Friday, January 25, 2008

Uncivil War

The last Democatic debate was nothing if not entertaining and would have been more appropriately held at Fort Sumpter, given the divisiveness. The nastiness and hostility between Obama and Clinton was first rate political theater and the whole thing might have escalated (or devolved, if you prefer) into fisticuffs had John Edwards not been there. It is very clear that the Clinton strategy is to drag Obama into the mud with them, giving the perception that he’s just as sleazy as they are, destroying his fresh and clean image. Will it work? Probably. How damaging this is to the party is hard to say, as there’s a long way to go until the convention and if it doesn’t continue for months on end, it could fade into distant memory. Several points need to be made:
1) The whole Rezko thing is nonsense. Rezko was a hanger-on who liked to inflate his own importance and there’s no evidence Obama did anything for him politically. Compare that to the Clinton attitude toward Tyson in Arkansas, “travelgate”, and the Mark Rich pardon on the way out of the White House and which candidate is more corrupt is pretty clear.
2) Obama did say nice things about Reagan. He talked about some positive things he did and his denial of that is hollow. Obama’s problem is that he tends to actually think about things and then discuss them, without thinking about what the political ramifications would be. This is refreshing. This is also dangerous. Hillary made one slip regarding driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and all hell broke loose. This should have been a cautionary lesson for Obama, but apparently he just likes to ruminate about things. Running against the Hillarybot 2008, which has vetted everything she’s going to say before she says it, he has to be better prepared.
3) Speaking of prepared – commenting that “I don’t know which of them I’m running against” got the expected response from HRC, regarding how wonderful Bill is and how the other candidates spouses are strong advocates for them. Obama was not prepped with the response he should have had, namely that Michelle Obama was not the ex-President, whose every word is newsworthy, and that being married to Bill Clinton is the reason HRC considers herself more experienced, while none of Obama’s qualifications come from whom he is married to.
4) Edwards was the best candidate out there, but it won’t matter much, I fear.

So what will happen tomorrow? I have a feeling a surprise is out there. Maybe not in the winner, but perhaps in the margin, or maybe with Edwards getting a larger than expected vote. ARG says Clinton is closing ground, losing white voters to Edwards, but taking older black women back from Obama. Zogby says Edwards is the one moving late. Public Policy says Obama is widening his lead. And my favorite poll comes from Clemson, which has Obama at 27, Clinton at 20, and Edwards at 17, with a whopping 36% undecided – frankly, that may be the most accurate representation of where people really are. But tomorrow, those undecideds will have to decide, and that could result in anything.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nevada Democratic Debate

After several days of nonsensical race-based acrimony, last night’s Democratic debate figured to be a love fest, with the candidates seated close to each other and trying to cut down on negativity which had permeated the campaign. I suspect that this will not be the last time this devolves into personal infighting, as Clinton and Obama are remarkably similar politically and much of this campaign is based on who they are rather than what they stand for. As for the LBJ-MLK controversy, Clinton was right, much ado has been made over nothing, as it was over Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” comment, and reflects an over-sensitivity which could completely backfire on Obama in the long run. I give Hillary credit for not backing off the premise of the statement in her subsequent discussions of it. Far too often politicians say something which is totally justifiable, then when they find out it upsets people, run away from it as fast as they can. Of course, the Clinton campaign is run in the classic modern manner, where the candidate stays a bit above the fray, while the surrogates say the most obnoxious things possible. Time and again Clinton’s surrogates say the kind of things, often about Obama and drugs, which are odious, yet somehow the campaign is doing nothing to stop them. Even after the departure of Bill Shaheen, there have been statements like Robert Johnson’s which carry disgusting implications with them. It is inconceivable to me that a responsible campaign has no stated policy regarding this, but then again, the Clintons are known for saying or doing whatever they have to in order to win, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Even yesterday, Charles Rangel was on TV saying utterly untrue things about Obama. It’s the Karl Rove technique – say enough bad things often enough and people will believe them.
As for the debate, once again Hillary proved to be the master (mistress?) of the form. Tight answers, with content and purpose, combined with complete command of the rhythm of things enabled her to dominate. The polls showed a tight, three-way race in NV, so she had to bloody John Edwards and did, with the Yucca Mountain exchange where she pointed out that he had voted for it not once, but twice, once to override a Clinton veto – a double-dip point which reinforced a Clintonian history of opposition. As for Obama, her pointing out his vote for the “Cheney Energy Bill” (a nice touch for HRC with that description), combined with his weak defense of it, was a knockdown punch. He fought back a bit by pointing out her using the “politics of fear” which was a Bush tactic, but in the end, I thought he seemed to be defending much more than anyone else throughout. Obama may have scored points against Edwards by claiming their small differences on Iraq were “distinctions without a difference”, but the fact that they were even discussing it left HRC above the fray on that issue, which has totally faded into the background in the Democratic debate. Obama also fails to attack Clinton’s readiness, which is a major problem for him. In fact, his weakest moment may have come when he defended his “the President doesn’t have to run everything, just provide a vision” statement. It was a weak defense and HRC attacked him effectively for it. He seems trapped in his own avowed political philosophy of uniting people. He only is able to counterpunch, not try and take the lead, which is why so much gets made of trivial Clinton statements, while not really going after her on big issues.
Edwards had a very good night, even if he got to talk less than the others. The format is okay, but would have been better with less formality. If you are going to have the candidates ask questions of each other, make sure you know the rules and make sure it’s fair. Edwards and Obama asked questions of each other but never got to ask one of Hillary. In fact, Russert refused to let Obama back off something that sounded like a question to Edwards. This was totally unfair. Clinton turned her question of Obama into a pro-Hillary statement which Obama had to agree with.
The real question with debates is who watched and what their reaction was. If enough NV voters watched, it could be big for HRC. But it’s possible that very few of the remarkably small percentage of Nevadans who will be caucusing watched, in which case, it matters far less. Obama is the better speaker, but fewer people see his speeches than see debates, and that is where Hillary shines. Overall, I thought Hillary won last night, Edwards was a solid second, with Obama third. Oh yeah, and it was really nice to not have Richardson and Kucinich there.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Numbers and Notes -- New Hampshire

