Showing posts with label primaries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label primaries. Show all posts

9/10/2008

Thoughts on the 2008 Campaign and a Presidential Endorsement

This is a post I was planning to write in October, not September, because I wanted to wait until after the debates to make a more accurate judgment of the two presidential candidates. But this nonstory about lipstick forced my hand.

I am angry. I am disappointed. And I am scared. But I am hopeful.

Coming into this election season, I was hopeful for America because I believed we finally had a chance to pick up the pieces and get America back on track after our long national nightmare. President Bush has been the worst president of my lifetime. I don't say that as a partisan. I say that because I genuinely believe he is the only president in my 31 years who has left the United States in a worse position than when he came into office. There is a pervasive sense of gloom, despair, apathy, and mistrust swirling around the nation that I have never observed before.

I love the United States of America. I believe this is the greatest country on Earth. It is only in America that someone can progress from having absolutely nothing to being on top of the world. It doesn't matter if you are a third-generation daughter of Polish immigrants, a true-blue son of Appalachia, a waitress working the late shift at a local diner, or a man whose parents abandoned him as a child on a street corner in Los Angeles. The United States offers more opportunities for everyone to succeed than any other nation on Earth.

But lately, it seems that more and more people are falling behind and the American Dream is becoming more and more unattainable. It's not just poor people or those who have made poor decisions who are falling behind. It's middle class people and those who are working hard and playing by the rules who are struggling now too. It costs more to drive our cars because of spiking gas prices. It costs more to go to college because of rising interest rates on student loans. It's more difficult to buy or sell a home. And it's harder to deal with being sick because health care is increasingly unaffordable.

There is a lack of confidence in our government, a lack of sophistication in our politicians, and a lack of professionalism in the media that cover them. People feel that the government doesn't understand their problems, the government doesn't understand its own responsibilities, and the government doesn't care. I'm not saying this as a criticism of conservatism which naturally advocates smaller government. I'm saying that people are losing faith in the very governmental institutions that run America. Think of the Federal Reserve, the State Department, and Homeland Security for example.

Having spent many years of my life abroad, I have seen the transformation that is taking place beyond our borders as well. Gone is the enthusiasm that outsiders once had for this nation. Gone is the respect that the mere mention of "America" commanded. This respect has been replaced by disdain, condescension, and lament.

This brings us to the start of the presidential campaign season.

There were about 20 candidates in the race altogether at the start of the campaign in the spring of 2007, so I figured there should be several candidates whom I'd be willing to support. But then I began to learn more about the candidates and began to cross them off my list.

The Republicans

Rudy Giuliani was a moderate Republican, so I thought he warranted a second look. However, I found him to be a fraud and jumped ship because who was once "America's Mayor" had since descended into pitting Americans against each other on the campaign trail by using terrorism to drive a wedge between Democrats and Republicans. And I believe he reduced September 11th to a mere political talking point.

Mitt Romney was a nonstarter because of the sheer number of policy reversals he undertook in an attempt to pander to certain parts of the Republican base. He came across as the type of politician who had no shame and would do and say whatever it took, even at the expense of his own dignity, to get elected. So I trusted nothing that came out of his mouth and viewed him to have no ideological core.

Fred Thompson was also a nonstarter because he did not seem serious about his campaign and figured that he could charm his way to the nomination with his Southern twang and red pickup truck. The basis of his campaign was merely that he was a Southerner with a wry sense of humor. There was no policy heft there. No thanks.

Sam Brownback was a candidate of the religious right, so he was automatically disqualified.

This left three palatable Republicans: John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul.

I am most definitely not a social conservative. But why would this disqualify Sam Brownback and not Mike Huckabee? Because Huckabee was civil in his political presentation. He was humble, likable, substantive, and in touch. He talked about the economy from the point of view of regular workers, not corporate managers. Even though I strongly disagreed with him on issues like abortion and gay rights, I would have been okay with him as President because he did not use wedge issues to divide the electorate for the sake of finding common ground.

My inner libertarian is what endeared me to Ron Paul. I applauded the courage of his convictions, even if that made him a laughing stock at the Republican debates. He spoke about the insanity of staying in Iraq even though the Iraqis want us to leave and the billions and billions of dollars that are spent propping up countries that are hostile to the United States. Unfortunately, Paul's candidacy came about 40 years too soon and in a party that moved away from Barry Goldwater conservatism decades ago.

This left John McCain. I had a favorable opinion of McCain after his 2000 presidential campaign and appreciated the way he occasionally bucked President Bush and the fringe elements of his own party. His participation in the "Gang of 14" at a time when the Senate was about to explode went a long way towards cementing my respect for him. When the race for the Republican nomination came down to McCain and Romney (Huckabee was still in the race too, but he had been marginalized), I was banking on McCain. I figured that of all the Republicans in the race, he was ultimately the most appealing.

The Democrats

As for the Democrats, I was not one of those voters who was bowled over by the Big 3 of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. All three of them were my last three choices.

I originally started off in Bill Richardson's camp. His resume was simply incredible. Like he said in some of the debates, nominating him would give voters both "change" and "experience." Being from New Mexico, he had the right geography. And as a Latino, he had the right demographics. Combining all this with the fact that he was a centrist Democrat made Richardson bulletproof. His "Interview" campaign ads were impressive too, so I felt comfortable showing my allegiance to the New Mexico governor. He was the first candidate to whom I ever donated money.

But then came the debates. He seemed sluggish, disoriented, and disappointing. I gave him several chances, but he never "popped." And his campaign staff didn't seem all that interested in my offers to volunteer for him either. So he left me cold.

As Richardson's star faded, Joe Biden's stock rose. He was my second choice who later became my first choice. Biden was an exceptionally strong debater with a good sense of humor. He had a lot of experience too and clearly understood the world in which we live. I had the opportunity to meet him three times and he genuinely seemed to talk to me as a person and not as just another voter. I donated money to his campaign too and was surprised when I received a thank you letter from him personally with a real signature. Not one of those computerized signatures, but a real signature with ink stains. This was a United States senator actually taking the time to be gracious to me, a generic PhD student in South Carolina.

As I watched him perform strongly in debate after debate, I hoped that the people in Iowa were paying attention. Despite my enthusiasm for Biden, I worried that he did not have enough star power to shine in the Iowa caucuses because Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards were sucking up all the media's oxygen. But I strongly believed this candidate could be trusted to win the White House and govern with a sense of competence and an awareness of the magnitude of his responsibilities. Unfortunately, he finished 5th in Iowa and was thereby disqualified from the subsequent debate in New Hampshire that Bill Richardson, who finished fourth, could participate in.

Chris Dodd was Joe Biden without the personality, so he didn't have a chance. Mike Gravel was not a serious candidate. And like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich was about 40 years ahead of his time.

Why wasn't I in the Barack Clintedwards camp? Because they were polarizing personality candidates with thin resumes. Obama seemed like a nice guy, but he did not have much of a record to run on. When it comes to voting, I place experience and accomplishments ahead of identity politics and personality. This is why John Edwards was also disqualified. He had even less government experience than Obama and did not prove himself to be a strong campaigner because of how little he helped John Kerry in 2004.

As for Hillary Clinton, she was certainly the "toughest" of the top three candidates, but I had really grown tired of the Bush vs. Clinton storyline and the constant snipping between their surrogates on the cable news channels. I was sick of hearing accusations of President Bush's lying be countered by reminding everyone about President Clinton's lying. I really wanted to move on from the Bush-Clinton dynastic noise and start over.

So my heart was with Biden. But after his loss in Iowa, Richardson's defeat in New Hampshire, and Edwards' embarrassment in South Carolina, I knew I would have to choose between Obama and Clinton. (I still voted for Biden in the South Carolina primary even though he had already dropped out of the race.)

After Super Tuesday my respect for Obama and his political skills increased. He was racking up delegates because he wisely created a campaign apparatus in far more states than Clinton, who felt she didn't need to do this because she was entitled to the nomination. As Clinton fell further and further behind, she became a lot more negative and off-putting. That just reminded me of the Bush-Clinton feuding and further turned me off from her.

