillary Clinton are obvious and well documented:

1. The right despises her and her name on the ballot may do more to drive up Republican turnout than John McCain ever could. Democrats are more excited about this election than Republicans are, thus creating an enthusiasm gap. The prospect of the Clintons back in the White House could help neutralize this.

2. The issue of what to do with Bill Clinton would also loom over the campaign. Is Bill Clinton really disciplined enough not to throw the Obama campaign off message with his own histrionic antics? And is there any new Clinton baggage just waiting to bog Obama down? And would Obama's star shine more brightly than the former president's? Or his wife's?

3. Obama's message of "change" would become a bit diluted because of the "back to the future" element of including half of a political dynasty on his ticket. And this political dynasty's approach to politics is much more confrontational, thus further contradicting Obama's more genteel style.

Although Clinton could help him in the Upper South, Obama does not need Arkansas, Tennessee, or even North Carolina to win the election. Obviously, losing North Carolina would be deadly for McCain because if Obama wins North Carolina, McCain will absolutely have to win Michigan and defend Ohio. But because Obama is polling well enough in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio on his own, there is even less incentive for him to choose the junior senator from New York. Despite the recent lovefest in Unity, New Hampshire, Obama clearly does not want to pick Clinton and would like a convenient excuse to reject her. It's in his best interest to simply let things simmer for now though because that will buy him some time and increase the chances of Clinton disqualifying herself either through an unforced error or a new scandalous revelation. (Read Defusing the Hillarybomb for other options available to Obama.)

Despite all the obvious downsides, there is, however, one compelling reason for choosing Hillary Clinton. It has nothing to do with the electoral map or shoring up one's base:

Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.

Hillary Clinton wants to be President. And while she may have sounded conciliatory in her concession speech and her remarks at her joint appearance with Obama in New Hampshire, the fact remains that she lobbed some real hardballs at Obama that flatly discredited his candidacy. Republican-leaning 527 groups are probably creating negative campaign ads using her words against him even as I type this post. Even though her campaign is over, Hillary Clinton is still Barack Obama's rival and must be dealt with carefully.

If Obama does not tap her to be his running mate, she will return to the Senate, where she has a good chance of becoming Senate Majority Leader. That means all legislation must go through her before it reaches Obama's desk in the White House. Would Clinton be so nefarious as to drag her feet when it comes to getting President Obama's agenda passed for the sake of driving down his approval ratings and fostering a sense of buyer's remorse, thus opening the path for her to take over in 2012? Or will she try to flex her political muscle by butting heads with Obama over legislation and dictating the terms necessary for her to shepherd bills through the upper chamber of Congress?

And what if Obama does not choose Clinton and he loses to McCain? Obama's stock value would plummet while Clinton's would soar on the winds of vindication. As a result, Clinton would emerge from the election more powerful than Obama. In 2012, Clinton could run as the "I told you so" candidate, thus reminding voters of the dashed hopes of Obama's failed campaign. Tapping Clinton for veep would help ensure that their political fates are intertwined even in defeat.

In short, the true advantage of a Clinton selection probably lies not in electoral viability this November (as the conventional wisdom indicates), but rather in fewer headaches after the election--win or lose.

Next installment: Mark Sanford

6/08/2008

What We Learned This Primary Season

The primaries are over, the votes have been counted, and the nominees have all but officially been crowned. This year's general election will be between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. Both are senators, but have vastly different personal histories. These histories and their unique personal dynamics will be scrutinized heavily from here on out. So before diving into assessing the general election campaign over the next few weeks, it is prudent to take stock of what has happened so far and what we have learned. Lessons from January may very well help better predict what happens in October.

1. This is a change election. Experience does not matter. In the Democratic primaries, the most experienced candidates were Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson. Biden and Dodd dropped out after being rewarded with fifth and seventh place in the Iowa caucuses. Bill Richardson tried to trumpet his experience in the four-person debate before the New Hampshire primary only to finish fourth and drop out shortly thereafter. John Edwards tried to position himself as an experienced statesman by criticizing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for their negative attacks. He was subsequently drubbed in Nevada and embarrassed in South Carolina. Inexplicably, Hillary Clinton decided to adopt the "experience" mantle and tried to frame Obama as "too risky" and "too inexperienced." And she lost too. Obama might be "inexperienced," but he won the nomination and raised the most money. The "experienced" candidates didn't. John McCain is the latest politician who is trying to take advantage of the "experience" argument against Barack Obama, but he should do so at his own peril. After all, voters may look at the current state of the nation's economy, Iraq, and gas prices and conclude that "experience" is overrated.

2. If you work the media hard enough, they will believe your spin. Hillary Clinton has made it a point to remind voters, pundits, and journalists that "she won more primary votes" than Barack Obama. Average voters don't really know much about primaries, caucuses, and delegates, so Clinton's statement somehow morphed to "she won the popular vote" and makes Obama look like George Bush in 2000 while Clinton is Al Gore. By the letter of the law, Clinton's "popular vote victory" is true. More people actually did vote for her than Obama. The spirit of the law, however, suggests otherwise. It is important to note that Clinton is able to claim this only by including her votes in Michigan, not giving Obama any votes in Michigan whatsoever, and not including votes in some caucus states that Obama actually won. If you say something enough times, people will eventually begin to think it's true. A second example of this concerns the whisper campaign about Obama's religion.

3. A candidate who is at least moderately acceptable on all levels has a better chance of political survival than a candidate who has several big strengths and at least one big weakness. For months, the Republican race was the more compelling one because there was no clear frontrunner:

Mitt Romney was the competent executive and looked presidential. But he was seen as an emotionless flip flopper and had to deal with unfair suspicions about his religion. He also had to deal with concerns about his true commitment to conservatism because of his moderate record.

Rudy Giuliani had the ability to appeal to moderates and had proven his leadership credentials in the minds of voters because of his performance on September 11. But the Republican base consists of conservatives, not moderates. And this base viewed him as out of touch on the social issues that were important to them.

Mike Huckabee seemed more authentic than the other candidates and was clearly the favorite of the Christian right. His populist message also connected with rural voters. However, his foreign policy and anti-terrorism credentials were weak and he had trouble appealing to voters outside of his base.

Fred Thompson had the name recognition, buzz, twang, and proven conservative record. But he was a terrible debater and did not seem to want to campaign.

John McCain was a credible conservative on spending, terrorism, and social issues. He was criticized for his impurity on some of these issues (e.g., the Bush tax cuts, immigration), but by and large, he was at least moderately acceptable to the most people. As a result, he won the nomination by staving off elimination the longest. McCain's victory showed that a candidate who rates as a 7, 7, and 7 on three issues is politically stronger than someone who rates as a 9, 9, and 3 on the same three issues.

