ENPR: Obama in the Driver’s Seat, but Florida and Michigan Fights Loom
- The principal cause for Democratic dismay and Republican hope in the presidential race is the bitterness among Democratic voters as a result of the Obama-Clinton competition. Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) has been a passionate favorite of black voters, who say they will not vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) if she "steals" the nomination. To a lesser extent, white Clinton voters are saying they could never support Obama.
- Such internal anger usually fades once the nominee is actually selected. Nevertheless, the racial nature of Democratic struggles worries party insiders. The racial divide on the Obama-Clinton dispute is widening, helped along by Geraldine Ferraro‘s recent comments (see below).
- Democratic leaders are still absolutely determined that the nomination will be decided before the delegates convene in Denver the last week in August. Since neither Obama nor Clinton will be able to get a majority of delegates after the primaries (even after possible re-votes in Michigan and Florida), the super-delegates must name the winner on the basis of which candidate has the momentum. Obama has the edge, but his nomination is not certain.
- Nobody absolutely rules out the possibility that Denver could become the first truly contested Democratic convention since Chicago in 1952. But it surely would be ugly, with possible credentials fights. Republicans can only pray that this happens.
- Conservative resistance to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as Republican nominee is predictably fading, but the McCain campaign has serious problems. It has neither a policy nor an organizational plan for a general election campaign. McCain needs to be convinced that he cannot continue with his primary election mantra.
- Obama and Clinton have joined McCain in supporting the earmark moratorium proposed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C) as a budget amendment, opposed by the Senate leadership of both parties. The "task force" of Republican senators named by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to solve the earmark problem is actually an abandonment of the issue.
- Supreme Court oral arguments on 2nd Amendment gun ownership rights also have the GOP missing the boat. The Bush Administration, reflecting the position of Justice Department career lawyers, takes an equivocal position on individual gun rights while Obama has taken a stronger pro-gun position than President Bush’s official stance. The saving grace is Vice President Dick Cheney’s unprecedented pro-gun intervention in his constitutional role as President of the Senate.
Mississippi Primary: Obama’s big win here was expected, but it helps halt Clinton’s momentum.
- Mississippi’s racial divide was stark, with Obama pulling in 92 percent of the black vote but only 26 percent of the white vote, according to exit polls. Once again, just before the primary, the Clinton team brought race into the debate — this time with Geraldine Ferraro crediting Obama’s success to his skin color. These Clinton race comments, while regularly derided as careless missteps, are too consistent not to be a pattern. Painting Obama as the black candidate worked in Ohio and possibly Texas, and it could work in Pennsylvania, too.
- Obama, by pulling in 60 percent of the vote, gained nine net delegates on Clinton. This small bump to his lead is still good news to the front-runner who is favored to win the nomination barring a Clinton surge.
- Momentum is important. Obama’s post-Super Tuesday wins were partially due to the perception of momentum. If Clinton were to carry forward the shine of her three wins last week, she would be unbeatable in Pennsylvania. Now, Obama has a month in which to fight on equal footing for the next contest.
Wyoming Primary: Obama dominated the Wyoming caucuses on Saturday, 61 percent to 38 percent.
- Obama’s healthy victory provides a small counter to the perception of Hillary’s momentum. However, being Wyoming and being on a Saturday, it didn’t get much attention.
- Wyoming, low in population and lower in Democratic voters, sends only 12 pledged delegates to the national convention. That means Obama expanded his delegate lead by only two.
- The Wyoming win continues Obama’s streak of winning small states, his domination of caucuses, and his control of red states. His small-state success reflects his skills at retail politics; his caucus wins reflect the enthusiasm of his supporters; and his strong red-state performance stems from his appeal to moderates and Democrats who have been out of power.
- One geographic and demographic detail in Wyoming deserves attention. The historic Democratic stronghold within the state is Sweetwater County, a union hub thanks to the Union Pacific Railroad. Clinton won here, as one would expect, but the victory was not worth much — fewer than 600 Democrats caucused here.
- The new Democratic stronghold — providing more votes than Sweetwater on Saturday and tilting heavily towards Obama — is Teton County, the resort home to the super-wealthy (the IRS called it the richest county in America in 2004). The Sweetwater-Teton dynamic, pointed out by the website ElectionDissection.com, makes it clear: Rich liberals now constitute the base of Wyoming’s Democratic Party, while the old union base is dying off and moving to the GOP. It’s a microcosm of the party’s national shift, and it reflects the sense in which Obama really is "the candidate of the future" in this primary.
Florida and Michigan: While there is some movement towards a solution, the delegate situations in Florida and Michigan are still unclear and could be messy.
- The most viable option proposed had been a vote-by-mail primary in both states. Critics of this plan point out that neither of these states has ever conducted a postal election before, calling it "an experiment." This option raises the same question as any do-over: Who will pay? Florida’s congressional delegation has unequivocally rejected this idea.
- One certainty: Both states will have delegates seated in one way or another. The Democratic Party is not about to disenfranchise the swing state of Florida and the possibly competitive state of Michigan. The solution may not be reached until this summer, but the states will get their delegates.
- Likely, the only way to resolve the situation without a huge mess is if the delegates do not matter. One Florida Obama supporter told us that he expects Obama will build a big enough lead that his campaign will be willing to go along with the Clinton campaign’s proposal for handling the delegates.
- Were Florida to seat delegates according to its January 29 primaries — which all candidates officially boycotted, but the Clinton campaign now says should count — Clinton would pick up 113 delegates to Obama’s 71. In Michigan, where Obama pulled his name from the ballot, Clinton would pick up 80 delegates to Obama’s 1 (with 55 uncommitted delegates). This scenario would basically bring the delegate count to a tie.
