27 February 2008

Led by children?

Does it seem to you that we are a nation of ninth graders? Or at least a nation led by a bunch of ninth graders.

Or maybe I'm not being fair to ninth graders.

While those running for the highest office in the land, and their surrogates, have provided dozens of examples in the past few weeks of "nah-nah-nah-nah nah-nah" politics, all you really have to do is go back 24 hours to have more of it than you can really stomach.

Today the low-brow commentary involved John McCain and Barack Obama, as McCain jumped on a slight misstatement made by Obama on an awkwardly worded hypothetical question by MSNBC's Tim Russert. (Click the link above for the full back-and-forth between McCain and Obama). About the only thing missing here is a "he started it" or a "see you after school dude" comment.

McCain's sarcastic rant against Obama came just 24 hours after the Arizona senator apologized to Obama for comments made by some moron radio host in Cincinnati who was a "warm-up act" at a McCain rally yesterday.

We also had the much-publicized nonsense about Louis Farrakhan's support for Obama and Obama's rejection of that support.

In this case, it's Russert who seemed bent on continuing to ram a question down Obama's throat when he'd already answered it. And of course Hillary Clinton chimed in with her "teacher, teacher, I have a better answer" response.

Which of course followed the whole Obama-in-Somali-dress episode, and the Three Faces of Hillary act which we commented on yesterday.

While criticizing your opponent is what political debate is all about, it seems we are incapable as a society of discussing the issues on an adult level.

One side is always looking to smear the other, or trip up the opponent rather than convincing people that they have the better plan.

The media seems to think its only purpose is to play "gotcha" or to make outrageous comments of their own, like Chelsea Clinton is being "pimped out" because she wants to help her mom win the election or Hillary's entire political career is based on sympathy for her having to endure the Lewinsky affair.

In the days before the 24-hour noise networks any newsperson making either statement would have been shown the door immediately. Now such inappropriateness seems to be cultivated by those networks.

The sad reality is we haven't even made it through February yet. There's still eight months to go and you have to wonder just how ridiculous it will get.

25 February 2008

Silly season indeed

During the most-recent Democratic debate Barack Obama said the political "silly season" was underway with Hillary Clinton's accusation that Obama plagiarized words from another politician's speech even though that politician not only gave Obama his blessing to use the words but encouraged him to do so.

The silly season may have reached it's peek today with wide-spread distribution of the photo of Obama shown above.

It's a legitimate (not doctored) picture of Obama, on a visit it Kenya in 2006, where he donned local ceremonial garb, much like thousands of politicians have done when they visit overseas.

(Think 'W' walking through the garden holding hands with some foreign male head of state because that's what they do over there.)

The picture was unearthed by The Drudge Report, saying it was obtained from members of the Clinton campaign. (somewhat like the Karl Rove campaign tactics Clinton accused Obama of using on Saturday)

The Obama camp called it "divisive" and campaign manager David Plouffe called it "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election."

Clinton's spokesman Howard Wolfson, on a teleconference with reporters today essentially said 'don't look at us.'

"I just want to make it very clear that we were not aware of it, the campaign didn't sanction it and don't know anything about it."

The campaign had earlier issued a statement in which it did not come anywhere close to a denial that the photo may have come from somewhere inside the Clinton camp.


If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.

This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry.

We will not be distracted."

But the Clinton campaign is indeed being distracted, or more accurately they are the ones doing the distracting - even if the Obama photo was not their handiwork.

Clinton today made a foreign policy speech in Washington, an area that - at least by her claims of superior experience - should be her strong suit over Obama.

But the silly picture of Obama looking like a member of the Taliban is getting all the attention.

And in her speech on foreign policy, Clinton made a few more incendiary remarks about Obama, contrasting his calls for talks with Iran and Cuba with his assertion that we should make an incursion into Pakistan, which harbors Osama bin Laden, and clean out the al Qaeda and Taliban elements who thrive there on the border with Afghanistan.

"He wavers from seeming to believe that mediation and meetings without preconditions can solve the world's intractable problems, to advocating rash, unilateral military action without cooperation from our allies in the most sensitive region of the world."--Hillary Clinton

The criticism of Obama - legitimate political criticism in most circumstances - becomes nothing more than "more mud thrown today by Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama" on the newscasts, if the speech is covered at all.

Unless you have been spending your recent days contemplating the meaning of life, your navel or the likely affect of Ralph Nader's entry into the presidential race, you are no doubt familiar with - and sick of seeing - Clinton's sarcastic rant yesterday which painted Obama and his followers as modern day Peter Pans, who refuse to grow up and face the realities of the real world.

Or her scolding of Obama Saturday over the campaign leaflets Obama's campaign distributed in Ohio.

All which followed her make-nice moment at the end of Thursday's debate.

The bluster seems to indicate that the "go-negative" wing of the campaign has won the day heading into the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries next Tuesday.

And just where has the strategy taken her?

A USA Today/Gallup poll today shows Obama up by 12 points nationally, though the latest three-day Gallup tracking poll shows Obama with a much smaller margin.

A Public Policy Polling poll shows Clinton's once huge lead in Ohio down to 4 points.

An American Research Group poll shows Obama ahead in Texas and facing a narrowing deficit in Ohio.

The University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll shows Clinton with a narrowing lead, and so does the latest Quinnipiac Poll, though her lead in that survey is still in double digits.