But even though I was warming to Obama, I still wasn't sold on him. I appreciated the movement he was trying to create by giving regular people a greater stake in their democracy. And I appreciated his tone, which was more civil and not based on treating voters like they were stupid. But I feared he had too much brain and not enough heart. Hillary Clinton picked up on this and began to run up the score on Obama during the final two months of the campaign and largely rehabilitated her image in my eyes. Unfortunately for her, she had dug herself too large a hole.

Obama won the nomination fairly. The PUMA wing of the party can complain about superdelegates, Florida, Michigan, and half votes, but they should blame the Hillary Clinton campaign, strategist Mark Penn, and the Democratic National Committee for that instead, not Obama. He earned his place at the top of the ticket.

The outrage

So the battle was between a respectable Republican with a record and an intriguing Democrat without one. I thought this campaign would be a lot more civil and uplifting than the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, so I figured that regardless of who won the election, America would come out on top.

But then something changed. Channeling John Kerry, Senator John McCain became Candidate John McCain, and I did not like what I saw. And my worst fears about Senator Obama being overly cerebral came true.

Because of my disagreements with John McCain over foreign policy, the ongoing war in Iraq, and his tack to the religious right, I figured that there was only about a 30% chance that I'd vote for him. That has since become a 0% chance. Some of this is due to John McCain directly, but some of it is also due to his allies.

I am sick of this election being about middle names, flag pins, e-mail rumors, Paris Hilton, religion, and lipstick.

I am sick of the media fixating on insignificant nonsense while ignoring the issues that really matter to people.

I am sick of dishonest political advertising, political red herrings, stupid talking points, baseless accusations of media bias, and phony outrage.

I am sick of having my patriotism questioned because I thought the Iraq War was a terrible idea and don't support most of President Bush's policies.

I am sick of having flag pins determine how much an American loves this country.

I am sick of politicians demeaning our allies and then complaining when they don't enthusiastically support our policies.

I am sick of equating a politician's popularity abroad with political leprosy at home.

I am sick of the fact that a vice presidential nominee that nobody knows won't give media interviews because the media are not "deferential" enough to her.

I am even sicker of the media who let her get away with this in the first place.

The fears

This nation is in a state of historical decline in which we are becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the world and our own quality of life is decreasing. And that scares me.

We are spending billions of dollars in Iraq. Where is this money coming from?

Millions of people can't even afford to get sick, much less actually go to the doctor because health insurance and health care cost too much money.

The world is unstable, as Russia's incursion into Georgia and Iran's nuclear ambitions illustrate.

The environment is slowly degrading and the balance between man and nature is becoming skewed.

It costs three times as much to fill up my gas tank compared to 10 years ago.

A growing percentage of young people are failing to graduate from high school. And for those who do, it's more difficult for them to pay for college because tuition keeps rising and there is less financial aid available.

People are getting kicked out of their homes because of rising interest rates on their mortgages.

Brave Americans are dying and getting hurt every day in Iraq because of an ill-conceived war with an ill-defined mission. And these brave warriors are being neglected when they return home.

There is no transparency in our government. Instead, our national leaders are saying "Trust us" even though they have given us every reason not to.

Laws are being written, passed, and ignored because of presidential signing statements.

An American city drowned and has yet to be rebuilt.

We are one Supreme Court appointment away from major reversals in longstanding social policy.

Politicians are accusing other politicians of being elitists because they went to private schools and sent their children to private schools even though these very same politicians want to institute vouchers that would let parents send their own children to private schools.

Politicians are politicizing America by using phony and loaded slogans like "country first," as if every other candidate running for president doesn't do so.

I am sick of it. There are too many serious issues that need to be addressed, but the quest to win the daily news cycle is crowding everything out.

The endorsement

John McCain would probably be a competent president. And should he win, I would pray for his health every day because I have little respect for and little confidence in Sarah Palin. And I hope that President McCain would govern as Senator McCain, not Candidate McCain.

I have strong disagreements with Barack Obama when it comes to illegal immigration, corporate taxes, tort reform, and entitlement programs. But after what I have seen from the increasingly dishonorable McCain campaign and the doe-eyed media over the past two or three weeks, I have decided that enough is enough.

The path McCain took to get here has caused me to lose a lot of respect for him. His "country first" slogan is a total farce and the phony outrage coming from his campaign over accusations of sexism and celebrity show him to be nothing more than a tool of the very same people who turned George Bush into a polarizing 30% president who only cares about 30% of the electorate.

Real leaders don't accuse their political rivals of wanting to lose a war before losing an election. That's not "country first."

Real leaders don't distract the electorate from substantive issues by throwing up smokescreens about minutia. That's not "country first" either.

Real leaders don't choose their vice presidential nominees after just meeting them once. It reminds me of "looking into Vladimir Putin's soul." While Palin has so far turned out to be a tremendous success for his campaign, the fact remains that this was an irresponsible gamble that has been rendered even more irresponsible by the fact that he is restricting media access to her as if she should not have to be scrutinized by the press.

Real leaders don't cry sexism over stupid remarks about lipstick, especially when they themselves have used the exact same expression in the past and commonly ridicule others for political correctness.

Real leaders don't scare voters by linking their political opponents to children and sex education.

Real leaders don't continue to shout out talking points that have long since definitively been proven false.

An Obama defeat would vindicate the strategists who believed that diverting discussion from education policy, the economy, and Iraq to a discussion about lipstick and sexism are the keys to winning the White House.

An Obama defeat would vindicate a media that is derelict in its responsibilities.

An Obama defeat would lead to a likely Clinton nomination in 2012 and signify to voters that the only way you can win the White House is to throw mud and engage in character assassination. Bush did that in 2000 and 2004, McCain is doing that this year, and should McCain win, Hillary Clinton will do that again in 2012. I don't want politics to be that way.

No more wedge politics.
No more journalistic negligence and irresponsibility.
No more lipstick. And freedom fries. And jokes about France.
No more chants of U-S-A whenever a Republican politician bashes a Democrat.
No more scaring the electorate by linking politicians with children and sex.
No more hiding behind the flag and impugning another American's patriotism.

I have serious reservations about Obama's lack of experience. But the fact that he chose Joe Biden as his running mate reassures me. The two have a good personal relationship, so I know that Biden will always speak his mind even if it means giving Obama bad news. And he can serve as a liaison between the old Washington and the new. Biden-Obama would have been preferable to Obama-Biden, but that is not how the campaigns turned out. But perhaps because Obama is at the top of the ticket, that makes the contrast in tone between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin all the more stark.

I do not endorse Barack Obama because I care much for his political views. And I do not endorse him because of his personal story. I endorse Barack Obama because everything he's running against must not be validated by his defeat.

Even if you may not agree with Obama's political ideas, I hope you at least agree with his political approach. After Paris Hilton, feigned cries of sexism, blaming the media, and lipstick, it is safe to say that the United States can't afford to have this nonsense be rewarded by a McCain victory because that will only allow it to continue in 2012. America deserves better than this.

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

  • 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%

    4/23/2008

    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.

    3/17/2008

    Rethinking 2012

    Politicians, political parties, national leaders, and voters are going to have to do a bit of soulsearching and get serious about how they go about electing future presidents. As entertaining as the 2008 primary season has been so far with its intricacies and unpredictable storylines, it has revealed some very troubling weaknesses that do not reflect favorably on our political institutions and ultimately provide a disservice to the nation.

    The Presidency of the United States is the single most important institution on Earth. Issues of war and peace, the international economy, and the freedoms we enjoy are all dependent on this one person. Shouldn't the importance and seriousness of this office be determined by a process that is equally serious?

    Here are, in no particular order, criticisms of this campaign that should be addressed.

    The 2008 field was winnowed too much too soon. Even though the presidential election is still about eight months away, the campaign essentially started more than a year ago. Now the remaining candidates (particularly Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) have torn each other down so much and have rendered themselves so unattractive to the broader electorate that one can't help but wonder why there aren't any more appealing candidates from which to choose.

