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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Has Hillary Clinton Turned the Corner?

(Editor's note: This long-weekend, I'll recap the week that was in presidential politics, showing why all three contenders have a reason to smile and enjoy a Good Weekend. Yesterday was Barack Obama, today is Hillary Clinton, and tomorrow will be John McCain. Happy Easter.)

Yesterday, I showed how the numbers and the math point to a nearly inevitable Barack Obama nomination. He has an insurmountable lead in states and pledged delegates, and his 800,000 vote lead in the popular vote, while not insuperable, is undeniably daunting.

Yet Hillary Clinton is very much alive in the Democratic Primary. There is a clear and realistic avenue towards victory for her.

Step 1: Win Pennsylvania big.
Step 2: Win a majority of the ten remaining primaries, overturning the popular vote lead.
Step 3: Continually remind the public, media, and superdelegates that: a) She has the momentum; b) She won the popular vote; and c) She won Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio and polls much better against McCain in those battleground states.
Step 4: Win superdelegates by a healthy margin.

This is not as tall of an order as it seems. With each step, she sets up the next one. Let's break it down.

Step 1: Win Pennsylvania big. This is likely to happen. She is dominating Pennsylvania polls (numbers found through Real Clear Politics):

Public Policy Polling (3/15 - 3/16)
HC - 56
BO - 30
Clinton +26

Franklin & Marshall (3/11 - 3/16)
HC - 51
BO - 35
Clinton +16

Quinnipiac (3/10 - 3/16)
HC - 53
BO - 41
Clinton +12

Rasmussen (3/12 - 3/12)
HC - 51
BO - 38
Clinton +13

SurveyUSA (3/08 - 3/10)
HC - 55
BO - 36
Clinton +19

Susquehanna (3/05 - 3/10)
HC - 45
BO - 31
Clinton +14

Average of the six:
HC - 52
BO - 35
Clinton +17

Clinton is not only up by an average of 17 points in Pennsylvania, but she seems to be putting distance between herself and Obama. Pennsylvania's 158 pledged delegates is the largest prize remaining in the Democratic Primary, easily out distancing North Carolina's 115 and Indiana's 72, the second and third largest remaining primaries. If she can win the Keystone State's primary by 20 points, which will translate into about 95 delegates to Obama's 63, closing the pledged delegate gap by 32 delegates, but more importantly, signaling the shift in momentum to Clinton for the nine subsequent contests.

Step 2: Win a majority of the ten remaining primaries, overturning Obama's lead in the popular vote. These are the remaining Democratic Primaries, with their pledged delegate totals:
April 22 - Pennsylvania - 158
May 3 - Guam - 4
May 6 - Indiana - 72
May 6 - North Carolina - 115
May 13 - West Virginia - 28
May 20 - Kentucky - 51
May 20 - Oregon - 52
June 1 - Puerto Rico - 55
June 3 - Montana - 16
June 3 - South Dakota - 15

Once winning the Pennsylvania Primary, she will have a lot going for her. With the exception of the nearly insignificant Guam Caucus, all of these remaining contests are primaries, good news for her as Obama has dominated the caucus format.

While Obama is expected to win North Carolina, it will not be by the margin that Clinton wins Pennsylvania. Moreover, there are infrequent but consistent reports that if North Carolina's favorite son, John Edwards, endorses someone, it seems it will be Hillary Clinton, though statistically negligible across the country, will be significant in North Carolina. An Edwards endorsement of Clinton could even give her a narrow victory, which would be enormous in her final push, potentially sewing up big wins in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon (how this affects the popular vote in two paragraphs).

Step 3: a) Remind voters, media, and superdelegates that she has the momentum. Heading into the general election, Clinton needs to make the argument that if she wins most of the final primaries, then she has a full head of steam built up to successfully face off against John McCain. She must ask: If Obama gets nominated despite staggering across the finish line, how could he possible stand up to the Republican Party?

b) Win the popular vote. Ohio cast 2.2 million votes in their Democratic primary. Pennsylvania is expected to eclipse that total by several hundred thousand. She won Ohio by 10 points, which translated to a margin of victory of 230,000 votes. If Pennsylvania casts 2.5 million votes, and she wins by 20 points, she would get 1.5 million to Obama's 1 million, cutting the 800,000 vote margin to 300,000. If one factors in Florida and Michigan (which she will), Clinton would actually be winning the popular vote at that point. If she goes on to win the majority of remaining primaries, including a realistic big win in Indiana, and stays close or wins in North Carolina, she will legitimately overcome Obama's lead in that category.

c) Several polls in the last week show a trend towards Clinton in the general election. In Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, Clinton polls better than Obama against John McCain.