With so much negativity in the air, tomorrow night's debate at my Alma Mater - Cleveland State University - should be interesting.

22 February 2008

What that ending was really all about

Sometimes it's best to put a few hours between yourself and an event before deciding just what to make of it.

Such is the case with the final 30 seconds or so of last night's Democratic debate. (This clip is a lot longer than 30 seconds, but you can fast-forward it to get to the relevant part).

Immediately following Hillary Clinton's conciliatory comments at the end of the debate, the talking heads were trying to decide what to make of it.

I happened to be watching MSNBC's coverage, where Keith Olberman seemed to be taking the comments not only as a concession speech by Clinton but also a bid to get her name on the short list of VP candidates.

NBC's Chuck Todd thought the moment was clearly an indication that Clinton realizes she might well lose the nomination but also a moment that might help her bid.

Clinton ended the debate on a VERY conciliatory note and for the first time sounded like a candidate who realized she might not win. It must be an odd position for her but the confidence she exuded for just about the entire debate disappeared there at the end. I wonder if showing some vulnerability might actually help her with some undecided voters.

Some pundits pointed to other seemingly conciliatory signs in the debate, most notably Clinton's answer to the question about superdelegates possibly deciding the nomination. She sidestepped the question and simply said, "we'll have a unified Democratic party" in the fall.

Still there were moments of tension between Clinton and Barack Obama, on healthcare and when Clinton tried (for what we can only hope is the last time) to score points on the plagiarism non-issue, saying Obama stood for "change you can Xerox."

Some of the talking heads on TV decided that Clinton's double-edged approach to the debate was indicative of the major split in her campaign - between those who think going big-time negative is her only hope and those who think such an approach will do more harm than good.

There may be something to that, but it certainly seems odd that the candidate would head out on to the stage for the most important debate of her career with two conflicting strategies.

Here's my guess.

The campaign's hope was Clinton could put Obama on the defensive during the debate - over healthcare or "plagairism" or SOMETHING - or, that he would somehow screw up himself.

I think the campaign felt if that didn't happen, then their only shot to salvage anything out of the evening would be for Clinton to get in the last word with something that would get serious play and win her some empathy, if not sympathy.

Clinton's closing comments - which were clearly hatched prior to their delivery on stage - would serve two purposes: tamp down the criticism that the senator seems to have taken a win-at-all-costs posture and give her plenty of airplay for at least a couple of news cycles.

I think the comments hit the pre-determined bullseye.

19 February 2008

Obama continues to roll

Barack Obama posted a larger than expected win in Wisconsin by carving chunks of support from Hillary Clinton's coalition, much as he did in the Potomac primaries.

Let's make this simple by skipping a lot of verbiage and go right to the numbers in the voting groups that Clinton had been carrying until last week's primaries in the mid-Atlantic.

Women: Clinton won this group tonight 50%-48%. Clinton had dominated this voting block until last week in Virginia when Obama won with about 60%. So Clinton regained some ground here.

White women: Clinton won 53%-45% in Wisconsin. The results were nearly identical in Virginia a week ago.

Families with income of $50,000/yr or below: Clinton again lost this once-solid demographic for her 46%-53%.

Education: Among high-school graduates the exit polls showed a dead heat 49%-49% - again an area where Clinton seems to be losing ground in a once-solid voting bloc.

Union membership: Obama topped Clinton in households where at least one family member is in a labor union 51%-47%. Among voters who themselves are in a union, the results were a tie.

Negative campaigning: 26% of those polled said that only Clinton attacked her opponent unfairly, and among that group 91% went for Obama; Just 6% said that Obama was the only candidate to attack his opponent unfairly. 27% said both took cheap shots at the other side.

Age: Obama won all age groups except those voters 65 and over. In Virginia Obama won literally every age group, so Clinton did reclaim some of her base among older Americans.

To summarize: Clinton regained some women, but didn't come anywhere near the levels she had wrung up among in the early primaries. She failed to take back those earning $50,000 or below, and failed to take back her lead among union members and union families. She also was unable to repeat her early performance among voters with only a high school education.

Her less-than-stellar performance in the lower-education, lower-income and unionized-worker groups does not bode well for Clinton as the race moves to Ohio and later to Pennsylvania.


Just two more observations and then we'll call it a night.

For the second time in key points in this campaign (South Carolina being the other), the voters have told the candidates - the Clintons in particular - that they are sick of negative campaigning.

The other point is a thought for Obama.

In breaking with campaign etiquette, Obama began his victory speech in Houston tonight before Clinton finished her non-concession speech in Youngstown.

It's not the first time that Clinton has not officially conceded on election night during this campaign - a breech of etiquette in itself.

But Obama would be wise from here on in to keep to the high road because his decision to upstage Clinton tonight smacked of the arrogance of a candidate who smells the nomination. It was unbecoming of the campaign he has tried to wage so far and he should think twice before doing it again.

Sometime around the time my alarm clock goes off at 4:30 a.m. EST we'll know what happened in Hawaii tonight. If you stay up for that you are more hardcore than I.

18 February 2008

Obama-Bloomberg third-party ticket and other nonsense

I like to stay away from just collecting and parroting news stories on this site.

There are a number of very good collating sites already, and in fact we prominently link to one of the best -
Taegan Goddard's PoliticalWire.

But because there are several things that popped up today that are worth knowing about and commenting on, I've decided to do a little collating - with some commentary - myself.

