Friday, May 09, 2008

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...But the Shouting (UPDATED)

The headline of the day (next to the BBC's GREAT TITS COPE WELL WITH WARMING--it's about the birds, of course, coping with global warming--what did you think it meant? ) is this one from Politico: CLINTON WON'T QUIT; OBAMA DOESN'T CARE.

While Clinton is off getting heckled in West Virginia and playing shock jock with her overtly racist analyses, Obama is mobbed by members of Congress of both parties on the House floor. With every day that passes, the Clinton candidacy recedes. She won Indiana by less than 1%, which means that Rush Limbaugh was her margin of victory. Depending on how many provisional ballots were cast and are still to be counted (Indiana voters without ID have 30 days to prove their residency so their ballot gets counted), her 11,000 vote margin could even disappear.

Hillary's claim that Obama can't win white working class votes created a firestorm in the blogosphere. The "pattern" she referred to isn't even true--Obama increased his share of white working class votes in Indiana and North Carolina from Ohio and PA. While a pollster pulls up numbers to show Obama has proportions of support among white, blue collar and black voters similiar to what John Kerry got in 2004. But the racist tone of Clinton's comments at this stage are not going to win her any friends among super-delegates.

She has no path to the nomination within the rules, let alone the rules of decency. Today there is still talk about her wanting and even demanding the v.p. spot, but that too will soon fade. The Clintons are yesterday. If they hadn't run such a mean-spirited campaign--and especially if they weren't still at it--there might be cause for some sadness in that. But not from me. By the time she wins West Virginia Tuesday, Hillary will be lucky if a cable network other than Fox carries her victory speech.

Meanwhile, the trickle of super-delegates endorsing Obama continues, and threatens to turn into a flood. There will be several more Friday. He may well pass Clinton in the number of super-delegate pledges next week.

Obama has turned his attention to the general election, while still showing respect for the voters in the remaining states with contests by campaigning there. His next victory is likely to be on May 20 in Oregon, when he almost certainly will have obtained the majority of total pledged delegates available from all the primaries and caucuses. If not by then, then soon after, party leaders in Michigan and Florida will have made deals to have delegations seated at the Convention, even if Hillary doesn't approve.

Obama doesn't have to mollify the Clintons or figure out what he has to give them in order for Hillary to drop out. He needs only to show her voters and supporters respect by allowing her to continue until the contests are over--respect that in many cases they didn't show him. And if she doesn't concede by mid June, the super-delegates will move en masse to Obama.

The Democrats are in great position to win the presidency and gain greater majorities in Congress. They aren't going to let that be messed up. The longer the Clintons stay in, the more obvious it becomes to Democrats that they've picked the right candidate, not only to run for President, but to be President.

So on August 28, the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, Barack Obama will accept the nomination of the Democratic Party for the presidency of the United States.

Friday update: I don't want to do a new post, especially so I can leave that photo up for the weekend. With something like 9 super-delegates today, Obama has either gone ahead of Clinton or is near to doing so, according to who is counting. The New York Times, among others, notes this, relating it to Clinton's more subdued tone on the stump in Oregon. (I wouldn't trust that when she goes back to West Virginia, though.) Among the several Dem notables who today said that Obama was the presumptive nominee, House whip James Clyburn put a name to what's going on when he said that Obama has reached "the tipping point." Ted Kennedy shot down the Hillary for vp buzz.

One more interesting headline and view: Joe Klein on the Clinton campaign's progress through the stages of grief entitled "Paging Elizabeth Kubler-Ross". Two fascinating tidbits: a SUSA poll that shows that California, which went to Clinton by 10 points, would today go to Obama by 6. Does she really want re-votes? I mentioned above that Clinton's margin in Indiana has shrunk--and it's now about 11,000 votes. But there's no word on what hasn't been counted: military, and especially provisional ballots by people who didn't have proper ID but can bring proof of residence within ten days and get their ballot counted. If you think that's a long-shot, some numbers geeks have discovered in the final Ohio numbers that Clinton's lead declined from about 10 points to 8.8 or 8.7%. Obama got 26,000 more votes than were counted on election night (and figured into exit poll percentages.)