4. All states matter. Hillary Clinton lost the nomination in February. She matched Obama step for step before Super Tuesday, on Super Tuesday, and from March and beyond. But from Super Tuesday to the end of the month, Obama racked up 11 consecutive victories and put Clinton in a hole that was too large for her dig herself out of. Not having a timely campaign apparatus set up in states like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Idaho cost her far more than her victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania could compensate for.

5. Due to campaign finance laws, breadth of support is more important than depth of support. Clinton was able to raise a lot of money out of the gates by racking up $2300 contributions from her most loyal supporters. Unfortunately for Clinton, once a supporter put up $2300, he was not allowed to contribute any further. So she had a lot of money, but from far fewer people. Obama, on the other hand, was pulling in $20, $50, and $100 donations from far more people. So he was able to overcome Clinton financially and eventually dwarf her because one $1000 donation from one person is worth far less than ten $100 donations from ten people. Appealing to regular people who think a thousand dollars is the same as a million dollars is how Obama was able to crush Clinton. Now he has an extensive donor base that he can take advantage of in the general election. John McCain would be wise to copy this approach to fundraising.

6. Iowa and New Hampshire must loosen their stranglehold on the nomination process. Michigan and Florida were penalized for what the other 46 states were privately thinking but couldn't say publicly. I've criticized these states' "me first" mentality many times before. The primary season may be over, but these criticisms are not going away. A more equitable primary system needs to be developed sooner rather than later.

7. Republicans might wish to consider proportional delegate allocation. Mitt Romney and John McCain could have had an epic fight like Obama and Clinton had the "winner take all" system not existed. Romney won several "silver medals" in the early contests and was clearly McCain's strongest rival. Florida was essentially a tie between the two candidates, but it was absolutely devastating for Romney's campaign. Conservatives began rallying behind Romney in their attempt to stop McCain, but it was too late. A proportional allocation of delegates would have given him a fighting chance at a comeback.

8. Democrats might wish to consider eliminating caucuses. Even though they came across as whining and sour grapes, Clinton's criticisms of the caucus system have merit. In a caucus, voting is done publicly and candidates who don't meet the minimum threshold of support can negotiate with other candidates' supporters. Caucuses are held at set times and at set locations that may prevent certain types of voters from participating. For example, voters may have to work, find babysitters, or take care of their parents at the same time the caucus is being held. What kind of system is this?

9. Identity politics may make various demographics feel good, but they are ultimately problematic. Democrats were priding themselves on the prospect of "the first Black president" or "the first female president." And now the party is divided. Superdelegates who really want to support Clinton fear the reaction among Blacks if they take the nomination away from Obama. And now that Obama won, he has to win over the legions of female Clinton supporters who are threatening to support McCain out of protest. The problem with identity politics is that it narrows one's political identity. The more Obama is identified as "the first Black president," the more it trivializes his actual legislative record and political platform.

The Republican Party would presumably care less about identity politics, but until a credible woman or person of color rises high enough in the party and decides to run for president, it is unknown how much resistance such a candidate would face from other Republican voters.

Recommended reading

  • The Republican Rorschach Test
  • The McCain McCalculus
  • Rethinking 2012
  • The Problem with Identity Politics
  • The Problem with the Clinton Brand
  • A Warning to Republicans
  • About Barack Hussein Obama
  • Calling the Democrats' Bluff

  • 6/04/2008

    The Obama Veepstakes: Defusing the Hillarybomb

    By now, everyone knows that Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. His victory in the Montana primary pushed him over the top, so he now has a majority of delegates.

    Obama gave a powerful speech about his victory last night addressing what lies ahead and even lauded Hillary Clinton's candidacy and her impact on the race. However, Clinton essentially stepped on his victory speech and stole a bit of the limelight by adding her name to Obama's shortlist and defiantly congratulating him on the race he has run, but not on the race he has won or the race that has just ended. Such a carefully crafted sentence is politically loaded and will ensure that until Obama chooses his vice president, this story will linger in the media. Notice how there are two competing storylines coming out of last night: "Who will Obama tap for vice president?" and "What does Clinton want?" Needless to say, Obama's camp is not amused.

    Could Clinton's supporters be overstating their importance? Are traditional Democrats really going to vote for McCain even though they have such disagreements with McCain over the war in Iraq, the economy, abortion rights, and the environment? Are these Democrats really going to place their contempt for Obama over their economic well-being just to spite him?

    Here are Obama's options:

    1. Wait. Waiting will give Clinton's supporters a bit of time to get over their defeat. Over time, their emotions will cool down a bit and they will rally behind Obama because he will be their party's representative in November. Primary fights are brutal, but time should heal those wounds.

    Also, waiting gives Clinton more time and more opportunities to disqualify herself from veep consideration. Obama probably does not want to have to deal with the Clintons (yes, the plural form) anymore, and almost certainly doesn't want to put her on his ticket because she contradicts so much of his message. (Read "Don't Expect an Obama-Clinton Ticket" for more information.) But if he's going to pass over her, he needs to find a reason that will come across as acceptable to the majority of her supporters. They want him to show her some respect. But any new Clinton gaffes, scandals, or attempts to minimize his victory or cast doubt on his electibility should be met with an all expenses paid trip off of his shortlist.

    There is also a strategic advantage to waiting. McCain has not chosen his running mate yet, so Obama could afford to wait a bit. If McCain chooses his running mate first, then Obama could react to that selection with a more careful selection of his own. Choosing Clinton first would cede this opportunity to McCain. And if Obama chooses a running mate first, that would give the Republicans more time to conduct opposition research and attempt to define that candidate before he can do it on his own. Waiting would force a staredown with McCain.

    2. Choose a woman not named Hillary. This is a double-edged sword. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius seems to be the most attractive female pick right now. As I argued in my first post about Obama's veepstakes, her geography alone will prevent her from being pegged as a liberal because "Kansas liberal" just doesn't resonate. As a woman, she could help Obama tap into the same base that turned out for Clinton. And because she comes from an agricultural state, she could help Obama make inroads with the other group of voters he has struggled with as of late--rural voters. This could be a boon to him in southern Ohio, central Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

    Obviously, the problem with this option is that a lot of women may say that if Obama is going to choose a woman for his vice president, she should be Hillary Clinton. So choosing a female not named Hillary could be seen as the ultimate insult to Hillary Clinton and her supporters. Again, Clinton said she wants her voters "to be respected." This could place both Obama and Sebelius in a tough situation.

    Another potential female pick would be Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She has been a vocal supporter of the presumptive nominee and could help deliver a state that Republicans cannot afford to lose. However, this selection seems a bit less likely because Missouri has a Republican governor and not just any Democrat could win a Senate seat in this fairly conservative state. This is also the argument against selecting Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

    3. Choose a Clinton surrogate. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh were loyal Clinton supporters. Tapping one of them could be seen as an overture of respect because it would show that Obama is trying to bring the two camps together. Both of these picks should have Clinton's seal of approval. Rendell is a popular governor that would take Pennsylvania out of play and Bayh is the most popular politician in Indiana, a state that Obama could challenge with him on the ticket. Both politicians can appeal to rural working-class voters in Ohio and Michigan as well.

