Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bright Lines and End Games

When Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the #3 Democrat in the House, began speaking to reporters this week (here's one article in the New York Times) he added some important factors to the public evaluation and conduct of the Democratic campaign. He spoke for African American voters, who increasingly feel discounted in the dialogue. He told the Washington Post: "I am very concerned that if we keep talking as if it doesn't matter ... that Obama gets 92 percent of the black vote ... since he only got 35 percent of the white vote, he's in trouble. Well, Hillary Clinton only got 8 percent of black vote. [That's] like saying that 92 percent, they don't matter....I think that the way everybody has been reporting this Pennsylvania thing, it's almost saying black people don't matter. Only thing that matters is how white people respond. And that's what bothered me. I think I matter."

This is a powerful argument. The white privilege component of media coverage can't be discounted either. But in terms of super-delegates (and Clyburn is one--so far uncommitted) this message is crystal clear: ignore black voters at your electoral peril. If they feel overlooked or cheated, it could cripple the Democratic party in every election this year, and for years to come.

But that's only one of Clyburn's messages. The other is the recklessly negative campaign being run by the Clintons. On Keith Friday, Clyburn defined the bright line: keep it positive and on issues for the rest of the contests, or there will be consequences. Everybody wonders how this campaign will end--who will step up to keep the party from destroying itself? If Hillary goes on the attack again, it could very well be the African American Democratic officeholders who force the issue.

Hillary's negative campaign already lost her an important supporter: one of her fundraisers and a Puerto Rican leader, Gabriel Guerra-Mondragon. He not only has left the Hillary campaign--he's switched to Obama. Both Clyburn's statements and Guerra-Mondragon's defection are major developments, given the timing, and they will reverberate for some time.

These are movements against the solid backdrop described by Elizabeth Drew, one of the most experienced and distinguished political journalists in America: "The torrent of speculation about the end game of the Democratic nomination contest is creating a false sense of suspense – and wasting a lot of time of the multitudes who are anxious to know how this contest is going to turn out." How it's going to turn out is that Obama is going to be the nominee because he will have the most delegates when the voting is over, and (as JedReport points out) he will have won the majority of delegates available by contest (all delegates except supes and add-ons) by May 20. And the nomination is won by delegates--nothing else.

Drew also underscores the importance of what Clyburn said in 2 of the 3 reasons she cites as why the supes will go to Obama: a. Hillary is so polarizing that down-ticket Dems will have little chance of picking up Indies and Republicans, b. to deny Obama the nomination if he is ahead would alienate African American voters for generations, and would lose young voters, Is and Rs who switched parties; and c: Because the black vote can make the decisive difference in numerous congressional districts, discarding Obama could cost the Democrats numerous seats."

These delegates aren't worried about the PA results, she writes, because Obama attracts the I's and R's that Hillary won't, while retaining most of the Democratic base, which is her strength.

I'd go further than that: Hillary won among the non-black Democratic base in states where she had the muscle of the political establishment: the governor and especially the mayors. Without the mayor of Los Angeles, she would have lost California. Without the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, she might well have lost PA. (I don't think she won PA anyway--the memory of Bill did.) With that kind of muscle behind Obama, plus the constituencies he brings to the election, the Democrats could win all across the country--and Democratic officeholders and political operatives know it.

There have been rumors since before Texas that a large group of supers are ready to endorse Obama en masse. He's been getting a slow but steady succession of them, but if he wins North Carolina big and comes close or wins Indiana, it would make sense that it will finally happen then.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cooler Heads

Cooler heads prevailed Wednesday, even within the excitable CW. For instance:

The Pennsylvania Primary was Hillary Clinton's last chance to deliver a game changing blow to Obama's campaign for the nomination. She failed to deliver.
Pennsylvania provided her with her final real opportunity to knock the wheels off the Obama campaign. She needed a crushing victory of 18% to 25% to have any real chance of altering the math or the psychology. Demographically, Pennsylvania was made for Hillary: the second oldest state in the nation, heavily blue collar, Catholic and rural -- Hillary's voter profile. She started with a lead of almost 20 points. But her final margin -- which the Pennsylvania Secretary of State says was only 9.2% -- fell far short of what was needed to stop Obama's nomination."

