Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I Have Been to the Mountain Top

These quotes were taken from a NY Times by Adam Nossiter story. He talked to voters in rural Tennessee about the choices for President. Here's a sample of the quotes about Barack Obama:

“Anyone but Obama-Osama,” he said, chuckling at a designation that met with mirthful approval at the table.

"...where some were quick to say that Mr. Obama’s race was not prohibitive for them personally but could well be for others."

"Mention of Mr. Obama merely provoked discomfort.
“Statements I’ve heard, Obama, they’re seriously afraid of him, I’ve talked to some yellow-dog Democrats; they won’t vote for Obama.”

"Some white voters voiced outright alarm over Mr. Obama, and though he is a Christian, allusions to his supposed Muslim ties were frequent..."

Now explain to me again how race isn't a major factor in this race. As much as 25% of the US population would never vote for a black person for dog catcher, much less President. To those who are in this group, they view Obama's message of unity as an offense to everything that they believe in. This is a large part of the uphill battle he faces and the battle that America still faces. For all the progress that has been made, there is still a long way to go. It is exciting to see someone with such a dynamic personality and uplifting message compete for the highest office in the land, but I doubt very much whether America is ready to take such a giant leap forward. Here's a quote from Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" in which Malcolm X is debating whether there has been any progress in race relations:

"Well, I have this to say. Do you know what a Negro with a B.A., an M.A. and a Ph.D. is called -- by the white man? I'll tell you. He's called a nigger."

While that feeling may not be pervasive anymore, there is still a segment of the population that even today holds on to that view. They are more than willing to devalue another human being based on race, gender, religious views and whether they break open their hard boilded eggs from the big end or small end. For some Democrats their vote may come down to which concept offends them the least, A black man or white woman as President. For many of those Democrats they will simply answer neither and vote for John McCain.

Tea for Two

John Edwards and Rudy Guliani will both end their bids for their parties nomination for President today. Guliani will immediately throw his support behind McCain, but Edwards currently has no plans to endorse another candidate.

McCain's victory last night coupled with Guliani's support all but assures that he will be the Republican candidate for president in the fall. The race is now his to lose. Only a major misstep would allow Mitt Romney back into the picture. Next Tuesday (which is the official beginning of primary season) will see an end to the candidacy of Mitt Romney. He can go on, given his seemingly limitless personal funds, but there would be no practical reason to continue. He will campaign in the Super Tuesday states, but there is little chance that he can stop the McCain bandwagon. Along with the Guliani endorsement, and the continued campaign of Mike Huckabee (who continues to battle Romney for votes among evangelicals and extreme right wing of the party), Romney is at an extreme disadvantage. Most pundits are somewhat reluctant to say that the race is over, but trust me, it's over.

John Edwards ran a populist campaign in stark contrast to the more moderate positions he took in the '04 race. He ran against big business and special interests and scored a stunning second place showing in Iowa. His campaign ran out of steam after that as he became a footnote (as far as the public and press were concerned) in the historic race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The big question is what happens to his voters now. Edwards was polling anywhere between 11-16%, so we'll give him 15% (it makes the math easier). There is a portion of his vote that is simply an anyone but the woman or the black guy vote. I would say that accounts for about 1/2 of his support nationally. Obama and Clinton will probably each get an immediate 5% bump (which include the portions of the "anyone but" group and the other Edwards supporters that are inclined to vote one way or the other. The remaining 5% will probably remain uncommitted until they get to the polls). That puts Hillary anywhere from 44-50% depending upon which poll you believe. That means that even if the majority of remaining Edwards supporters switch to Obama he still comes up short nationally.

