Last week a national Electoral College poll pitted Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama separately against John McCain in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. The numbers will obviously change between now and the general election, but the poll shows both Clinton and Obama defeating McCain with combinations of states that shake up the familiar red-blue divide of the past two presidential elections. And though they win with different states, the fact that the poll gives both Obama and Clinton an advantage fails to help resolve a main point of contention in the Democratic primary: Who is more electable? And so, as always, we turn to the pundits.
Remember when there was all that hullabaloo about the Clinton campaign's making Barack Obama look blacker than he is in one of its ads? The campaign dismissed the claim, but we know enough about political advertising to be aware that not one single second of any spot isn't agonized over. (Case in point: The idea that the famous "floating cross" in Huckabee's Christmas ad was anything but planned is ridiculous.) But maybe we were too quick to judge: Last Thursday we noticed that Clinton isn't the only one with trouble nailing down Obama's exact facial characteristics. The Wall Street Journal's crack team of stipple artists (led by Noli Novak) couldn't quite get it right, either. Instead of Obama's trademark dark brow and big open eyes, we got an image of a man who looked, well, a little bit like a generic black dude. That's weird, right? But maybe we should just chalk it up to the limitations of the medium. And in that case, let us say that said limitations are kinder to Hillary. When was the last time you saw her looking that joyful and young?
Clinton, Obama Go on Attack as Superdelegates Hold Key [WSJ]
Last night, Democratic strategist Joe Trippi sat down to discuss the Democratic primary with New York's John Heilemann from his home on the eastern shore of Maryland. The architect of Howard Dean's 2004 primary insurgency, most recently a senior adviser to John Edwards's campaign and a leading advocate for the "bottom-up" style of campaigning, which eschews big donors in favor of grassroots organizing and small donations fueled by the Internet, shared his thoughts on the current Clinton-Obama deadlock. Read on to find out why this won't be resolved before the convention, a Clinton-Obama ticket is likely, and the end of the writers' strike was a key moment in the race.
JH: Let's start at 30,000 feet. As of right now, what's the probability (out of 100) that Obama will be the Democratic nominee?
JT: I would give Obama a probability of 70 out of 100 that he will be the nominee, but Clinton could still pull this out.
“[Barack] Obama has won the small caucus states with the latte-sipping crowd,” an anonymous aide to Hillary Clinton told the Times of London over the weekend. “They don’t need a president, they need a feeling.” —Times Online
If there’s one piece of partisan analysis that has hardened into conventional wisdom about the 2008 Democratic campaign, it’s that Obama is an uptown guy compared to Clinton’s downtown gal. The argument has been made elegantly, as when Rutgers historian David Greenberg wrote in Slate that Obama’s “real precursors … are the educated, middle-class reformers of the Gilded Age known as the Mugwumps … liberal professionals and gentlemen of the late 19th century who tried to transform both the economic arrangements of the industrial age … and the machine-dominated political system … forebears of the Progressives … but also elitist.” And it’s been made crassly, as when machinists-union chief Tom Buffenbarger called Obama supporters “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies.” The meme is out there, and it’s sticking: To paraphrase Archie Bunker on Harry Belafonte, Barack Obama’s just a good-looking Adlai Stevenson dipped in caramel.
Barack Obama's Tuesday losses were like splash of cold water on a campaign too comfortable with its recent dominance. But is the problem now going to be one of the campaigns becoming too aggressive? Yesterday, in an ominous sign, Obama adviser Samantha Power called Hillary Clinton a "monster" (read our take on that). But while that smear was immediately condemned by Obama, his political team clearly believes that he has to be more aggressive, especially in the face of stepped-up Clinton attacks that include comparing Obama to, yes, Ken Starr. Many commentators are already warning Obama to be careful as he wades into the muck.
Barack Obama's foreign-policy adviser, Samantha Power, went negative on Hillary Clinton to the The Scotsman yesterday. Like, really negative. While traveling in the U.K. to promote her book Chasing the Flame, about U.N. representative Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Pulitzer winner lamented the Ohio primary — "We fucked up in Ohio" — and kinda let loose about Obama's rival. "She is a monster," she told the paper, before quickly trying to pull the statement off the record. (The paper was having none of it, noting that Power was promoting her book and it had been established in advance that the interview was on the record.) Regardless, Power's on-the-record statements weren't much gentler. "She is stooping to anything," she said of Clinton. "You just look at her and think: ergh … The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive." All right then! Now tell us how you really feel. Power later apologized and Obama "decried" the statement (wonder whether Hillary will call him out on not "rejecting" it instead?). We also learned today that Hillary's team is trying to slap Obama with the Ken Starr name tag, but let's be honest — "monster" is much more catchy.