    Even though there are 50 states in the union, the Republican contest essentially got shut down on Super Tuesday, when only about half of the states could have their say. Even worse, the Democratic race was essentially weeded down to two candidates after South Carolina, where the fourth contest was held.

    Now Republican voters in the later states are forced to accept John McCain, even though he is considered unacceptable by many in the GOP base. Any votes Mike Huckabee received in Mississippi, for example, were protest votes. Their votes don't matter. And Democratic voters in the later states are forced to choose between the negative Hillary Clinton and the controversial and fading Barack Obama (courtesy of his church).

    A handful of voters in a handful of small states wielded a disproportionately large influence over the process, and not in a good way. John Edwards is probably wishing he didn't drop out of the race so soon. And the invisible second-tier candidates, such as Chris Dodd (who was often maligned for being a boring old Washington hand in the debates), suddenly look a lot more attractive as Clinton and Obama go at each other's throats. Nobody would be talking about controversial pastors, inexperience, race-bating, and rhetoric with no substance. But a few thousand voters in Iowa completely shut his candidacy out. The same could be said of Duncan Hunter (the authentic conservative Republicans were looking for), Joe Biden (the muscular and charismatic Democrat the left was looking for), and a few other lesser known candidates.

    By the time September rolls around, most Americans will be sick of hearing about McCain, Obama, and/or Clinton. And many voters will lament that they don't really like any of those candidates. And on top of this, these candidates were thrust upon us too soon by an accelerated and frontloaded calendar. What a long time voters have to deal with buyer's remorse.

    There should be a more equitable, more orderly, and better paced schedule of primaries and caucuses. Before the schedule became finalized, there were rumblings that the first primaries and caucuses would take place before Christmas last year, which is absurd. It is easy to understand why everybody wants to be first, but there should be better reasons to justify why some states should have their contests before others.

    "Tradition" is not a good enough reason to keep rewarding the same states over and over again by granting them the first bite of the apple. Claiming that Iowa and New Hampshire should go first because they are small states also doesn't hold water because there are several states that are even smaller in terms of population and/or size. Why not let Delaware or Montana go first? Or why not give Alabama a chance? Saying that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire take politics more seriously is only an affront to voters in other states who would undoubtedly display the same amount of seriousness if they had the same opportunity. What would make a voter in Concord, New Hampshire, more serious about politics than a voter in Concord, North Carolina?

    I have written much about ways to improve the primary process (read Primarily Stupid and Primarily Stupid: Part 2 for more information). Perhaps the most logical idea would be to assign the order of the primaries according to voter turnout in the previous presidential election. This way, voters in all states would have an incentive to turn out, even in "noncompetitive" states like New York or Texas. Imagine being a Democrat in Idaho or a Republican in Hawaii. Your vote would actually count for something! States that display the highest percentage of voter turnout should have their primaries be scheduled earlier. Such states would have proven their seriousness and would deserve to go first. States that display lower turnout should be lumped together and have their primaries take place later. And because the order of the primaries would change from cycle to cycle, politicians would be unable to canvass the same states every presidential cycle even before the primary and caucus dates are established. This proposal would bring more voters into the process and encourage healthy competition.

    There is no grown-up in the room, which has led to chaos. All the states were tripping over each other to be first this time around. And two states, Michigan and Florida, rightfully stand to be penalized for trying to break the party rules. Now there's the specter of a fight on the convention floor if the delegates from those two states aren't seated. But if the Democratic Party does not penalize them, then what will prevent another state from violating the calendar and the party rules by setting up their 2012 primary right after the 2010 midterm elections? And if those states are allowed to revote, then they will essentially be rewarded for breaking the rules. It's absolute madness. If the national parties are unable to maintain control over their state parties, then the parties should either be disbanded or sanctioned by an entity with more authority. Having a firm and enforceable primary order (with flexible primary dates) is an idea worthy of serious consideration. And as for the unfortunate voters in Michigan and Florida, like Glenn Beck aptly suggested, you should stop crying about how the big bad Howard Dean and the national parties disenfranchised you. The real culprits are closer to home.

    The primary system should be more equitable for the less well-funded and less well-known candidates. The 2008 roster initially included around twenty different presidential aspirants--Fred Thompson, Mark Warner, Mike Huckabee, Bill Richardson, Sam Brownback, and Dennis Kucinich, to name a few. They each represented a unique slice of the electorate and offered their own particular skill set. Regardless of their electoral chances, they all deserved to be heard. The reason for this is that the less well-funded and less well-known candidates were caught in a real bind. The only way they could increase their visibility was to raise money for advertising and campaign operations. But the only way they could raise this campaign cash was for them to increase their visibility. As a result, you had potentially attractive candidates who were forever mired in the second and third tiers, such as Duncan Hunter of the Republicans and Joe Biden of the Democrats. You also had promising and unique candidates who were intimidated by the fundraising juggernauts of the bigshot candidates and ultimately decided to drop out prematurely, such as Russ Feingold and Tom Vilsack.

    Now the Democratic race has come down to the two candidates who had sat atop the field since the beginning: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The winner of the Republican race had to travel through the fire and escape political death a few times, but John McCain finished where he started a year ago--as the frontrunner.

    John Edwards was never able to crack the armor of the top two Democrats. Bill Richardson flirted with the so-called top tier, but never could get over the top. Sam Brownback was essentially running in place before his defeat at the Ames Straw Poll. And Tommy Thompson struggled to get voters to think of him when they heard the name "Thompson," instead of the better known actor known as Fred.

    Only Mike Huckabee was able to make a real surge that was unexpected by most pundits and media practicioners (though it was no surprise to me), but he was unable to translate this surge into electoral gold (at least not this time around) because of Fred Thompson, whose presence ruined Huckabee in South Carolina.

    First Amendment advocates would probably say nothing is wrong with the system. And they would even defend the airing of all sorts of misleading or inaccurate ads and the distribution of misleading and outrageous campaign literature as free speech that is protected by the Constitution. However, when a poor candidate is able to dump millions of dollars from his personal fortune into the race while an honorable or better qualified one can't raise any cash needed to retort, it's not particularly fair.

    Freedom of speech is a moot concept if some people have more freedom than others. This could be remedied with public financing of elections, but no politician wants to part with his war chest. However, when a candidate receives donations from Interest Group X or Company Y, that weds a candidate to this entity's interests. And spending more time legislating, campaigning, or debating seems more productive and more beneficial for our democracy than simply racing from one fundraiser to another.

    The media should promote and conduct debates that matter. There was certainly no shortage of debates last year and even earlier this year when the field was so crowded. However, the media really missed some opportunities to ask meaningful questions and address the issues that matter to real people, rather than dwell on the minutiae of the daily news cycle. Of course, voters are complicit in these disappointing extended campaign ads and stump speeches that masquerade as debates. Voters should reward politicians that get into specifics, don't talk around questions, and articulate their views in a mature and thoughtful way. If the media understand that this is what voters want, they will adapt.

    Some politicians, particularly the lower-tier candidates, lamented their inability to get their message out in the debates. When eight or nine candidates are competing for talking time, it can be difficult to balance the questions. A potential remedy would be to divide the debates so that half of the candidates could participate in one debate while half participate in the other. Or half of the candidates could participate in the first half of one debate while the other candidates participate in the second half. The main point is that nobody really benefits when there are so many candidates duking it out on stage, especially given politicians' propensity to be so longwinded in their responses or take awhile to warmup and actually address the moderators' questions.

    American politics may be entertaining, but given the stakes of this year's election, entertainment should take a backseat to competence, pragmatism, and fairness. Unfortunately, the campaign season thus far has been anything but that. And everyone has a responsibility to fix it.

