Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tuesday takeaways—a super-ramble through my random observations

I’m jut going to throw these out—my apologies if this seems a little disjointed, but if I wait to edit and shape it, it’ll be not so super Thursday before you get to read it.

The Asshole from Arizona won big. Bigger, in fact, than most think right now. While much is being made about how California’s Republican delegates are not winner-take-all, since they are awarded on a district-by-district basis, it is important to note that each district is itself winner-take-all. As of this writing, McCain leads in almost every California district, so it could look very close to winner-take-all for the state when all the counting is finished. Barring a collapse—and I’m talking about a physical one, not an electoral one—McCain is all but assured the Republican nomination.

California, it should also be noted, was a closed primary for Republicans. Independents—or “decline to state” as they are called there—could only vote in the Democratic primary (where they split, by the way, between Clinton and Obama), so McCain had to win over confirmed Republicans.

McCain’s victory is, in one way, anyway, very good news for all of America. The old guy won over plenty of conservative voters in spite of a full court press from conservative talk radio stars like Rush Limbaugh and Hugh Hewitt. Those radio hosts have been excoriating McCain while supporting Romney. If conservative radio, with its nationwide reach, can’t scare Republicans off McCain, I don’t think we should be too afraid of their affect on the general election population.

Romney came out of Tuesday winning two primaries—in his “home states” of Massachusetts and Utah—and a handful of caucuses, but that’s it. It has cost Romney well over a million dollars per delegate won so far; in order to win the nomination, he’s going to need about a billion more dollars. Even Mitt’s not that rich.

But, with all of that in mind, it should still be noted that the Arizona Senator could not win 50% of the Republican vote in Arizona. No doubt McCain’s purportedly “moderate” position on immigration hurt him with the xenophobe wing. Will those voters swallow their irrational hate long enough to vote for McCain in November, or will they just sit on their hands? Will tacking Huckabee on the ticket as a sop to the haters of science and haters of Mexicans be enough to get them to the polls? Does such a cynical play alienate too many so-called independents to make it worth it for the Republicans?

On the Democratic side, the rush by most of the establishment press to call Tuesday a wash, a tie, a toss-up seems to spring on the one hand from some sort of disappointment that Wednesday’s headlines couldn’t announce a winner, and on the other from some need to prove the meme that we are a country divided.

How bloody stupid—on both counts.

There must be some part of the media’s collective lizard brain at work here: uncertainty equals anxiety (or so marketing consultants will tell you). And with the Democratic nomination still uncertain, the establishment must be anxious for us.

Take today’s editorial in the New York Times. It laments “stark intramural divisions” that threaten both parties. As noted, that might be true for Republicans, but for the Democrats, party enthusiasm is at an all-time high. The Times even grants that most Democrats agree on policy issues. But, instead, as has become infuriatingly predictable, the Times fixates on identity politics.

While Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have few policy disputes, voter polls showed gulfs between their core supporters: men for Mr. Obama and women for Mrs. Clinton, and so on with black voters and Hispanic voters, more educated voters and less educated voters, richer and poorer, those driven by the idea of change and those looking for a candidate who cares about their problems.

Well, hats off to the Times’ editorial board, they have finally learned that men and women are different.

I can’t believe I have to explain this, but here goes: to say that different demographic groupings voted to some greater or lesser extent for one candidate over another is not the same thing as a split in the party.

I understand how having Limbaugh or Anne Coulter attack McCain for not being a real conservative can cause an ideological rift to open up inside the Republican Party, but that is just not equivalent to what is happening on the Democratic side. I went over this in an earlier post, but I’ll say it in a slightly different way here: that a female voter expresses a preference for Clinton does not mean that she is a member of the pro-woman wing of the party. The battle for the soul of the Democratic Party is not between those that think Democrats are most like African American men versus those that think the Democratic essence is embedded in the skin and pantsuit of a white woman.

Hell, I don’t even think there is a poll that shows a split between “the idea of change” and “those looking for a candidate who cares about their problems.” (It’s usually “change” versus “experience,” right?) If there are numbers on this, please show me—but I believe the Times has invented this dichotomy for the sake of their editorial.

Making it only slightly more fictional than their other “gulfs.”

If Senator Clinton gains the upper hand, should she reach out to many of the new, energized voters that Senator Obama has brought into the process? Of course she should—and I have no doubt that she will try. Should Obama try to understand the issues and undercurrents that ring true with Clinton’s core supporters? Absolutely—and I expect he will try to do that, too. But in either case, I expect that each will talk about issues—yes, issues—that interest those constituencies. You will not hear Barack say, “I think white women are real cool,” any more than you will hear Hillary claim, “There are lots of reasons for men to like me.” It’s not that it just sounds offensive to say those things, it’s that it is offensive because that is not how it works with real voters.

As I have noted before, Democrats—indeed, most of America—is quite united. Overwhelming majorities disapprove of Bush, his war, his economy, his love of torture, his assault on the Constitution. Likewise, majorities are solidly in favor of universal healthcare, a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, tax fairness, aggressive policies to end global warming. And on every major issue, Americans trust Democrats to have better solutions than Republicans.

It is bad enough that newspapers and news networks don’t understand that a continuation of the contest is good for their business, but it is especially unfortunate that their concern trolling overshadows the fact that this primary battle is good for the Democrats, too. As DNC Chair Howard Dean and others have noted, contested primaries keep voters interested. It gives the candidates lots of free press. Exposes more voters to their messages. Builds familiarity. Builds excitement.