According to CBS News, Hillary won 9 more delegates than Obama did in PA. Other estimates go as high as 12. Obama won 25 net in Virginia.

Chuck Todd, the numbers impressario at NBC, says that Clinton's chances have diminished, not increased. Even if she is to attract super-delegates, she will have to win where she is not expected to win, and that's North Carolina.

And after a pretty hot rebuke to Hillary (see below), the New York Times coolly dismantles her electability argument in Thursday's paper:

Yet for all of her primary night celebrations in the populous states, exit polling and independent political analysts offer evidence that Mr. Obama could do just as well as Mrs. Clinton among blocs of voters with whom he now runs behind. Obama advisers say he also appears well-positioned to win swing states and believe he would have a strong shot at winning traditional Republican states like Virginia.

According to surveys of Pennsylvania voters leaving the polls on Tuesday, Mr. Obama would draw majorities of support from lower-income voters and less-educated ones — just as Mrs. Clinton would against Mr. McCain, even though those voters have favored her over Mr. Obama in the primaries.

And national polls suggest Mr. Obama would also do slightly better among groups that have gravitated to Republican in the past, like men, the more affluent and independents, while she would do slightly better among women."

The rebuke came in an Wednesday editorial, which began:

The Pennsylvania campaign, which produced yet another inconclusive result on Tuesday, was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.

Voters are getting tired of it; it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work. It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election."

This from a newspaper that editorially endorsed Hillary. While Obama is criticized as well, the bulk of their ire falls on Hillary, fingering especially that last-day TV ad that threw 9-11 and Osama bin Laden with the rest of the kitchen sink. The harm this is doing, plus the demonstrably false electability argument, should hasten the super-delegates to Obama. Word is that there's one supe or endorsement a day scheduled until North Carolina and Indiana. (There were two today, plus endorsements from 29 North Carolina legislators.) If he wins one or both, it could become a flood.

But what Hillary won in PA was apparently donations. It's not clear how much but maybe enough to keep up the attack, requiring Obama to raise more. And so the obscene waste of money continues. Practically the only beneficiaries of this are media companies, so naturally they hype this at every opportunity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The first hour was dour for Hillary, because it was "too close to call." There was talk of Hillary's campaign going broke and being unable to go on. But then, suddenly, it wasn't too close, she was declared the winner, and the next hour was about how Obama couldn't close her out. At about 10 pm eastern she supposedly peaked at 8% ahead. But by 11p she's hovering around a ten point spread.

Now the future of the Democratic Party and perhaps the future itself, may well be decided in Indiana in two more weeks.

Inside the numbers and the final delegate tally is all for later. Right now I remember why I left Pennsylvania, several times. Could it be any clearer, since my own demographic--white older working class outside big cities, and raised Catholic yet--turned away from the future so decisively? There is a core of intolerance that showed itself in so many places in the state. It's more than racism, although there is plenty of that. It's resistance to anything not within the highly conflicted, self-contradictory and self-destructive white working class culture. It's why young people have left PA and are leaving PA still. And most ironically, it's a powerful but unstated reason there aren't better jobs. Innovation and imagination are as unimaginable as a black man running for President.

So the campaign leaves PA behind. If it made any history today, it was to continue the sorry march to self-destruction. Until today, or maybe yesterday, my head told me that Clinton was going to win by 14. Then I started to let myself be persuaded than PA could be better. And as usual, PA broke my heart.

Meanwhile, here's the way less invested folks see it--or spin it...from the Obama campaign:

To: Interested Parties
Fr: The Obama Campaign
Re: A fundamentally unchanged race
Da: 4/22/08
Tonight, Hillary Clinton lost her last, best chance to make significant inroads in the pledged delegate count.