Obama was definitely the beneficiary of Edwards remaining in the race. It allowed him to compete among white male voters with Hillary Clinton (She wins white females with a solid majority). With Edwards out of the race, his numbers will go up among white voters, but Hillary's gains are almost certain to outpace his. He was running fairly equally among white males with Hillary Clinton, with Edwards gaining a plurality of that demographic. With Edwards out of the race, the question becomes who will the white males vote for? It is at this point the million dollar question for the Obama campaign. Also Edwards' populist message may have also won him some votes among Hispanics. Clinton enjoys a huge advantage there and while Obama would have still lost that group (especially in California) by a wide margin, Edwards may have been able to blunt that advantage to a small degree.

Thursday's Democratic debate will allow Obama a chance to reach out to his largest audience yet. Most voters don't pay close attention to the candidates until they have to make a choice and given that 22 states will vote next Tuesday, it is probably safe to assume that there will be a larger audience for this debate than the previous ones. His problem is that debating one on one is not his strong suit. He is at his best with a large crowd, where his electric oratory skills and uplifting message are on full display. His ability to inspire a crowd is second to none among the candidates. However debates are much more about the details, in this Hillary Clinton is much more at home. I don't anticipate the debate providing him with much of a bump.

His best chance to win comes from the Clinton camp. If Bill Clinton makes another mistake, the press will harp on it. If the Clinton camp is seen as being too negative, it may swing some more voters to Obama. The Clinton campaign should have no reason to get involved in that kind of campaigning at this point. Her pollsters must be telling her that the race is hers to lose. Her campaign strategists should now begin to turn their attention to John McCain and George Bush. She should start trying to link those two in the minds of the voters as much as possible. Bill Clinton should remain in the background, limit his time with the press and begin to play the role of supportive spouse as opposed to de facto running mate (that transition seems to have begun already considering the fact that he was nowhere to be seen last night as Hillary claimed her victory in Florida). She will bring a less combative and more presidential demeanor to the debate on Thursday. As with McCain, the race is hers to lose.

The delegates are awarded proportionally in the Democratic primaries. They are also awarded by individual Congressional districts. This means that if you can keep your opponent below 60% and manage to get 30% of the votes the delegates are split equally (if there are an equal number of delegates, if there are an odd number, the winner of the district will get the extra delegate). Obama will be competitive enough in most of the districts to keep Hillary from building up a commanding lead in the delegate count. However as the race goes on (perhaps for another month) it will become more and more obvious that he cannot win. The question becomes whether Hillary will be able to accumulate enough delegates to secure the nomination before the convention. It may be close, but I believe that she will. At some point, Obama is going to have make a decision about whether he wants to go forward and perhaps cause a real fracture in the party or whether he will give in to the inevitable. Hillary started this campaign as the inevitable nominee and I believe that she is in that very same spot today.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Give Me A Hand

So much for unity in the Democratic Party. I don't think it's a particularly positive image for Barack Obama to turn his back on Hillary Clinton after last night's State of the Union address by the President. He is running a campaign built on bringing people together and bridging the gaps that exist in this country. He really should start by practicing what he preaches. I understand that the campaign has been contentious at times, but shaking hands with your rival is a clear signal that you understand the line that "The Godfather" made famous, "it's not personal, it's just business".

The Clintons have made it clear that they are ready to fight for this nomination and that they are willing to run an "ends justify the means" type of campaign. This may engender some bitter feelings, but if the Democrats have any hope of winning in the fall, then the loser of this campaign must throw their support wholeheartedly behind the winner. Turning your back on an opponent sends the wrong signal to your supports. It appears to be petty and will allow your supporters to act the same way. Obama's supporters, in particular, may be less inclined to vote for Clinton if she ends up with the nomination and he needs to make sure that he sends the right signals to them during the nomination battle. He needs to let them know that while this contest for the nomination may be hard fought, that at the end of the day, the Democratic party is united in it's efforts to recapture the White House.

