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Archive for April, 2008

Clinton Wins - But May Never Be PresidentBarack Obama would desperately like to shoot the underdog. She’s wounded and she limits the healthy members of the group from making any forward progress. Too bad the small town people in Pennsylvania who cling to guns or religion couldn’t spare the ammo to deliver the fatal shot.

And so we move on. The American media is jumping on the Clinton camp’s statements that this fight will go to June or even to the convention this summer. She has pointed out that with this victory, and if you include the vote totals from Florida and Michigan, she is leading in the popular vote. Which is true, but Florida and Michigan aren’t in play.

The fact remains that Clinton is still battling from behind. She is trailing in the delegate count, popular vote totals (sans Florida and Michigan) and the number of contests won.

She’s losing in all the categories that everyone likes to call ‘objective measures’ and seeing this, Senator Clinton knows that she must cast doubt on Senator Obama to have any hope of making further headway. Or if not headway, she can hope to further damage his now vulnerable persona.

Expect Clinton to hammer on the electability question and claim that her victories are more meaningful for November, despite there being fewer of them.

Let’s see her take on electability first. Senator Clinton is claiming that Obama cannot be elected over McCain because he is too untested and too open to the vicious attacks the Republicans will throw at him. This is the smart move on her part. Her campaign has been pointing to his inexperience from Day One and as we get closer to November, this is just another way of her illustrating her experience over his.

However, she is just as open to this argument as Obama is. Clinton’s negativity rating nationally is incredibly higher than either McCain or Obama and therefore the electability question cuts both ways. If she insists on going down this road, she will need to be prepared for the consequences.

Clinton’s second argument is that the states that went for her contain more swing voters that will be an important demographic in November. This might be the more solid claim she has on her side. Her appeal spans older people, working-class whites, and women – those independent minded voters who may have voted Democratic in the primary season, but will surely be tempted to vote Republican in November.

In theory, this is the right move for her. If she can claim the mantle of populist, her vote totals in swing states will only grow. Arguably, this does translate into her being the more ‘electable’ candidate in November.

But past performances are no indicator of future trends. If she can successfully argue the point, I still doubt it will mean a perceptible difference in the outcome of the nomination. She has barely made a dent in Obama’s delegate totals even though she is picking up larger, more independent-minded Purple States.

The numbers simply don’t match her arguments – nor does the thought that she is more electable than Obama. With nearly 20 years in the national spot light, those swing voters that liked her in Pennsylvania have six months to remember why they typically vote for a Republican for president.

Despite her win, her arguments are only words and do not transform the numbers that simply aren’t on her side. She is building a house of cards that may topple with her having to accept defeat or battle bitterly for a runner-up Veep spot on the ticket. I just don’t see this going her way.

And now… the new Delegate Tracker.

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DNC Chairman Howard Dean came out as forcefully as ever on the issue of superdelegates yesterday, saying he wants a quick resolution to the Democratic nomination process in line with the end of the primary season.

Dean also said “I need them to say who they’re for — starting now. We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time. . . . We’ve got to know who our nominee is,” CNN.

How much of this would become the presumed path of the Democrats is hard to tell. Dean’s suggestions and musings about bringing the nomination to a close are simply that: suggestions and musings. A powerful standard-bearer for his party but a less powerful administrator of that party, Dean risks little by making these statements. He sees the strategic mess the party has gotten itself into and realizes that in order to curry favor with independents, someone in the party needs to be talking the populist talk.

Which means, someone internally (namely him) needs to be pushing for a resolution before independent-minded voters lose interest in the Democrats. It’s becoming harder and harder for the Dems to fight Arizona Senator John McCain’s growing appeal while still trying to settle their own internecine conflict.

And if Democrats go into the summer months (when the American public traditionally tunes out of politics) without Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama being crowned the presumptive nominee, Dean’s party is going to bleed independent voters quicker than the former Governor did after the 2004 Iowa Caucuses.

I doubt this will affect a quicker resolution, thought it is telling that Dean is now pushing for superdelegates to make up their minds. June is put-up or shut-up month for the Democrats. If superdelegates can’t make up their minds by then, independents in Purple States just might lost interest. And it will be harder to get them back into the fold once September tolls the beginning of the General Election fight.

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In everyday life, If you kick someone while they’re down you usually generate labels like ‘sadist’. But in politics, if you kick someone while they’re down you usually generate votes.

To wit, let’s look at Hillary’s latest commercial now running in Pennsylvania.

We’re entering a unique time in our national debate. The talking heads and pithy columnists floated the idea early on that the rancor created by the Clinton/Obama fight might cost the Dems the White House. I sincerely doubt that, but I will concede that the point they are making puts a more clear focus on this question: What is going to happen to the Democrats in 2008?

At some level, the voting public expects a free exchange of jabs between opponents. But the damage now being inflicted on Obama (the presumed front-runner and, in my opinion, the presumed nominee) will make this General Election race closer than it should have to be for the Dems.

After 8 years of George W. Bush and the easy linking of John McCain to the president’s failed foreign and domestic policies, the Democratic nominee can expect 9 innings of baseball with healthy servings of verbal pitches he (or she) can hit. However, the character assassination going on now in Pennsylvania will only help the GOP in developing clear contrasts to the Democrats and therefore score points with independent voters – especially if Obama or Clinton are cast as John Kerry-like elitists.