The only surprising result from Pennsylvania is that in a state considered tailor-made for Hillary Clinton that she was expected to win, Barack Obama was able to improve his standing among key voter groups since the Ohio primary. For example, among white voters, Obama narrowed the gap with Clinton by six points. Among voters over 60, he nearly cut the gap in half, from 41 points to 24 points. And Independent voters – the group that will decide the general election and a group Obama is particularly strong with – were not able to vote in Not surprisingly, she led by as much as 25 points in the weeks leading up to the election.

As he has done in every state, Barack Obama campaigned hard to pick up as much support and as many delegates as possible and was able to stave off Clinton from achieving a significant pledged delegate gain from Pennsylvania.
The bottom line is that the Pennsylvania outcome does not change dynamic of this lengthy primary. While there were 158 delegates at stake there, there are fully 157 up for grabs in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries on May 6.

And Andrew Sullivan:

It's worth recalling what this primary came to be about, because of a self-conscious decision by the Clintons to adopt the tactics and politics of the people who persecuted and hounded them in the 1990s. It was indeed in the end about smearing and labeling Obama as a far-left, atheist, elite, pansy Godless snob fraud. That was almost all it came to be about. It was the Clintons' core message and core belief. And if anywhere would have proved its salience, it would surely have been beleaguered and depressed central and western Pennsylvania; and it would surely have worked with white ethnic voters over 50.

It did work, it seems to me. It will work, to some extent. It's valid in the sense that Rove is not stupid. But it works less and less the younger the vote is; and it is obviously losing some of its divisive salience even among the older generation. It is fading as a tool. Used by Democrats, legitimized by Democrats, embraced by Democrats, the Rove-Atwater gambits have been paid the highest compliment by the Clintons these past few weeks. But a single digit win against a young black man in a polarized race suggests that this compliment was past its sell-by date. It was an act of desperation, and one last grab back to the past. It didn't quite do what it was supposed to do. Nearly, but not quite.

The past is receding; but the future has yet to be born. This is hard labor. Necessary labor. But the direction of this country is clear, it seems to me. And heartening.

Pennsylvania could make history today. It could essentially make Barack Obama the 2008 Democratic nominee, by providing him with a victory that no one (almost) is predicting or expecting. Or it could simply make his nomination inevitable, by providing him with enough votes to drain the Clinton campaign of any last chance.

At this point, hours after the candidates have wrapped up their campaign and hours before the voting starts, it's all possible. Even what Hillary needs--a 25 point win--is possible. But the last polls show a much tighter result. The most respected--SUSA-- has Hillary with a six point lead. The poll with the best record in the primaries--PPP--actually gives Obama a 3 point lead, the only poll to show him ahead. The last poll, the not-so-respected Zogby, shows Clinton with a ten point lead. (Meanwhile, the Tuesday national tracking poll from Gallup shows Obama has regained his 10 point lead.)

Anecdotal analysis from actual PA pols suggest it is very tight, and that turnout is the absolute key--not only the size of it, but who turns out. For much of Monday, the CW was centered on the 300,000 plus new registrants (slightly more than half being former Indies and GOPers), and the buzz in the Philly area. There was talk of Obama's strength in places like York and Lancaster, and the impression that it's about 50-50 in Clinton's stronghold of the Scranton area.

One optimist is Booman of the Booman Tribune, who lives in PA, based partly on his analysis of where the new registrants are. But even he picks Clinton at between 5 and 10 points. Al G. at the Field predicts Clinton by a bit more than 5%, but his district by district analysis shows she'll pick up only 4 more delegates. (This is the place to go, by the way, for numbers; he links to other such analyses as well.)

If anything changed anything in Clinton's favor today, nobody's talking about it yet. There were new ads, and robocalls, but Clinton ended her day in Philadelphia with a crowd of 5,000 (Obama got at least 35,000 and maybe double that). Obama ended his day with a town hall meeting in McKeesport for capacity 2500 and at the University of Pittsburgh rally for a capacity 10,000, easily topping her crowd earlier in the day.

