Monday, February 18, 2008

Thoughts Leading into Wisconsin-Hawaii...

... beginning with Washington State.

"Wait a minute," I hear you say, "didn't Washington already have a caucus?" Absolutely correct. But there's still a primary election in Washington tomorrow. Only one-third of Republican delegates will be determined by the primary, the other two-thirds having already been set by the Republican caucus. More important, not a single Democratic delegate will be pledged according to the results of the Washington primary. It's an utterly meaningless election.

That is, unless Clinton wins it.

Bear in mind that 250,000 people voted in the landslide Obama victory in the Washington caucuses. That's a record for Washington state... but in terms of Washington's total population, it's not that many at all. Turnout in the Democratic primary tomorrow, in which all ballots are cast by mail, could exceed two million votes.

Neither Clinton nor Obama is currently working in Washington; most of Obama's staffers, and all of Clinton's, have pulled up stakes and gone elsewhere, mostly to Ohio or Texas. The campaign in Seattle, Tacoma, and other upper Pacific locales is over until the general election...

... but all that could change if the popular vote in Washington actually goes for Hillary Clinton.

Consider these facts, as encapsulated by many, including this Houston Chronicle reader. Hillary has declared her intention to see the Florida and Michigan delegates seated as they were elected in their respective primaries- primaries she won almost entirely on name-recognition alone. She's demanding that the superdelegates (elected Democrats and national leaders) vote for the person who would make the best president (her), even if that goes against a substantial mandate of the Democratic popular vote and/or pledged delegates. She's quite willing to destroy the Democratic Party, kill the enthusiasm of new voters, and even throw the general election to the Republicans in order to avoid defeat for the moment.

The Clintons have been bad-mouthing the caucus system ever since they came in third in Iowa. They claim that caucuses are un-democratic and do not reflect the will of the people. (Ironic, from a campaign that argues that superdelegates should override the will of the people and support the candidate currently running second in both pledged delegates and popular vote.) A Clinton win in Washington's meaningless mail-in primaries would give them ammunition to call any and every caucus into question.

What next? Perhaps demands for primary election re-votes in all the states Obama won, in an attempt to grab some of his delegates away? A call to reduce the voting power of caucus-state delegates, or eliminate them altogether, kneecapping Obama and disenfranchising a dozen or more states? Or, more probably, an effort to encourage faithless delegates to vote against what the law and their constituents, and vote for Hillary rather than Obama?

If any of these options appears to have any chance of success, rest assured Bill and Hillary will make the attempt.

That said, it may be premature (or postmature) to worry about such things. One ARG poll notwithstanding, Obama holds narrow but solid leads in Wisconsin polling. Indeed, today's newly released Public Policy Polling survey has Obama up by double digits. In both the Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracking polls, Obama has led Clinton for at least days, nationwide; today's results are 49%-42% Obama in the Gallup poll, 47%-43% in the Rasmussen poll. Finally, Obama's been racking up endorsements, including the major newspaper closest to where I live.

Furthermore, everything coming out of the Clinton campaign speaks of an incompetent, overconfident campaign flailing to save itself from disaster. The campaign has tried to re-invent itself twice in the past two months, while giving the verbal back of the hand to states won by Obama:

{The Clinton campaign} fundraising, it argues, has never been stronger -- though it is about half of Barack Obama's. Our strategy has assumed these minor setbacks all along -- though senior campaign leadership must be shown the door. Our successes will come in "Ohio and Texas because we know that those are states where they represent the broad electorate in this country" (Hillary Clinton's words) -- which is hardly a valentine to Missouri, Virginia, Minnesota, Colorado and other parts of the nation Clinton must view as flyover territory.

. . .

Though it is increasingly unlikely, Clinton may still have a path to the nomination -- and what a path it is. She merely has to puncture the balloon of Democratic idealism; sully the character of a good man; feed racial tensions within her party; then eke out a win with the support of unelected superdelegates, thwarting the hopes of millions of new voters who would see an inspiring young man defeated by backroom arm-twisting and arcane party rules.