Step 4: So, if a) she has the momentum; b) has the popular vote, and c) polls better in the swing states, won't the superdelegates push her to the nomination? If the Democratic voters and superdelegates are having a difficult time deciding which of the two support, and they see those numbers, would they not logically go to Clinton?

When superdelegates finally cast all of their ballots, even with the best of intentions, they will be truly conflicted. The argument has been that superdelegates should not overturn the pledged delegates... but what if the pledged delegates did not agree with the people as a whole? Which is the more democratic barometer - pledged delegates or the popular vote? Which number should superdelegates respect if they wish to go with the will of the people? Clinton could easily make the case that they should support the will of the popular vote.

Do not forget that superdelegates can weigh any criteria they like. It is completely up to them whether or not to include Michigan and Florida in their thought process, or momentum, or big states vs. small, or primaries vs. caucuses, or race, or gender, or personal relationships. Right or wrong, for better or worse, it is completely up to them.

It is plain to see why each candidate is willing to fight until their last breath. This simply will not be decided overnight. There has been an avenue to victory for both candidates since this campaign began. Why should either concede? Therefore, they continue to throw jabs at each other, and sometimes some hooks. They both want to win, and they both can.

Meanwhile, John McCain sits back and waits, unscathed and rested. Tomorrow, I'll take a look at him. See you then.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Good Friday for Clinton, Obama, and McCain

(Editor's note: This long weekend, I'll recap the week that was in presidential politics, showing why all three contenders have a reason to smile and call today a Good Friday. Today is Barack Obama, tomorrow will be Hillary Clinton, and Sunday will be John McCain. Happy Easter.)

Barack Obama is sitting pretty.

He is leading in pledged delegates. The PPFA Average has him up by 161 with 566 left. This mpeans that for Hillary Clinton to overcome Obama's pledged delegate lead, she will need to win 364, or 64%, of the remaining pledged delegates. Considering only once this primary season has she won a state by more than 58% of the vote (Rhode Island was 58, Arkansas was 70), while Obama has done it 15 times (mostly caucuses), it is extremely unlikely that she can come back in this category.

He is leading in the state count. In fact, he clinched it with Mississippi. He has now won 26 states, and the number grows to 30 if you include Texas (he split it with Clinton but Obama won more delegates from the state), Washington DC, the Democrats Abroad, and the Virgin Islands. Clinton, meanwhile, has won 13 states, with Texas and the American Samoa possibly bringing the number to 15, and the appropriately excluded Florida and Michigan not bringing it to 17.

Finally, he is leading the popular vote. There have been about 27.3 million votes cast in the Democratic Primary. Barack Obama has won 13.6 million of them, or 49.6%. Hillary Clinton has won 12.8 million of them, or 46.6%. The difference is 800,000 votes in favor of Obama (note, this does not include Florida and Michigan, for obvious reasons).

With recent stories that Florida and Michigan will not revote, that makes Clinton comebacks in any of those three categories all the more unlikely.

Know this: If Barack Obama holds onto leads in each of these three categories, there is no chance that the superdelegates will overturn the decision. He could be winning by 25 pledged delegates, 4 states, and 100,000 votes... and the superdelegates will not overturn the decision. It would be an incredibly undemocratic decision by the Democratic Primary.

I'm back tomorrow for why everything written above does not necessarily translate to a Barack Obama nomination. See you then.

Addendum: For my thoughts on Obama's speech this week, read my preview and recap. In one sentence: The content of the speech did not help or hurt him, but the quality and delivery should be of help as he reminds the American people of his potential talents as a president.