    The disadvantage here is the same disadvantage Obama would face by choosing a female other than Clinton. Why take a resident of Hillaryland when you can take Hillary herself? Also, would choosing a male make it more difficult for the Obama ticket to reclaim Clinton's female voters?

    4. Choose a Republican. This would be a bold selection that John McCain would have a difficult time parrying. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel would immediately bring military and foreign policy heft to Obama's ticket. And it would be proof positive that Obama is serious about "change" because Democrats don't select Republicans to be on their presidential tickets. Another advantage here is that the news about Obama reaching across the aisle to select a Republican would trump the news about Obama snubbing Clinton.

    An unintended third advantage here would be that it would force John McCain to prove his bipartisan credentials as well. The best way he could do that would be to select Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. If McCain chose a Republican (Romney, Crist, Pawlenty, etc.), Obama could point to Hagel and say that he really does want to bring the nation together while McCain represented the old way of doing things. This would make it harder for McCain and his Republican running mate to start attacking "Democrats" and "liberals" because it plays into Obama's message of politics not being about "us vs. them." Also, McCain would have a harder time picking off Clinton's rural White voters if Hagel were on the ticket because 1) Hagel's a Republican, 2) Hagel's not a liberal, and 3) Hagel is pro-life, a popular position among rural voters.

    5. Reject Clinton publicly, politely, and firmly. This is a risky move that would show voters that Obama is in control of the party now. After all, the idea of a failed candidate forcing his hand does not make Obama look presidential. Obama already has enough problems with his thin resume and the perception that he is weak, especially on terrorism. The Republicans would have a field day with this. "If he can't stand up to the Clintons, how could he stand up to Ahmadinejad?"

    If Obama follows this path, he would have the liberty to conduct his veep search any way he wishes and without the "what does Clinton want?" storylines bogging him down. Clinton would then have to decide what she wants her legacy to be. She will have no choice but to support Obama regardless of her relationship to him because she does not want to be known as helping contribute to his defeat at the polls in November. If she wants to run for president again in 2012 (or 2016), she can't give anybody the idea that she did not work her heart out for her party's nominee in 2008. This option would remove Clinton's leverage, which would obviously enrage her supporters, many of whom still want her to take her fight for the nomination to the party convention in Denver.

    Obama has several options available to him at present. He has the stage to himself now, but only if he takes it. Yes, Clinton is still a political force to be reckoned with, but regardless of "what Clinton wants," she must appreciate the reality of her current political situation.

    Hillary Clinton may command the loyalty of millions of voters who may or may not be receptive to Obama, but she is in no position whatsoever to make any demands of Obama or to force his hand. He won the race, so he calls the shots. It is clearly his Democratic Party now, not hers. Hubris is what caused Clinton to lose the nomination in the first place. And if she overplays her hand in defiance, hubris may ultimately be what causes her to lose a spot on the November ticket as well.

    5/27/2008

    The Future of Cable News

    (Note: This is a continuation of my previous post examining what "fair" and "balanced" mean. This post examines their impact on cable news.)

    In the case of MSNBC, Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" draws the highest ratings of any show on the network. Liberals may call this show "fair," but it is certainly not "balanced." Conservative guests are rare, so the show comes across like a liberal political echo chamber at times. His show has an obvious liberal bent, especially towards Barack Obama. But does Olbermann come across as sympathetic to Obama because he believes Obama has made fewer major gaffes in comparison to Hillary Clinton and John McCain? Or does Olbermann come across as sympathetic to Obama because he actually agrees with Obama's political beliefs? And when was the last time Olbermann has had anything positive to say about Republicans or the President?

    What will happen to Olbermann's show if Obama wins the election? Countdown has drawn rave reviews from liberals who view his show as a sort of watchdog ready to expose the excesses and improprieties of the Bush White House to the masses. But will he continue to serve as a tenacious watchdog against an Obama White House and call Obama out when he reneges on a campaign promise or engages in unseemly political behavior? What if Obama runs an administration that is so squeaky clean compared to the current administration's that Countdown simply runs out of material? Could this show really survive as an Obama cheerleader?

    How about MSNBC in general? A McCain presidency would probably keep Countdown on the air in its current form. McCain and his advisers would likely routinely make Olbermann's "Worst Persons in the World" list, and the likelihood of staying in Iraq under McCain's stewardship would allow him to continue to rail against the war.

    A Clinton presidency would likely do the same because of the "say anything" nature of her campaign and the sleaze that has come to define the Clinton brand. But unlike a McCain presidency, a Clinton presidency would give Olbermann a chance to present himself as an honest broker because there likely wouldn't be any shortage of avenues of impropriety for him to investigate and criticize. Calling Olbermann and MSNBC liberals would lose a bit of its potency because how often do liberals criticize liberals?

    As for the Fox News Channel, Bill O'Reilly's "The O'Reilly Factor" is the most watched cable news program and regularly trounces CNN and MSNBC in the ratings, although Countdown has occasionally beaten O'Reilly in in the demo (adults aged 25-54) as of late. O'Reilly's show has an obvious conservative bent, as is evidenced by his use of conservative icons such as Michelle Malkin as his substitute hosts. Liberals on this show are commonly treated like pinatas, and extending invitations to fringe left elements only makes the rhetorical slaughter easier while making O'Reilly look reasonable by comparison.

    Fox's 9pm show, "Hannity and Colmes," is even more partisan. Even though the show is called "Hannity and Colmes," it is clear that Sean Hannity, the conservative, controls the show and dominates the discussion while Alan Colmes, the liberal, sometimes offers what can only be described as token opposition. Conservatives may view both of these shows as "fair," but they too are not "balanced."

    O'Reilly, Hannity, and Fox would love to have a Hillary Clinton presidency because she is familiar and she can drive up Fox's largely conservative audience. But her chances of winning the nomination are slim. Barack Obama is more of an empty slate. Jeremiah Wright will be looming in the background, but to what end will his name be invoked? If Wright trumps President Obama's day-to-day governance as far as Fox or other media outlets are concerned, then that would be neither "fair" nor "balanced." A President McCain would maintain the status quo, especially given the fact that Democrats control Congress, but at what point will the status quo become tired? Fox News came to prominence as a result of the failings of Bill Clinton and the early successes of George Bush. Fox has thrived on these foils, but both political families might be completely removed from the White House after this year's election. What next?

    In short, cable news needs to develop contingency plans in the event that a candidate who forces them to change their business model ends up winning the election. Kicking George Bush around and blaming Democrats for everything can only get you but so far.

    Dissecting "Fair and Balanced"

    (Note: This is the first of two posts addressing the meaning of "fair," "balanced," and "fair and balanced." This post addresses what these terms mean and how they are flawed. The second post addresses their potential effects on cable news in the future.)

    CNN is "the most trusted name in news."

    MSNBC is "the place for politics."