I still doubt the nomination will go to Hillary, but Pennsylvania might. And if Clinton and Obama strike a President/Vice President deal to be on the same ticket as a result, it may be even harder to avoid the wedge that the GOP will drive between them and independents.

The Keystone State might be a loss for Obama, but think about what it does if these two high value targets agree to be one large bull’s eye for the Republicans. It’s time to re-think what will happen to the Democratic Party in 2008.

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Like every good public relations effort, the Obama team knows that any press that the campaign is getting is a good chance to reposition its message in the eyes of voters.

After the explosive weekend of ‘bitter’ remarks and the regrettable comments about Pennsylvania voters ‘clinging to guns and religiion’, the junior Senator from Illinois needed some quick damage control. His campaign has realized (rightly) that it’s time for the candidate to expose his status as an Average American while at the same time casting aspersions on his opponents as out of touch with their sinful possession of ‘a lot of money’. Take a look at this video of him today at the AP Luncheon:

Damn is he good. Capitalizing on Hillary’s tax returns while taking heat for a stupid remark he made that has essentially cost him the Pennsylvania Primary, quite honestly, approaches genius.

It’s [Bill] Clinton-esque.

Let me explain. Modern politics allows this type of turn-around talk. That is to say, we expect our candidates to deflect criticism and attempt (however weakly) to turn the tide of negative attention back onto their opponent. No matter what the error or how fully realized it’s costs are on a campaign, any quick turn of phrase or character attack that can be made, must be made . Not to strike back in this manner often spells political death.

Unfortunately, it may not always work. Someone may pounce too quickly and therefore speak out of turn, or simply miss the mark. If it’s not done right, it could cost you more of the voters that you are trying to curry favor with. For instance, had the Obama campaign said his “opponents have been spinning the media and peddling fake outrage around the clock”, it would be inadequate to the situation.

(He did say this in an e-mail to supporter asking for more donations, and in fact, it is inadequate to the situation.)

But for him to come back and draw a telling contrast between himself and Hillary Clinton (that because of his upbringing, he is more in touch with the struggle of everyday Americans than she is) makes it difficult to see the holes in his armor. Hillary quite simply left herself open by coming after Obama after releasing her tax records showing assets of $100 million – not 10 days ago.

Obama is right to illustrate her hipocracy and his campaign team seems to have a gift for turning negative press around on it’s opponents. But it also has that other thing that is so necessary in politics….

Timing.

Without those tax records floating out there so recently, Clinton could have had a fighting chance with this one. The good news for her is that the damage to Obama is done. Let’s see if she can ride the wave to a PA victory.

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Once seen as closing the lead that Hillary Clinton had over him in the Keystone State, Barack Obama now finds himself trying to explain remarks he made at a San Francisco fundraiser that won’t sit well with blue-collar Pennsylvanians in the run-up to the April 22nd primary. Take note of Hillary’s response.

This is the moment that John McCain and Hillary Clinton were waiting for in this election – a chance to exploit a self-created dent in Obama’s armor. I don’t think that this is Obama’s ‘John Kerry moment’ (you’ll remember the classic ‘for it before I was against it’ remark), but it isn’t a stumble he’ll soon recover from. In a state that prides itself on the hardscrabble lives of its legendary coal miners and steel workers, a remark like this won’t quickly be forgotten.

If there is one error he has made thus far, it could be this one. Clearly, another chance for Hillary is on the horizon.

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Clinton - Against A WallSince so many of you are concerned about the next primary, I’ll try to engage and enlighten you about the current situation in Pennsylvania and offer my final update to the Delegate Tracker before it is thrown into it’s typical post-primary turmoil.

In short, Obama is hitting hard and Clinton is reeling. Judging simply by ad-buys, Obama is staking his candidacy on the results from Pennsylvania while Hillary is still stuck defending her missteps. Polls are getting closer and there is not very much the trapped-in-the-weeds New York senator can do about it.

Though she is far from giving in. Attempting to compete in the numbers game, five new Clinton ads are up, in an attempt to mitigate the effects of four new Obama spots. Unfortunately for her, she is not competing with the right numbers. Obama is set to break all spending records in Pennsylvania and it’s his money that is going to get him the exposure he needs. “Nobody has ever spent 2.2 million in this state: not Rendell, not Specter, not Casey, not Santorum, not Bush, not Kerry,” Democratic media consultant Neil Oxman tells The Boston Globe’s Sasha Issenberg.

By all accounts, the shear volume of Clinton ads are no match for the buying power that Obama has given himself. With such a large war chest, Obama is making his splash during expensive prime-time slots – increasing his reach and the power of his message. With only one fewer ad than Clinton, Obama has virtually vaporized the impact Clinton’s commercials might have any claim to.

If past successes are any measure, Clinton needs to make sure that the ads that she is buying (though in the lesser-known time slots) are that much more impressive. She has backed herself against another wall in the Keystone state and her media advisers are most likely chomping at the bit to take another ‘Red Phone’ swipe at Obama. Poignancy might be the only thing that she has left on her side. And if used effectively (just like in Texas) it could open her lead back up in the polls.

We should make no mistake over the next two weeks – Clinton is making her last stand in PA. Her campaign knows it. I know it. Now you know it. But the most interesting part about this is that Mr. Obama knows it. For that reason alone, I’m going to say that this will get ugly. I don’t know when, but it will. Count on it.

thinkmatter\'s Delegate Tracker

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