This really was a mistake on his part. I know that his explanation will be something like, "Oh, I didn't even realize that she was there", or some such nonsense. He knew very well she was there (they were only four seats apart) and he clearly wanted to make a point, but it was the wrong place and time for that kind of grandstanding. It was strictly playground politics. It was childish and he should be above that kind of thing. Obama will be back out on the trail today with Ted Kennedy in tow and I'm sure he will continue selling his message of change and togetherness. Last night he lost a golden opportunity to show that he indeed does practice what he preaches.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Super Duper

Super Tuesday is fast approaching and the candidates are in full court press mode. The candidates are bringing out all their big guns and hoping to stake a claim as the front runner after next Tuesday. It is still a muddled campaign on the Republican side with the four major remaining candidates all looking to score points against their opponents.

Rudy Gulliani faces his Waterloo tomorrow night in Florida. He is counting on a comeback for the ages and the early voters in the state to provide him with a seemingly impossible victory. If Rudy loses (and all signals point to that fact), his campaign will be for all intents and purposes at an end. NY Republicans will start to abandon him faster than rats off a sinking ship. His departure from the race will leave a more defined race, but not necessarily a race that's any closer to being wrapped up. I can't say that I'll be sorry to see Rudy go. As someone who was in NY city on 9/11, I find Rudy's constant reference to that date extremely tiring and apparently so have the voters. It was quite something to see him try and mention 9/11 in every speech he game. Even when asked questions that had nothing to do with terrorism, he somehow would manage to shoehorn some reference to the fact to his leadership after the worst terrorist attack in US history. I always thought that Rudy would fall apart during the campaign. It seems that the more people see of him, the less they like him. His numbers in every state bear that out. He spent money in New Hampshire on TV ads and his numbers went down. He has spent almost 2 months in Florida and his numbers have decreased from over 40% to under 15%.

John McCain and Mitt Romney are engaged in a war of words. They are in a pitched battle for the top spot in Florida which is a winner take all state. A close second place gets you no delegates, so the the gloves are off in their race. McCain is trying to keep the focus on the War on Terrorism, while Romney is trying to make the economy the focus of the debate. I really can't read the Florida race. McCain's endorsement by the Governor will probably add to his vote totals, but I'm not sure that it will be enough to overcome the TV money of Romney. I find myself going back and forth on this one, but if I were a betting man, I'd probably have to put my money on Romney for the main reason that he almost has to win here. If McCain were to win, he would probably be unstoppable. He would steamroll through most of the super Tuesday states and build up an unassailable lead in delegates. While Romney will certainly have the money to continue, it would probably be a futile effort. Romney has to draw a line in the sand in the beaches of Florida.

The Democratic race is just as unsettled as their opponents across the aisle. Barack Obama scored a huge victory in South Carolina over the weekend and has backed that up with endorsements from Ted and Caroline Kennedy. The Clinton campaign has had to spend time defending statements from Bill Clinton and refuting claims that they are playing racial politics. While the win on Saturday and the endorsements are a boon to the Obama campaign, this may very well be the high point of his run for the nomination. He trails by large margins in many of the big states in play on Super Tuesday. He trails in NY, California, Massachusetts and New Jersey by double digits in the latest polls and there simply isn't enough time to make up the gap. His strategy at this point to try and compete on an individual district basis in order to split the delegates with Hillary. Basically, if he can manage to get 30% of the vote in most districts, he will end up splitting the delegates with Hillary. He might win in about 5 of the states (Illinois, Georgia, Alabama, Colorado and Minnesota being among the most likely, with a chance that he might be very competitive in New Jersy and Missouri) and be competitive in the delegate count, but Hillary will certainly come out of the night with a huge advantage in the number of states won.

In a race where perception is reality, Hillary will come out of the day as the front runner. Obama will then have to fight an uphill battle from there on out with very few primaries that he would enter as the favorite. John Edwards has said that he's in this for the long run and that will help Obama, because he hurts Hillary more than I believe he does Obama. The question is whether after Super Tuesday, Edwards will have the money to compete going forward. If he loses badly across the board, his support and coverage will dwindle. Edwards' best hope seems to be a major mis-step by the Clinton campaign where he then becomes the most viable alternative to those who are not inclined to vote for Obama.