    1/26/2008

    Dissecting South Carolina (D)

    The results are still coming in, but it looks like Barack Obama will win the South Carolina Democratic primary with more than half of the vote and with more votes than Hillary Clinton and John Edwards combined. Given the margin of his victory and his sufficiently strong performance among White voters (exit poll results here), it appears that the emerging storyline will be that the voters rejected the Clintonian brand of race-baiting politics and really want to move on. The other likely storyline will concern where John Edwards goes from here. Here are some of my thoughts, listed in no particular order:

    1. The only way John Edwards can win the nomination now is if Clinton or Obama self-destructs somewhere down the road and he becomes the alternative candidate. But barring a total meltdown or fatal gaffe on behalf of his rivals, the only path for John Edwards now leads to amassing delegates, not winning the nomination. He was already in trouble for not winning his must-win state of Iowa and registering an embarrassing 4% in Nevada. But finishing third in his home state of South Carolina, a state he won in 2004, is a particularly strong rejection of his candidacy and is not something he can easily spin. Having been born here and representing next-door North Carolina, South Carolinians should reasonably be expected to know Edwards better than voters elsewhere. That's what makes this showing by Edwards so disappointing for his campaign. There is one silver lining for Edwards, however. Given the unexpectedly large margin of Obama's victory, most of the media's focus will be on him, rather than Edwards and his weak performance.

    2. Appeals for civility and maturity may for make for good soundbytes in debates, but people don't vote for mediators. They vote for leaders. Joe Biden tried to take the high road and was rewarded with fifth place in Iowa. Chris Dodd did the same and finished seventh. Bill Richardson thought that might win him plaudits in the debate before the New Hampshire primary, but the only thing he won was an all-expense paid trip out of the race. And in the case of John Edwards, his rhetoric about civility was well-received. However, voters rewarded Obama for running the more positive campaign instead.

    3. Black and White voters rejected Black and White politics. This anger was directed both at the Clintons as well as the media. Blacks were quite angry about having the issue of race be reduced to a political wedge issue. And Whites were angry about the the notion that the Clintons thought they could be scared into voting for them by playing on old fears. This is something Blacks and Whites alike would expect from a Republican, not a Democrat. And that's why both Blacks and Whites were so shocked by the tone and the rhetoric of the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign's race-baiting may have succeeded in that it drove Obama's Black support up and his White support down, which would likely benefit Clinton on Super Tuesday. However, these offended and angry Black voters are at a greater risk of staying home on Election Day in November because they have long memories when it comes to this kind of rhetoric. (Don Imus is still a sore spot, for example.) Democrats need that 85-90% of the Black vote in November. If they don't get it, competitive blue states with large Black populations (especially Michigan and Pennsylvania) may turn red. And given the weakness of Clinton regarding her electibility in the general election, she can ill afford to hemorrhage any part of her base whatsoever.

    4. The generation gap between Clinton, Obama, and their supporters is very, very real. Per the exit poll results, Obama beat Clinton among voters of all ages except those over 65. And he often beat Clinton among younger voters by better than 2 to 1. The prospect of seeing a woman president may matter more to these voters because they grew up at a time when women faced far more barriers in their professional lives. Older voters may be more reliable voters, but relying on seniors for electoral success is a dicey proposition. And younger voters, many of whom have been apathetic about politics before, look at Obama as someone who channels their dreams, their vision of what America should be, and their frustration with our current state of our political discourse. To younger voters, it's as if Obama is a movement, rather than just a candidate.

    The next state up is Florida, but it's more of a beauty contest than anything else because it will not award any delegates. It appears that Clinton will campaign there regardless, however, presumably to change the story from South Carolina to the springboard to Super Tuesday. The Clinton campaign will eagerly write off South Carolina because they know that the state will never go Democratic in a general election. But this state and their approach to it may have caused irreparable damage to their campaign because it reminded voters more of what they hated about the 1990s than what they missed. Notice that I am referring to the Clintons in the plural form because it is obvious that Obama is running against both the New York senator and the former president.

    This reality opens up a new avenue of attack for Obama because he could reasonably question who the real president would be in a Hillary Clinton White House. And citing the Clintons' rhetoric over the past two weeks would probably lead most voters to conclude that the real risk is not in electing an "unproven" Obama with a thin resume, but rather in reelecting the Clintons and allowing their brand of politics to make America lose faith in what she is.

    Black voters in the Super Tuesday states will probably break for Obama the same way they did for him in South Carolina. Those voters will likely never go back to Clinton unless she's the nominee. And White voters who were leaning towards Clinton probably were put off by her campaign and may be more inclined to vote for Obama as well. John Edwards' supporters are going to have to be honest with themselves about their available choices. Being another "change" candidate, I would expect his supporters to flock to Obama in greater numbers. But if they remain loyal to Edwards, the question will then be a matter of who his presence is hurting more. But in general, it's really hard to see how the Clintons can build up their support faster than they appear to be losing it.

    For now, Obama has seized the momentum and is now even money against Clinton on Super Tuesday. But will voters in the Super Tuesday states punish her as well? Or will they have short memories?

    The race goes on.

    South Carolina Primary Coverage: Brave New Films Simulcast

    Brave New Films is hosting primary night coverage of the South Carolina Democratic primary results tonight. This event is also being sponsored by the Young Turks and is hosted by Robert Greenwald and Cenk Uygur. I will be participating in the discussion via call-in starting at 7:20. Other guests will include prominent bloggers from Firedoglake, Alternet, the Huffington Post, Crooks and Liars, and other major sites. You can watch the simulcast in the window below, but if it doesn't work, you can also watch it here. A live blog is also available for anyone to participate in.

    1/20/2008

    Post-South Carolina State of Affairs (R)

    South Carolina and Nevada have spoken, and the results have finally produced several distinct tiers of Republican candidates: John McCain and Mitt Romney in the top tier, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani in the second tier, and Fred Thompson and Ron Paul in the third tier. Because of the sheer chaos that characterizes the Republican race, Republican voters and party operatives are anxiously waiting for signs that someone is breaking out of the pack, as they are not sure who they should rally around. Things might still be muddled right now, but the race is no longer as turbid as it once was.

    John McCain's South Carolina victory is particularly sweet for him, especially after the way he was vilified in the 2000 primary. Of course, nasty kneecap politics reemerged this time around too, but that McCain was able to survive should serve as a testament to his overall strength and appeal. This victory caps McCain's improbable political comeback and has established him as the Republican frontrunner. At the very least, he is a co-frontrunner with Mitt Romney. I predicted McCain's resurgence back in December and based this prediction on the fact that even though he has made a lot of Republicans angry on individual issues, he is at least acceptable enough to all factions of the Republican Party to make him seem like a consensus candidate. The South Carolina exit polls show how balanced his support is among Republican voters. This balance potentially makes him a stronger candidate than Huckabee (whose support skews to evangelicals) or Romney (whose support skews to wealthier voters and corporate Republicans).

    McCain can now enter Florida with a reasonable chance of pulling off another victory. There are major military bases in the Tampa and Pensacola areas, which should be fertile territory for him. The fact that there are also a lot of seniors there should work to his advantage too, as Huckabee tends to do better with younger voters. And because Florida is supposed to be "Giuliani's state," there's not as much pressure on him to win it. So McCain has to be sitting pretty right now.

    Huckabee should study the exit polls carefully because they reveal a potentially fatal weakness about his candidacy--that his appeal among non-evangelical voters is weak. It's well known that devout Christians (those who attend church more than once per week) love Huckabee. However, the problem for Huckabee is that even in the Republican Party, there are a lot of less traditional and more moderate Christians, and these voters are decidedly not supporting Huckabee, as he only won 16% of their votes (as opposed to winning 43% of the vote among evangelical/born-again Christian voters). This does not bode well for Huckabee in less conservative states outside the Bible Belt and even in a general election. His populist rhetoric is certainly appealing, but is his Christian rhetoric turning these voters off? Huckabee had better figure out a new approach soon because as soon as he becomes a Pat Roberson candidate and nothing more, his campaign is finished.

    Fred Thompson narrowly won third place in South Carolina. Because of his limited campaigning elsewhere, his falling poll numbers, and the general sense that his campaign has been a disappointment, Thompson really needed to win South Carolina to reinvigorate his campaign. However, because he barely only placed third, it's really hard to see how Thompson can continue. He will not be the nominee.