The Obama campaign's 50 state voter registration drive begins Saturday. He's campaigning in Bend, OR before returning to Chicago. Hillary will be back in New York.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

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Don't They Listen?

The pundits and political experts hear Barack Obama talking about changing Washington and ending the old politics, and say how inspirational he is. And then they demand that he act according to the old politics.

It's starting again on the questions of Hillary Clinton leaving the race, and the related question of who Obama will choose for vice president. I happen to believe that on both of these topics, the conventional wisdom will once again be wrong.

For example, there's an article by Dan Conley in Salon that Teagan Goddard's Political Wire calls a "must read," which suggests the kind of deal that Hillary might get in exchange for her support. His major suggestion is money--a bunch of Obama cash to retire her campaign debt.

There were similar discussions during the endless wait for the Indiana primary finish Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Carl Bernstein said that a couple of Hillary staffers told him she wants the vice-presidential nomination.

I'm pretty skeptical on both specifics. First, the money. If the Obama campaign didn't want to pay Democratic Party people in the wards of Philadelphia to get out the vote, why would they spend their contributors' money on extortion for the Clintons?

Then the vice-president. There's a lot of misinformation about the process going around. The way presidential candidates choose vice-presidential candidates these days isn't the way the Kennedys picked Lyndon Johnson.
There's an elaborate and collaborative process of getting information--and specifically, of vetting. That process is only beginning in the Obama campaign, according to somebody's reporting the other night--it may have been Howard Fineman. In any case, no decision will be made for weeks or months. And in the end, only one person will make it: Barack Obama.

Hillary may or may not be on the initial list. If she is, the campaign will try to discover just what the Republicans will use on her to discredit the ticket. Then they will weigh carefully what she brings to the ticket versus how she weakens it. They will balance her appeal and power within the party against Billary's negative campaigning and above all, her real belief in the old politics, and her identification with the old politics in the mind of voters---especially Obama voters. And they will present all of this information and these views and evaluations to Barack Obama.

And then Obama will decide, on these and other considerations: can he work with her (and Bill)? Will they undermine him in the White House? Will she even be able to see transforming government in the way that he does? I doubt it. But it's his call.

My guess is that he will look most favorably on someone younger than Clinton, someone from his generation. This worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore--it was a powerful visual and political message in 1992. I do think he'll consider women first.

The other conventional wisdom is that he'll have to pick someone who supported Hillary. (I saw Ed Rendell's name mentioned--I don't think there's a chance of that.) But Obama isn't going to make the conventional choice: he isn't going to choose on the basis of geographical balance, molifying Clinton or her supporters, going for a military/foreign policy figure, or a governor. If the person who interests him the most has any or all of those particular advantages, those will be ancilliary reasons, or just plain bonuses.

He's going to choose someone who identifies with his brand of new politics--someone who also represents the kind of change that was the moral center and the centerpiece of his primary campaign, and will be of his general election campaign.

And the factors that none of us can measure are his judgment of someone's fitness to be President--his kind of President--and of how they relate personally.
So while Gov. Kathleen Sibelius is often mentioned, she has to go through a vetting process (her son has apparently made some waves--how serious is that?) and we have no idea how they get along. On the other hand, Obama is said to be friends with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. (And she would break another barrier, though it's never mentioned: there has never been an Italian-American in the White House.)

And while Senator Jim Webb is seldom mentioned, he is Obama's generation, and though he has remained neutral so far, he may be an Obama kind of new politician. I don't know. The point is, no one does. It's a fun game but let's also be realistic. Obama is going to decide, and if he is true to his campaign so far, it isn't going to be a choice made chiefly by the old criteria. Hillary is not going to dictate the v.p. choice. If you believe that, you haven't been listening.

Plus, the premise of all this is questionable, and may become more questionable very soon. Because the party may force Hillary out, before she has to be bribed out. Consider this quote from another story in Salon:

And perhaps most dangerous for Clinton now is the fact that a number of superdelegates -- whom she needs to win over in large numbers to have any chance to emerge the victor -- are losing patience. West Virginia Democratic Party chairman Nick Casey told Salon in a phone interview Wednesday that he wouldn't be surprised if Clinton pulled the plug on her campaign before Tuesday.