Inside US poll battle as fight turns dirty for Democrats [Scotsman]
Update: Power just resigned, issuing the following statement: "With deep regret, I am resigning from my role as an adviser to the Obama campaign effective today. Last Monday, I made inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor and purpose of the Obama campaign."
It's been one thing after another in the Democratic primaries, from hand-wringing over superdelegates to confusion over the Texas "primacaucus" process. Another headache is now moving to the forefront: With the race so tight, what to do about Florida and Michigan, whose delegates the DNC refused to seat after the states were warned not to schedule their primaries so early? Yesterday, DNC chair Howard Dean laid out two ideas: The states can submit a plan for a new selection process or they can wait until the summer and ask the party's Convention Credentials Committee to resolve the dispute. And so the wrangling begins in earnest.
If Katie Couric had a real Facebook page, one that just her friends could see, for the past couple of years you could just imagine that it would have this constant status update: "Katie Couric is disappointed." After her ratings at CBS News slumped and the network became less supportive of her, you might imagine that she's sort of just generally a little disillusioned all the time. So you almost forget that there might be specific things that she's disappointed about. Like presidential primary debates, for example. Today, we learn from the Observer that she wanted to host one (as anchors tend to do — Anderson Cooper alone moderated, like, fifteen), but for various reasons a CBS debate never materialized.
Woooo! Hillary won! Things are going to be exciting now. She's back in it to win it. Or is she? As the confetti settles from last night, pundits have begun repeating their long-practiced warnings: In order to really capture the nomination, Hillary still has to pull some political moves that will tear the Democratic party asunder. Whether it's a continued onslaught of attack ads, a bid to seat Michigan and Florida delegates, or a last-minute coup of the election by superdelegates, many are still afraid of what Clinton's actions might mean for the party base.
• Jonathan Alter does the math using Slate's Delegate Calculator (predicting generous Clinton victories), and still thinks she can't win without superdelegates, even if she gets a rerun in Michigan and Florida. [Newsweek]
• Charles Hurt, who called Hill the "strife of the party," warns that if superdelegates actually do give her the nomination despite overwhelming demand for Obama, "many of his supporters — including the party's crucial bloc of black voters — will desert the party." [NYP]
As John Heilemann explains, that “kitchen sink” Hillary Clinton threw at Barack Obama turned out to be pretty effective. Despite polls showing Ohio residents believed by wide margins that she attacked him unfairly rather than the other way around, Hillary spanked Obama by double digits in Ohio and eked out a popular-vote win in Texas. But it wasn’t just her red phone ringing at 3 a.m., kvetching about back-channel NAFTA assurances, and pushing the media to interrogate Obama about Antoin Rezko.
So Hillary Clinton did what she had to do yesterday to earn a tomorrow for her candidacy: She won Ohio (decisively) and Texas (by a hair in the popular vote, though Obama is likely to win the caucus portion of that state’s weird-ass system). It’s true that a few weeks ago, this would have seemed no great feat, so great were HRC’s leads in the opinion polls in both places. But in the face of Barack Obama’s monthlong, twelve-contest winning streak, of being massively outspent on the air and out-organized on the ground, of two debates where she did no better than battle her rival to a draw, of a slow and seemingly inexorable drift of superdelegates (and not just any superdelegates, but John Lewis, for chrissakes) to Obama — in the face of all of that, Hillary’s achievement was inarguably considerable.
"Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years." Once again the immortal words of LL Cool J somehow perfectly apply to an American political trend. Tuesday was indeed Clinton's comeback night, and she owes it all to whites, Latinos, women, the working class, late-deciders, the elderly, the moderately educated — just about any demographic group that can possibly be identified and analyzed through exit polls. But the numbers alone don't tell the whole story — here are some of the more interesting takes on last night's exit polls.
Hit with phone attack ads, scrambling to explain mysterious NAFTA meetings with Canadians, and pelted by a suddenly awakened press corps, Barack Obama is on the defensive for the first time since the days after the New Hampshire primary. Polls show Hillary Clinton widening her lead in Ohio and reclaiming enough lost territory to make Texas a dead heat. But this late in the ball game, math is at least as important as momentum. And the latest delegate numbers show Obama, despite all the recent headlines, heading for a tipping point in securing the Democratic nomination.