Addendum #2: Obama is also about to receive Bill Richardson's endorsement. Richardson was thought of as the #4 candidate in the race after Clinton, Obama, and John Edwards. (Edwards has yet to endorse.) Richardson's strength is seen in the Southwest, but there are no more southwest primaries. Still, another big name and superdelegate on Obama's side can never hurt.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Presidential Politics for America Average

Democratic Standings

As most political junkies know, we do not have an exact delegate count in the Democratic Primary. Different websites and news networks have different tallies. For example...

(pd=pledged delegates, sd=superdelegates)
CNN has
Barack Obama: 1413 pd + 208 sd = 1,621 total
Hillary Clinton: 1242 pd + 237 sd = 1,479 total
Difference: Obama +171 pd, -29 sd = +142 total

Obama: 1408 pd + 217 sd = 1,625 total
Clinton: 1251 pd + 255 sd = 1,506 total
Difference: Obama + 157 pd, -38 sd = +119 total

Goobergunch Political Report has
Obama: 1377.5 pd + 209 sd = 1,586.5 total
Clinton: 1224.5 pd + 227 sd = 1471.5 total
Difference: Obama + 153 pd, -18 sd = +135 total

Wikipedia has
Obama: 1414 pd + 209 sd = 1,623 total
Clinton: 1252.5 pd + 246 sd = 1498.5
Difference: Obama + 161.5 pd, -37 sd = +124.5 total

Real Clear Politics has
Obama: 1414 pd + 213 sd = 1627 total
Clinton: 1246 pd + 248 sd = 1494 total
Difference: Obama + 168 pd, -35 sd = 133 total

Yahoo has
Obama: 1404 pd + 213 sd = 1,617 total
Clinton: 1249 pd + 250 sd = 1,499 total
Difference: Obama +155 pd, -37 sd = 118 total

Confusing right? Why can't they agree, especially considering it's been over a week since the last primary? Well, there are a few reasons.

Similar to election nights, some sources like to be the first to call a state. In primaries, often times you will have results from a state broken up by districts. Some districts take over a week to confirm their voting, and news sources vary as to when they will add the district to their voting totals.

What adds to the confusion is that some states don't choose all of their delegates on the day of the primary. Some state rules wait until later in the primary season and make amendments. For an example, read this week's post on the Iowa Caucus.

Also, superdelegates are fluid. For anyone who has played close attention, the number of superdelegates for Hillary Clinton, from some sources, has actually declined in the past month. Superdelegates are not locked in until the convention, and that includes this summer after the final primary in June. Potentially, they could all decide to support one candidate to push them over the top. Both candidates are fighting like heck to win these superdelegates early. They want to make their total delegate numbers, broadcasted constantly by the networks, to look gaudier, thereby attracting more voters. If Clinton were to look like she was out of it, her voters would be suppressed.

Anyway, websites and networks can estimate the superdelegate count at their discretion. What counts as a commitment? Who makes the final decision to change the number? Which candidate's internal total do they trust?

Clearly, many factors are at play, and a true delegate count will not be known until the Democratic National Convention at the end of August, when the delegates officially record their votes before the national committee.

Therefore and finally, I unveil the Presidential Politics for America Average (or PPFAA), averaging the numbers from the above six sources. This will be the number I use until the Democratic Party has a nominee. Here is the first such aggregate count:

PPFA has:
Obama: 1405 pd + 212 sd = 1,617 total
Clinton: 1244 pd + 244 sd = 1,488 total
Obama is up 161 in pledged delegates
Clinton is up 32 in superdelegates (subject to change without a primary)

Obama is up 139 in total delegates.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thoughts on Obama's Speech

Barack Obama's speech was impressive. If nothing else, I feel confident in saying he is the most talented writer running for president since Robert Kennedy in 1968. (Note, I was born in 1983, so maybe you take that with a grain of salt, but I read and I watch old speeches.)

I'm not going to write too much today, leaving the bulk of the post for the section of the speech that was most impressive. Suffice it to say that he hit the speech out of the park, though I think the content of the speech will have zero effect on the primary (see yesterday's realistic scenario).

What might have an effect, however minimal, is the quality of the speech itself. Might America become nostalgic for the prose of Reagan, brilliance of Kennedy, and flourish of King, all wrapped up into one candidate, even if to a lesser degree? It looks much better, of course, coming on the heals of nearly eight years of a president with a thoroughly unimpressive stage presence who almost certainly never wrote large swaths of a major speech of any quality, to say nothing of one with the kind of quality of Obama's yesterday, a speech that will be sent straight to the Smithsonian if Obama is elected.

