Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday Flap Jack

A kinder gentler Hillary? Are you kidding? She has heightened the rhetoric and intensity of her criticism of Barack Obama over his comments to the point that her only possible objective is to destroy him. Yes, she will do literally anything to win this nomination. She is in lock step with the Republican candidate--in fact, she's taking the lead. No Democrat in memory has ever attacked another so savagely and personally in a presidential primary. And so far, though it has inflamed the bloodthirsty cable channels, it doesn't seem to be working with voters. Says an NBC reporter in North Carolina, But the issue doesn't seem to be sticking.

While Obama has apologized if he offended anyone and acknowledges that his choice of words in California could have been better, he's sticking to the main point--which supports his rationale for running.

A sampling of opinion on the usual sites shows about a 50-50 split on this becoming a damaging item. But because Clinton and Obama are about to be in the same city (Pittsburgh) at the same time, and then a joint appearance at a forum and then a debate, it's going to be raised again as long as the McCain-Clinton ticket believes it helps their cause. Al G. at the Field (who swears by the SUSA polls) suggests that their next poll will tell, but that Clinton has little room to grow in blue collar/rural areas, while sustained attack on Obama that appears to be piling on could get a backlash in Philly. But the key the pollsters say in PA and more importantly in the long run Indiana, is the white male with the blue collar. Do they see Obama insulting them, or as articulating their anger? Those who are racist will take the former view, as an excuse and an emotional response. This is very dangerous territory: the uppity factor. But black voters are going to see it that way, too. So more of them may defy the party leaders in Philly and PA, and in Indiana, to defend Barack.

As night fell on Friday, one of those instant controversies was burning up the Internet, the fax machines and emails from various campaigns and political organizations, and feeding cable news fulminators, concerning remarks Barack Obama made at a San Francisco fundraiser days ago, but quoted in an online piece at Huffington Post earlier Friday.

Here's a link to the comment, the fulminations and Obama's video rejoinder. (Here's a print version as well, but the video is worth seeing.) Judge for yourself. (And early reaction from a CNN panel, which has apparently been superceded by other vultures.) My own view: Obama not only pivoted on this remark to make a stronger point, he looked and sounded strong in doing so. It could hurt him; it could also be a big statement in his favor. Or it could die by the end of the weekend.

The major harm so far: it takes attention away from Bill Clinton's latest absurdity. As the Note put it, BC brought up the Bosnia Snipergate affair again,"to cram four falsehoods into 23 words: His wife, he said, "one time late at night when she was exhausted, misstated and immediately apologized for it, what happened to her in Bosnia in 1995." Where to start? If his telling is accurate, it depends on what the definition of "one time," "late at night," and "immediately apologized" is. (And it was 1996, not 1995.)
"Hillary Clinton actually made the comments numerous times, including at an event in Iowa on Dec. 29, and an event on Feb. 29 and one time -- bright and early in the morning -- on March 17,"
ABC's Sarah Amos and Eloise Harper report. "Sen. Clinton wasn't as quick with her apology as President Clinton may remember either. In fact, it took a week for her to eventually correct herself, first talking to the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board on March 24 and again apologizing the next day in Greensboro, N.C."

Meanwhile, the Mark Penn affair continued, with Clintonian Paul Begala comparing Penn to Rumsfeld. I also ran across a very interesting statistic about PA: some 45% of the new registrants for the Democratic primary are in the Philadelphia area. That could be very good news for Obama.

But...we'll see where this latest flap goes. Obama enthusiasts online and off are worried that it could sink him in PA, and sink him, period. I'm getting to be a fatalist about all this. If this country is still so twisted that these buttons can still be pushed, then it's all over anyway. There's no hope for anybody's future.
On the plus side, he pivoted well on Rev. Wright and won that one. On the minus, there are voters in PA who still believe he's a Muslim and won't vote for him because he didn't put his hand on his heart during the Star Spangled Banner. (This is why I can't even make campaign phone calls anymore.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Supers, Endorsements and Bull

There are additions and subtractions to the super-delegate totals every day. Hillary had her best day in awhile with three announcements (Obama had one) but the totals over the past day or two still favor Obama. The latest NBC count shows that Hillary's once formidable lead in Supers is now 30: 260-230. The story according to the AP is the drip-drip towards Obama.

