Thursday, September 27, 2007

Democrats Debate in NH -- Are Tides Shifting?

Last night’s Democratic candidates debate was yet another visit to the same topics, although Tim Russert’s questions were the sharpest and most focused they have faced and I give him credit for pushing for actual answers to the questions. There weren’t a lot of topics covered considering the length of it, but that wasn’t a bad thing, as we didn’t bounce around as much.
The early part of the debate was focused on Iraq, and some key positional differences are starting to emerge. The top tier of candidates seem reluctant to make absolute statements about pulling troops out completely. The big three refused to promise to have troops out by the end of 2009, or even 2013, the end of their presumptive first term (and if they don’t have troops out, their only term). Edwards seemed most aggressive on troop withdrawal, promising an immediate removal of half our forces, yet still saying a residual “non-combat” force might have to be left behind to protect our embassies and bases. Obama and Clinton were much less aggressive, talking about troops left behind to fight terrorism. This is troubling to me, as I believe our troops are part of the problem, The Clinton/Obama position was even more troubling, as it still does not focus the Iraqis on solving their problems and still leaves our forces at the mercy of events not in their control. We need to set a date when we will leave. Any other solution, any promise to bring in regional powers for negotiations, or any half-assed withdrawal, will not “end the war”. No matter how much Hillary promises to end the war, without the willingness to commit to an end date, it’s all Clintonian bullshit. Obama’s stance is not quite as disappointing, but still seems far too tilted toward the “realistic” school of Iraq policy.
Perhaps the most interesting moment of the Iraq portion came from Joe Biden, who is in favor of partitioning the country and for the first time said that if there was no political solution, he would pull all our troops out. To me, that is the most realistic position and one I would endorse, although I still feel a specific date is required.
This also marked the first time Biden started to criticize Hillary. On health care, Biden made the key point that getting health care legislation passed will require bringing people together and that the Republicans will never come together with Hillary (who also has little appeal to independents as well). Edwards pointed out the failures of Hillary’s first attempt at health care legislation and talked about how it was done in secret, with more input from industry types than from those affected by it. Edwards got the one big round of applause of the night when he repeated his promise that if Congress didn’t pass universal health care legislation in his first year in office, he would strip them of their health insurance. His last shot at Hillary, which also got applause, was to say “In 1993-94 we didn’t get universal health care, we got NAFTA.” All of these things show a willingness to take on both Hillary and the not-so-fantastic legacy she wants to revive. Linking her to the inept trade policy of her husband is a great idea. Reminding people of how divisive she is extremely important in the drive to save the party from her candidacy.
The essence of Hillary’s campaign was revealed in her answer to Russet’s question of what you would do to save the future of Social Security. While the other candidates addressed the issue, with full discussions of raising the amount of income on which Social Security taxes are paid, or raising the age of retirement, or discussing the actual numbers which lead to the purported insolvency, Hillary ducked the whole thing. Her position was that we have to establish fiscal responsibility before we can do anything about Social Security. She was called on this nonsense – a variation on Reagan’s solving budget problems by attacking “waste, fraud, and abuse” – by the other candidates but still refused to address the problems. The reasons are obvious: she was told by her pollsters that in the general election the one thing you can never be in favor of is raising people’s taxes. Hillary thinks she has the nomination and is carefully positioning herself for her headlong dash to the middle (where she belongs anyway). Look for more ducking and dodging in future months.
The winners in this debate were Edwards and Biden, who drew distinctions between themselves and the other candidates and drew blood from the front-runner. Obama seemed bland and listless and is simply not getting better at this. Hillary got beat up a bit, but whether her supporters care is the real question. The campaign has yet gain focus with the general public – it can’t happen too soon for the country’s future.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Numbers and Notes -- When Do Things Really Start?

We’re less than five months from SuperDuper Tuesday, when, to all intents and purposes, the Democratic nominee will be decided. The big question is who it will be. The key question which may determine the answer to the big question is: when will people start to focus on the race? Most polls show that most of the voters are not paying much attention to the race and therefore are not ready to decide on who they’ll vote for. The problem is finding the moment when they will engage. Historically, voters have waited until Iowa and New Hampshire do their thing, vetting the candidates in a personal way, narrowing the field to a manageable size. Then with their own primaries weeks or even months away, they can get down to business. Even leaving out the MI and FL silliness, there won’t be much time between NH and the big ones. Add to that the nature of voting in CA, where nearly 30% of the votes will likely be cast before the NH primary and confusion must be rampant within the campaigns. Where and when to spend advertising dollars is key. Do you start your spending in December, hoping to get the momentum rolling early? Or do you wait until after the holidays, when people’s minds are ready and compete among what will surely be an avalanche of ads from both parties. Here in CA, there will be several key initiatives on that February 5th ballot, adding even more political advertising to the clutter. Will anyone be able to get traction amid the noise?
On the Democratic side, the numbers indicate that Hillary has a substantial lead, with her numbers generally in the forties, while Obama has settled in the mid-twenties, and Edwards in the low teens. The only thing that has changed over the last couple of months is that Hillary has added somewhere near ten percent. That addition is a dangerous omen for the others, since it would seem to indicate that people have made a choice. It’s the reason for the escalation in attacks on Clinton from both Edwards and Obama. They understand that there is a danger in letting it look like Hillary is going to win. People start jumping on the bandwagon, start to feel that they need to sign up.
I think there is one person with the ability to start the campaign on his own – Al Gore. Gore has said that he intends to endorse a candidate before the primaries. His endorsement would be the lead story on every news report, his reasons would focus the campaign light on something, either positive or negative, and begin the national conversation. There is one thing we can be confident of, he’s not going to endorse Hillary. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Edwards might be more in tune with his current thinking, but would his endorsement of the white Southern guy look like a circling of the wagons? Other than electability, it is hard to find the easily stated reason for an Edwards endorsement, without getting into a policy-wonkish discussion (not that Al has ever been averse to those). On the other hand, an endorsement of Obama as “the future” rather than the Clinton-Edwards revivals would be very effective coming from Gore. Speak up, Al, you’re holding the green flag on this race.

Labels: , , , ,