Did you get that? The Chairman of the party in West Virginia, where the next primary is held, and where Clinton is supposed to have solid support, suggests that she'll drop out before that primary in his state. And that was only one of the examples.

It's pretty likely now that by as early as May 20 and as late as June 5, Barack Obama will be the presumptive nominee by virtue of having obtained the necessary number of delegates.

How important is Hillary's support in the general election? I don't think that's as obvious as it's being treated. Part of the drama in this campaign has been the loosening grip of the Clintons on the Democratic party, and the resentments that have surfaced. Hillary has strong appeal to constituencies of voters, but in the end, she is part of the old politics that Obama is campaigning against. It is more to her political advantage to be seen as supporting the party ticket, I believe, than it is for Obama to muddy the image of the kind of politics he wants to bring to Washington, by being seen to give in to her demands.

Yes, the party needs to be unified. But the leader of the party sets the tone and the conditions. And that's not Hillary Clinton. The leader is Barack Obama.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Day After

Analysis from Chuck Todd: "One thing that jumps out at us is his [Obama's] performance in mostly white Indiana counties north of Indianapolis. He either won them or did much better than we expected. While he still struggled against Clinton in areas south of Indianapolis, his performance north of the city demonstrated his potential in the Midwest. Also, Obama improved with Catholics. After losing that group 70%-30% in Pennsylvania and 63%-36% in Ohio, Obama narrowed that margin to 59%-41% in Indiana; in fact, he won the county that includes South Bend. And the gas-tax debate also appears to have been a winner for Obama. Besides overshadowing (a bit) the Wright story over the days leading into last night’s contests, the debate played into Obama’s core message (that he will change the way Washington works) and played into Clinton’s chief negative (that she’ll say and do anything to win)." He notes that the Wright obsession--and these are my words because I'm tired of the "cultural differences" circumlocution--gave racists permission to express themselves, so "You have to wonder how much he would have WON Indiana by if 1) there was no Wright controversy or 2) he had more time."

Clinton lent her campaign another $6.5 million in May, including $450,000 in the past few days, indicating the campaign is really broke. She's also lent the equivalent of her personal earnings. The law allows her to donate half of her income to her campaign, but she's got the joint account to tap.

Lawrence O'Donnell says that Clinton will stay in the race until June 15. Hillary's campaign is still playing race. Score one for Rachel Madow.

Obama got four super-delegates so far today, including one switching from Hillary. The first party elder--George McGovern--has publicly urged Clinton to drop out. And there may be more to come. In a real warning, Senator Dianne Feinstein says she wants to talk to Hillary about her "strategy" for the rest of the campaign. Feinstein is a long-time Hillary supporter, and the California super-delegates are numerous. It's expected that the House members will follow Nancy Pelosi's lead. Now it will be interesting to see what Barbara Boxer does--whether she wants to take the lead in declaring for Obama.

Newspaper sentiment today mirrors the cable news pundits of last night is saying that the race is essentially over. Joan Vennochi writes in the Boston Globe:" It's decision time for Hillary Clinton. Will she accept reality and Barack Obama’s near-clinch of the Democratic nomination? Or will she embrace a “Sunset Boulevard” fantasy world, playing a political Norma Desmond who continues to dream of a triumphant return to the Oval Office? "

Scot Lehigh, another Globe columnist wrote: Last night, reality caught up with Hillary Clinton. The question now is how long it will take for that reality to sink in.Barack Obama's big win in North Carolina, combined with the late night/early morning drama that turned Indiana into only the narrowest of wins for Clinton, did three important things: It ended any sense of momentum she had generated with her sizable victory in Pennsylvania.
It demonstrated that, at least as far as the relevant Democratic primary voters were concerned, Obama has survived the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's incendiary remarks.
And in doing both those things, it obliterated the arguments Clinton hoped to use to sway the superdelegates.

Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist:

Wright flight stopped. Barack Obama came out of North Carolina and Indiana with renewed hopes of regentrification. It was another message that America is struggling toward a better self.

We have had nearly two months of unprecedented media trolling and pollster polling for the damage that Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, did to Obama with white voters. It was unprecedented in the sense that there never has been similar trolling and polling over the associations of white candidates with bigoted religious figures. It was as if a significant chunk of the media and pollsters were daring America to rear its ugliest head. White voters responded by saying, enough is enough."