The Obama campaign trotted out a bunch of Philadelphia city council and PA state rep endorsers today, but Hillary still has more. Kos has weighed in on the PA polls and as I suspected, he thinks SUSA is the most accurate--that Obama is behind by double digits. But it does remain an outlyer, and one poll today that counted leaners (those who are sure and those who are leaning towards a candidate) shows it single digit close. Meanwhile, Obama is on a bus tour in Indiana, where this whole thing could be decided, and he's close enough there to win it. And that's another reason his campaign may be spending big in PA--to keep Hillary worried and pinned down there. (The Sniper Fire theory?)

Okay, it's on to the bull. Issue #1: Obama has a radio ad in PA claiming he doesn't take money from oil companies. Hillary has an ad calling this deceptive because corporations can't contribute to campaigns by law. Today Bill made fun of the claim. Well, maybe the script could have been better--it's oil company lobbyists Obama doesn't take money from, but Hillary does. And Hillary has received a third more in donations from employees of energy corps.

Issue #2. A voter asked whether Billary pocketing $800,000 from a Columbia trade deal proponent while she opposes this isn't conflict of interest. Hillary just laughed--long and hard, you know, like she does. Laughed it off? Close to a million dollars? There's no problem there? Why? Because it's chicken feed if you've raked in more than $100 million? So your price is higher than that? I'm sorry--it IS a problem, and it is not funny. That's a little less than one fifth of the $5 million Hillary lent her campaign from that same account. A campaign that by all accounts is hurting for money--with debts that may soon go to the collectors. Could that be why Bill couldn't keep his hands off those ridiculous fees? It's all part of a pattern--Bill, Penn, others in her campaign, and her campaign itself. Not funny.

Issue #3. Bowling. The smartass guys, the Chris "I'm just a blue collar guy who makes $5 million a year for shooting his mouth off" Matthews crowd all put Obama down for bowling badly in Altoona on his PA bus tour. How this was bound to lose him blue collar macho votes, just so embarrassing.

Well, Walter Shapiro went back there for Salon and found out what I told you all long ago: Obama got points for showing up and for joining in. One dedicated bowler there said, "The fact that he bowled at all was good. It showed that he isn't afraid to be average." Nobody gave a damn about his score. In fact, the story corrects several mis-reported facts. His score wasn't 37, it was 47 when he left before finishing the seventh frame. And by then someone else had bowled for him--an eight year old... Those ace reporters didn't even get his shoe size right. It was reported as 13.5. But the kid who dispensed the shoes says it was 12. And he remembers. They ALL remember--that bowling alley is the most famous place in town now.

And even in that dour SUSA poll which has Hillary thumping Obama in western PA, one of the places where he showed significant strength was Altoona and Johnstown.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wednesday Wallow

Three new polls in Pennsylvania are just as contradictory as others this week. They show Obama closing the gap, and Hillary holding firm. But the pundits sense something is happening. At the Note, they list elements of the latest news--the Penn problem, the Clintons contradiction on the Columbia trade deal, etc--that could really hurt her in the Commonwealth. They note that the unions (the Teamsters especially) have a hold on this issue of trade and won't let go. If the phony flip-flop on NAFTA hurt Obama in Ohio, what will real contradiction do in PA? I just wish the pundits would zero in on the problem: Hillary says she's against the trade deal with the same people who put $800,000 into her joint account with Bill.

Howard Fineman on MSNBC notes that Hillary is campaigning in PA places where she should already be strong while Obama is venturing into her territory, and poster Daniel Nichanian at HuffPost suggests "The Obama campaign, however, is rapidly gaining confidence in its Pennsylvania numbers," which is why it is spending heavily. (There's also the reason of investment: money spent in PA now is money that won't have to be spent there in the general election, when Obama is the nominee.)

In other future primary states, the first Oregon poll shows Obama ahead by 10 points, and he remains so far ahead in North Carolina--with registrations of African Americans four times higher than before--that the MSNBCers at First Read suggest it's pretty much over, and the real question is how big Obama wins it--big enough to add so many delegates and popular votes that whatever Clinton may win in PA will be chicken feed?

This set of contests is so weird, though. I trust the North Carolina numbers, and Oregon. But I still see Hillary viable in Indiana and PA, and the poll numbers won't mean much until the last week in either. There's the debate before PA, and Hillary's patented last minute surges, which usually mean: her voters go back to her, when prompted by the machine supporting her.

