Thursday, February 07, 2008

Handicapping the Race

The general mainstream media narrative at the moment suggests that Tuesday was a tie. It further suggests that we’re in a “horserace” and that it will essentially be tied for the foreseeable future. Yes, this is what they get paid for. Stunning insight and analysis.

I’ve been reading about Blogostan and I’ve come to some conclusions I thought I would share.

It wasn’t a tie

Prior to Super Tuesday most pundits were suggesting that Obama needed to stay within 200 pledged delegates of Hillary Clinton to have a chance. The wide expectation was that she had a strong advantage and that he would be lucky stay close enough to compete. This post accurately sums up this sentiment.

But Obama just killed on Tuesday. He won more states and more delegates. He won red states and states all across the country. Any spin from the Hillary camp that it was a tie, so carelessly absorbed in the national media narrative is little more than that – spin. She should have won big the other day and instead, she survived.

Advantage Obama.

It’s getting worse for HRC

There are essentially two factors that spell trouble for HRC (although some articles suggest 5 or more factors, I think these are the two worth mentioning). First, she’s running out of money. As confirmed by NBC, her financial situation is getting increasingly dire. Not only did HRC loan her campaign $5 million, but some of her staffers are working without pay. Obama just destroyed her in January ($32 million to $15 million) and, while the HRC campaign is touting its $3 million raised since Tuesday, Obama is claiming $6 million $7 million raised.

Generally, when presidential campaigns start running out of money that spells the beginning of the end. Just as Rudy Guiliani. I’m not suggesting that this is the end of the HRC campaign. But it is true that having money troubles in February, in a race that, as the clear favorite (near incumbent), she should be winning outright, speaks to underlying trouble that is not likely to go away.

But aside from the general funding issues, the larger issue is that Obama just has more money and can spend more to get his message out than she can. The HRC campaign’s response to this dynamic is to propose a series of debates which would offer free publicity for her and her message. I hope that Obama rejects them. He doesn’t fair particularly well in the debate format at this point and he doesn’t need them to keep winning. And the less free advertising the HRC campaign gets, the more money she has to spend. It’s a win-win cycle for Obama.

The second factor related to the future of the HRC campaign is that the election calendar favors Obama in the near future. There are two reasons for this. First, the calendar is spread out. After next Tuesday, there is a gap of a week before Hawaii and Wisconsin, and then another gap until March 4th. This is good for Obama because the more people get to know him, the more they like him.

The rest of February is positive for Obama in another sense as well as the states voting and the formats both favor him. In terms of format, Obama is 8-1 in caucuses. Many HRC supporters are griping about that and the reason is that Nebraska, Washington, Maine, and Hawaii all have caucuses in February. It’s not inconceivable that he could sweep (the unknown is Maine). Combine that with positive demographics in Louisiana, Virginia, DC, and Maryland and it’s almost certain that he has 6 states and DC in the bag. The US Virgin Islands is anyone’s guess as is Wisconsin. But the point is that there is a chance that Obama could win out in the rest of February and win the majority of the 447 pledged delegates up for grabs. That would spell disaster for HRC.

HRC supporters in Blogostan are going apesh*t

It’s always a dodgy game taking the pulse of greater blogostan since the internets is filled with crazy people who have little more than ravenous passion and a keyboard but it is telling that the average HRC supporter is doing 2 things: whining about the caucus format and spinning Tuesday as a loss for Obama. They’re also going generally crazy and making arguments that are getting progressively more stupid as things get worse for HRC. Maybe it doesn’t mean much for blogostan is filled with radicalism and bad arguments, but it is noteworthy that the shrillness of these complaints is increasing.

I see two options for the future

I was watching CNN’s John King last night (who is a total badass and never gets enough air time – damn Wolf Blitzer) and he went race by race making reasonable projections of the number of delegates that Obama and Clinton were likely to win. The result was that neither won enough to gain the nomination.

I think this is the likely scenario. Both have their strengths and the democratic electorate is essentially divided between the two. White women and Latinos are opting for HRC, men and blacks for Obama. There’s a divide on class and age as well with lower income and older folks going for HRC and higher income and younger folks for Obama. I don’t see these dynamics changing greatly in the near future.