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

How Sweet It Is!

It was not only what happened but how it happened. North Carolina was declared instantly for Obama, and the votes kept piling up all evening and (for East Coasters and Midwesterners) well into the night, until he entirely made up Clinton's popular vote margin in PA and added about 25,000 more.

Indiana, which was expected to be anywhere from 10 or even 12% to 6% for Clinton, was not finally declared until after 1 am eastern. Hillary finally won, though her margin may well have been provided by mischief-making Republicans who will vote for McCain.

But for all those hours in between, it became clearer and clearer that the Democratic primary race is over. After trying to maintain a semblance of balance, the cable gabbers began speculating on how Hillary gets out of the race. Tim Russert of NBC said, "We know who the Democratic nominee will be," and Chuck Todd presented the numbers to back this up: with Obama's N.C. victory, there is no conceivable scenario in which Hillary ends up with more delegates and popular votes, not even counting Michigan and Florida.

Or as Senator Obama writes in his email to me: "As of Tuesday morning, we needed just 273 delegates to clinch the nomination. When the votes are fully counted Wednesday morning, we will have gained more than a third of them in a single day."

Rachel Madow was the one voice of "unreason"--that is, she maintained that Hillary has been "post-rational" for awhile, and she will try to continue. But Hillary cancelled her morning talk show appearances--and that's a major move. The New York Times reports the Clinton campaign is "essentially broke."

But let's dwell on the Obama victories (because coming so close in Indiana has to be counted as a victory.) As several TV babblers pointed out, Hillary had her best couple of weeks while Obama had his worst, and at the end of it, he wins by 15 points in the biggest remaining state--and one of the 10 biggest in the nation--and nearly steals Indiana. Demographically, says one analyst, In Indiana, Obama improved his support across several key demographics, despite a bruising month of attacks on his pastor, patriotism and populism. Compared to Ohio and Pennsylvania, he generally drew more votes from white women, Catholics, gun owners, households earning under $50,000 annually, voters prioritizing the economy, and voters without a college degree."

In his N.C. victory speech, Obama said that he has faith in the American people to see past the distractions. These victories confirmed the correctness of that faith in Democratic voters at least, because clearly voters did not swallow the Rev. Wright cable TV obsession and Hillary's phony gas tax holiday proposal.

I'd hoped Obama was going to turn the corner with these elections, I felt he was going to, and he did.

Obama is now so close to a majority of elected delegates that he is almost certain to cross that threshold on May 20, when Oregon votes. The scenario that might shape up is this: enough super-delegates will declare for Obama between now and then to allow Oregon to put him over the top entirely with a majority of all delegates. With the nomination in his pocket, the May 31 credentials committee hearing becomes a formality accepting some close to 50-50 solution for Michigan and Florida.

But even if something that dramatic doesn't happen, the trickle of super-delegates could begin to become a flood very soon. Whether or not Clinton stays in the race long enough to win West Virginia, the May 20 elections in Kentucky (which Clinton is heavily favored to win) and Oregon (which Obama is very likely to win) may bring the process to a complete resolution. Even if super-delegates hold off until after the last contests in early June, the groundwork for what is now clearly going to happen can be built now.

And so it is the night I'd hoped for. The future has a chance. Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee, one step closer to being President of the United States.

730: I just lost everything I wrote--drat this blogger! So Indiana is now officially too close to call, Hillary is supposed to be speaking but what does she say? Obama gave his strong general election speech, and no matter what happens now in Indiana, it's Obama's night. It could be an hour or more before the last 300,000 votes come in from the Gary area. I thought that would be a crucial area of the state, but I never guessed this. However, the Obama people told Chuck Todd that they may have come up 10,000 votes short, while Polbano figures 23,000, which gives Clinton under a 2% victory.