The most eye-catching is a report today by that sterling journalist Armstrong Williams, who reports that Barack Obama has a Plan B in mind if he should win the support of the voted-in delegates only to lose the Democratic nomination when it's in the hands of the super delegates.

Williams says Obama has talked with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg about teaming up on a third-party ticket (with Obama at the top) if Obama doesn't get the nod from the Democrats.

The ever-principled Mr. Williams quotes "the word on the street" and "sources" to back up his story.

You might remember that
Williams was paid by the White House several years ago to promote President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program on Williams' syndicated TV show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

So you might just want to take today's story - and anything else that springs from Williams' keyboard - with about six shakers of salt.


Grasping at strawmen

Now on to today's next bit of ridiculousness.

Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson has accused Barack Obama of plagiarism for using lines from another politician in a speech Obama gave over the weekend.

The Clinton campaign's latest - lame - attempt to find a way to bring down Obama is to argue that because Obama gives a much better speech than does Clinton he must be somehow less able to govern effectively.

The "all-talk-no-action" accusation has been used in the past, against Massachusetts Gov. Duval Patrick in his 2006 race against Republican Kerry Healey, who accused Patrick of being strong on rhetoric and short on specifics.

Patrick, during his campaign, responded with the following lines, which were pretty much exactly the same words Obama used in the same way over the weekend.

“ ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ — just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ — just words? ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ Just words? ‘I have a dream’ — just words?”

Patrick's point then -as Obama's is now - is that part of being a good leader is being able to move people to action with your words.

Patrick, in a
New York Times story this morning, said he and Obama had anticipated that Clinton might use the same strategy on Obama that Healey tried on Patrick, and that he - Patrick - has no problem with Obama using his words.

Here's an excerpt from the Times story:

In a telephone interview on Sunday, Mr. Patrick said that he and Mr. Obama first talked about the attacks from their respective rivals last summer, when Mrs. Clinton was raising questions about Mr. Obama’s experience, and that they discussed them again last week.

Both men had anticipated that Mr. Obama’s rhetorical strength would provide a point of criticism. Mr. Patrick said he told Mr. Obama that he should respond to the criticism, and he shared language from his campaign with Mr. Obama’s speechwriters.

Mr. Patrick said he did not believe Mr. Obama should give him credit.

“Who knows who I am? The point is more important than whose argument it is,” said Mr. Patrick, who telephoned The New York Times at the request of the Obama campaign. “It’s a transcendent argument.”

Said Obama : "I was on the stump, and he had suggested that we use these lines. I thought they were good lines. I'm sure I should have (credited Patrick)— didn't this time. I really don't think this is too big of a deal."

Seems to me like it's not plagiarism if the two men discussed using the comments ahead of time.

It seems also that an increasingly panicked Clinton camp is grasping at straws here.

Pooh poohing the super delegate strategy

One of Clinton's staunchest African-American backers, Rep. Charles Rangel of Harlem said the Clinton campaign should not be counting on the super delegates to pull her effort out of the fire.

The Associated Press reports Rangel made the comments at a gathering in Albany last night.

"It's the people [who are] going to govern who selects our next candidate and not superdelegates," Rangel said last night at a dinner for the
New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators conference in Albany. "The people's will is what's going to prevail at the convention and not people who decide what the people's will is," he added.

Meanwhile, another Clinton backer and her fellow senator from New York, Charles Schumer, told Tim Russert yesterday on Meet the Press that he also sees no good coming from a nomination being sealed by the super delegates.

"For the sake of party unity, [Democratic National Committee chairman] Howard Dean and the two candidates will have to get together if neither candidate has 2,025 ... and come up with a strategy. Each candidate will have to buy into that strategy."

A little something more for the Clinton camp to be concerned about today.

17 February 2008

Will Texas be Hillary's Alamo?

There seems to be a general consensus among most politicos that Hillary Clinton must win in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania to keep her candidacy alive.

Ohio, at least according to the polls, doesn't seem to be a big problem for Clinton.

The same is true for Pennsylvania, though that race is two months away and who knows what can happen by then?

Texas, on the other hand, is a lot more problematic.

The Dallas Morning News on Sunday did a long, analytical piece about the Democratic race in the state, interviewing party officials, campaign operatives and political experts.

Based on that analysis and recent polling, it's beginning to look like Clinton may not pull off the kind of win she needs in Texas, and may pick up fewer delegates there than Barack Obama, whether or not she wins the popular vote.

"Hillary needs to maintain her advantage with women voters, which seems to be slipping nationally," said Democratic consultant Glenn Smith in the Dallas Morning News article.

American Research Group's Texas poll, released Friday, indicates Clinton seems to be OK there. She
leads among women 54% to 42%.

Wayne Slater, who wrote the piece for the paper described a winning coalition for Clinton this way:

"The Clinton blueprint suggests getting two-thirds of Hispanics, a majority of women and enough moderate 'yellow dog' Democrats in East Texas to win."

This is where the problems start for Clinton, at least in the last ARG polling.

The poll shows Clinton leading among Latino voters in Texas by a 44% to 42% margin.
In the Democratic races as a whole so far, Clinton has been able to reach the needed two-thirds threshold among Latinos.

But she didn't do nearly as well in the last round of races - the Potomac primaries. In Maryland Clinton got 55% of the Latino vote to Obama's 45%, according to exit polls. In Virginia, Clinton trailed Obama among Latinos 46% to 54%.