So anything (just about) is possible: a ten point Hillary win to an Obama victory. There are just so many Pennsylvanias--and not only the condescending portraits painted by TV. MSNBC even polled to see who is ahead with gun owners, beer drinkers and bowlers. To them it's simple: working class conservatives in the West, liberals in the East and "Alabama" in between. All of those stereotypes correspond to some reality, but they are too simplistic to explain this Commonwealth. It's a lot more than that.

When the PA Governor's office of Bob Casey, Sr. was my client, I produced a document called "The New Pennsylvania: A Commonwealth That Works." Today will show which Pennsylvania shows up--the new or the old.

As for how to spend the day, I'm going to try to stay away from leaked exit poll information and turnout estimates for as long as I can. Ohio and Texas looked real good for Obama until the returns started coming in, and I'm not going to make that mistake again.

But once the TV blather really gets started and the returns do start coming in, here's the spin I expect. First of all, if these last polls and the buzz today are in the ball park, it's going to be awhile before a "winner" is projected, and even longer until the popular vote percentages settle down. (And of course, longer still until the most meaningful numbers: the delegates.)

But some of the campaign and media spinmeisters have tipped their hand. Obama said in Pittsburgh today that he wasn't predicting a win, but he thinks it will be closer than many people think. The Clinton campaign emphasizes that a win is a win by any margin, and Hillary is absolutely counting on it, because she's staying in Philadelphia election night (while Obama will be in Indiana. He's spending Monday night in Pittsburgh and returns to Philly before his evening rally in Indiana.)

The media chooses its own reality, and the CW in chief, Mark Halperin says Clinton must win by 10.5 to claim a meaningful victory. The Mouth of MSNBC, Chris Matthews, gave his over/under number as 8 points--the percentage she needs to change the game. (He was predicting a 14 point Clinton victory just the other day.) These are really cheesy numbers, because in that range they change nothing. Hillary will get pretty much the same number of delegates if she wins by 8 or 10 or 12 points. And none of them is enough to make a substantial difference in delegates or the popular vote. Hillary was ahead by 20 points just six weeks ago. I really wonder whether any of them are honest enough to say that. I guess we'll see.

Hillary herself may have tipped her hand a bit in her interview with Larry King, no longer claiming she'll fight all the way to the convention. More signals came Monday that June is when the Democrats want it all to be done. There's no real possibility that Hillary will be in position to be the nominee in June.

And Obama got another super-delegate Monday. From Ohio.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reality Check

Obama held what sounds like a great rally in Scranton Sunday night. Some 4800 enthusiastic people saw not only Obama and Caroline Kennedy, and the ever-present Bob Casey, Jr., but several other Caseys--all from Scranton--including Senator Casey's mother, Eleanor, wife of the former Governor Bob Casey. (I met Eleanor once--charming, intelligent woman.) The three paragraph summary in this Time story is a pretty good excerpt, and tells you that Obama is really on his game now, despite the widely reported throwaway line about even McCain being better than Bush.

The Obama campaign has worked hard for votes in Scranton, according to this article in the Washington Post, even though they've had to deal with racial slurs and threats. And even though they would consider losing by anything under 30 points there a victory. (I've posted a bunch of photos from the PA weekend campaign at Captain Future's Dreaming Up Daily.)

Final election forecasts will be everywhere Monday, and will influence the spin as the actual results come in on Tuesday night. I'll save my predictions of what that spin will be like until I summarize the predictions. But at the close of Sunday, some reality checks emerged that ought to be part of how the PA vote is evaluated.

There has been plenty written about how it will become nearly impossible for Clinton to pull even with Obama in delegates gained as the result of contests, without a blowout win in Pennsylvania that leads to one blowout win after another through to the last in June. But Bloomberg evaluated her chances of catching Obama in the popular vote, which some in her campaign have held out as her last hope. And their story on this is devastating:

"Even if the New York senator wins by more than 20 percentage points tomorrow -- a landslide few experts expect -- she would still have a hard time catching him."