I have spent some time before writing about New Hampshire because I wanted to see more analysis from other sources, including actual breakdowns of polls. In the end, there are conflicting numbers, it’s hard to analyze specifics, and different people have come up with assorted reasons for the “error”. The pollsters are investigating their methodology – although apparently it was only wrong with the Dems, since it got the GOP race exactly right.
Here is my take:
1) There is no reason to believe half a dozen or more polls were all wrong in their poll results, especially in light of their accuracy in the GOP results. The polls were mostly finished by Sunday, with a few exceptions. I think they were accurately reflecting how things stood.
2) There was a sea change, mostly among women, which took place on Monday and Tuesday. Two of the three polls (the exception being the Suffolk U. poll, which was off on the GOP and had bizarre gender splits in both parties), both had Obama ahead with women by about the same amount he won them in Iowa. The exit polls show Clinton winning them by double digits. That swing accounts for almost all of the difference. Why?
Well, by Monday, newspapers and other media were talking about Obama winning easily and the race effectively being over – the NH voters are often contrarian about such things and may have not wanted it to end there. There were also reports that Clinton advisors might suggest she leave the race to avoid further embarrassment – this might have been especially telling among women, who would not want that to happen to her. And then she cried...or almost the diner. That moment, revealing a passion few had seen, was shown over and over again and had to have some effect.
3) But what about the exit poll question “when did you finally decide who to vote for?”, which yielded no significant late gain for Clinton? My theory on this is that there were large numbers of women who were always intending to vote for HRC, as the polls had shown prior to Iowa. Then Obama won Iowa, HRC finished third, Obama made a great speech and they shifted to Obama likely voters. They came back home on election day and simply ignored their three-day dalliance with Obama, just coming back to their original decision, made months earlier.

In any case, this primary turned the race around and we will head into the February 5th primaries with a battle on our hands. It may not be the battle I would like to see, but that’s for another day.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Numbers and Notes -- Iowa and Beyond

The Iowa Caucus entrance polls ended up being quite accurate in predicting the result, so that makes the underlying numbers very interesting to look at. Let’s look at the results.

Obama – A huge winner by any measure. Brought in new voters, both young and non-Democratic. This win, in a lily white state, will give him serious street cred among African-American voters – yes, he can get elected President. No troubling numbers exist, as those groups which weren’t his strength – older voters and low-income voters – are traditional Democrats who he can pick up in the Fall.
Key number: Among those voters who voted for change (52%), he won 51-20, which is devastating to Edwards and Clinton.

Edwards -- A loss is bad, a big loss to Obama on change is very bad. Strategy in NH is to go after Clinton and try to make it into a race between two different visions of how to accomplish change. How he executes that in tonight’s debate could be the key to his future.
Key numbers: Losing the change vote to Obama (51-20) and the union and low-income vote to Hillary was a two-front disaster. If he can get Hillary out, he could bounce back. This is easier said than done. Has become a “movement” candidate, which makes an early exit from the campaign far less likely. He lost the “Iraq war is most important issue” vote to both Hillary and Obama, getting just 17% there. Hard to figure that one.

Clinton – Iowa was a disaster, no matter how she spins it. This is clearly a change election and she is going to have trouble selling a Clinton revival as real change. The “Ready for Change” signs her people were holding up at her staged post-caucus address looked really desperate. Has to go after Obama while Edwards goes after her, leaving Obama free to be Presidential. A difficult task for Hillary. There is great irony in the way things have broken here. This compressed schedule and three-way race seemed set up for her. No time to eliminate someone and have the anti-Hillary forces coalesce meant that her money and organization would dominate, she would roll through February 5th and be the nominee before anyone could focus. Now she desperately needs time and a head-to-head race.
Key Number: 57% of caucus-goers were women, good for Hillary. She lost women to Obama 35-30...oops. In fact, she only beat Edwards by 7 among women. Her firewall wasn’t NH, it was her dominance in the dominant segment of the party, women voters. In spite of all the focus, in spite of Emily’s List’s economic and organizational support, she lost that demographic.