450: A couple of interesting notes from exit polls. Some 60% of North Carolina voters made up their minds a month ago or more. So all this kerfluffle over the past 3 weeks was irrelevant to them. And some 7% of Hillary's voters in Indiana say they would be dissatisfied if she got the nomination, indicating these are the Operation Chaos Republicans, (plus people who misunderstood the question.) The numbers people online are seeing their models shattered in Indiana, though both ways. Indiana may all depend on the turnout and margins for Obama in Indianapolis and especially Gary (which has yet to report any votes.) It's still possible that Hillary will win by double digits, or Obama will squeak out a win.

4:32pm Pacific
Networks call North Carolina immediately for Obama, presaging a big win. Indiana is still not called, a half hour after polls closed in all parts of the state, and a hour and a half after most polls closed. So now the cable gab is about Obama.

I'll just keep updating this without noting updates. The polls haven't yet closed but the first piece of exit poll data may be all that super-delegates need to know: Obama is getting 92% of the African American vote in Indiana, and 91% in North Carolina. If that bears out in the results, it shows an unswerving loyalty to Obama by the most important single voting bloc in the Democratic Party.

Monday, May 05, 2008

(Other People's) Tea Leaves

There are two basic numerical questions in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries: who wins the most votes, and how many more delegates does the winner get?

Realistically, Obama wins a draw, because the largest remaining bunch of delegates will be gone by tomorrow's results. Clinton will likely go on if she gets a split in popular vote wins. But her chances of getting the nomination diminish.

So on to the tea-leavers. This post will be updated throughout Monday and early Tuesday with whatever new predictions there are.

Final SUSA polls show Obama up by 5 in NC. Key comment: There is no foreseeable outcome in North Carolina, regardless of which candidate wins the popular vote, where one candidate collects significantly more convention delegates than the other. CQ Politics concurs--on the district level, they see Obama gaining only 3 more delegates. However, the blogger Poblano, whose PA predictions based on math models I don't pretend to understand were just about dead-on, predicts a much bigger victory for Obama, of 17 points and a 66-49 spread in delegates. He emphasizes that polls significantly underestimated Obama's totals in southern states with big African American populations.

Another wonky online analyst with a good record, PsiFighter37, touts Obama winning 63 delegates in North Carolina to Clinton's 52. He also sees a double digit popular vote margin.

Poblano's analysis of Indiana is a Clinton win by 51-49%, with an even split in delegates. PsiFighter37 says Clinton wins 4 more delegates, with a a Clinton advantage of 6.4% in the popular vote. Most late polls show Clinton ahead, although the margins vary from 6 points to more than 10. Zogby is holding firm with a slight margin for Obama.

And here's a summary of where things stand on Wednesday. The major point: there will be more undeclared super-delegates than delegates at stake in the final contests. Chuck Todd on Keith underlined this point by saying that tomorrow is the last really significant election day of the primaries, and unless Clinton wins North Carolina and Indiana both, she has almost no chance of getting the nomination, either by delegates won or by convincing super-delegates that the momentum has shifted to her.

Update1: Latest PPP poll in Indiana shows Hillary ahead but it's Obama who has the last minute momentum.

Update2: Al G. at The Field has posted his predictions. He gives Clinton a big 10.8 win in Indiana gaining 8 more delegates, and Obama a 6.8% victory in North Carolina, gaining 7 more delegates. So Clinton ends up with one delegate more--far, far fewer than she needs to change the dynamics of the race. Al obviously feels that Clinton's pandering, the TV obsession with Rev. Wright and the rabid right interest in derailing Obama are going to take their toll. It's also worth mentioning that he turned out to overestimate Obama's vote in PA, so there may be a little compensation in this prediction. He also points out, as I did at the top, that a draw is a win for Obama, at least technically.

Update3: Booman at Booman Tribune has posted his Indiana district by district predictions. The outcome he sees is Clinton winning the popular by 51-49 and gaining 4 delegates. Meanwhile, Election Projection has its North Carolina projections: Obama 58.5% to Clinton 39.7%, giving Obama 15 more delegates.