The story goes into excruciating detail of what that means: Clinton would need a 25-point victory in Pennsylvania, plus 20-point wins in later contests in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico. Even that scenario assumes Clinton, 60, would break even in Indiana, North Carolina, South Dakota, Montana and Oregon -- a prospect that's not at all certain.

More than just big margins, Clinton would need record voter turnout too. In Pennsylvania, she would need a turnout of 2 million, about half the state's registered Democrats; in the 2004 primary, about 800,000 voted. She would also need turnout to almost double in other states where she leads, and reach some 1 million in Puerto Rico, which is about how many Democratic- leaning voters went to the polls in a 2004 gubernatorial election.

That's more than a mountain to climb--that's walking to the moon. And maybe without shoes--because the one bit of news Sunday night was the fundraising numbers the campaigns had to file by midnight. According to official numbers, Obama started April with $42.5 million cash for the primaries (and another 9.5 for the general.) Although the filing deadline came and went without an official announcement from the Clinton camp, a spokesperson there said the Clinton campaign started April with about $8 million it could spend on primaries.

So what are the pundits going to say Monday and Tuesday? That she needs a 10 point victory, or any victory to stay in? Or are they going to say that realistically she needs a 25 point victory in PA?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Last Days Before PA Votes

Today Barack Obama did a town hall in Reading that filled the space with 2500 people. Tonight there's an "On Track for Change" rally in Scranton, with Caroline Kennedy as well as Bob Casey, who has been with him through this last swing. That should be interesting, as it is Clinton turf to the max.

Tomorrow, the day before the election, he has two scheduled stops, a town hall in McKeesport and finally a rally in Pittsburgh. Clinton will hit the big spots in every region of the state Monday: Scranton, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Sunday showed what Obama is up against. Not only is he battling against two Clintons campaigning simultaneously in different places (the Billary factor) but he is being attacked by McCain as well as the Clintons.

The Obama campaign is making some strange moves--they've reignited health care as an issue very late in the game, they're going negative more than in the past. Obama may have hurt himself by splitting hairs in Reading--he offhandedly said that all three candidates would be better than Bush. Media and Clinton jumped on it immediately. Things are frantic out there.

This blogger, who is an on the ground canvasser, mentioned some of the new wrinkles in the Obama campaign (including differences in the ground game), and like me wonders if it reflects internal polling. He says it just doesn't feel like Ohio, and suspects the Obama campaign thinks it is close. One could reach another conclusion, of course.

The latest polls show Hillary hovering around 50% with Obama closing in. Most polls are showing about a five point spread. Add five for late deciders and Hillary may still get her double digit win, but it could also drop down below that. At this moment, and at this distance, I'd say the best Obama could hope for is 7. But that's without knowing what no one knows: turn out, who will turn out and who won't; whether the Republicans who switched to Democratic registration are overwhelmingly for Obama or split (with generous dollups of Rush Limbaugh subverters); which way the Independents who registered D will go, and by how much.

PA is an expected win for Clinton, and a must win. How the results will be spun is another question. But what seems likely at this point is that she won't get many more delegates than Obama will, and unless she gets 60% of the vote and this translates into major victories in North Carolina and Indiana in two weeks, it won't mean much.

In the meantime, there's this smart and entertaining piece on the ABC debate by Frank Rich. My favorite sentences: "The trashiest ads often bumped directly into an ABC announcer’s periodic recitations of quotations from the Constitution. Such defacing of American values is to be expected, I guess, from a network whose debate moderators refuse to wear flag pins."

What's satisfying to me about Obama's final argument is that fundamentally it hasn't changed--he's talked specifics and so on, but he is making his basic argument, as in this two and a half minute clip from his rally in Harrisburg Saturday night.

He's getting good crowds everywhere, and it will be interesting to see how they turn out for him in Scranton and Pittsburgh. Good crowds don't guarantee or even necessarily indicate victory in any election, but what they are telling me is that Clinton is unlikely to pile up the popular vote margin she needs to make PA a game changer.