The Potomac primaries were held two days after Patti Solis Doyle - the first Hispanic to manage a presidential campaign - resigned as Clinton's campaign manager.

The move has angered some Hispanic leaders, who feel Solis Doyle was being scapegoated for the candidate's current losing streak.

The move clearly is not going to help Clinton in Texas, where the latest ARG poll shows her trailing
overall to Obama 48% to 42%.

(Editor's note: ARG polls tend to run contrary to the overall body of polls. For example, most polls have Clinton leading Obama in Texas by a number in the upper-single digits. And you may have noticed ARG (in the link above) shows Clinton leading Obama in Wisconsin by six points. Most polls have it the other way around. Still, with ARG showing Clinton and Obama virtually tied among Latinos it is hard to imagine ARG is so far off that Clinton could still have the two-to-one margin she needs in that voting block.)

Democratic political consultant Ed Martin told the Dallas Morning News he thinks Hispanic turnout will be heavy, but in proportion with overall turnout.

But he said
"The real vote change could be urban: African-Americans. I think (African-American turnout) is going to be much, much larger."

Having won the African-American vote by an 8-1 margin so far, a bulge in turnout by that constituency in Texas, obviously, would help Obama there.

Whether or not these two factors will be enough for Obama to beat Clinton in the popular vote in Texas, it seems clear they will at least allow him to keep Clinton from the 20-point victory she needs in the state (as well as in Ohio and Pennsylvania) to bring her back to even with Obama in the number of committed (voter-picked) delegates to the convention.

In fact, as the Dallas Morning News points out in its Sunday article, it's is entirely possible that Clinton could win the popular vote in Texas and still lose the delegate tally.

"As it happens, the state Senate districts with the most delegates – Austin, Houston and Dallas – are all seen as prime Obama territory. As a result of that and other quirks in the process, it is possible that even if Mrs. Clinton wins the popular vote on March 4 – and declares victory that evening – Mr. Obama could actually come away with more delegates."

Having said all that, there's still the matter of Wisconsin, and with most polls showing a spread of roughly four or five points, Obama is no lock there and an upset this Tuesday would cast a whole different light on next Tuesday.

12 February 2008

Obama widens coalition in Potomac primaries

Barack Obama made it another clean sweep tonight, this time in the so-called Potomac primaries in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C.

The victories - when the votes are counted - will be by roughly 25 to 30 points in Virginia and Maryland, much the same as Obama's wins in the contests this past weekend. The victory in D.C. will be closer to 50 points.

But to really absorb the magnitude of Obama's wins, you have to look at the exit polls, where you will find that certain voting blocks that have been going for Hillary Clinton in previous contests may be starting to be won over by Obama.

In Virginia, Obama got 50% of the white vote to 49% for Clinton. Some 56% of white men went for Obama.

In the 60-plus age group, Obama won 54% to 46%.

Obama also won among all income groups, and won by 20 to 30 points in the various groups at $50,000 or below - groups (like those mentioned above) that Clinton has won in previous races.

Obama also got 60% of those who maxed out their education with a high school diploma, another group that Clinton has attracted until now.

Some 70% of those who identified themselves as Republicans in Virginia voted for Obama. Among independents, 66% went for Obama.

Obama also won among Catholics 50% to 48%, a first-time win for him in that category as well.

Sparing the details, Obama made similar inroads among the same groups of voters in Maryland , though Clinton won the overall white vote 51% to 46%.

Perhaps the most disconcerting numbers for Clinton are the gains made by Obama among lower-educated and lower-income voters. These groups are going to be key in upcoming races in Wisconsin, Texas and Ohio.

The same is true for the gain in Catholic voters, a key constituency in cities like Cleveland and all of northern Ohio, as well as Milwaukee and other ethnic enclaves in Wisconsin.

The bad news for Clinton is the widening delegate count for Obama, but the worse news for the New York senator is Obama's widening coalition.

On the Republican side, John McCain was the winner in all three races. He's projected by the networks to have won big in Maryland and D.C.

But Mike Huckabee continues be that annoying flea buzzing around his face, getting a little over 40% of the vote in Virginia.

09 February 2008

Huckabee crashes McCain coming-out party

John McCain's first Election Day as the GOP's presumptive nominee was one big flop.

The biggest punch in the stomach for McCain came mid-day out of Kansas, where he found he lost that state's Republican caucuses to Mike Huckabee by a whopping 60%-24%.

The day didn't get much better as it moved into evening.

With 98% of the vote tabulated in Louisiana, McCain trailed Huckabee 44% to 42%.

And out West in Washington State, with nearly 80% of the vote counted it looks as though McCain won't get over the 30% threshold, if he manages to hold on at all.

The numbers I'm looking at as I write this are McCain 26%, Huckabee 24%, Ron Paul 21% and the no-longer-running Mitt Romney 16%.

According to Louisiana exit polls, McCain was unable to come up with the right answer to the big question he faces.

Can he get the party's right wing behind him?

Evangelicals made up 57% of the GOP electorate in the state, with 56% going for Huckabee and 31% for McCain. Among those who described themselves as politically conservative (71% of GOP voters), 50% went for Huckabee and 34% went for McCain.

There was no exit polling in Washington or Kansas, since those states held caucuses.

But with McCain unable to get more than about one in four votes there, and four candidates finishing within about 10 points of each other top-to-bottom, it's clear there's something Republicans in Washington don't like about McCain as well.