    Fox is the source for "fair and balanced" news.

    All three of these cable news stations use these slogans to strengthen their brand image among viewers. CNN is the credible station. MSNBC is the station for people who want politics first and news second. And Fox is the station for people who are fed up with biased reporting. Of these three slogans, it is Fox's that will be scrutinized in this post because its veracity will truly be challenged by the results of this fall's election. Seeing that all news stations should strive to be "fair and balanced," this post should not be construed as a scathing critique of Fox in particular. (Fox just happened to choose a very good slogan.)

    To start, "fair" and "balanced" are not interchangeable. "Fair" means that a situation is analyzed impartially or objectively. In other words, bad news is not spun as good news and good news is not spun as great news. Likewise, good news is not diminished and bad news does not go unreported. There is no Republican side or Democratic side when it comes to news. There are only facts. And these facts should be met by viewers of all political leanings with acceptance, be it enthusiastically or grudgingly.

    "Balanced" means that all viewpoints are given equal consideration when analyzing or discussing an event. This often means having a liberal and a conservative be given equal time to present their arguments. Unfortunately, however, this "balance" usually means having a bomb-thrower on the left debate a fire-breather on the right. The ensuing shoutfest makes for good television, but it doesn't make for good journalism. And because most voters are somewhere in the mushy middle, moderates, independents, and people who fall into some other political category may not find partisan bickering particularly well "balanced."

    One common complaint, usually among conservatives but also among liberals, is the aspect of "media bias." Media bias is often cited in response to negative stories about the chaos in Iraq, reporting on transgressions and missteps by politicians, analyzing the campaign contributions of journalists, and nuanced or selective reporting.

    I wrote about media bias here last winter, but I also highly recommend this recent piece by respected political analyst Stuart Rothenberg on why criticizing Republicans these days is objective, rather than partisan:

    "But let's not pull any punches about the state of the GOP: You can't nominate mediocre candidates or candidates from divided state or local parties, have Members of Congress admitting to affairs that produced children, have Members' homes and offices raided by the FBI, have Members go to jail, have Members picked up in airport bathrooms and have an unpopular president pursuing an unpopular war during a time of increased economic anxiety and still expect to be popular--or to turn things around.

    "Yes, I know, the Democrats have had their share of embarrassments. For every Republican embarrassment, there is a Democratic one.

    ...

    "Still, it seems to me, and to most people I talk with, that far more Republicans are involved in these problems and investigations of late, especially involving Washington figures. Democrats haven't had anything close to resembling the Jack Abramoff fiasco, for example, during the past few years."
    Rothenberg makes a good point, but unfortunately, this is where "fair and balanced" often ceases to be either "fair" or "balanced."

    First of all, what may be "fair" is not always "balanced." And what may be "balanced" may not always be what audiences want. How many Republicans wanted Ron Paul to be excluded from the debates, for example? If a television show wished to address September 11, for example, a "balanced" panel might include speakers who viewed it as a terrorist attack against the United States by vile radicals who seek to destroy our way of life as well as speakers who viewed it as a response to perceived American terrorism or aggression abroad. How many people would automatically tune out the latter group of speakers or instantly cite their inclusion in the panel as an example of "liberal media bias" even though the panel is actually "balanced?" And does the fact that this panel is "balanced" make it inherently "unfair?"

    In the case of "fair," consider President Bush's approval ratings. By all polls, Bush is a decidedly unpopular president. He has recorded the highest disapproval ratings of any president in modern history. (This is according to reputable polls by CNN, USA Today, and Gallup.) In other words, he is in the same league as Carter and Nixon, at least as far as these polls are concerned. He has been under 40% for about two years now. Partisan defenders of Bush may say that this kind of "negative coverage" and "Bush-bashing" is not "fair," but numbers and statistics have no bias in this case. There is no "balance" when it comes to this. (Consider this graph that has tracked Bush's approval ratings since his inauguration.) The same poll questions are being asked every month and the news is being reported in the same way. So even though stories about "Bush's popularity reaching a new low" may not be positive, they are indeed "fair." "Balance" is irrelevant in this case.

    Surely these defenders were happy to trumpet the polls that showed the President with approval ratings above 60%. And shortly after September 11, his approval rating spiked above 90%. Why did polls matter then, but not matter now? When polls actually do matter now, partisans gleefully cite the even more dismal approval ratings of the Democrat-controlled Congress to show that Bush is not the least popular person in Washington. But if reporting on polls is only "fair" when it makes one's preferred politician look good, then it's not really "fair" at all and the quest for "balance" when it's not necessary only further erodes the idea of "fairness."

    (This post is continued here.)

    5/15/2008

    A Warning to Republicans

    Even though the presidential race is generating the most headlines these days, one of the most important political developments this week has been the special election in Mississippi's 1st Congressional District (MS-1). This district, located in the northern part of the state, has been reliably Republican. In this week's special election, however, Democrat Travis Childers defeated Republican Greg Davis 54%-46%. This is the third special election that Democrats have won this year, thus increasing their majority in the House of Representatives to 236 Democrats to 199 Republicans.

    Republicans could blame their previous special election losses on weak candidates and/or more hostile electorates. However, this special election can only be interpreted as a flat rejection of the Republican Party. George Bush carried the district with 62% of the vote in 2004 and the district has been represented by a Republican for more than 10 years. Even Vice President Cheney was sent to the district for a bit of last-minute campaigning, but the GOP lost this solidly Republican district by a very healthy eight points.

    Given the overall composition of the district, not just any Democrat can win here. Childers is pro-gun and pro-life, much like other moderate to conservative Southern Democrats. However, Democrats aren't supposed to win these kinds of seats. Democrats and party strategists are surely licking their jowls because there are dozens of congressional districts elsewhere that are less Republican than MS-1 and are currently represented by Republicans. Republicans are justifiably terrified at their electoral prospects this fall because it could potentially be another wave election like 2006. And if that happens, Republicans would truly be in the political wilderness, as Democrats would be tantalizingly close to a supermajority that could override a potential presidential veto from John McCain.

    Why are the Republicans losing? Partisan Democrats gleefully cite a tarnished Republican brand for their defeats, but here are a few other reasons along with some actual solutions that Republicans might wish to adopt for their own political survival.

    1. There's a lack of new ideas. What is the newest great Republican idea? It seems that all Republicans talk about these days is tax cuts and not "surrendering" in Iraq. These two issues do not offer any vision about where the party wants to take the nation. In the past, especially during the Gingrich Revolution, Republicans were able to articulate bold ideas that excited the electorate. Entitlement reform and personal responsibility were fresh ideas that contrasted greatly with what the Democrats were offering at the time. If the GOP chooses to run on the same ideas that they ran on in 2002, then they had better get used to losing elections.