Barack Obama must be wondering how the worst press he’s received practically all campaign season came down just before today’s primaries — his chance to close the deal. He can look inward for answers. The big story, of course, is the meeting an Obama advisor, Austin Goolsbee, had with a Canadian official about NAFTA. After Canadian TV reported that Goolsbee had assured the Canadian official that basically all Obama’s tough talk on NAFTA was political maneuvering, the Obama campaign denied the meeting ever took place. Then, on cue, a Canadian memo surfaced confirming that the meeting did take place. The Obama campaign’s evasive answers and qualified denials have failed to placate a press corps determined to prove they’re holding Obama accountable. At the same time, a former Obama supporter, Antoin Rezko, begins his trial in Chicago for influence peddling. While nothing unethical or illegal has been proven about Obama’s relationship with Rezko, the fact that new details are still emerging raises doubts about Obama’s previous claims that he has divulged everything about their association. None of this meshes well with Obama’s claim to be running on a new kind of politics, and, from looking at the polls showing a Clinton rebound, voters are taking notice.
A day before the latest all-important primaries, in Ohio and Texas (and oh, Vermont and Rhode Island), the expectation game has taken on even more significance than usual. Weeks ago, the pundits were saying Clinton needed a blowout win; Bill Clinton admitted they needed to take both Ohio and Texas. With the polls showing a tightening race, people are beginning to wonder what Clinton will do if tomorrow's results are muddled — which, given Texas' ridiculously complex primary-caucus hybrid, is a very real possibility.
Yesterday, Barack Obama released an open letter about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality, stating that “it’s wrong to have millions of Americans living as second-class citizens in this nation.” Obama is broadly committed to issues of special importance to gays, from advocating benefits for domestic partners of federal employees to supporting equal treatment for same-sex couples under immigration law to fighting HIV infection in prisons. But there’s also a larger context to his opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and his desire to completely repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama’s doing a little coming out of his own — as an anti-Clintonian liberal.
Just because McCain is the Republican nominee (shh, don't tell Mike Huckabee!) doesn't mean he can kick up his feet and wait until the Democratic primary blows over. Every day brings new complications for McCain, whether within his own base or with the Democratic candidates. So many are already looking ahead to the general election, where McCain faces questions about his history with lobbyists, how to attack his opponents, and how to appeal to both moderates and conservatives. If his small trip-ups yesterday — not to mention what the pundits have been saying — are any indication, this campaign season could be a long one for McCain.
In an interview on Nightline that aired last night, Hillary Clinton discussed the unique challenges she faced as woman running for president. “No woman has ever won a presidential primary before I won New Hampshire. This is hard. And I don't expect any sympathy,” she told ABC’s Cynthia McFadden. Still, she wouldn’t mind it if everyone let go of their personal biases against a female leader. “Every so often I just wish that it were a little more of an even playing field, but, you know, I play on whatever field is out there," she said. There’s no doubt Clinton has been forced to perform a sort of ridiculous high-wire act this campaign, trying to find the perfect balance between attracting women voters without scaring away men, seeming human without seeming too much of a female human. Too much either way, and she falls into the safety net below (the Senate). But it's also true that as a black guy with a problematic middle name, Barack H. Obama is competing on an uneven field as well (just ask Gaydolph Titler).
After months of teasing, innuendo, and downright madness, Bloomberg has put our stress over the possibility of his presidential candidacy to rest. In an editorial in the New York Times that went online last night, the mayor explained:
I listened carefully to those who encouraged me to run, but I am not — and will not be — a candidate for president. I have watched this campaign unfold, and I am hopeful that the current campaigns can rise to the challenge by offering truly independent leadership.
He railed against the candidates for not fully comprehending the challenges facing our economy, the environment, and our schools. He also encouraged an independent approach to these solutions, rather than a partisan one, and emphasized the importance of encouraging growth in America's cities. He says he'll still use his vast means to advocate for these issues during the race. The Daily News applauded the move, immediately nominating Bloomberg as a vice-presidential candidate to run on Obama's ticket. The Post, meanwhile, called his prior flirtation with a run "shameful" and "infuriating." We're frankly a little past caring — we'd already pulled out all of our eyebrows by last summer anyway.
I'm Not Running For President, But… [NYT]
With less than a week to go before the next round of Democratic primaries, Texas is the state to watch. It’s big, it’s critically important, it’s a dead heat (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are separated by an average of 1.2 points in the most recent polls). And, because its delegate-selection process is governed by wacky, convoluted rules that hardly anybody fully understands, it’s ripe for projections based on our special insights. Here, then, are four trends to watch — and what they mean for your favorite candidate.