So I ask why not have the President of the United States be the smartest kid in the class? Why not have the President be a great statesmen, speech-writer, and orator? What's the strength of "plain spoken" and "regular" when dealing with foreign leaders, the national debt, and enormous problems facing this country's and the world's future? Do we not want our President to be one of the most impressively talented, motivated, and intelligent people our country can produce? Is that not a perfect pre-requisite for the leader of the free world?

Anyway, I was impressed and I think everyone, whether Clinton supporter, Obama supporter, Republican, Independent, and the apathetic, should likewise be impressed with a skill that's been lacking in our chief executive. Always vote for the candidate who shares your ideals. Always. That doesn't mean, however, that you cannot respect opponents and be wowed by their talent.

I pulled the following from the text of the speech. It was the fourth fifth of the speech and my favorite section.

"For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle -- as we did in the O.J. trial -- or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina -- or as fodder for the nightly news.

We can play Rev. Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words.

We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children.

This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st Century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the emergency room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care, who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life.

This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag.

We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for president if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's "Race Speech"

Today, Barack Obama will make a speech on race in America, and it is the ultimate risk assessment of his campaign. There is some upside, but he has the potential to crash and burn. The speech has the feel of a candidate who is losing and needs to change the tenor of his campaign, not one who is leading by over a hundred delegates and can sit on a lead for the final ten primaries. Yet he pushes forward with a big speech. Why?

That question will be answered in a bit. But first, let's take a look at the worst, realistic, and best case scenario for the Obama campaign after this speech.

Worst case scenario: The black candidate talks about race. He draws more attention to his skin color, his name (first, middle, and last), his heritage, and pictures of him in Kenya that may or may not have been taken by Hillary Clinton using Karl Rove's camera. The Jeremiah Wright story gets another news cycle worth of play (a story I have purposefully avoided because using excerpts of a candidate's friend in order to attack the candidate himself while simultaneously pushing racial divisiveness in America is everything that is wrong with politics and the media). Despite Obama's best intentions, a nervous white base - either nervous about a different looking President or nervous about Obama's chances in the general - quietly deserts Obama. His platform of unity is torn apart by the focus on his minister and his race.

Obama, who still clings to the momentum in the race, loses it with this speech, and his national numbers begin to decline. A resounding Clinton win in Pennsylvania begins a huge ramp-up of momentum for her, and she wins nearly all remaining primaries, including a huge win in a potential June Michigan Primary. Superdelegates commit during her momentum and push her over 2,000 delegates and she gets the nomination.

Realistic scenario: No palpable effect. Mitt Romney's speech about his Mormonism and faith in America had no effect on the polls. Romney still ran in second or third place and still cleared 90% in Utah. The country already knew Obama was black and has already been slammed over the head with his middle name and one-time Kenyan garb. He will try to reassure white voters that he is the change candidate, not the black candidate, but changes few minds in the process. For now, however, the status quo is enough for his nomination.

Obama's speech and the Wright story are yesterday's news by next week (thanks to the Pro-Bama media), when the four week countdown to Pennsylvania refocuses the campaign on the collapsing economy, resurgence of violence in Iraq, and who best matches up with John McCain.

Best case scenario: He rejuvenates white supporters and completes his victory by June. He acknowledges that he, Barack Obama, is just another character in this country's progress in racial relations. We have gone from slavery to civil rights to a black presidential candidate with countless steps in between. At no point was there a character bigger than the story, though never closer than Dr. King (who must be mentioned in Obama's speech today).

Characters and events, however, can advance the story. Barack Obama is the character and his run at the presidency is the event. What is somehow not mentioned enough is that black America has had few figures this important in its community since Martin Luther King Jr. himself. And remember Dr. King's relationship with Americans. He was one of the most respected men to Americans of all races, though there were obviously millions of holdouts who feared his power to inspire the masses. He inspired with words and speeches, which Clinton continues to underrate, not with seven years in the Senate and eight years married to the president.

Barack Obama is not Dr. King, and Obama will be the first to admit that. But that doesn't mean that Obama cannot aim for that type of unifying and inspiring effect on the American people.

