Thursday, March 20, 2008

First Signs of the Obama Speech Reaction

Well, first the bad news.

Carrie Burdoff Brown at the Politico reports that in the white working-class neighborhoods of Philadelphia Obama's speech was counterproductive; those voters apparently will accept nothing less than a total rejection of Rev. Wright by Obama. In fact, most of the people quoted in the article wouldn't vote for Obama even if he did reject him. This is bad, because Obama needs voters like this to keep Pennsylvania close when the vote comes.

Glenn Peter, 54, a patron at Rauchut’s Tavern, said he heard finger pointing, not reconciliation. He took issue with Obama’s explanation that Wright’s observations of a racist America were reflecting the racial scars of his past.

“I don’t want to hear that you are blaming us for him saying this,” said Peter, who is white and worked at an auto parts factory until it was shuttered several years ago. Cutting ties with the church “would have been the best way to do it. That way, I could have been able to listen to him again.”

On the other hand, when Ben Smith at Politico mentioned this article on his blog, the response was that the people interviewed for Brown's piece would never vote for Obama anyway. Several people said that if Jesus Christ himself returned in the form of a black man, the NE Philadelphia ethnic enclaves would vote against him. Other commentators pointed out that there were plenty of white voters in that area who would, indeed, vote for Obama. My view: the white population of Pennsylvania is well represented by the article's sample, and Obama will find it all the more difficult to keep the result within a ten-point spread when the vote happens next month.

MSNBC reporter Carrie Dann writes that reception of the speech is mixed in North Carolina. She gives three viewpoints: the negative viewpoint is from a 72-year-old white man who identifies as Republican. The second viewpoint, from a former Clinton supporter converted to Obama, ignores the speech. The final viewpoint adores the speech, but is apparently undecided between Obama and Clinton. This article, more than the first, serves as a reminder: "data" is not the plural of "anecdote." We have to wait and watch the polls, which took a distinct downward trend before the speech, to see what's really happening.

"I think he played the race card too much," says George McNeill of Aberdeen, N.C., as he politely nudges to the side his plate of ham mac n' cheese. "In all honesty, I got the idea a time or two that he was more looking down on the white race than I thought he should."

. . .

"He's not talking in a foreign language to anybody," Ruffin says, scanning the line of faces - black, white, young, and old — with trays piled with sliced turkey and unapologetically gooey pieces of pie. "He understands white. And he understands black."

He says that negativity in the race had started to leave a sour taste months ago. But it wasn't until the last few weeks that he finally made the switch when Hillary Clinton proposed that Barack Obama would make an excellent contender — for vice president. "He's the frontrunner!" he chuckles. "There's somethin' just not quite right with that."

. . .

As a lifelong churchgoer and a Southern woman at her core, Deborah Parish has a deep appreciation for the religious and racial roots that anchor Obama's identity.

A white woman often transplanted by her husband's military service, she's had her taste of unsavory comments from ministers at the many churches the couple has attended throughout their travels.

"We've had pastors who I haven't agreed with," she says in defense of Obama's association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. "But I didn't stop going to church. Because I'm not going for the pastor, I'm going for my soul."

The first of those polls gives me a bit of cause for hope. Gallup's tracking poll shows Obama closing on Clinton today, after a five-day slide which took him from a 50-44 lead to a 49-42 deficit yesterday. (Today's score: 48-43.)

Obama made a major speech on Tuesday addressing the race issue in large part to help move past the controversy. While Tuesday night polling showed no immediate benefit for Obama, the Wednesday results were more favorable to him, as reflected in the slight drop in Clinton's three-day average lead. This suggests at least the possibility that Obama has stopped his losses. The tracking data over the next several days will be a crucial indicator of the lasting impact, if any, of the Wright controversy.

Viewpoints from the media provide further food for thought. Amy Walter of the National Journal writes that Hillary Clinton's last hope of winning the nomination, making the "electability" argument to sway superdelegates, was eliminated by Obama's decision to lay his views on race out in the open:

This should benefit Clinton, right? After all, her plea to primary voters as well as superdelegates has been to let the process play out until the last vote is cast, to allow for a proper vetting of the candidates. But it seems as if Obama's speech effectively turned the "electability" question into a code word for "acceptable to whites." If so, it means that superdelegates will be very wary of opening a racial divide among Democrats that won't heal before November and may not for a long time to come.

Quite frankly, I'm dubious about this- I really don't think we know yet whether or not Obama has succeeded in re-defining the race issue or the Wright issue. Associated Press reporter Charles Babington reports that a large number of Republican activists and advisors are rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of attack ads linking Obama and Wright. John McCain's campaign has already suspended a staffer who created such a video and posted it to YouTube.

Should Obama become the Democratic nominee, conservative activists are virtually certain to remind voters of Obama's ties to Wright, perhaps by using the videos in TV ads, several strategists said.

"He can give a speech a week, and it's not going to make the issue go away," said Chris LaCivita, a Republican adviser who helped create the "Swift Boat" ads that severely damaged John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.

. . .

At least one conservative activist already has posted a video on the Web site YouTube with Wright's most incendiary remarks mixed with snippets from Obama speeches and interviews, which are edited to make the senator seem to be sputtering and unpatriotic. The Politico, a Washington-based newspaper, reported that the two-minute video was the work of Lee Habeeb, a former producer of the Laura Ingraham Show, a conservative talk program.