And Kansas was a major repudiation of the party's likely nominee.

Most of the GOP's winner-take-all contests have already been completed, so McCain will get a slice of the delegates in nearly all of the races from here on in.

He will get enough delegates to win the nomination.

But with many more nights like this, the Republican nominee will cross the finish line with a bloody nose and a black eye.
A huge sweep for Obama

Barack Obama rolled through today's three-state contest with huge victories in all three.

Obama pulled 68% of the vote in caucuses in Washington and Nebraska.

With nearly 90% of the votes counted in Louisiana it appears that Obama will win there with about 55% of the vote.

So what can read into this?

With the wide margins of victory Obama put up tonight, he will have a clear lead in the committed-delegate count (the ones people actually voted for) and I'm hearing "experts" on TV projecting he'll be within 25 delegates of Clinton when the super delegates are added in.

With Obama holding large leads in the primaries in Virginia, Maryland and DC on Tuesday, Obama could threaten to take the lead in both counts by next Wednesday morning.

Tonight's wins were not surprising, but the margins of victory were, and that should have the Clinton campaign on edge.

Clinton needs to pick up a win in Maine's caucus tomorrow or in Wisconsin or Hawaii on Feb. 19 to put a speed bump in Obama's path before the next big round of primaries on March 3, when Texas and Ohio - right now Clinton states - will predominate.

08 February 2008

Why the Democrats could lose

The current Republican occupant of the White House has had approval ratings in the low 30s for years now.

The GOP's presumptive nominee in the race to replace George Bush is the biggest hawk on the most divisive issue in the country - the Iraq war.

And that likely nominee - John McCain - is despised by a large and vocal pillar of the party's base.

Meanwhile, the Democrats started the nominating process with five or six candidates that most everyone seemed to like. It was like a candidate candy store.

Weeks later there are two candidates still standing and the Dems like them both so much they just can't seem to decide who to choose.

And therein lies the problem.

It is pretty much a mathematical certainty that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama will have enough committed delegates in their corner to win the nomination when the primaries and caucuses have all come to an end.

Since I've previously mentioned my shortcomings in math, you don't have to take my word for it.
Here's the argument, as made by washingtonpost.com's Paul Kane:

We've done a bad job of explaining this, but it is now basically mathematically impossible for either Clinton or Obama to win the nomination through the regular voting process (meaning the super-delegates decide this one, baby!).

Here's the math. There are 3,253 pledged delegates, those doled out based on actual voting in primaries and caucuses. And you need 2,025 to win the nomination.

To date, about 55% of those 3,253 delegates have been pledged in the voting process -- with Clinton and Obamb roughly splitting them at about 900 delegates a piece.

That means there are now only about 1,400 delegates left up for grabs in the remaining states and territories voting.

So, do the math. If they both have about 900 pledged delegates so far, they need to win more than 1,100 of the remaining 1,400 delegates to win the nomination through actual voting.

Ain't gonna happen, barring a stunning scandal or some new crazy revelation. So, they'll keep fighting this thing out, each accumulating their chunk of delegates, one of them holding a slight edge and bothing finishing the voting process with 1,600 or so delegates.

And then the super delegates decide this thing.

That's the math.

Ah the super delegate thing again.

Face it folks of the Democratic Party. It ain't going away.

So far in the Democratic contests, thousands of new voters have come into the process, excited - presumably - by the chance to vote for potentially the first women or first African American president. Or perhaps because they are just plain excited by two solid candidates.

Whatever the reason, Democrats are excited.

But, as we saw in the days before South Carolina, Democratic voters seem to be strongly attracted to "their" candidate, and when push comes to shove the heat starts to rise and bad blood boils to the surface.

There are people who are staunchly behind Clinton. And there are clearly "Obama" voters.

Before the race got so tense, many Democrats would probably have told you they'd be happy with either.

But now they seem to have taken sides.

And, these new, turned-on and very partial voters are going to have their decision made for them by 800 or so professional politicians.

All those folks - or more accurately half of them - who sent $50 Obama's way, or came to Clinton's rescue when they found out she was lending her own campaign lots of money are going to see that their money went down the drain.

The volunteers who knocked on doors, harassed commuters at the train station or manned phones at the corner campaign office will see that their work was for naught.
How many of those folks do you think will repeat those important tasks in November if "their" candidate is shown the door by the politicos?

And then we have the question of Florida and Michigan.

Like most of us, I have to presume the big-wigs at the Democratic National Committee never imagined the race would last past Tsunami Tuesday, and so stripping the two rogue states of their delegates as punishment for scheduling their primaries too early seemed like a good idea.

Who knew those delegates would be critical?

And now one of the candidates - the only major candidate to keep her name on the ballot in Michigan and the only major candidate to visit Florida during the primary period - is pushing to count those votes.

That puts the party big-wigs in the position of taking sides.

If they stand their ground, they're taking Obama's side.

If they relent and seat the delegates at the convention, they're taking Clinton's side.

Once again, how will that play with the supporters of the candidate who "lost" on that one?
There is some talk of a re-vote, or of holding caucuses in the two states, to make the results more equitable. This isn't a great solution, but it may be better than the alternative.

Most news organizations agree that Clinton is favored by more of the super delegates who have already declared their preference (but are free to change their minds), so that gives her a bit of an upper hand.

Yet most polls conducted over the past several months -
including one released today by Time magazine - have shown Obama doing better in one-on-one match-ups with McCain in November.