    2. There's a lack of solutions. Voters are angry. They are angry about the economy. They are angry about healthcare. They are angry about gas prices. They are angry about Iraq. They are angry about immigration. They are angry about unsafe and defective Chinese products. They are angry about jobs disappearing overseas. So what did Republicans offer as solutions in the MS-1 special election? Accusations of liberalism, warnings about tax increases, linking the Democratic candidate to Barack Obama, and invoking Jeremiah Wright. Politics is obviously a contact sport, but there comes a point when voters expect those who seek to represent them to be able to offer meaningful solutions to their concerns. The Democrats' ideas are not necessarily good, but at least they are something. You can never beat something with nothing in politics. Interestingly, congressional Republicans seem to be guilty of exactly what they criticize Barack Obama for--offering a lot of talk, but no real solutions. Hearing the word "liberal" bandied about is not what voters want to hear when 80% of voters think the nation is on the wrong track.

    3. A vote against a Republican is a vote against Bush. The public knows that the Democrats control Congress. And this Congress is not popular. However, the public also knows that a Republican controls the White House and leads the country. Republicans were tripping over themselves to have Bush campaign on their behalf in 2002 and 2004. But he has since become a radioactive albatross and Republicans down the ballot are paying the price. Bush's approval ratings are now south of 30%. Even though Bush will never be on another ballot, it is possible that voters are trying to vote against him by voting against his party. Bush might not be keen on listening to Democrats, but he should be more receptive to listening to Republicans. It might be in all Republicans' interest to pull Bush aside and tell him about how much he is killing them politically. If Bush were to up his approval numbers to 40%, voters might be a bit less apt to punish his party at the ballot box. Republicans should be more proactive in helping their party's leader right his ship because the further Bush sinks, the further Republicans everywhere sink. Or perhaps they would be better served by not letting Bush speak for them. Could Republicans benefit by going against the President and redefining what it means to be a Republican?

    4. No one political party can stay on top forever. The Democrats controlled Capitol Hill for decades before finally losing in 1994. Republicans have controlled all the levers of power for most of Bush's presidency. If 2008 is a "change" election, then no matter what Bush or the Republicans do, voters simply might have had enough. This does not mean, however, that Republicans should resign themselves to getting demolished at the ballot box. One of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's strengths was his ability to adapt to an ever-changing political landscape by repositioning himself and changing his message. Given that the current president is a Republican and that Republicans controlled Capitol Hill until 2006, "change" might be too hard a hard sell for Republicans to make. However, the success of Barack Obama at the expense of Hillary Clinton, the unlikely Democratic victory in the special election in Mississippi, and overall dissatisfaction with the way things are going with the nation right now suggest that "change" is a message smart politicians of all stripes should adopt.

    5/05/2008

    Handicapping Indiana and North Carolina

    May 6 is Super Tuesday III. For voters in Indiana and North Carolina, they will have a chance to either definitively end this race, grant Hillary Clinton one more stay of political execution, or cause voters everywhere to rethink Obama's strength.

    Indiana is a lot like Ohio and Pennsylvania, both of which Clinton won. They are largely rural White states with large blue-collar populations and a handful of major industrial centers. And North Carolina is a lot more like Virginia than South Carolina, both of which Obama won. Like Virginia, North Carolina is a young, ethnically diverse state with a lot of well-educated professionals and university students.

    In short, Obama has far more to lose than Clinton does simply because Clinton is already running as if she has nothing left to lose. Her stock is rising and she is much better at managing expectations. Obama is still reeling from his own controversies and missteps and is having to fend off renewed doubts about his electibility. So it appears that Obama is a bit stalled while Clinton has a little bit of momentum. That will all change after the polls close, however, as pundits and political junkies everywhere will have fresh election data to pore over and new storylines to pursue.

    Here are the four possible outcomes:

    1. Clinton wins Indiana, Obama wins North Carolina. This seems to be the most likely outcome, and both candidates could spin this as a victory. Obama would cite the lack of remaining pledged delegates and winning a state post-Jeremiah Wright as a win while Clinton would claim another victory in a largely rural state, thus reinforcing her argument that she is more in touch with Reagan Democrats. As an added benefit for Clinton, the two electoral contests that follow are Kentucky and West Virginia, states that should be even easier for her to win. So she could possibly build momentum even with a tie in North Carolina and Indiana.

    2. Clinton wins both states or Clinton does significantly better in North Carolina than Obama does in Indiana. This is the Obama nightmare scenario. Yes, the delegate math would still favor Obama, but voters and superdelegates don't care about delegate math if the person winning it is seen as a walking political zombie. It would be much harder for Obama to claim victory (the nomination) because of abstract concepts like "delegate math." If Obama loses both states, the perception would be that Clinton is hot while he is fading. Superdelegates would begin to seriously question the wisdom of throwing their weight behind him because he would have lost three major contests in a row (including Pennsylvania). On top of this, the next two contests coming down the pike are in Kentucky and West Virginia--states Clinton should win easily. That would mean five losses in a row for the "delegate math" leader and favorable press for the self-described Comeback Kid. If this happens, here's the case that Clinton will make to superdelegates: "Obama may have won the first half of the game, but I've won the second half. I know how to fight and claw back even when the chips are down. Can you trust Obama to do the same?"

    3. Obama wins both states, regardless of his margins of victory. It would be very, very difficult for Clinton to continue her campaign because Obama would have won on "her" turf. For superdelegates and pundits who desperately want this race to be over, Obama clinching Indiana would effectively end this race in their minds. They would then pressure Clinton to "reassess" her campaign.

    4. Obama wins Indiana, Clinton wins North Carolina. Should both candidates lose the states they were expected to win, all pundits would probably just call it a day, resign from analyzing politics altogether, and place their money on Mike Gravel winning the White House.

    Here are the voting blocs worth watching:

    Young voters. Early May is normally the time when university students are either in the middle of final exams or are enjoying the week between final exams and graduation. This provides a double whammy for Obama in particular because these voters form such a large part of his base. If it's exam time, 18-25 year olds might be too busy to come out and vote because they're cramming for their classes. If it's downtime, these voters might be more likely to be out of state (or at least out of their voting precincts) because they're enjoying their last week of freedom before graduating, summer school, or starting their new full-time jobs. North Carolina is chock full of large universities: The University of North Carolina and its satellite campuses, Duke University (my alma mater), North Carolina State, Wake Forest, North Carolina A&T;, Appalachian State, and North Carolina Central University are home to tens of thousands of students. If they don't turn out, Clinton would have to feel pretty good about her chances.