The prospect of a brokered convention is exciting to a lot of political pundits, but it's a longshot that it would happen. I believe that Clinton express will start to roll after next Tuesday and it will take them all the way to the nomination. I think that Hillary Clinton is a very good candidate for President, but she also the most divisive figure (with the exception of George Bush) in politics today. Her negatives which have remained consistently in the 40-45 % range make her an easier target for the Republicans in the fall. They won't have to work very hard to stir up their base of support with tales of the Clinton White House years. There is nothing that will fuel the fire of conservative Republicans more than the possibility of two Clintons occupying the White House for the next four years.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

How the Race can be Lost

The Democrats are riding high these days with record turnouts in the primaries and with the economy heading the wrong direction and an unpopular Republican President in office, it seems that the White House is theirs for the taking. Of course it would only seem so. Here are the things that might happen to change that seemingly inevitable outcome:

1. Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination
- Hillary has the highest negatives of any politician with the exception of George Bush Jr. While she will attract new voters to the polls, she will also attract voters to show up to vote against her.

2. Black voters stay home because they feel disillusioned
- We have already seen this race become polarized along racial boundaries. The Clinton campaign has succeeded in sharpening racial lines in the campaign. And while they can claim to have pulled back from those kinds of attacks, you can't undo what has already been done. In the south, Blacks will vote for Obama in a 80/20 split and whites will vote for Hillary along the lines of 70/30. This means of course that she will win, but the cost may be very high for her. When the general election rolls around, African-American turnout may not be what is needed.

3. John McCain wins the Republican nomination
- John McCain is seen as a maverick and someone who is a straight talker. He definitely has an appeal to independent voters who for all intents and purposes will decide a close election. He is practically the only Republican candidate who can honestly say that he hasn't changed his position on anything. Everyone knows what he stands for and while people may disagree with him, they respect him for that.

4. There is a terrorist attack on U. S. soil
- If there happens to be a terrorist attack before the general election that will push people toward the candidate that they feel would be best equipped to handle that kind of situation and clearly that would be John McCain. Given his record of military service and his stance on the war in Iraq, he would be positioned to benefit if that were to happen.

5. Barack Obama accepts a VP slot
- Hillary's negative numbers are out in the open. I would dare say that Obama's are for the present, in the closet, so to speak. It has been said that people don't vote for the second person on a ticket (which must be true because somehow Dan Quayle was VP for four years), but there a lot of people in this country who would come out and vote against Obama if he were on the ticket. America likes to think of itself as the land of opportunity, but that is an ideal, not necessarily a fact. Hillary's vocal objectors combined with Obama's more silent objectors could lead to the biggest negative vote in U.S. history.

6. The economy doesn't actually head into a recession
- All signs now point toward a recession, but if that doesn't happen, it can only benefit the Republican candidate. George Bush has just proposed a tax rebate for millions of Americans and the now Democratic controlled Congress has to very careful about how they approach this. They cannot be seen as trying to deny that money to the middle class. They might be a backlash against them if they try to stop the rebate. If they go along with it, then the Republican president can claim that his party is trying to help the middle and lower class, regardless of how they have been labeled.

7. Bill Clinton becomes the focus of the campaign
- For the most part Bill Clinton has been a huge plus for the Hillary Clinton campaign, but there is the chance that he may also help energize and mobilize the opposition. I don't think that there has been a more hated Democrat by Republicans in my lifetime than Bill Clinton. I'm not sure why that is exactly, but to a certain segment of the Republican base he is akin to the devil. His role in a Hillary Clinton administration can be used to try and get out the vote against Hillary.

I have no idea how many of these will happen, but it wouldn't take all of them for the Democrats to actually lose the general election next fall. If it does happen, just remember where you heard it first.