So while the party regulars favor Clinton at the moment, they may be doing so at the expense of the candidate the polls say may be a slightly stronger choice for the general election.

Even the results of the GOP primary season have conspired to throw a clinker into the campaign that the Dems "can't possibly lose."

Although he has tried furiously to prove otherwise to conservative GOP voters, McCain is probably the most center-right of the candidates on the Republican side. (Although with Mitt Romney it was pretty difficult to tell where he actually stood on the issues, regardless of what he was saying on the campaign trail).

McCain's work on campaign reform and a reasonable solution to the problem of illegal immigrants are just two examples of his tendency to head to the center ground.

McCain has two choices for November.

He can continue to stay to the right and try to win over and turn out the right wing of his party. If he can excite that group, he improves his chances.
But the evidence of the past few days indicates that he will have a hard sell.

Also, if he stays to the right, he leaves the center and left wide open for one of two Democrats who won't have much trouble filling that space.

McCain's other choice is to veer back toward the center.

If he does, the right flank will stay home in November but he'll pick up some votes in the center, the very same votes he'll be taking away from his opponent.

So which strategy do you think he'll follow?

There has been talk - mostly wistful longing for the old, old days by students of political history - of a compromise candidate (Al Gore?) emerging from the back rooms at the convention.

It seems doubtful the Democrats would take that option, but right now I don 't see an easy way out of the dilemma the party pooh bahs created with the super delegate system.


By the way, if you're a Democrat and wondering who your congressman, governor or other local party pooh bah is supporting - if anyone -
click here.

07 February 2008

McCain and the conservatives

It's all over - except for the shouting, or gnashing of teeth on the far right of the Grand Old Party.

With Mitt Romney's departure from the race today, John McCain will be the GOP candidate in November.

With just under 1,200 delegates still to be chosen in the Republican races ahead, Mike Huckabee would have to get just under 1,000 to get the nomination.

So, barring something that would fall into the "God forbid" category, McCain will carry the GOP flag this fall.

So the big question becomes, can McCain unite the Republican Party?

More specifically, can he win over the ultra-conservative wing of the party?

He tried today - at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

"It is my sincere hope that even if you believe I have occasionally erred in my reasoning as a fellow conservative, you will still allow that I have, in many ways important to all of us, maintained the record of a conservative."--John McCain at CPAC

And just how did that go over with the social conservatives gathered in D.C. James Joyner of Outside the Beltway had this summary of the event:

McCain’s speech was conciliatory, praising Mitt Romney as “a great governor” and Mike Huckabee as a “great man” (or something along those lines). He must have used the word “conservative” 200 times. Nothing of any great substance in the speech for those of us who have been paying attention all these months.

The crowd reception was relatively enthusiastic. If there was a lot of booing, it wasn’t audible on the closed circuit; it might have been in the hall.

But, if you saw the speech on TV, what you saw may not have been the full picture, at least not according to Anne Schroeder Mullins, who's Shenanigans blog is part of the Politico Web site:

We're told from a reliable source on the ground at CPAC: "They stuffed the main room with McCain supporters. But the overflow room booed him heartily, cheered when Romney was mentioned, booed when McCain said he hopes we forgive his absence from CPAC in the past."

Our source was sure to add: "There was forced applause by the supporters, but not the whole room; laughs and scoffs when he mentioned his conservative record."

The overflow room has 100+ people in it, we're told, with minimal (seven-ish) McCain supporters.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting tonight that influential evangelical Christian leader James Dobson will cast his lot with Mike Huckabee.

Here's a short excerpt from the AP report:

Dobson released a statement Tuesday that criticized McCain for his support of embryonic stem cell research, his opposition to a federal anti-gay marriage amendment and for his temper and use of foul language.

McCain called the appearance at CPAC a "good first step" toward winning over the right wing. Can't wait to see the next step.
Romney to call it quits:

From the Associated Press:

Mitt Romney will suspend his presidentialcampaign for the Republican nomination, The Associated Press haslearned, effectively ceding the nomination to John McCain.

"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or (Barack) Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," Romney planned to say in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

More later.

06 February 2008

An argument against the "super delegate"

If you thought following the results of 24 races, involving two different parties and five major candidates on three or four TV networks was confusing last night, try figuring out this whole delegate thing.

I've spent the better part of the afternoon trying to determine who's leading who on the Democratic side.

I stayed away from the spin by the candidates and their surrogates and tried looking at the delegate numbers. Problem is, everyone's got different numbers and they keep changing every couple of moments.

So I took a snapshot of time at about 3:30 this afternoon and looked at the delegate totals on five different Web sites that seemed the least complicated and the most up to date.

These numbers include all races held to this point and not just Tsunami Tuesday numbers.

(Keep in mind that these numbers are being constantly updated so the numbers you click on won't be the same as those below).

The five sites are:

CBS News
Real Clear Politics
The Washington Post
Yahoo News

Among committed delegates (excluding the so-called super delegates) Barack Obama had an average of 686 to Hillary Clinton's 683. (The Washington Post charts didn't break out uncommitted delegates separately and so was not included in this average).

When the super delegates are added in Clinton leads Obama with an average of 891 to 811. (The Yahoo News site didn't have an estimate of super delegates and was not included in this average).

The Washington Post site was the only site to break out the numbers separately for last night without having to do all the math yourself (a dangerous prospect for me).