    Black voters. North Carolina represents the first state with a sizable Black population to head to the polls since Jeremiah Wright exploded in Obama's face. Black voters were originally reluctant to support Obama (remember those ridiculous "Is Obama Black enough" questions?) because they feared Whites would not support him, but his victory in overwhelmingly White Iowa and his near victory in equally overwhelmingly White New Hampshire confirmed to these voters that he is indeed able to garner significant cross-racial support. Obama acquitted himself in the minds of these voters, and Clinton helped push these voters to him with the racialized tone of her South Carolina campaign. So Blacks got excited and flocked to his campaign. However, Wright has clearly injured Obama and now doubts are creeping back in again about his electibility. Will Blacks come out to the polls? And if so, will Obama win 85-90% of their votes? Should Clinton overperform among Blacks in North Carolina, she will be able to use that as a potent talking point: "I'm working hard for everyone's votes. I know I have some fence-mending to do, but I'm doing it and North Carolina has proved it. Give me a chance." And could Obama really make the South competitive in a general election if Blacks are not completely on board?

    Rural White voters. If Obama is unable to improve his standing among rural Whites in either state compared to Pennsylvania, Democratic superdelegates will have a major cause for concern. These voters, who likely would have voted for John Edwards, would potentially be lost to John McCain in a general election because of "bitterness," "elitism," and the perception that Obama is out of touch. Obama's latest charm offensive of playing basketball and downing beers in local bars may help redefine him as more down-to-earth, but if Obama's coalition is independents, Blacks, and well-educated liberals, is that really broad enough to win a general election?

    Northwest Indiana voters. This corner of the state is a part of the Chicago media market. While the national media are slowly moving on from Jeremiah Wright, the local news stations are probably eating, drinking, and breathing him. Remember, Chicago is essentially Obama's hometown. Are they sick of hearing about the issue? Do they view Obama as damaged goods? If Clinton is able to hold down Obama's margin of victory in the Chicago suburbs, she could be on her way to a healthy victory in the Hoosier State. Questions about Obama's strength among suburban voters may also linger.

    Final predictions

    Indiana: Clinton 54%, Obama 44%
    North Carolina: Obama 50%, Clinton 46%, Edwards 3%

    4/27/2008

    Obama's Veepstakes

    Barack Obama lost last week's Pennsylvania primary by 10 points. Since then, Clinton and the media have been buzzing about the notion that Obama may actually be a weaker general election candidate than the former First Lady. This was the source of a good debate over at Not Very Bright, one of the more popular South Carolina bloggers. NVB correctly argued that even though Obama lost Pennsylvania, the fact remains that Clinton did not amass enough pledged delegates to make a difference. I disagreed and said that pledged delegates don't really matter because superdelegates' main responsibility is to nominate someone who can win in November, and not to simply echo the winner of the pledged delegate race. (Normally, these two ideas coincide, but this year might be different.)

    However, this post will not address the electability of both candidates. Instead, I will just pretend that this race is over and that Barack Obama will be the nominee. Thus, the focus switches from how he can finally put Clinton away to whom he will tap as his running mate, which leads me to this post.

    First, Obama's running mate must satisfy several preconditions:

    1. This candidate cannot be a knuckle dragging partisan. Such a candidate would cancel out his message of unity.

    2. This candidate must not be an Iraq defender. It would be ideal for Obama to tap someone who had similar "judgment" regarding the war, but politicians who have since come out against it probably aren't disqualified. This "judgment" is one of the cornerstones of his campaign, so he cannot choose a running mate who contradicts this.

    3. This candidate should be able to appeal to Whites and rural voters. Obama is still smarting from his ill-conceived remarks about rural voters "clinging" to guns and religion. Blacks, liberal Whites, and urban voters were already in Obama's corner. More moderate and rural Whites were slowly warming up to him. They may have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt earlier, but taking Bittergate in conjunction with Michelle Obama's "proud" remarks and Jeremiah Wright might be too much for them to overlook. And there also remains a silent subset of the electorate that is simply uncomfortable voting for someone of color, as the Bradley effect suggests.

    4. This candidate should be able to compensate for Obama's perceived weaknesses regarding experience and national defense. Tapping a Senate freshman or a one-term governor would not do much to quell the concerns about Obama not being ready for primetime.

    5. This candidate should help heal the rift that has opened up between the Obama and Clinton camps. The acrimony between them is creating real divisions that risk sending Democrats to John McCain in November or keeping Democrats at home. This is not to say that Obama needs to ask Clinton to be his veep, but he does need to extend an olive branch somehow to her supporters, lest he risk having to spend precious weeks trying to win them back the hard way.

    So let's address some of the more common names generating VP buzz:

    John Edwards will not be on the bottom half of an Obama ticket. To start, Edwards already ran for VP and would probably loathe to do it a second time around. Secondly, Edwards was unable to deliver North Carolina for John Kerry in 2004, so his electoral heft is weak. And finally, Edwards has yet to endorse Obama--a point not lost on the Obama campaign. Maybe Obama would tap Edwards to be Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, or a poverty czar, but Vice President is probably out of the question.

    A lot of people have been buzzing about Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. A former Republican with a strong military background, Webb would certainly enhance Obama's ticket by providing credibility on foreign affairs, national defense, and the ability to appeal to rural voters and gun owners. The problem with Webb, however, is that he is a perfect fit for Virginia as its junior senator. Should he be tapped for Vice President, his Senate seat would be lost. Yes, the governor of Virginia is a Democrat who would appoint a Democrat to replace Webb, but the most attractive candidate (former Governor Mark Warner) is already running for retiring Senator John Warner's seat. With the prospect of the Democrats making it to a filibuster-proof 60 Senate seats, Webb would probably be better off representing the people of Virginia.

    General Wesley Clark would be an attractive option in that he would help bridge the gap between the Obama and Clinton camps. As a former NATO commander and four-star general, Clark would instantly give Obama's ticket the ability to go toe-to-toe with or even outdo John McCain when it comes to military affairs. It's hard to tell a retired four-star general that he is weak on defense. Clark would also probably deliver Arkansas and give McCain a run for his money in Virginia. Clark ran unsuccessfully for the White House in 2004 and only won the primary in Oklahoma before being forced to quit. Since then, he has improved his political skills and is probably a better campaigner now. This would be a smart pick for Obama.

    New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson turned out to be one of the biggest busts of this year's presidential cycle. He had the ultimate resume, but turned out to be a disappointing candidate in the debates and struggled to connect with voters. However, now that the race for #1 is more or less settled, perhaps he can relax a bit more knowing that he simply has to run against John McCain instead of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Joe Biden at the same time. Richardson would be a tremendous help to Obama because he could help deliver the Latino vote and make New Mexico and Colorado more competitive. And the fact that Richardson drew the Clintons' ire (and was even called Judas) by endorsing Obama displayed a level of courage and loyalty that John Edwards has failed to do thus far. The National Rifle Association loves Richardson and he cannot be pegged as a tax-and-spend Democrat. But would a "black-brown" ticket be too much "change" for the nation to handle at once?

    Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius endorsed Obama and is highly popular in her state. She would be able to appeal to red state voters as well as female Clinton voters. If Obama wishes to heal the rift between his camp and Clinton's, she might be an attractive way to do so. White women form the base of Clinton's support and many of them are sticking with her because of the historical nature of her candidacy and the perception that her rivals and the media have been unfair to her because of it. But are they loyal to Clinton because she's a Clinton, or are they loyal to Clinton because she's a woman? If it's the latter, then Governor Sebelius may be able to help. If it's the former, Clinton's female supporters will either have to grudgingly accept Obama or simply stay home. Kansas is an overwhelmingly Republican state. Even with Sebelius on the ticket, it might be too much to ask of her to deliver it in a presidential election year.

    Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano also endorsed Obama early and is popular in her state. However, she was unable to deliver Arizona for Obama in the primary. And the fact that favorite son John McCain hails from Arizona, she probably couldn't deliver the state for him in November either. If Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee were the Republican nominee, maybe Napolitano would be a more attractive option. But John McCain eliminates her because of his popularity in her state.

    New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appears unlikely. He has lots of money, but probably does not add much to an Obama ticket. His greatest assets are his personal wealth and the fact that he's an independent. That ties in nicely with Obama's message of unity. But what state could Bloomberg deliver? Obama should be able to win New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey without him. Thus, it's hard to see the argument for Bloomberg over other options.

    Retiring Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska would be a fascinating choice for veep. Like Wesley Clark, Hagel gives Obama some much needed heft in terms of military and foreign affairs expertise. And as a Republican, he would definitely lend credibility to Obama's message of unity. A Hagel pick would show voters that Obama doesn't just talk about bipartisanship, but actually practices it. Hagel was considered part of the Unity '08 movement and was rumored to be considering a third-party ticket with Bloomberg. Surely he'd be receptive to running with Obama because they both have an interest in getting politicians of all stripes to work together. Having a split ticket like this would make it really hard for Republicans to paint Obama as an ultra liberal because ultra liberals don't select center-right Republicans as their running mates. And should John McCain choose independent Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate, a Hagel nod would offset it as far as "bipartisanship" is concerned. Hagel is well respected both in Nebraska and the Senate and would help Obama connect with rural Whites and Republicans who have soured on Iraq.

    Former Vice President Al Gore could be an attractive option for Obama, although it's not certain whether Gore would be up for campaigning for anything other than the top job. Climate change and the environment are very important to him and he could have a greater impact on this from the White House than he could as a private citizen. Gore would please the Democratic base, but his appeal among Republicans would be limited. Independents who voted for Bush and regret having done so may be willing to give Gore a chance. The biggest problem with a Gore pick, however, is that he contradicts Obama's message of looking to the future. If Hillary Clinton is part of the past, wouldn't Al Gore be part of the past as well? It seems more likely that Gore would be an emergency consensus nominee (presidential, not vice presidential) in the event that chaos erupts at the party convention this summer and the superdelegates are deadlocked over Obama and Clinton. Gore's probably the most respected party elder who has yet to jump in the current food fight, but look for him to play some role in the process sometime in the future.

    Hillary Clinton will not be on the bottom half of an Obama ticket. That was true when I first wrote about this in February and it's still true now. The fact is, she needs him far more than he needs her. If Clinton somehow became the nominee, she'd be obligated to tap him for veep or risk tearing the Democratic Party in half. Obama does not have this obligation to Clinton, however, even though it would be in his and the party's best interest to make some conciliatory gesture to her camp. This is what makes Wesley Clark the most obvious pick at present.

    4/23/2008

    The Pennsylvania Aftermath

    Hillary Clinton won yesterday's Pennsylvania primary by 10 points. This margin of victory was healthy enough to allow Clinton to stave off calls for her to withdraw from the race and cede the nomination to rival Barack Obama. More importantly, surviving Pennsylvania allows her to compete in the upcoming primaries in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6.

    Last month I wrote about how Clinton could emerge from the wilderness and salvage her chances at winning the nomination. (Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of "Anatomy of a Clinton Comeback.") In short, here are the five tips I offered:

    1. Contain Bill Clinton.
    2. Don't drop out, regardless of what happens in Ohio and Texas.
    3. Stop complaining and fight.
    4. Wait for Obama to implode.
    5. Turn Iraq into an advantage.

    How did she do?

    Regarding Point 1, Bill Clinton has been considerably better behaved. He's made a few silly remarks, such as suggesting that Obama is the one who played the race card in South Carolina. But compared to how adversely he was impacting his wife's campaign before Super Tuesday, he has not been an obvious net negative. Check.

    As for Point 2, she won Ohio convincingly and won a media victory in Texas even though Obama won more delegates. Winning these states lent credence to her argument that she's been able to win the big states. It also gave rise to whispers about why Obama couldn't close the deal and wrap up the nomination. Check.

    Point 3 was a critical one. Since Junior Super Tuesday, she's been playing hardball by invoking Jeremiah Wright and echoing Harry Truman: "If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen." So she's been scrapping for rebounds and throwing a few elbows. Even better, Obama seems not to have taken this tip into consideration because he was the one who was whining after the last debate in Philadelphia and was diminished because of it. Check.

    Point 4 has been quite generous to Clinton. March and April have given us "bitter," "God Damn America," whining about debate questions, accusations of elitism, effeminate bowling, and a weak debate performance. What's the scorecard against Clinton? Sniper fire. I'm sure that's a tradeoff she'd be willing to take. Check.

    And as for Point 5, Iraq is not as big of an issue as it once was. Nobody was able to lay a glove on General David Petraeus at his recent Senate testimony and voters seem to realize that regardless of our feelings about our troop presence there, we will be in Iraq for a very, very long time. Being against the war from the very beginning doesn't seem as important anymore, especially now that we're five years into the conflict. Check.

    Looks like Clinton is well on her way. So what about Obama?

    The Pennsylvania primary is significant because in addition to being the first contest in about seven weeks, it is also the first contest that has taken place since several controversies and unforced errors sandbagged Obama. Here are some possible explanations for why he struggled in the Keystone State:

    1. Perhaps he peaked too soon. When Obama was running up the score in February, he put the pledged delegate race out of reach and had all the momentum and campaign cash he could have asked for. But because he never made it to 2025 delegates, he could never definitively put her away. After Super Tuesday, the caucuses and primaries slowed to a trickle, thus placing an even greater spotlight on the bigger states that had yet to vote. Nobody cares that Obama won Vermont or Wyoming. But everybody knows that Clinton won Ohio. Obama may have won a lot more states than Clinton, but his lead in the popular vote is small and he lacks a truly convincing victory in a major blue state outside of Illinois.

    Clinton has constantly reminded everyone that she has won New York, California, New Jersey, Ohio, and now Pennsylvania. In response, Obama correctly argues that John McCain is not going to win those states, but it does beg the question of why Obama is not doing so well among Democrats in Democratic states. Running up the score in places that no Democrat stands a chance of winning in November (places like Nebraska, Alabama, and North Dakota) doesn't mean anything. Being able to hold down New Jersey and Pennsylvania is a bit more meaningful.

