Sunday, February 17, 2008

On Wisconsin

Joey LaMotta: You win, you win. And if you, lose, you still win.
Jake LaMotta: I lose, I still win?
Joey LaMotta: Yeah.

From Raging Bull, written by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin.

Conventional wisdom – usually far more conventional than wise – has Barack Obama’s momentum rolling through Wisconsin en route to a showdown with Clinton in Texas and Ohio, both of which will be must-win states for her. Today, the Clinton campaign announced that the candidate wouldn’t even be staying in the state through Tuesday, further fueling assumptions that she has no chance of winning there.
The problem is that there is no reason why she shouldn’t be able to win there. I haven’t seen a poll that shows her more than five points behind – there is an ARG poll today with her actually ahead. Basically, the Clinton camp, aided by the media, have played the expectations game perfectly. If she wins, she wins – it will be hailed as a huge comeback, a momentum-stopper, and put immense pressure on Obama to win in either Texas or Ohio. If she loses close, that will also be called a win, as polls will undoubtedly show her winning among Democrats, with independents and Republicans giving Obama the win. If Obama wins by less than ten, it will excite nobody, since people are expecting a victory for him. Only a double-digit win by Obama will impress the punditocracy, and that will still merely be a prelude to March 4th.
The close victory by Obama, which, if the polls are to be believed (I know, given how crappy they’ve been, no real reason to believe them), is the most likely outcome, would be fueled by votes by non-Democrats. Which brings to mind the question of why the Clinton campaign hasn’t created an alternate primary universe, based on exit polls, consisting only of Democrats, reallocating the delegates and recomputing the popular vote totals. Doesn’t it seem like an obvious thing to do? Make the battle cry that Hillary is the candidate that Democrats want to represent them. I’m from the school that thinks primaries should be closed, although the point could be made that winning in the Fall will require independent voters. I think appeal to independent voters is something Democrats can, and should, take into account when voting for their candidate, but that the choice should be within the party. It’s not how the rules are, though, so what I (and the Clintons) would prefer is irrelevant. Still, you’d think it would be a selling point worth pursuing in the battle for Super Delegates.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

About Last Night

Barack Obama’s Potomomac Primary romp last night got a lot of people a lot of excited. There are two big questions: 1) is the excitement warranted? and 2) what the excitement itself resonate in this election? The victories were all expected, but the margins were immense, with Obama winning every demographic except white women. Ignoring the obvious place for a jungle fever reference, let’s look at this carefully. Obama found electorates well in tune with him in Maryland and Virginia upscale whites combined with large African-American voting blocs (which he is now carrying 8-1). Getting over 60% is still impressive and the delegate total is mounting. So the excitement might be a little overblown, but the results were exciting for Obama, for he now leads by over 100 elected delegates, maybe as many as 130. The Clinton campaign itself has said that it is almost impossible to catch Obama in that number and has now started talking about how Super Delegates should be included in all counts, even though they aren’t bound at all. Look for them to start adding in Michigsn and Florida delegates soon, since the numbers look bad as they are. As for the popular vote thus far, Obama leads that by about 800,000. If he finishes the primary season leading in both, it will be very hard for the SDs to reverse the results.
As for the resonance – look for SDs to be very careful before endorsing Clinton from this point. It is quite possible that the electorate is starting to accept the concept of President Obama, that victory after victory is starting to create a bandwagon effect. That is why Clinton has started to spend money in Wisconsin – a 60% victory there could just render March 4th meaningless. As big as winning all the major states but Obama’s own would be, losing this many others, along with the pledged delegate count, might render it moot. Things are not looking good for Clinton at the moment, as momentum can be a bitch to overcome this late.


Speaking about last night, the Senate voted on the new eavesdropping bill, passing the version the Bush Administration wanted, with immunity for the telcoms who collaborated with the fascists. Of course, it is expected that Republicans would go along with it. That only 29 Democrats would go along with the noble filibuster attempts of Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold is sad.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a...Superdelegate!

The big discussion in Democratic circles is what will the superdelegates to the convention do. It seems apparent that neither candidate will have the nomination locked up before the convention, or even have a substantial lead. So that throws the ultimate decision to the superdelegates, a collection of Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and party officials. This has been decried as undemocratic. Donna Brazile has threatened to quit her party position if they act badly – like anyone would give a shit. Others, including Obama himself, have suggested that SDs follow their district/state’s voting preference – which enabled Hillary to get off her best response of the campaign, saying how she would welcome Ted Kennedy and John Kerry’s votes at the convention. Of course, that would cause an amusing situation in the Clinton camp as well, with Charles Rangel, a Clinton surrogate, whose district (not to mention his wife) supported Obama.
All of this ignores why they exist in the first place. Back in 1980, people realized that in a contested race, it was possible for a lot of office-holders, big ones even, to not even be delegates to the convention, since they might have been on the losing side of a primary contest. More and more people felt that the party was becoming leaderless, with experienced politicians left out of deliberations, and with the real risk of nominating a candidate who might not be the one that local candidates would want at the top of the ticket. If there is a Senate race in North Carolina or Virginia, who is at the top of the ticket could determine the winner of that seat. Certainly the coat tails are very important when you get to House races. This system was designed to give the experienced pols a shot at fixing a mistake, especially with most delegates selected months in advance of the convention.
Rampant democracy and the 24-hour news cycle has made it seem outdated. This is the first time they will clearly have the say and they are frightened by it. In a race this close, this divisive of interest and demographic groups within the party, it’s not going to be easy. Obama running the table would solve their problem, but that doesn’t figure to happen. How can they make a decision?
After this week, after Obama’s 8 wins (and a Grammy), he will be referred to as the frontrunner. Next week in Hawaii and Wisconsin will probably reinforce that – although Hillary’s new team may well decide to try and slow his momentum in WI, risking money and time in what might be a lost cause. Still, she figures to come back in March, focusing on Texas (a likely significant win because of the large Latino vote) and Ohio, which will be the first of two showdown states, with Pennsylvania following seven weeks later. Here is the Clinton scenario: Obama piles up delegates in caucuses and smaller, mostly African-American dominated states, then she takes Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, giving her a virtual sweep of every major state except for his home state. With the delegate totals close, the SDs have no choice but to turn to the person who wins the major primaries. It might work, since Texas is naturally hers, and she has a big polling lead in Ohio, which looks a lot like all the other states where Obama starts from way behind and closes fast at the end, ultimately falling short. That means the seven-week campaign in PA could be decisive. Where the SDs really have trouble is if Obama ends up with more delegates, more total votes, and loses all the big states decisively. I think if he stays close in OH and PA, they’ll go with him, but the entrails of birds would be just as likely to give us the likely outcome of this race as any reasoned analysis.

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