Meanwhile, the "new" Hillary has yet to surface--maybe the Penn is still mightier, because she's on the radio playing the victim of a "double standard"--code to women voters--and she's on the stump claiming only she can end the war in Iraq, because Barack is all talk. Not exactly the positive campaign we're supposed to be seeing.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

from the Miami Herald. Hat tip to Andrew
Posted by Picasa
Two Weeks to PA

It's two weeks until Pennsylvania votes. Most polls have shown Obama closing the gap on Clinton, including the respected Quinnipiac University Poll, which has Clinton's lead down to 6 points, and fading in all demographic categories, including women. BUT there's one new outlyer poll, and unfortunately it's generally the most trustworthy: the Survey USA poll which shows the gap is holding at 18 points, and Obama lagging in parts of the Commonwealth he needs.

So who to believe? The internals of these two polls are markedly different. But I'll leave it to the experts to parse them. Obama has been heard saying that anything under 10 points is his goal. In the meantime, anxious Obama PA partisans can fire themselves up with this rollicking song, made especially for the Commonwealth by country rocker Earl Pickens.

But in terms of the big picture, Clinton is still playing defense, as the "resignation" of Mark Penn turns out to be not quite that. The spectacularly unpopular Penn continues to take fire from political observers, and there are some signs that the Obama campaign may fashion this into an issue to take to voters. According to Roger Simon in Politico: In the days and weeks ahead, the Barack Obama campaign is going to pose a simple question to the undecided voters and undeclared superdelegates who will decide the Democratic nomination for president: If Hillary Clinton can’t run a good primary campaign, how is she ever going to run a good campaign against the Republicans?"

The issue is broader than that--it's also about executive ability as qualification for the job of Chief Executive and Commander in Chief--and Obama has said before that how he runs his campaign should tell people something about how he would function as President.

There were a few stories today about changes in the Clinton campaign, about staying positive, and trying to make an icon of Hillary the fighter. Meanwhile, the Obama ad blitz in PA is introducing him to more people. But it's also raising expectations. Is that election going to be driven by the distraction of Hillary's Rocky media persona, demographics, machine politics, PA stubbornness and silent racism? Or counteracted by union activism, demographic changes, grassroots organizing, the change appetite, and a focus on ending the campaign and settling on the nominee? In two weeks, we'll know. And we'll have a better idea how much longer this will go on.

As for the General and the Ambassador Show on Capitol Hill Tuesday, it was just another rerun. In the CIC sweepstakes, McCain looked like an ass, Clinton looked like a real good Senator, and I'll second Lawrence O'Donnell that Obama asked the questions you would want your Commander in Chief to ask, and in the tone you'd want him or her to have. Meanwhile, it appears the Bushites are positioning themselves to create a politically potent event in the fall: depending on which way the electoral wind is blowing, an announcement of troop withdrawls, or an attack on Iran.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Weekend Catch-Up

Barack Obama continued to campaign to good effect, as he scored more endorsements and super-delegates, and polls in PA and Indiana tightened, while his lead in North Carolina grew.

While Hillary Clinton's campaign and candidacy continues on its path of self-destruction. She told two more whoppers--one about health care, one about Iraq--and the fallout continued from her chief strategist Mark Penn's meeting to help the Columbian government lobby for passage of a trade bill she opposes, with his resignation from his main post--though it's not clear what that really means in terms of his influence. While the response to Friday's dump of Billary's tax returns may just be beginning. We have met the snipers, and they are us.

Obama's endorsements included a surprise--former Republican Senator and Independent Governor of Connecticut Lowell Weicker. The most recent super-delegate is Margaret Campbell of North Dakota, who the New York Times said was the 69th to declare for Obama since Feb. 4, while Clinton lost a net of two.

As for PA, let's face it, nobody knows. The more reliable polls show Clinton still ahead but declining, though if her past pattern holds, she will rebound somewhat near or on election day. But nobody seems certain about key constituencies. How high or low Obama seems to depend on a particular poll's judgment on how men will vote. The question of who will really turn out is a big one. Will the Mayor's advocacy for Clinton suppress the black vote in Philadelphia? Will Clinton's usual constituency vote or stay home? The role of the youth vote is controversial: this analysis in Politico downplays it, this one in the Washington Post plays it up. So the expectations game continues.

Rassmussen also has Obama up by 10 points nationally. More polls to come Monday no doubt--what fun! While Hillary has to explain Mark Penn, the $109 million, and so much more. While Obama is out there meeting people and having fun. Oh, and this quote, which hasn't gotten much notice yet--a Newsweek piece about Rahm Emanuel, just about the only uncommitted super-delegate in Illinois who has ties both to the Clintons and Obama: "This has got to come to an end by June. It has to be over and it will be over," he says, with the authority of a man who will make it over if he has to.

So that remains the question: barring the terribly unforeseen, will it be over in late April, early May, early June, late June, or early July? I'm thinking early May.