    However, even though Thompson is likely finished, his presence is still having a major impact on the race. Judging from the South Carolina exit polls, Thompson significantly cut into Huckabee's base of evangelical Christians. Had Thompson not been on the ballot, it is quite probable that Huckabee would have beaten McCain. Thompson is not really attacking McCain aggressively, but he is blasting Huckabee. Since McCain and Thompson are close personal friends, could Thompson be serving as a stalking horse or a shield for McCain? Is Thompson's role to force McCain's rivals out of the race by starving them of victories they are widely expected to have? Thompson clearly held Huckabee back in South Carolina. Could he do the same with both Huckabee and Giuliani in Florida?

    Fred Thompson is hurting Mike Huckabee the same way John Edwards is hurting Barack Obama. They are both Southerners who are trying to run as consistent conservative outsiders. Huckabee is the stronger candidate, but Thompson is strong enough to significantly bog Huckabee down. Needless to say, Huckabee would be thrilled if Thompson pulled out of the race before Florida. However, given Thompson's ambiguous speech after the results came in, there's no telling what to expect.

    Romney's victory in uncontested Nevada overshadowed his fourth place showing in South Carolina. This is fine because he is continuing to silently rack up delegates. And seeing that Nevada had more delegates at stake than South Carolina, his decision to play in Nevada was a smart tactical move. And because the focus will be on Huckabee and Giuliani to win Florida, he enters the state with the advantage of low expectations. So while a Florida victory would be nice, Super Tuesday is clearly where his attention will lie. Second, or even third, in Florida should be good enough to give him decent momentum heading into Super Tuesday. It appears that Romney will be one of the last two (or three) candidates standing. The other one used to look like Giuliani (and that may still happen), but McCain is clearly emerging as the strongest candidate with all the momentum.

    Ron Paul's second place showing in Nevada will likely serve as yet another embarrassment for Giuliani. Paul also bested Giuliani in South Carolina as well. It is clear that Paul is gathering enough support to warrant respect from the other candidates. But in the end, this second place finish took place in a state where the other candidates weren't campaigning all (except for Romney), and the best he could do elsewhere prior to this was fourth or fifth. 15% seems to be Paul's ceiling, which is not enough to win a primary or caucus anywhere. The question now becomes who is Paul drawing the most votes from?

    At most, there will be three tickets out of Florida. Florida will be the last stand for Huckabee, Thompson, and Giuliani. McCain and Romney can survive even if they don't win because they have each already won at least twice. Huckabee only won Iowa, and these memories of his Iowa victory are being replaced by his second and third place showings elsewhere. Thompson surprised pundits by placing third in Iowa, but he was clearly expected to do better in South Carolina. Seeing that Florida is another Southern state, Thompson essentially gets a do-over--but this is it for him. Giuliani has not been a part of the national conversation for weeks now, so his candidacy is sliding into irrelevance. Anything worse than a close second in Florida will probably end his campaign because he simply won't have the financial resources to compete on Super Tuesday. The pressure is off of McCain and Romney to win Florida, so the final ticket to Super Tuesday will go to the Huckabee-Thompson-Giuliani winner. Because of Giuliani's strength in several major Super Tuesday states, many of which more moderate, will McCain and Romney avoid crippling Huckabee and Thompson while they blast Giuliani in an attempt to abort his candidacy before it has a chance to demonstrate its true appeal?

    I once thought that the GOP nomination would come down to Rudy Giuliani and his conservative alternative. But now it appears that it will come down to the establishment candidate and the outsider. That explains Clinton vs. Obama on the Democratic side and would explain McCain vs. Romney on the Republican side. Huckabee or Giuliani could still replace Romney, but the only way this could happen is if they win Florida. Second place is not good enough for those candidates anymore.

    1/16/2008

    Post-Michigan State of Affairs (R)

    The results are in and Mitt Romney is the clear winner of the Michigan Republican primary. Beating rival John McCain by a healthy 9 points, Romney finally won a "gold medal" (people often ignore Wyoming). Independent and Democratic voters simply didn't turn out for McCain in large enough numbers this time. People are often quick to minimize Romney's victory by reminding everyone that Romney was born there and that his father was a popular state governor. McCain referred to Romney at least twice as a "native son" in his concession speech. These are convenient excuses, but I think the main reason why Romney won is because he paid the most attention the the economy, which was certainly weighing heavily on the minds of Michigan voters.

    However, Romney's victory did not wound McCain as much as it wounded Mike Huckabee, who finished a distant third. Huckabee has now placed first once and third twice. Thus, the onus is now on Huckabee to win South Carolina. Given the religious conservative bent of the state, Huckabee should be able to eke out a victory there. If he fails to do so, he will be hard pressed to win elsewhere. He could easily rationalize not winning in New Hampshire and Michigan because they are moderate Northern states with a smaller Christian conservative base. That excuse won't fly in South Carolina, however.

    An ominous sign for Huckabee is that Michigan's evangelicals did not flock to him the way they did in Iowa. This may illustrate the problem Huckabee has with appealing beyond his religious conservative base. Consider these remarks from a campaign event shortly before the primary:

    "[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards."
    (You can view the YouTube clip of this here.)

    Did these remarks doom him among nonevangelicals? Or was Romney's focus on the economy what allowed him to run up the score among what was supposed to be Huckabee's base? Regardless, this is the second time of note that Huckabee has said something that could really ruin his appeal among moderates and independents. Back in October, he compared abortion to a "holocaust" and even tied aborted babies to illegal immigration. Part of Huckabee's appeal has been that he came across as a Christian conservative with a smile. He went against the stereotype of a polarizing, Bible-thumping firebrand like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Basically, like the way Barack Obama has been able to bridge the gap between Blacks and Whites, Mike Huckabee had the ability to appeal to both Christian conservatives and more mainstream Christians. Should these latest remarks gain widespread play in the media, voters and the media may fall out of love with him as fast as they fell in love with him.

    Because of the way the races have broken down so far, it's as if the Republicans are playing a game of hot potato in that the person who loses at the wrong time faces a must-win scenario in the next primary. The onus was on McCain first in New Hampshire. His victory there shifted the onus to Romney in Michigan. In light of Romney's victory there, the onus is now on Huckabee, as I mentioned earlier.

    Also, although nobody is really talking much about it, the onus is also on Fred Thompson, who is treating South Carolina the same way Rudy Giuliani is treating Florida. Simply put, Thompson only has one shot. Win and survive or lose and go home. A blunted McCain, a Huckabee whose star is no longer shining as brightly, a Romney who pulled his campaign ads, and a Giuliani who is keeping his powder dry until Florida have given Thompson his opening. South Carolinians may like McCain's support of the surge in Iraq and his positions on spending and taxes, but they are still seething over the immigration "compromise" he previously supported. Huckabee's appeal among nonevangelicals is still suspect. And Romney was positioned to capitalize on his Michigan victory by winning South Carolina a few days later, but his decision to drop his ads here have essentially ceded the state to his rivals. Thompson has been working South Carolina hard and he still seems to be the "authentic, consistent conservative" that so many Republicans had been waiting for--at least to South Carolinians. But not being at the forefront of the political dialogue may have rendered Thompson irrelevant.

    It is worth noting that Ron Paul beat both Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in Michigan. This means Paul has beaten these candidates twice (Giuliani in Iowa and Michigan and Thompson in New Hampshire and Michigan). The fact that this supposed fringe candidate who was often mocked and marginalized in the debates has beaten two popular candidates known nationwide twice should serve as a warning that Paul is a potential spoiler candidate (or even a kingmaker) who represents a very real and very angry slice of the electorate. What effect will losing to Ron Paul a second time have on Giuliani's fundraising in particular? And is it safe to say that Paul is running stronger than some of these supposed "major" candidates? South Carolina may eliminate McCain or Huckabee. If McCain is forced out of the race, where will his supporters go? McCain has a libertarian streak and is very much against wasteful government spending, just like Paul is. Thus, could Paul absorb a disproportionate amount of McCain's supporters?