Unlikely -- but it would be a fitting contribution to the Clinton legacy of monumental selfishness.

In a campaign where the good will of the press is absolutely vital, the Clintons have effectively gone to war against the media, according to Newsweek:

Former presidential adviser Dick Morris (now a ferocious critic of the couple) tells NEWSWEEK the Clintons talked about why they were getting such bad press, and Hillary speculated that certain journalists were jealous of the Clintons' success. "They are all our age," said Hillary, according to Morris.

. . .

But as a presidential candidate, Hillary was back to the old psychodrama, running as a once and future queen in a Restoration drama. Her basic pitch—ready on day one—is the same one used by George H.W. Bush when he ran for president in 1988. Hillary has been unlucky to have a rock star as an opponent, the kind of dazzling orator who is bound to make her seem plodding by comparison. Obama appeals to the young millennial-generation reporters who fill the seats on press planes, just as Bill Clinton struck a chord with baby boomers 16 years ago. Her campaign has arguably alienated reporters by stonewalling them at times, but the relationship between the press and the Clintons is complicated—more in the nature of a bad marriage than a cold war.

. . .

In the long run-up to the Iowa caucuses, the Clinton campaign herded reporters, sometimes rudely, away from the candidate. Bill Clinton, meanwhile, vented against the press for favoring Obama. When he began to not so subtly play the race card by comparing Obama with Jesse Jackson, the press backlash was indignant and gleeful. President Clinton's baiting backfired in South Carolina, and it seemed to some pundits that the Clinton machine was not so fearsome after all.

Finally, today's newest item about the Clinton campaign: they're worried that Texas, one of their "firewall" states, might give more delegates to Obama even if Clinton wins the popular vote. If you've been reading this blog, you knew that over a week ago; indeed, the Texas primary-caucus rules have been essentially unchanged since the 1980s. This blogger, filling in for Andrew Sullivan, quotes the essential paragraphs of the Washington Post article and goes on to explain just how poorly this reflects on the Clintons:

"Several top Clinton strategists and fundraisers became alarmed after learning of the state's unusual provisions during a closed-door strategy meeting this month, according to one person who attended."

I was having fun thinking of possible analogies -- would I describe the existence of the Pacific Ocean as "creating a new obstacle" for my plan to walk from Baltimore to Beijing? or the fact that five is a prime number as "creating a new obstacle" to my proving that it is a multiple of two?

. . .

Note to self: If I ever run for office and base my campaign on the idea that I am ready to lead from day one, I must remember to actually run an effective campaign.

Yes, Hillary Clinton could still steal this election from Barack Obama- though the longer it takes her to find a way, the more obvious that theft will become. Yes, Hillary could still win the nomination, and possibly even defeat John McCain in the general election- though all polls for months now have made it clear that as things stand, Hillary is the only Democratic candidate who can possibly lose that election.

But Hillary's trying to do it with a garbled message, self-contradicting positions on delegates, contempt and anger toward the press, and a level of disorganization that makes the 1984 Walter Mondale campaign the model of drive and efficiency. She's also doing it with a severe money disadvantage, the passive disapproval of party leaders like Nancy Pelosi, and the popular view that she and her husband will say or do anything in order to win.

You may win an election on that, but you'll never inspire the independent, nonpartisan masses.

Tomorrow we get a preview of which wins- manipulation of party machinery, or inspiring new and infrequent voters to come to the polls. We'll see if Clinton can stop Obama in Wisconsin, or, if Obama can make his childhood count in Hawaii, or if working-class whites will overcome race prejudice, or if educated whites will overcome gender prejudice, or any number of other things.

But the real wild card is the state that doesn't count, a beauty contest in Washington state... and it still has me worried.

1 comment:

Roehl Sybing said...

I may not have been looking that deep into the blogosphere, but this is the first time I've read someone recognize the hypocrisy of the Clinton campaign between advocating a more democratic process (read as: one that will ensure her a victory) and persuading superdelegates to throw the nomination her way (read as: ensuring her a victory). Props.