The other Dems are either irrelevant or gone – sorry to see you go, Joe and Chris, the race is poorer for your leaving.

Note: The older the voter, the more likely to vote for Clinton. The younger the voter, the more likely to vote for Obama.

Huckabee – Easy win on the shoulders of the evangelicals, who comprised an amazing 60% of the vote. NH will be a tougher case, but there is a bounce happening and a solid third there will certainly be considered a victory of sorts. The party establishment hates this guy and won’t go quietly.
Key Number: Only got 14% of the votes among those not born-again. This finished fourth behind Romney 33%, McCain 18%, and Thompson 17%. He must find a way to reach those voters or he won’t win anything.

Romney – The best-laid plans often fall apart worse than you could have imagined. In spite of spending $238 for every vote he got, Mitt finished a bad second. Now he must win NH or get branded a loser, heading for southern primaries where he is weaker. His “silver medal” analogy was cute, but finishing second in the Olympics isn’t great if you entered the favorite, and he did.
Key Number: Mitt only lost the male vote to Huckabee 29-26, women voted for Huckabee 40-24. Is it because women like Huckabee so much, or dislike Mitt? Well, I had a neighbor who used to refer to slick, well-dressed guys who would hit on her in bars with only a quick roll-in-the-hay on their mind and no intention to ever call her again as “striped shirts”. In the political sense, Romney is the ultimate “striped shirt” and women spotted that. You go, girls.

Thompson/McCain – Finished with a couple of hundred votes of each other, due to Thompson actually spending a week there. This is bad for McCain, as it might keep Thompson in the race through SC and McCain had to hope to pick up his support by then. Worse for McCain was the tremendous appeal Obama had for independent voters. If Obama takes too many of them away in NH, McCain could be in trouble and he must win NH. Whoever loses in NH, McCain or Romney, is in serious trouble.
Key Number: Of the 33% of GOP voters who thought illegal immigration is the most important problem, only 4% voted for McCain – this will be a big problem if he gets head-to-head with anyone. Not key, but interesting. Thompson got 16% of men, 10% of women Women don’t trust “striped shirts” or men with trophy wives.

Ron Paul – Got 10%, raised more money than anyone, was not invited to Fox News debate. Fascists don’t want to hear from Libertarians, so the house organ of the GOP has no interest in hearing from Ron.
Key Number: Paul got 21% of the voters under 30, third behind Romney’s 22%.

Rudy Giuliani – 3%? I know he wasn’t trying, but jeez. Don’t they care about 9/11 out there? Still, if McCain wins in NH, then Huckabee and Huckabee and Thompson run 1-2 in SC, this could make Rudy’s strategy look brilliant.

Mike Bloomberg – Huckabee’s big win is just what he needed. Obama, on the other hand, could be a problem.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Late Iowa News

The Iowa Independent is reporting that the Richardson campaign is directing his supporters to switch to Obama in those caucuses where he is not viable. The theory is that they wants to make sure Clinton doesn't win, which would end the race. As it would also hurt Edwards, they feel it would make Richardson the "alternative" candidate to the top two. As polls have shown Edwards being the leading second-choice candidate among Richardson caucus-goers, this would be a big blow to Edwards and a huge help to Obama. In reality, it would be useless to Richardson, but desperation can make us do dumb things.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Guessing Iowa

Predicting the Iowa caucuses is somewhere between hard and impossible, with all the reliability of predictions based on animal entrails. Still, punditry demands these kinds of things, so here goes.

1. Edwards
2. Obama
3. Clinton

A few days ago this would have been different, with Obama in third. The Des Moines Register poll changes that, not because I think it’s all that accurate, but because it has created a perception about the race which benefits Obama. Perhaps there will be, as the poll shows, a 33% increase in first-time voters, perhaps there will be a huge turnout of Independents and Republicans voting for Obama, but I wouldn’t bet on those two happening. Still, in politics, perception is reality, and the perception that he is surging late and has broad appeal could well lead to that happening or just adding a few points by other means. I still think Edwards wins the caucuses on second-choice votes, but Obama could win the entrance polls and that could really confuse things. The key is the margin – 30-29-28 is meaningless, 34-29-24 is very meaningful, with the story split between the winner and the loser. If it should be Edwards with 34 and Obama with 24, this race would be turned on its head. The other way around eliminates Edwards, and would give Obama a huge boost. A bad third by Clinton would puncture her inevitability balloon and leave this wide open. The Kucinich “endorsement” of Obama might be worth a point or two and that might prove significant. A significant Clinton win would depress far too many people to even think about.

1. Huckabee
2. Romney
3. McCain
4. Paul

I included Paul because I think he’ll get to 10% and Thompson won’t. The question here is whether Romney’s all-out assault on Huckabee worked. If it didn’t, it is a major blow to Romney. The key number here is McCain’s vote total. If he gets to 15% or more, without really having a campaign in Iowa, it will be treated as a victory by the media and will get him a bump in NH. Big Prediction Alert....if McCain gets 15% or more and Huckabee and Clinton win, John McCain will be the next President. Even without the Clinton win, I wouldn’t bet against McCain if the other two happen.

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