A small but loud criticism of Obama is that he is great at being a politician, but would not be great at being a leader. A reader emailed me yesterday to say, "He (Obama) is nothing more than a shifty, clever politician, duping the gullible into drinking his Kool-aid."

One should not argue anything other than this unbiased conclusion: That remains to be seen.

Perhaps that is enough reason to vote against him, because we don't know what we're getting, and the only way to find out is to elect him. For those impatient to find out what he can bring to the presidency, today's speech is a preview. Will he bend to the will of the people because he wants to get elected? Or, will he use this unique situation (a legitimate black presidential candidate talking about race in America) to soothe race relations in this election, continuing the climb to the mountain top?

I, for one, hope it's the latter, though I'm not sure we'd even be able to tell the difference. To answer the question from this column's introduction, the following is why he takes this risk. These are words from Dr. King himself. On March 31st, 1968, as Dr. King unknowingly concluded the last complete month of his life, he offered these words in a sermon at the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

"Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus."

Barack Obama, you're on.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Obama Extends Lead Sans Primary

Advancing Friday's post, Barack Obama extended his delegate lead again, and this time without even a primary. Explanation?

On Saturday, he won the Iowa Caucus... again... kind of.

For those confused, the best place to start is with one statement: Plainly speaking, the Iowa caucuses held on January 3rd were not binding.

Not plainly speaking, however...

The January 3rd vote was just step one of three. Across Iowa, there are 1,784 precincts (polling areas) for the famous kick-off caucuses. Those results determine the amount of delegates sent to the county caucuses, of which there are 99. That was Saturday - step two. The country conventions, in turn, voted delegates to the state convention, which will be step three, on June 14th. It is at the state convention, in Des Moines, where Iowa finally determines the actual allocation of their 45 pledged delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

To better understand, let's add players to the game. On January 3rd, Barack Obama won 16 delegates to Hillary Clinton's 15 and John Edwards' 14. Therefore, for Saturday's county conventions, Obama was granted the narrow plurality of supporters, with Clinton and Edwards allocated nearly as many. Similar to the first stage in the Iowa process, supporters were allowed to change sides. Since John Edwards is no longer in the race, many of those delegates were free and encouraged to switch to a new, viable candidate.

Many of them did. Obama earned 52% of Iowa delegates at Saturday's county conventions, while Clinton earned 32%. Sixteen percent stuck with Edwards. Therefore, we have new projected delegates for Iowa. Obama got a 9 delegate bump from 16 to 25. Clinton lost a delegate to Obama, thus falling to 14 delegates from her 15 back in January. Eight delegates deserted Edwards (all for Obama), dropping his Iowan total from 14 to 6.

This process will be similarly repeated on June 14th at the state convention in Des Moines, except this time Obama will start with 52% of delegates to Clinton's 32%, and be the favorite to attract Edwards' last 6 Iowan delegates and easily win the Iowa Caucus... this time officially.

Additionally, Obama is gaining elsewhere. California finally completed its vote-counting on Saturday, allowing them to allocate their last seven delegates to the Democratic Primary. Obama, formerly at 161 delegates from California, won five of them to finish at 166. Clinton, formerly at 202, earned the other two to finishes at 204.

Obama's five new California delegates, combined with his nine new Iowa delegates, gave him a fourteen delegate pick-up over the weekend. Clinton picked up two new delegates in California but lost one in Iowa, giving her a one delegate pick-up.

In sum, Obama net thirteen delegates on Saturday, and we didn't even have a primary.

Therefore, barring anything unforeseen between now and Wednesday, we can add a new total to the "Each Wednesday" pledged delegate chart:

January 9 - Obama +1 (25-24)
January 16 - Obama +1 (25-24)
January 23 - Obama +2 (38-36)
January 30 - Obama +15 (63-48)
February 6 - Obama +37 (910-873)
February 13 - Obama +141 (1141-1000)
February 20 - Obama +159 (1197-1038)
February 27 - Obama +159 (1197-1038)
March 5 - Obama +153 (1379-1226)
March 12 - Obama +160 (1405-1245)
March 19? - Obama +173 (1419-1246) (Current pledged delegate count)

And the gap continues to widen...
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