So these are numbers analyses. I've also obsessively read a number of campaign reports. I'm always looking for signs favorable to Obama, and two particular ones stick in my mind: for the recent Jackson-Jefferson Day dinner in North Carolina, equal numbers of tickets were sold to Obama and Clinton supporters. However, fewer--apparently far fewer--Clinton people showed up. The immediate consequence was that Clinton's speech was swamped by Obama chants, but the greater indication is--what? Bill Clinton has been hitting the rural areas, and this could pay off in votes. But will that do much to dampen enthusiasm in the bigger places? Also, North Carolina saw massive early voting, with over 40% by blacks, and--one can surmise--a lot of the white vote by students, who may have voted where they go to school even if they won't be there on election day. Big schools in Indiana won't be in session, so students in Bloomington, etc., had to early vote. I haven't seen numbers on that.

In Indiana, the momentum seemed to be going towards Hillary until this weekend, and if it continues moving toward Obama, that 3% a lot of these folks are giving as Hillary's margin could swing. Here's what tantalized me: a reporter's observation that Gary is solid Obama, not leaning that way. Demographically, that doesn't compute. But could a reporter's instincts suggest something out of the ordinary--white working class voters going for Obama?

I was glad to see a story saying that the Obama people were energized, motivated and optimistic in Indiana. That's his secret weapon there: the Obama faithful from Illinois who can work with mayors backing Obama and counteract the Evan Bayh regulars.

Okay, I'll say it: I'm looking for a double digit win in North Carolina, with double digit delegate gains, and a single digit loss or a victory in Indiana. I have this feeling he's turned the corner. (Okay, I've had it before.)

Update5: the final update in this thread is the Kos predictions: he has Clinton in Indiana 51.1 to 48.9 (which would mean it will be the late late show before the networks can name the winner) and Obama by 12 pts. in North Carolina (which means the cable gab will be about Obama's resurgence.) But I thought it was most appropriate to end this thread with Kos explaining his "system": "If my system sounds stupid, it's because it is. They all are. Ultimately, no one predicts every race accurately, not even the pollsters who actually ask people who they're going to vote for." Amen.

In what appear to be close elections, it seems to come down to who's got the momentum going into that Tuesday. Could be as much an illusion as everything else, but it gives us something to talk about. Early last week I suggested the polls would go against Obama last weekend, but if by this weekend they were bouncing back, he'd have a shot at carrying Indiana and more confidence in North Carolina.

I hadn't figured on the Wright controversy which extended into mid-week, but the polls and other info suggest that Obama indeed has some momentum this weekend, and may actually have the mo going into Tuesday. The most important poll might be the CBS/New York Times survey that found that a majority are unaffected by the Wright mess, half think TV overdid it, and 60% approve of how Obama handled it. Plus "an overwhelming majority of voters said candidates calling for the suspension of the federal gasoline tax this summer were acting to help themselves politically, rather than to help ordinary Americans." This has been Hillary's main issue in I and NC. Obama's overall margin over Clinton actually increased 4 points, to 50%-38%. This survey was taken this past weekend, May 1-3.

On the macro level, all during this week when cable babble was fixated on Wright, the slow march of super-delegates and powerful endorsements were going much more to Obama than Clinton. Including those who used to be for Clinton. On the micro, Obama has found his themes and his methods of campaigning in Indiana. I remember his "closing argument" two minute ad for Ohio, and I wasn't very impressed. But his two-minute ad for Indiana and North Carolina is a gem.

I spent a few days this weekend in Ashland and Medford, Oregon (that state's primary is coming up), wearing my Obama cap, which got lots of smiles and some conversation. Several people were very troubled by what the Clinton campaign revealed to them about the Clintons, and they were worried that it's damaging the Democrats' chances in November. If that response is widespread, beyond Oregon--and it might be--then there may be sentiment that affects voting at last to end this thing sooner rather than later.

It seems that Hillary's "obliterate Iran" comment has been remembered and remains an issue (it came up in Obama's Meet the Press interview Sunday), and Frank Rich at least has pushed back on the racism involved in the media's attention to Rev. Wright while ignoring the comments of white right wing preachers supporting McCain, particularly Hagee. As an adjunct to Rich's comments, there's these quotations from Hagee's book which doesn't say Goddamn America--it says God has already damned America.

For what they're worth, the state polls in Indiana and North Carolina are still all over the place, though most have Obama ahead in North Carolina and competitive (Zogby even has him ahead) in Indiana. And of course, he won Guam!

Meanwhile, if you're an Obama and Star Wars fan, have some fun with this on YouTube.