The Politico quoted Habeeb as saying, "I'm trying to join the YouTube generation and have some fun. We wanted to see if we could get in circulation."

The video was distributed Thursday by a McCain campaign aide, Soren Dayton, who subsequently was reprimanded and suspended. "We have been very clear on the type of campaign we intend to run and this staffer acted in violation of our policy," campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said.

There is the possibility that these efforts could backfire on McCain, but I doubt it. Swift Boat didn't backfire on Bush; Willie Horton didn't backfire on Bush the Elder. What's more probable is that similar efforts could backfire on Clinton.

It seems, according to Eloise Harper at ABC News, the Clinton campaign has been using Rev. Wright to try to persuade Democratic superdelegates that Obama is unelectable in the general election.

However at a Thursday press availability in Terra Haute, Indiana after a report surfaced that the Clinton campaign was pushing the Wright story to superdelegates arguing that the relationship hurt Obama's electibility -– Clinton refused to deny that her campaign was pushing the story.

. . .

When Clinton was then asked specifically if her campaign was pushing the Wright story –- she shrugged and took the next question, ignoring the reporter.

Bob Beckel, head of Walter Mondale's 1984 Presidential campaign- the last time superdelegates decided the nomination- has weighed in not just on this issue, but also on the overall superdelegate issue.

The third key to Mondale's nomination, and arguably the most important, were superdelegates. Superdelegates were created in the early '80s with the strong backing of the Mondale campaign. These were party leaders (most with long histories with Mondale) who would decide the nomination if a candidate failed to get enough pledged delegates for a convention majority. Mondale had predicted enough delegates to claim the nomination after the last primaries on June 5th, '84. We came up short and needed roughly 50 superdelegates to commit. They did, allowing Mondale to claim the nomination on June 6th.

Did we twist arms and call in old debts like the Obama campaign believes the Clintons are doing? Sure, but that kind of pressure rarely worked. Our strongest arguments (which sold virtually all 50 superdelegates) were that: Mondale had won the most pledged delegates overall, gotten the most popular votes, and, more importantly, had won the home states or districts of the superdelegates we had targeted that day. Without a compelling reason, superdelegates were loath to go against the majority of their constituents. It was true in '84 and it should be true in '08.

. . .

But the Republican right wing has seized on the Wright story and is unlikely to let it go. For John McCain this has serious downside potential. Anger in the black community towards Republicans is established and immutable. But if conservatives are perceived as exploiting yet another race story, anger could spread to moderate Republican and Independent voters, many in the suburbs, where the Republicans have been bleeding support the last decade.

For those supporters of Hillary Clinton who see the story as a way of selling superdelegates on Obama's unelectability, the downside is far more dangerous. If the Clinton campaign is caught using the race card, particularly after Bill Clinton's 'cracker tour' of South Carolina, it will assure a Clinton defeat in November. Not only will blacks boycott the polls, so will many of the millions of young voters Obama has brought into the political process.

. . .

To repeat, for the benefit of undecided superdelegates; the nominating voting process ends on June 3rd. Superdelegates will have all the information they need (and none of the excuses they've been hiding behind) to declare support for one of the candidates by June 4th. If voting trends continue as they have, there is no other choice but Barack Obama.

If they go with Hillary Clinton, the case against Obama's electability better be a strong one. If not, superdelegates will be responsible for ripping the party apart in an election year that favors Democrats on every front. These "party leaders" will also be responsible for alienating our most loyal constituency and locking the door on our first young recruits in decades.

Do it on the "big state" argument and you deserve to be laughed out of town or maybe horsewhipped in Denver.

Of course, as we've seen already, the Clintons never think about tomorrow, never think any further than the battle at hand. They will say and do anything they can to win the nomination, and only then will they consider the general election. Mark Penn is already pointing to polls that show Obama has lost his general-election poll lead over John McCain... but he fails to point out that Clinton is also losing, in the same polls, by the same or greater margins. They are willing and eager to throw away the general election in their efforts to win the nomination.

To sum up: a bit too early to say what the speech has done, but it is definitely not the big winner a lot of the media have painted it as. Wright is not going to be allowed to fade from public consciousness, which means he will continue to hurt Obama until at least the general election, if not long after. Wright harms Obama's ability to cut into Clinton's base. The one positive about the speech is that it is likely to reassure superdelegates- on whom all depends for both candidates. Anything else is too early to say- until new polls over the coming week clearly show trends after the speech.

(Well, there's two positives, actually. Breaking news tonight is that State Department contractors, on multiple occasions, illegally accessed Obama's passport records. Obama supporters can now point to a vast White House conspiracy to send in modern-day Plumbers to dig up the dirt on the Democrats, and suggest that Bush would prefer Clinton in the White House to Obama. Obama himself would never do such a thing, but...)

(Oh- and adjustments to superdelegate estimates tick Obama's magic number to shut the door on Clinton down one. Magic number now 112.)

1 comment:

JaaJoe said...

Sean Hannity is a Hypocrite! I recently found this article - The SEAN HANNITY AND LAURA INGRAHAM HYPOCRISY.
Very Interesting take on the Right's attack on Obama and his Reverend.