According to Post, Clinton picked up 714 delegates last night to Obama's 693. But you have to keep in mind these numbers are not final, and only one news organization's estimate.

NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd and his team did a lot of number crunching to project what the numbers will look like when every last delegate from Tsunami Tuesday is awarded.

It looks like Obama, by the narrowest of margins, won last night’s delegate hunt. By our estimates, he picked up 840 to 849 delegates versus 829-838 for Clinton; the Obama camp projects winning by nine delegates (845-836).

While it may be next to impossible to get this all down to the last delegate, one thing seems certain.

Barack Obama leads - if only slightly - in the count of delegates that have been awarded so far based directly on votes cast by Democrats in the states that have already gone to the polls.

Clinton's overall delegate lead is entirely the result of her advantage among super delegates, which are primarily members of Congress, governors, state party leaders and other politicos entrenched in the party machinery.

The Republicans have no such concept. While the Republican National Committee has a tiny number of delegates under it's control, John McCain's lead is based on votes cast, period.

As of a short time ago, and based on an average of the five Web sites mentioned above, McCain has 671 delegates, compared with Mitt Romney's 242 and Mike Huckabee's 180.

I'm not sure how you feel, but I have to say the super delegate concept seems like a bad idea to me.

For many years until the 2004 election, voter apathy kept turnout down.

Most Americans just aren't that wild about politicians and bout the way politics has been played over the last many years.

In the past couple of cycles voters turned out in record numbers, primarily because of the polarized nature of the country at this point in history and the feeling that "we" just have to win because "we hate the other side so much."

The Democratic Party's nominating race this year may be the first in a long time to be decided in large part by these so-called super delegates.

What message will it send to an energized throng of voters if their candidate loses because a small group of politicians decided it should be that way?

And what kind of energy will that take out of the party come November?

You can't change the rules in the middle of the game (though the Clinton team has tried to do so in Michigan and Florida), but for next time around, the Democrats should scrap the super delegate model.

EDITOR'S NOTE: With the number of candidates in the race thinned to five, we've scrapped the presidential preference polls for each party and substituted them with a "newsy" question involving an issue in each party. Please check out the polls on the panel to the right and vote!
Clinton, McCain take California

Dems fight to Tsunami Tuesday draw
Romney's future in doubt

Although the final totals won't be coming for a while yet, California appears to have gone for John McCain on the GOP side and Hillary Clinton among the Democrats.

With 20% of the vote in, both McCain and Clinton have large double-digit leads.

The win for McCain puts a cap on what has been a big n
ight for him.

Having won nine states as of now, and most of the winner-take-all states, he'll have a huge lead in delegates in the morning, and may very well be looking at Mike Huckabee on the wrung below him rathe
r than Mitt Romney.

Romney won his home state of Massachusetts and the state where he saved the Olympics - Utah.

He also took Montana, Colorado and Minnesota, so he could make a weak argument that he is the candidate of the West. But, seriously, how good would Romney look in a cowboy hat?

Having finished third throughout the South - a place where Huckabee scored his five wins on the night - and second to McCain in most of the states McCain won, Romney doesn't appear to have the gas to keep going.

In fact, MSNBC is reporting that Romney's top staff will hold "frank discussions on the future of the campaign" Wednesday.

In the big surprise of
the night, it appears Tsunami Tuesday may have washed Romney out of the race.

As for the Democrats, since we last posted Barack Obama has taken a come-from-behind win in Missouri.

That means Obama took two of the five states we identified earlier as those that Clinton had led big-time a few weeks ago but could lose tonight.

But more importantly, Clinton has scored what looks
like a decisive win in California, the largest state on the docket.

She also took her home
state of New York, the second largest state that voted Tuesday. Although Obama countered that by winning his home state Illinois.

So, while Obama can argue that he made inroads into Clinton country,
Clinton can make an argument - and maybe a better one - that she held serve against the Obama surge. She can also say she beat back the Kennedy clan, which campaigned heavily for Obama in both Massachusetts and California.

The most important numbers tonight though are the delegate counts - which we actually won't know until morning.

As of about 12:45 a.m, NBC's Chuck Todd put Obama at 841 to Clinton's 837, with the numbers for California and New Mexico guestimated and the super delegates eliminated.

However you slice it, the two are as good as tied in the delegate count.

As for the horse race, Clinton supporters will fervently believe, with some justification, that she grabbed back the momentum.

Obama's team, with equal credibility, can say they picked off some Clinton states, that Clinton won California with votes that were cast weeks before Obama picked up steam and that they still have a wave to ride.

Check out final vote totals here.

05 February 2008

California holds the key

The results from California won't be in for a little while yet, but there's no way to wrap up this night without hearing from the Golden State.

California will decide two things.

On the Democratic side, the California results will confer bragging rights on the winner, but not much more, as this race looks to be weeks away from the finish line.

On the GOP side, California will determine whether Mitt Romney can credibly carry on beyond this Tsunami Tuesday.

Let's look at the Democrats first.

By morning, when the delegates are all counted, the two candidates won't be too far apart from one another and the race will rage on.

In my mind, the keys to tonight were the states where Hillary Clinton at one time had commanding leads which dwindled just before Election Day.

Those states were: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Missouri and California.

Clinton was able to hold on to three of those states, losing only Connecticut to Barack Obama's recent surge, with Missouri still up in the air but looking like it may go to Clinton and, or course, California still to come.

Obama also picked up wins in tossup states in Utah and Delaware.