Maybe the exposure is bad for Republicans, who generally hate their choices, but every indication so far is that Democrats are excited by their candidates and their chances. Voters are not turned off by the contest, they are turned on, and, so, turn out has been through the roof. This trend continued for Democrats in every Super Tuesday state for which I could find statistics.

So, taking the establishment media’s predilections into account, was it really a tie last night?

Dare I say, “Yes and no?”

You can find the exact numbers in various places, but, in short (or semi-short), Obama won more states; Clinton won bigger states. The sum total of all Democratic votes cast yesterday broke for Clinton by a very small margin (not that this matters for anything but bragging rights).

More interesting to me: Obama won all the caucus states. Caucuses should go to the candidate with the better organization. That was supposed to be Clinton, but, toss in Iowa, and I’m not sure we can say that anymore.

Obama did better in Illinois than Clinton did in New York. Though, delegate-wise, Clinton looks like she’ll get 60% of New York’s.

Obama won Yvette Clarke’s district (NY-11) which includes parts of Park Slope, Brownsville, Kensington, Flatbush, and Midwood. He also won Edolphus Town’s district (NY-10), which includes parts of Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Bedford Stuyvesant, Canarsie, and East New York. But Clinton won Charlie Rangel’s district (NY-15), which is predominantly in Harlem, Inwood, and Washington Heights, but also includes parts of Astoria and the Upper West Side.

Obama didn’t win New Jersey, and he didn’t win Massachusetts, but he wasn’t supposed to. He wasn’t supposed to win Connecticut, either, but he did. He got close in NJ, too. Look at this how you want, but to me either you say “Clinton hung on” or “Obama almost caught up”—now which candidate would want that as a talking point?

Obama narrowly won Missouri—after several news organizations had called it for Clinton. While the delegate count will be close to evenly divided, the big O’s victory just might give him some big MO. As Al Giordano—who correctly predicted every one of last night’s Democratic races—puts it ever so cutely:

Game over. This is the big psychological win that Obama needed tonight. Nobody (present company excepted) expected this upset.

. . . .

And somewhere in a country called Tennessee, a grey eminence is watching, pulling hidden weapons out of the trophy case, eyeing them, remembering the thrill of the fight, gearing up for battle.

I have no idea where Giordano gets his grey eminence intel, but, if true, it would be a fine feather in Obama’s cap. No, Al Gore is not a white woman, Mr. New York Times guy, but he is as much a household name as the Clintons, and with lower negatives.

Another interesting development from Tuesday: The Clinton camp has called for more debates—roughly one a week through early March—and has moved to break with the party and agree to appear on FOX News for at least one of those debates. You have to wonder why the so-called frontrunner would call for more debates (that breaks with traditional strategy), and why Clinton would risk alienating part of the Democratic base before she wraps up the nomination.

Well, here’s a possible reason why: Hillary Clinton is out of money. I know, I can’t quite believe it, either, but both Al Giordano and Bob Cesca are more or less reporting this. Take into account that, through Tuesday, 90% of all money raised by all campaigns has already been spent, and it seems more plausible. Also, note that Obama out-raised Clinton in January by better than three to one.

Suddenly, a weekly burst of free media—risks and all—looks very attractive to the Clinton camp.

The rest of February also looks good for Obama. Louisiana this weekend, then the Chesapeake primaries, all have the chance of breaking for Barack. With proportional allotment of delegates, it won’t move him that much closer to the nomination, but, again, some big momentum could be in the offing.

And it is in that race for the delegates required to garner the nomination that I see the only problems with an extended and contested Democratic race.

Should Clinton fall short of the nomination by a margin smaller than what she would get from Michigan and Florida, then I expect her camp will fight to seat those delegates. Such a fight would be divisive, I fear. It lends to the perception that the Clintons play by their own rules, and lends a degree of credence to those in the Obama camp that have already accused the Clinton camp of electoral shenanigans.

Should, instead, the 20% of delegates known as “super delegates” be the deciding factor, and should there be no obvious side for the bulk of them to take going into the convention, the Democrats again risk alienating voters (especially new voters, I think). Forget the presidential race, it won’t be good for the party or any of its other candidates if a group of primary voters feel like their earlier exercise in democratic expression was a relatively meaningless work out.

And that is possibly my only really negative takeaway from SuperFat Tuesday—and it’s not even really a result of yesterday’s news, instead, it is a fear of tomorrow’s. What has been so exciting, so unequivocally wonderful this primary season, no matter which candidate you started out supporting, is the incredible rise in Democratic democratic participation. People feel like their votes really matter, and so they have gone out of their way to vote in record numbers. Wouldn’t it just disappoint those voters, and reward the cynics and the cynical Republicans, to demonstrate through machinations only a party hack or a beltway bloviator could love that the votes didn’t matter so very much after all. . . .

And wouldn’t it reward the gulf-loving media to have Democrats begin that internecine fight before the standard primary battles had run their course?

I think it would. And so, on this super Wednesday, when there is so much to cheer, I will sound this note of caution to the Democrats. Focus on the issues, not the process. Make George Bush your target, not your Democratic opponent. Contrast your proposals with John McCain’s—such as they are. Reference all the ways that we are alike—and like so many Americans—not those few ways that lazy pundits use to tell us apart.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and guy2k)

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