    Romney's win is a mixed bag for Giuliani. While he's happy to have his rivals divided and duking it out to be his conservative alternative, he probably would have preferred to have Romney fold up his tent and withdraw from the race. Romney is the only GOP candidate who can finance his own campaign. Thus, as long as Romney is still competitive in Florida, he will be able to seriously compete on Super Tuesday in about three weeks.

    I recently mentioned that Romney could win the Republican nomination by consistently placing second with a few first place showings sprinkled in as long as long as no other candidate kept winning. This would cause him to emerge as everybody's second choice, but nobody's favorite. Romney is now winning the delegate race and will probably win the Nevada caucuses that nobody is talking much about even though Nevada is offering more delegates than South Carolina. Romney hasn't gotten much respect in this campaign, but his Michigan victory forced McCain and Huckabee to follow suit with victories of their own in South Carolina. So in other words, Romney now controls his own destiny again, and for that reason, he has probably overtaken McCain as the new frontrunner with McCain second, Huckabee third, and Thompson and Giuliani tied for fourth. Ron Paul remains too difficult to quantify at present.

    Needless to say, such chaos is a political junkie's dream come true. Could we really be headed for a brokered convention?

    10/14/2007

    Obama: Why the Dark Horses Need Him

    Much has been written about the perceived inevitability of Hillary Clinton based on her superior fundraising and strength in national and state polls. Clinton raised the most money during the third quarter and sits atop all national polls and almost all state polls, although her lead in Iowa is a bit more tenuous. Given this enviable positioning, Clinton could conceivably score a knockout punch by winning the first contest in Iowa and then running the table after that. The political calculus for all the other candidates is simple: Any other Democratic candidate who wants to be the nominee must stop Clinton in Iowa. It doesn't matter if Clinton places second or third; she just can't win Iowa if they want to have a chance of slowing her down.

    Here's how things stand in Iowa right now:

    Mike Gravel is registering no support at all in most Iowa polls. Chris Dodd is not beating the margin of error. Dennis Kucinich is performing a bit more strongly than Chris Dodd, but he doesn't have a credible campaign apparatus. Joe Biden has been getting some good publicity because of his Iraq policy, but he is barely outside of the margin of error at about 5%. Bill Richardson is in the low double digits, but his weak debate performances have stalled his momentum. And John Edwards, who has practically been Iowa's third senator since the 2004 election, has seen his lead over Clinton turn into a deficit over the past few weeks.

    This leaves only one candidate who is positioned well enough to defeat Clinton in Iowa and make the race for the nomination competitive again: Barack Obama. Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review touched on this issue here. However, unlike Zito, I don't believe Obama is the only person who could benefit from an Obama victory in Iowa.

    Even though the other Democrats might be tempted to pile onto Obama, I think they would be wise to lay off of him for now because he is the only candidate capable of stopping Clinton. If she wins Iowa, her inevitability will be confirmed and it will simply be too late to try and defeat her in New Hampshire or South Carolina. Without question, she will be the nominee. However, if Obama were to win Iowa, that would mean that Clinton and one other candidate would live to fight another day. And if that were to happen, the dynamics of the race would change considerably. This is how dark horses can win.

    Should Obama win Iowa, John Edwards would be forced out of the race because he simply cannot afford to place second or third there. He placed all his chips on an Iowa victory and he doesn't have the money to go the distance after that without a huge media boost stemming from a strong showing there. There's also not enough room for Obama and Edwards to coexist anyway. Thus, one of these three "tickets" out of Iowa would not belong to him if Obama won. This leaves Richardson, Biden, and Dodd as the potential beneficiaries of the final ticket to New Hampshire.

    Obama is also the only candidate who has the financial resources to match Clinton step for step in a national campaign. Should Richardson, Biden, or Dodd be the third candidate left in the race after Iowa, they likely would not be the target of negative advertising from either Clinton or Obama because they would train their sights on each other. Meanwhile, while Clinton and Obama go back and forth, the final candidate would be able to take the high road and focus more on actual policy details than on petty attacks and counterattacks. Staying above the fray and acting like a competent statesman could potentially be quite attractive, as it would contrast nicely with the Clinton-Obama slugfest.

    The media love a good storyline, so if this scenario were to take place, the media could build up Richardson, Biden, or Dodd as the experienced observer who is above politics and who had to claw his way out of the political wilderness. Think of it as another "Comeback Kid" narrative. When there are only three candidates in the race, it is much easier to compare and contrast them with each other, especially in the context of a debate. Voters who are leery of Clinton's polarization and Obama's inexperience would then have a third option in Richardson, Biden, or Dodd who combines experience, leadership, and a lack of polarization.

    So in short, Richardson, Biden, and Dodd would be wise to avoid tearing down Barack Obama because they need his polling strength and his campaign cash in order to survive. John Edwards, the weakest "top tier" candidate who also has the most to lose, is the candidate they would be wise to attack. There's no way Bill Richardson can triple his support and overtake Clinton at present, for example. However, if John Edwards' numbers keep trending downward while Richardson and Biden's numbers slowly move up, they might eke out a third place showing in the Iowa caucuses. But this won't mean anything if Obama can't get it done against Clinton. That's why attacking Obama will only make their own political survival that much more difficult.

    9/03/2007

    Primarily Stupid: Part 2

    The presidential primary process is officially out of control.

    One of the very first posts I wrote in The 7-10 was about how the presidential primary process was in need of major overhaul. In that post, I could not wrap my brain around why Iowa and New Hampshire had the privilege of getting first crack at selecting the presidential nominees cycle after cycle. After all, what makes the people of Des Moines and Concord so uniquely qualified to be accurate judges of a candidate's viability?

    I also discussed some of the proposals that have been floated about, such as the Delaware Plan, which basically divides the states according to their populations and has the primaries of the less populated states take place before those of the more populated states.

    While I do not fully agree with the Delaware Plan, I do believe that is a marked improvement over the system we have now. The national parties tried to improve the process by allowing Nevada and South Carolina to move their primaries up to introduce more diversity into the process, but that has only created a bigger mess.

    As Nevada and South Carolina moved up to the front of the line, other states began to feel left out and wanted in on the action. This is entirely understandable because there is so much interest among voters in selecting the next presidential nominees, especially because of Iraq. So they moved their primary dates up in an attempt to have more influence over the process.

    As a result, February 5, normally known as Super Tuesday has become known as Tsunami Tuesday or Super Duper Tuesday. Some states have even decided to encroach on the early states' turf by scheduling their contests before this date despite the risk of losing their delegates at next year's conventions when the primaries' victors are formally nominated. This has led to the Democratic Party trying to restore a bit of sanity to the process by asking its candidates to sign a pledge stating that they would not campaign in any state that was not authorized to have its contest before February 5.

    Whatever. This is all stupid.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. The system is broken. It doesn't matter what the national parties mandate. It doesn't matter how many delegates a state stands to lose. It doesn't matter when a state holds its contest. Until the primary season is conducted in a manner that does not reward certain states just because of "tradition," this process will remain a national embarrassment.

    I happen to live in South Carolina, which is an early voting state. Lots of candidates crisscross the state stumping for votes and it's hard to open the local paper without reading about how Candidate X attended a luncheon at a local restaurant or how Candidate Y gave a speech at a local church. Needless to say, I've had the opportunity to meet several of the candidates. If I think about it selfishly, I guess I have it pretty good living in South Carolina. But when I dissociate myself from where I live and think about this pragmatically, I can't help but feel that people in North Carolina or South Dakota have a right to be upset. Voters in those states have real issues that they want to discuss with the presidential candidates, but they will never get a chance to do so simply because of "tradition."

    Again, I already ranted about why I don't understand what makes New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada so special when it comes to getting first crack at the presidential candidates, so I don't need to do that here. I'm more interested in talking about why this bothers the other states so much and how it can best be fixed.