On the other hand, Clinton was not able to pick off any "Obama" states.

If Obama can grab California - the largest prize of the night - along with Connecticut, I think he can legitimately claim that he conquered enough of Clinton's territory to grab the momentum as the race moves along.

If not, Clinton can claim she held the fort and is ready to go on the offensive.

On the Republican side, California is now a must win for Romney.

With Huckabee rolling through the South like Sherman - though I doubt he'd like the comparison - Romney was forced into third place in six races at the time of this writing, all in the Bible Belt.

Of those six, Huckabee finished first in five.

Missouri is still up in the air, with all three candidates a few points either side of 30%, but with Romney likely to come in third.

Romney's victories have been few and far between, aside from his home state of Massachusetts and his psuedo-home in Utah.

John McCain took most of the winner-take-all states, and is the big winner.

Without a win in California, it will be difficult to imagine Romney with a credible argument for his continued candidacy.

04 February 2008

30 minutes on the "Straight Talk Express" - A personal essay

OK, so I didn't actually get on the bus itself.

But I did have the opportunity to jump aboard the John McCain juggernaut for a brief time Sunday afternoon at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.

It was the first time since 1980 that I'd attended a presidential candidate's appearance as a member of the working press.

The last time I was working as a radio reporter for an all-news station in Cleveland. I covered George H.W. as he tried to play catch-up in his race with Ronald Reagan - spouting the words "voodoo economics" as he went.

Of course when George H.W. actually did win the White House, he
employed those very same economic principles - though by then they had grown to be known as "supply-side economics."

Four years prior to that - as a reporter for my college radio station - I remember covering a peanut-farming governor from Georgia, full of energy and enthusiasm, as he campaigned to beat the incumbent Gerald Ford.

By 1980, the optimistic governor was a dispirited president, feeling the weight of the Iranian hostage crisis on his shoulders.

I recall being at one of the debates that year, in Cleveland. The one that set Jimmy Carter's re-election bid tumbling when he went on about how he had asked his young daughter Amy what he should do about nuclear proliferation.

It was one of those moments - like the Dean Scream - which may very well have killed a presidential bid, or re-election bid in this case.

As I arrived at Sacred Heart Sunday I wondered just how much things had changed in the campaign-coverage biz over 28 years.

The short answer is - hardly at all.

Back in 1976, protesters were a mainstay on the streets near the venue where the candidate would speak. In '76 and '80, the protests were "no-more-nukes" protests (weapons as well as energy plants).

The protesters were there again yesterday. A bit older, and mostly more well-dressed. This time the Iraq war was their target.

Inside the school's Pitt Center gymnasium, things looked much as they did back in the day as well.

McCain supporters, sprinkled with curious onlookers, packed the bleachers and much of the basketball court.

There were the familiar risers, with a couple dozen TV cameramen and still photographers fiddling with equipment. In front of them was a press table, loaded with local reporters who would soon be crowded out by their national counterparts who travel with the camapaign and push their weight around at every stop.

Nothing new there.

On stage were McCain's trusted political allies, most notably Connecticut's newly independent senator, Joe Lieberman. Or Sen. Joe Mentum as he is known to those who know the inside joke.

The one-time Democrat would talk about unity in the country, and how McCain - the biggest hawk on the most divisive issue in the country - could bring us all together.

Former Texas senator Phil Gramm was there. It's Gramm who is filling in the knowledge gaps for McCain on the economy - a subject the candidate recently, if not too wisely, admitted he doesn't know that much about.

Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina was there as well, along with local Republican Rep. Chris Shays.

The faces have changed, but it was done the same way back in the 70s, and a whole lot longer ago than that I would think. A good chance for the local pols to be seen with "the big guy."

The NPR guy at the press table near me had a big old clunky tape recorder with a large microphone, very much like the one I lugged around daily so many years ago.

The school's pep band played all the political standards as the crowd awaited McCain's arrival.

There was one onlooker at the event that made the whole thing a bit out of the ordinary.

Actor Robert Vaughn - some forty years removed from his role as Napoleon Solo in the mid-60s spy drama The Man From U.N.C.L.E. - came to see McCain.

Vaughn said he is concerned about "Islamic jihad" and wanted to hear McCain's plans to tackle it.

I suppose that should be no surprise coming from Napoleon Solo, the man who made his living battling
Thrush - a shadowy group of international evil-doers.

About 20 minutes after his scheduled arrival time - fashionably late for the campaign trail - McCain grabbed the mic.

He spoke for 20 or 25 minutes, ticking off each and every one of the same talking points he's ticked off a thousands times along the way.

Perhaps it was weariness that comes with the hectic campaign schedule, but, despite having recited the same old themes and repeated the same tired jokes he had uttered many times before, McCain lost his train of thought at least three or four times.

There was the requisite heckler, who caused McCain to pause briefly but who was soon shown the door as the candidate continued with his message.

McCain's loudest cheers came near the end of his speech, when he insisted he'd never pull out of Iraq without a victory and would never "surrender" in the so-called war on terror.

While the trappings were the same, and the process was the same I came away feeling that something was different than when I had done this very thing for the first time more than 30 years ago.

The words were delivered with same enthusiasm. Promises were made and the talk of a brighter future was just as it was 30 years ago.

But I felt no excitement like I did back then.

I no longer hear with open, hopeful ears.

The politicians and the process haven't changed much in 30 years.

I guess I have.