What this means is that neither is likely to win big states by great majorities (over 10%) from here on out. And in a proportional distribution system, when the votes are close, so are the delegates awarded.

There is, however, an outside chance that Obama wins out in February. If that happens, I think the HRC campaign collapses. I wrote about this yesterday with my winners-win argument but more to the point, if the perception is that Obama has gained inevitability, the money will dry up for HRC and she simply won’t be able to compete for air time, etc.

As a party, this is the outcome we should hope for. It’s a bitter pill for HRC supporters but faced with the option of a brokered convention or an early Obama nomination, we should opt for the Obama nomination. The last democratic convention that was brokered didn’t work out so well (see Hart, Gary 1984). And in an election year in which the Dems have a clear advantage, it behooves us to unify behind the strongest candidate early so as to beat back the McCain McMachine. It is my distinct hope that Obama sweeps February and HRC gracefully steps aside so that we can shift the focus to destroying the GOP. I know that is an audacious hope (intended) and that an HRC supporter would vehemently disagree with me but she doesn’t have a predetermined right to be President and I think at some point you have to acknowledge that she can’t win, she can only tie. (Maybe the same can be said about Obama but he was never supposed to win and I think, at this point, he’s got the best shot at the nomination through the primary process.)

Look for the issues and focus to change

It’s the economy stupid and it still is. It is not without irony that 2008 is mirroring 1992. There’s a Bush in the White House, his popularity has hovered just under 30% for months, there was an Iraq War, and the economy is tanking. Up until now, the big issues have been health care and Iraq. These are issues both candidates have pushed for obvious reasons. HRC sees health care as her strength while Obama sees Iraq as his. They’ve both won and lost votes based on those selling points.

But it’s time to change the focus. The economy is tanking and at the end of the day, people care more about the money coming in and their jobs than they do about anything else. Expect both candidates to refocus their message. Obama started doing this on Tuesday night when he spoke about his experiences in Southside Chicago. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. He’s going to have to articulate more details for economic stimulation and support for homeowners on the verge of foreclosure. I’d advise he adopts some of the Edwards platform on the homeowner issue (Edwards owned that issue) and that he talk about major infrastructure work – repairing bridges, etc.

Both candidates will talk about the economy more than anything in the days and weeks to come and it remains to be seen if Obama can connect with those most at risk in these days of decline. But message and policy are both important and it’s up to the candidates to come up with winning talking points.

But more than just issues, I see both candidates trying to reach out to the voters they haven’t been winning. Obama did this after New Hampshire and significantly closed the gender gap. So far he’s been basically getting nowhere with Latinos (race is a factor in my opinion) but I expect him to reach out to Latinos and have some success as they get to know him (so far, Latino support has come mainly from the Clinton name and not from any particular policy issue). For HRC it’s a bit more complicated. I don’t think she’s going to turn too many of Obama’s target support to her side, but she will give it a try.

But either way, I think the candidates are going to reformulate both the message and the target audience (to a certain extent). These changes in tactics and strategy are going to have huge play in the coming weeks but, oddly, I don’t think they’ll make much of a difference in February. Instead, I think the change in message will help in places like Texas, West Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi, and Ohio, among others. So even if HRC does make inroads here, I don’t know how it starts helping her until March 4th at the earliest.


If I were to bet on it, I’d put money on neither securing enough delegates to win the nomination outright. That seems the most likely outcome. But, I have to say, I like Obama’s chances. He’s got the money, the favorable calendar, the organization, and the momentum. In some ways, he’s gone from challenger to favorite. That doesn’t mean he’s going to win, but he’s got a great shot.

Update: A couple more links to bolster my story. First, an AP article providing more details about the calendar schedule for February. It notes that HRC expects to lose MD, DC, VA, WI, and Hawaii. The other link is the story I referenced above that details 5 reasons for HRC concern. And now, two extra points:

1. It looks like the Edwards supporters went for Obama. No link but I've seen it written in several places.

2. HRC's entire campaign was based on "inevitability". People who suggest Obama didn't win on Tuesday either have very short memories or a tenuous relationship with the truth. He smashed the central premise of her campaign to bits and they're reeling. There's even talk of a shakeup at the top now. Getting interesting.



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