    Politicos commonly say that there are three tickets out of Iowa and two tickets out of New Hampshire. Wonderful. So this means that a field of 9 Republicans and 8 Democrats will be whittled down by 75% before 96% of the states even have a chance to let their voices be heard. And if the so-called frontrunners win these first two contests, the rest of the primary season simply doesn't matter. Primaries from then on would be mere formalities. So 48 states would have to be content with the candidates that voters in 2 (very small) states settled on. If a candidate places 3rd in Iowa and 2nd in New Hampshire, both of which are respectable showings, that candidate is finished even if voters in the other states like him because nobody wants to vote for someone who isn't perceived to be a winner. Case in point, despite John Edwards' strong showing in Iowa in 2004, he was never able to get over the hump and wrest the nomination from John Kerry, a virtual nobody in most of those later states' polls right before the Iowa caucuses.

    On top of this, and on the flip side, if there is a surprise result in Iowa or New Hampshire by a less well funded or longshot candidate, then that candidate has to contend with the fact that voters in the later states don't know who he is and there's not enough time for him to build up his name recognition and develop a campaign apparatus. Meanwhile, the candidate with all the money and name recognition will have a head start. If John Edwards wins Iowa, Joe Biden places second, and Hillary Clinton places third, do you honestly think Joe Biden will be better equipped to handle South Carolina than Clinton would despite his superior showing in the first contest?

    Either way, nominations these days are all sewn up before most of the states even get a chance to participate. And that is unfair. So the question then becomes how to fix it.

    In Primarily Stupid, I floated the idea of basing primary order on voter participation in the previous presidential election. I'm going to call this the Palmer Plan. The 50 state parties and state election officials would work with each other to provide statistics about how many eligible voters actually voted in the previous presidential election. These voter turnout statistics would then be used to determine when each state could hold its primary. The four states with the highest voter turnout would then earn the right to have their primaries first and on individual days. States ranked 5-10 would then have their primaries in pairs (#5 and #6 on the same day, #7 and #8 together, etc.). States ranked 11-25 would have their primaries in groups of 4. And states ranked 26-50 would have their primaries in groups of 6.

    This model would reward the states that get their voters to the polls and penalize states whose voters are more apathetic. It also gives voters a sense of ownership over the primary process. And for the first time in a long time, people's votes will actually matter. Republicans in New York and Democrats in Texas are used to their votes not counting in primary elections or in presidential elections. This idea would change that because even if a state is not competitive (does anybody really expect Fred Thompson to win Connecticut or for Hillary Clinton to carry Alabama?), at least their vote will help give their state a better chance of holding their primary contest for the next cycle a bit earlier. This idea would also keep presidential candidates on their toes too. Right now, campaign managers know the ins and outs of Iowa and New Hampshire like the back of their hand. That luxury will diminish with this idea because the 2012 election may kick off with caucuses in Kentucky followed by Georgia, while the 2016 cycle may start with Arizona and then Maine. As an added benefit, West Coast voters will have an incentive to get to the polls regardless of how lopsided an election may seem based on the results from the polls back East.

    A national primary is another idea that I commonly hear people talk about. This is an awful idea though because it rewards the candidates with the most money and most name recognition. Such an idea does have some potential, however, in that a series of national primaries could take place and the candidate with the weakest support gets cut from the next ballot. Candidates who get cut from the ballot could then endorse other weaker candidates and pool their resources and consolidate their support to bring down more powerful candidates. A Dennis Kucinich could get cut from the ballot and then endorse John Edwards and have that alliance remove Barack Obama from the ballot, for example. I kinda like this idea, although I don't like it as much as the Palmer Plan listed above. I think I'll call this the Palmer B Plan.

    Public funding of campaigns is an obvious reform that is needed and it pertains not just to the primaries, but also the general election. Speaking of which, the Electoral College is the next nightmare that needs to be addressed, but until an agent of change wins the White House, I don't really expect any of these problems to be resolved anytime soon.

    3/12/2007

    Potpourri

    I have been busy lately, so I haven't had much time to update The 7-10 or do much of anything else. But here are a few links to keep you and your mind busy until the smoke clears and I have more time to spend scouring the web for news to feed your political mind:

    Is this man responsible for the nonsensical mess that is supposed to be our primary season? Speaking of which, it looks like New York wants to join in the frontloading fun as well. Lovely. Good luck to the second tier candidates who wish to compete in the expensive New York City market.

    Looks like Newsweek agrees with me regarding how voters tend to look for a president who represents the opposite of what the previous one did. Is an "Urban Cowboy" (Giuliani) a little too similar to the "Tough Talking Texan" we have in the White House right now?

    It's amazing how losing an election can send you from self-aggrandization to self-repudiation in a few short months.

    As of last week, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton were leading the endorsement race among congressional members. I'm not sure what this means outside the Beltway, although it might lend itself to organizational support at the state and local levels.

    Does this response from the Conservative Political Action Conference go far enough in repudiating Ann Coulter's recent inflammatory remarks? And does Mitt Romney wish that this landmine happened before the advent of YouTube? (More on this later.)

    Could Chuck Hagel be the best hope Republicans have for retaining the White House in 2008 even if he splits a ticket with a Democrat? Or is telling fellow senators to go sell shoes a bit too close to the truth for the establishment to handle?

    Regarding Bush's foreign policy prowess in comparison to that of other presidents, 1104 scholars can't all be wrong. Also, at what point do record low poll numbers cease to have any significance regarding the current president?

    I recently heard a quote attributed to former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan: "When it comes to the presidency, people don't elect resumes. People elect men." That might not be an exact quote, but the spirit of it helps explain why George W. Bush was able to prevail over Al Gore and John Kerry, both of whom had superior resumes. Noonan's words seem to be validated by the 2008 campaign which has Clinton, Obama, and Edwards ahead of veteran politicians Richardson, Dodd, and Biden. Similarly, Romney and Giuliani are giving McCain a run for his money while veteran Duncan Hunter is stuck at the back of the pack. Why does character trump policy?

    How likely is it that voters are suffering from a bit of buyer's remorse after last year's elections put Democrats at the helm of Congress? Not likely, at least after this little article in Congressional Quarterly.

    Have Democrats found a new strategy for dealing with Fox News? Did Obama and Edwards start something big?

    3/02/2007

    Primary Danger

    One of the earliest posts I made in The 7-10 was about the presidential nomination process and how the system was broken. (Go read Primarily Stupid if you haven't done so already.) One of my major gripes was about how Iowa and New Hampshire should not be entitled to have the first crack at the candidates cycle after cycle. I even offered a few ideas of ways to improve the system, such as assigning primary order based on the level of voter turnout in the previous presidential election. But that makes too much sense.

    Well, it has gotten worse now. Because no state wants to render their contest meaningless, there has been a mad rush to reassign primary dates so that they occur earlier in the process. Illinois wanted to bump up their contest to give Obama an advantage. Then there's word that New Jersey wanted to follow suit, thus giving an advantage to Giuliani. Yes, we are now truly headed for a national primary on February 5.

    Political cartoonist Steve Greenberg has a brilliant cartoon illustrating the sheer madness of what is happening.

    Dick Morris of The Hill also wrote a good column explaining how this "Big Bang" unfairly disadvantages lesser known and/or poorer financed candidates:

    The effect of this gigantic sea change will be that whoever is the frontrunner in each party by the fall of 2007 will be virtually certain to win the nomination because only the frontrunner can possibly hope to amass enough money to compete in half the country at once. Nobody but the likely winner in each party will be able to compete at that level on Feb. 5.

    I honestly can't figure out why this system is so broken. Do the voters and primary organizers not understand the perils of this system? John Kerry benefited from a truncated primary schedule in 2004 because he gained so much momentum before voters could have a chance to really evaluate him as a candidate. Voters in the later states just figured that since he had won the earlier states, he was the guy to vote for. So his nomination became an inevitability far too soon and without sufficient prior scrutiny. Would a Gephart or a Clark or a Lieberman have been able to prove himself a more able politician over time?

    This system has arguably disadvantaged Republicans as well. McCain had a chance to snatch the nomination from Bush, but the South Carolina primary and the Confederate flag dustup stopped him dead in his tracks. But what if McCain hung in there and the voters in the later states maintained their critical lens. The Confederate flag issue had the ability to allow one candidate to play for the more conservative voters in the Southern states while the other could play for the more moderate voters in the Midwestern and Western states. Voters may have caught a glimpse of Bush's inappropriate smirks and his lack of intellectual curiosity before they put him on the ballot had the process been extended. McCain could have been a more effective president than Bush, given his military experience and actual congressional experience, but now the Republican brand has been damaged by Bush, thus making things more difficult for McCain.

