Thursday, March 27, 2008

How Hillary Wins

In David Brooks’ column in the NY Times this week (where he used the wonderful phrase “the audacity of hopelessness” to describe HRC’s campaign) he said she has about a 5% chance of getting the nomination. I’m not sure we can measure it quite so precisely. I do believe there are a number of hoops she needs to jump through and more important, I don’t think she has any control of the situation at any point. In other words, I don’t believe she can win the nomination, she has to hope Obama loses it – a possibility, which, based on the Wright insanity, does exist.
The path is somewhat simple – first, win Pennsylvania big. By big, I mean over 15%. If she wins by less than ten, it will impress no one. If she wins by 12 or 13, it’s a solid win, but no indication of underlying trouble for Obama and it will look like the Rendell machine just did its job well. But if she wins by 17 or 18%, then Obama’s numbers among white voters will look like they did in Mississippi and that will be all the media will talk about for the next two weeks. The question, asked constantly, will be “is Obama’s campaign collapsing”? The next step would be winning North Carolina and Indiana, leaving the impression that Obama is done. Then she wins almost all the remaining primaries and although she doesn’t catch him in pledged delegates, she can go to the super delegates and say “this is why you were created – we have a candidate who won early but who is collapsing late, based on information early voters didn’t have; now for the sake of the party, you have to pick the only candidate with a chance of winning, which is me.”
It all sounds possible and logical. Unfortunately, there are a few little problems. First, the most recent polling data seems to indicate that Obama has weathered the storm of Rev. Wright – although the Clintons are going to keep seeding those clouds. Then the NBC/WSJ poll had ominous news for Hillary, as her negatives are climbing along with his and her positives are dropping sharply; nearly 18% of her own voters don’t view her favorably. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the electoral results are exactly what Hillary needs them to be. Then she gets to try and convinces the SDs that they should join up with her to overturn the delegate vote – which is where the real problem for her shows up. You see, back in 2007, the Clinton campaign was pushing the inevitability of Hillary’s nomination to super delegates, basically telling them to get on the bandwagon before it leaves town and they will remember who was with them and who wasn’t. There’s nothing very unusual about this, although it did rub a number of people the wrong way. Many joined up, others resisted. We are now left with those who resisted, which may not be the audience the Clinton campaign wishes to deal with again. The other reason super delegates exist is to have office holders and politicians help make the decision from a political point of view; that is, who would be best for the ticket (or more specifically, for me)? That is where Hillary runs into big trouble. You see, back in the 90’s, Bill was useless to the party. He raised money, but he had no coattails at all, and everything he did, every stance he took, every person he consulted (Dick Morris, most notably) was about his own future. He left the party in shambles, losing both houses of Congress, and destroying many careers. These pols don’t forget that and see Hillary – especially given her scorched-earth campaign – as the same. Then there’s the supporter problem. In the NBC/WSJ poll, 28% of Clinton supporters said they would vote for McCain over Obama, while 19% of Obama supporters returned the favor. This might look like an advantage for Hillary, but many Obama supporters aren’t going to vote for McCain, because they aren’t going to vote at all. Let’s face it, the SDs overturning the pledged delegates would arouse a fury among the hard-core Obamaites, mostly black and young – two groups notorious for not voting. The Clintonites who desert Obama, mostly older, but many blue-collar types as well, will still vote – they may vote McCain, but they will then vote for other Democrats. So if you’re a super delegate, who would you rather have, a candidate with a slightly better chance of winning the White House, or one who makes it more likely that you and your colleagues win? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you are not a politician.
All in all, things do not look good for Hillary. I think Obama’s collapse (which doesn’t seem to be happening) would have to be so complete that it would seem like an obvious decision to go with her. Where there’s life there’s hope, and the Clintons don’t go quietly, so we can look forward to months of nastiness.

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