    So it would appear that even though the Obama train has left the station, it still has yet to reach its destination because it doesn't seem like the driver knows where to go or how to get there. The fact remains that Obama has not been able to deliver the knockout punch to Clinton. Ned Lamont made the same mistake after beating Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary race of 2006. Obama had the chance to turn out the lights on Clinton in New Hampshire, on Super Tuesday, in Ohio, and just now in Pennsylvania. Voters do seem to like Obama, but they don't quite like him enough to put him over the top yet. Could it be that voters are having second thoughts about him or that Obamamania has reached its peak and is fading?

    2. Burnout. It is worth keeping in mind that no politician can sustain the momentum and enthusiasm Barack Obama has generated. Obama has certainly been able to capitalize on his wide appeal through his fundraising prowess and the diversity that characterizes his supporters. However, this presidential campaign has been going on for over a year now. About 80% of the states had already voted before Pennsylvania, so everyone should know who Obama is and what he stands for by now. The fact that Pennsylvania Democrats rejected him by such a significant margin suggests that either his act has worn thin among voters or that there are a lot of voters who simply have yet to warm up to him. And if they're not aboard the Obama train by now, will they ever be?

    3. Jeremiah Wright is a very, very big deal. The Pennsylvania primary is the first electoral contest that has taken place since "God Damn America" entered our political dialogue. Obama gave a much anticipated speech on race in America last month which was supposed to bring this and other race-related controversies to a close. However, in my analysis of that speech, I argued:

    "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."

    "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."
    Obama may complain about how Hillary Clinton is using Wright as a wedge issue, but her attacks on him are nothing compared to what the GOP will do in a general election campaign. (The North Carolina Republican Party is already causing mischief.) Wright remains controversial and in the minds of many voters, Black and White alike, Obama has not sufficiently addressed their concerns about his relationship with him. And it is quite possible that these reservations were expressed at the ballot box.

    4. "Bitter" bit back. The whole "bitter" miniscandal provided yet another case study in how one can be totally right on the theoretical arguments and totally wrong on the gut-level politics. This is like Obama's self-induced controversy of not wearing a flag pin. It would have been tremendously easy for Obama to simply put on a flag pin even if he privately knew that wearing one was not required to truly be patriotic. However, he chose to argue against political common sense. Since then, he has been dogged by questions about his patriotism. This was an unforced error that has snowballed into something particularly debilitating for him, especially since it dovetails with accusations of snobbery to create an increasingly unattractive caricature of Obama as an unpatriotic Black liberal elitist.

    The same scenario holds true for "bitter." In those much publicized remarks, intentionally or unintentionally, Obama disparaged churchgoers, gun owners, and rural voters in general. Not coincidentally, CNN's exit polls show that Obama lost to Clinton among (wait for it) churchgoers, gun owners, and rural voters. Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but it's hard to write these results off as anything but rural voters' punishing Obama for stomping on their culture of religion and guns while implying that they are bigots in the process. Whether this punishment will be restricted to Pennsylvania or if it will have longer lasting implications remains to be seen, however.

    5. Obama got off message and started whining. When I wrote about how Clinton could mount her comeback, I said that she should "stop complaining and fight." Clinton got angry at a debate last month in Ohio because she didn't like getting asked the first question all the time. She even criticized the moderators for not asking if "Obama wants another pillow." I thought this was a terrible move for Clinton at the time:
    "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."

    "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."
    To be sure, ABC did a lousy job in terms of moderating the debate. Obama has a legitimate beef about not being asked any policy questions for the first 45 minutes of the debate. However, his biggest mistake was complaining about it after the fact. As a result, he lost several precious news cycles that he could have used to sharpen his message and present his case to the voters. A four-point loss would have created far less damaging headlines than those originating from the ten-point loss he endured last night. Obama would have been better served by letting others complain about the media while he simply dusted himself off and got back on the trail. Whining about the bad questions took him off message at the time he most needed his message to get out. Oh, and the media will only get tougher on you once you actually make it into the White House. Just ask the current president. So Obama had better get used to it.

    6. You can't win a battle if you don't fight. Obama is well known for his uplifting rhetoric and his political purity. The problem for Obama, however, as Pennsylvania showed, is that politics is not about honor and unity. It's about votes. And Hillary Clinton has been better at getting raw votes as of late. She may have high negatives, and she may be reinforcing these negatives by pursuing her "kitchen sink" strategy. But none of that matters because it's working. Obama may be the nice guy with the higher approval ratings, but that's not what it takes to win the nomination.

    According to the CNN exit polls 67% of voters thought Obama was "honest and trustworthy" compared to 58% who felt the same about Clinton. 67% of voters thought Clinton attacked Obama unfairly while only 50% felt the same about Obama attacking Clinton. News flash to Obama: Being seen as the more honorable candidate doesn't mean so much if you lose the election. A reputation is useless without the votes to back it up.

    Love her or hate her, Hillary Clinton can fight. And if she's willing to go to the mat for her own candidacy, it suggests to voters that she will be willing to go to the mat for America as President. Obama has done an awful job of defending and standing up for himself. He should be given credit for trying to take the high road and elevate our political dialogue, but nobody remembers who came in second. There are no consolation prizes when it comes to politics.

    If Obama truly cannot take a hit and fight back, it's better for Democrats to find this out now than to find out in September against John McCain. Obama's going to have to be a bit more aggressive and direct because trying to campaign from 30,000 feet and avoid getting a few grass stains on your clothes isn't working.

    7. The Democratic Party is truly divided into two camps and Clinton's camp is larger. Does Hillary Clinton represent the centrist wing of the party while Barack Obama represents the liberal wing? Remember, the Pennsylvania primary was closed to Republicans and independents. This could explain why the race has become so polarized, but this point alone deserves its own post.

    In the end, Barack Obama is still the odds on favorite to win the nomination, but Hillary Clinton has successfully reframed the race in a way that says pledged delegates no longer matter. Her audience now is no longer the voters. It's the superdelegates, and neither candidate can win the nomination without them. And as the doubts about Obama pile up, Clinton's stock value will continue to rise. It appears that May 6 (Super Tuesday III) will be Obama's last chance to put Clinton away. Losing both North Carolina and Indiana would be absolutely disastrous to his campaign. And given how Obama appears to be stalled right now, this is not outside the realm of possibility.

    3/31/2008

    Hillary Clinton: Then and Now

    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.

    3/28/2008

    Calling the Democrats' Bluff

    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.

    3/20/2008

    Obama's Speech: The Political Impact

    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.

    3/13/2008

    Obama, Clinton, Ferraro, and Race (again)

    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.

    3/10/2008

    Why Not Gore-Obama?

    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.

    3/09/2008

    Clinton vs. Obama: Rationales for Their Nominations

    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.

    3/05/2008

    Junior Super Tuesday: Advantage GOP

    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.

    3/02/2008

    Anatomy of a Clinton Comeback: Part 2

    (Note: This is the second half of an extended piece about Hillary Clinton. To read the first half, click here.)

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    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.

    Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.