    Regarding 2008, what if Hillary and Rudy continue to ride at the top of the polls (which are currently based primarily on name recognition alone) and steamroll everyone to the nomination simply because they were leading in the polls at the time of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries? Democratic voters might lament the fact that they have to deal with Hillary's polarization for 9 more months while Republican voters might find that they can't bear to stomach someone who does not share their ideological views on social issues critical to them. The result of this would likely be a restive and disenchanted electorate that wonders why "the presidential candidates always consist of losers."

    It's because only the people with money can afford to compete in Sacramento, Sarasota, and Springfield at the same time. Chris Dodd, Sam Brownback, Mike Gravel, and Tommy Thompson just can't do that.

    What's the problem? It's Iowa, New Hampshire, frontloading, and money. It's that simple.

    2/18/2007

    An interesting primary proposal...

    I recently posted about my displeasure with the presidential nomination process and how Iowa and New Hampshire have a disproportionate influence on deciding the nominee and how most of the United States' voters won't have a chance at all to have their say because the whole process would likely be wrapped up by February after only a handful of states have their contests on Super Tuesday.

    My original suggestion was to base the contests on their level of voter participation in the previous presidential election cycle. That would incent voters across the nation into participating.

    However, I stumbled across an interesting propsal by the National Association of Secretaries of State:

    "The proposal divides the country into four geographic areas—Eastern, Southern, Midwestern and Western—and rotates each region to vote first beginning in March. The other regions would hold their primary elections in April, May and June. A different part of the country would vote first every sixteen years."

    Now, I listed the cons of having region-based primaries in my earlier post. However, this proposal did bring up an interesting point:

    "New Hampshire and Iowa would retain their early status to allow under-funded and less widely known candidates to compete through retail politics rather than the costly media-driven campaigns required in larger states."

    I still don't like the idea of Iowa and New Hampshire having this privilege yet again (what about South Dakota? Mississippi? Alaska?), but they do raise a very good point. How could a lower tier candidate compete in the Massachusetts or Florida media markets if those states happened to have their primaries first based on the incentive model I proposed? It would all but eliminate anyone whose campaign does not have deep pockets. In 2008, that would mean Clark, Dodd, Tancredo, Biden, Hunter, Brownback, Vilsack, and several other candidates would be severely disadvantaged.

    Perhaps the issue is not so much a matter of which state gets to vote first as it is a matter of campaign financing. Free speech advocates believe soft money should be permitted like it was prior to McCain-Feingold. But that means a millionaire has "more freedom of speech" than Joe Schmoe who can only contribute $20. I'm really not sure of how to best address this problem. Public financing seems to make sense, but how could private expenditures be regulated?

    2/13/2007

    Primarily Stupid

    I do not understand the presidential selection process. It makes no sense whatsoever. There are 50 states in the union, but it seems that the nominees are selected after only two of these states have their say. And which states are they? Iowa and New Hampshire. But why? And why is it these same two states cycle after cycle?

    I just don't get it. Why do Iowa and New Hampshire have the "privilege" of getting the first crack at the presidential candidates each cycle? What makes them more deserving than a Delaware, or a New Mexico, or a North Dakota? It really burns me up when people from Iowa and New Hampshire say that "they take their elections seriously" and "take the time to get to know the candidates." Do you mean to tell me that voters in Mississippi or Oregon are less serious about their voting responsibilities? Do you mean to tell me that people in Rhode Island or Indiana can't be trusted to thoroughly vet out the candidates? What makes Iowa and N.H. so uniquely qualified to handle this? Why not give some other states a chance to prove themselves?

    To compensate, the Democrats moved up the contests in Nevada and South Carolina to bring a bit of diversity to the process since Iowa and N.H. are about 95% White. But unfortunately, even though they have good intentions, this approach doesn’t really do much to solve the problem. Democratic officials want to talk about diversity in the form of allowing more minorities to participate in the process. However, one could argue that despite the addition of these two states in the early stages of the campaign, there is still a glaring lack of diversity in other regards that politicians of all stripes must take seriously.

    For example, none of those early states are considered border states. Yes, N.H. borders Canada, but you don't hear many stories about illegal aliens infiltrating Coos County! When will the candidates have the opportunity to listen to and address the concerns of people whose lives and property are directly impacted by illegal immigration?

    What about large cities? States with large urban centers are definitely being left out of the process. Let's see, you have Des Moines, Las Vegas, Columbia, and Manchester as the largest cities in these states. Do they really have the same concerns as people from Chicago, L.A., or Philadelphia? You would think Democrats in particular would take this into consideration since they rely heavily on the urban vote, but I guess not.

    There are also states that have issues unique to them. What about Florida and its Cuban and Haitian refugee conundrum? What about New York and its abundance of terrorist targets? What about Washington and its concerns regarding Asian-Pacific relations? What about California and its minority-majority status? Or how about Louisiana and Mississippi and the aftermath of Katrina? When does it end?

    Some people have floated proposals of having the least-populated states go first and having the mega-states like California, Florida, and New York have their contests at the end. However, that would drag the process out too long because we have so many states and voters in the bigger states would be unable to benefit from as much face time with the candidates simply because they would be too busy plane-hopping from Sacramento to Scranton to Sarasota as all the mega-states have their primaries at the same time.

    Another commonly stated proposal is to divide the United States into four regions and have one rotating state from each region have its contest at the same time. This is a bit more attractive, but it is essentially a national primary and does not treat all states equally because there is a mix of densely-populated and scarcely populated states in the same region. Florida and Mississippi would presumably be in the same group, as would Vermont and Pennsylvania. And how would you classify states like West Virginia, Texas, and Missouri that fit into more than one region geographically and culturally? Also, grouping states into four regions is going to disadvantage two states (and presumably two regions if they are to all be of equal size) because of the math involved with having 50 states. And besides, who wants to wait 40 years for their state to get first crack at a candidate?

    Yet another proposal I often hear is the idea of a national primary. What a terrible idea. This would all but ensure that only the most well-financed candidates had a chance to win. How could a lower tier candidate compete in the San Francisco, Atlanta, Denver, Boston, and Chicago markets at the same time? This would all but ensure that McCain, Giuliani, or Romney would be the nominee for the GOP, while Clinton, Clinton, or Clinton would be the nominee for the Dems.

    I think the single best way to improve the process would be to introduce the element of competition. Assign primary and caucus order based on a state’s level of voter participation in the previous presidential election. This would reward states that actually do take their voting responsibilities more seriously and encourage voters around the nation to get out and vote because nobody wants to be from "the state with the apathetic voters." To avoid having 50 caucuses and primaries on 50 different days, one could have the top five states have their contests individually, then have the next ten states have their contests in groups of three, then the next states in groups of four, etc. States in the back of the process would be competing with other similar states for the candidates’ attention, which would be appropriate because they did not earn the privilege to have regular access to the candidates one-on-one.

    It’s a shame that this likely will never happen because I really think it’s a good proposal. Voters around the nation would feel that their vote matters, and politicians would be thoroughly tested in the early stages by people who verifiably take their responsibilities seriously. If Iowa and New Hampshire have the two highest levels of voter participation in the presidential election, then they should earn the right to have first crack at the candidates in the next cycle. However, that would be because of their actual commitment to democracy in the form of voting, not because they happen to be residents of those particular states.

    If I were a candidate, my strategy would be to campaign in every state other than one of the early ones as a form of protest. If people want to change the process, they have to be bold and draw attention to themselves by their deeds, not by their words. It’s easy for a candidate to say “the system is broken” and then head to a fundraiser in Dubuque or Nashua. If that costs me the election, so be it. But I think there’s a lot of dissatisfaction among the electorate out there that wonders why the process for selecting someone so critical to our nation is so critically flawed. The politician who taps into this disdain can go a long way.

    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.