- The Obama campaign’s preferred solution is not any fairer: giving each candidate half of the pledged delegates from each state. This would, in effect, run down the clock with Obama ahead in delegates.
- Of the 54 super-delegates between the two states, Clinton leads 15 to 5, with the rest undecided or not yet named.
Delegate Race: Obama is still in the driver’s seat, but adding Michigan and Florida would open things up.
- Obama leads Clinton by 100 to 150 delegates, depending on who is doing the counting. This reflects an Obama lead among pledged delegates of 150 to 200, and a Clinton 40-50 vote lead among super-delegates.
- By the Associated Press’s count, Obama leads by 106 delegates with about 1,300 delegates remaining, counting Michigan and Florida. Clinton would need to win at least 53 percent of the remaining delegates to secure the nomination.
- This Saturday, Iowa Democrats will matter again. The 2,500 delegates elected in the January 3 precinct caucuses will report to the 99 county caucuses. While tied to presidential candidates, these delegates are unpledged, which means that former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards‘ 744 delegates (he edged out Clinton by 7 delegates) could very well pick sides between Obama and Clinton. While many Edwards delegates will want to hold together (especially in the rural counties, which he won), if he drops below 15 percent in any county, his delegates there will be forced to go elsewhere.
- Two stages remain in Iowa after Saturday. The congressional-district delegates chosen Saturday will meet April 26 to pick delegates to the state convention, who in turn will chose delegates to the national convention. Barring mass defections from the major candidates, the delegates for Edwards and the minor candidates could control as many as 15 national delegates.
- The resignation of disgraced New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) shakes up the super-delegate picture, but may not have any net effect. With his resignation, Spitzer, a Clinton supporter, loses his status as a super-delegate. Lt. Gov. David Paterson (D) is already an at-large super-delegate supporting Clinton. When Paterson becomes governor and thus an ex-officio super-delegate, the DNC will have to appoint an at-large super-delegate to replace him — surely a politically-loaded process
- Results from the Texas caucuses show that, when combined with the primary results, Obama actually edged out Clinton in total pledged delegates from the Lonestar State with a net gain of five.
Illinois-14 Special Election: In a slight upset, scientist and businessman Bill Foster (D) defeated dairy mogul and frequent candidate Jim Oberweis (R) in the special election to fill the vacancy left by the 2007 resignation of former Rep. Dennis Hastert (R).
As usual, both parties are spinning the results, and both spins miss the mark. While McCain had endorsed Oberweis and Obama had endorsed Foster, this was in no way a proxy battle. The chief factor in Foster’s victory was Oberweis’s unpopularity. On the other hand, the Democratic takeover of a seat that had been in GOP hands for decades (and that Bush had won with 55 percent in 2004) is a symptom of Republican collapse in Illinois.
Foster, a former Fermi Lab scientist and self-made millionaire, took advantage of a strong dislike for Oberweis in Oberweis’s fourth run for office. Most importantly, Oberweis went negative very early in the primary on State Sen. Chris Lauzen (R), alienating Lauzen and his conservative base in Kane County. Lauzen pointedly refused to support Oberweis in the general.
This ugly situation had ramifications on Saturday: Oberweis received only 28,000 votes in the general election in Kane, while the GOP primary turnout in that county in February had been about 45,000 votes.
Foster will fill out the rest of Hastert’s term and face Oberweis in November for a full term. Although Oberweis had won the general election primary the same day he won the special primary in February, there is pressure among Republicans for him to step aside for the general. In any event, Obama has just picked up another super-delegate.
Indiana-7 Special: City Councilman Andre Carson (D) won the special election to replace his late grandmother, Julia Carson (D). State Rep. Jon Elrod (R), aided by the personal interest Sen. Richard Lugar (R) took in the race, put up a respectable 43 percent.
The Indianapolis-based district is theoretically winnable for Republicans — they have targeted Julia Carson in the past. She had announced her retirement after this term, and it was a rare chance for a GOP takeover. Her death spurred a special where Democrats had the advantage.
Louisiana-1 Special Primary: Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s former congressional district held special election primaries Saturday, with Democrats picking their nominee but Republicans sending the race to a runoff.
State Sen. Steve Scalise (R) fell just short of the majority he needed to win the nomination outright, and now will face State Rep. Tim Burns (R) in an April 5 runoff. Scalise outpolled Burns 48 percent to 28 percent, and so Scalise is favored in the runoff. Former Gov. David Treen (R) had been a strong player in this race before he dropped out.
On the Democratic side, psychologist Gilda Reed (D) easily secured the nomination, pulling in 70 percent. This is a conservative, very Republican district, so Scalise looks to be headed to Congress after the May 3 runoff.
Louisiana-6 Special Primary: Rep. Richard Baker (R) resigned to head the hedge fund industry’s lobbying arm, presenting Democrats with a pickup opportunity in the state where they have had the most trouble in recent years.
Republicans look likely to nominate former State Rep. Woody Jenkins (R), who narrowly lost his 1996 U.S. Senate race to Mary Landrieu in a controversial runoff that many Republicans say was stolen. Jenkins came within 33 votes of 50 percent on Saturday, but he will need a runoff to secure the nomination. Business consultant Laurinda Calongne (R) finished a surprising second with 25 percent, upsetting Baker’s former chief of staff Paul Sawyer (R). Sawyer suffered a backlash from the attack he launched on Jenkins, trying to tie Jenkins to David Duke.
There is some pressure on Calognge to step aside, giving Jenkins a one-month head-start on the Democrats in the May 3 special election. As of press time, Calongne, a wealthy political novice, was persisting.
Democrats have a runoff, too, between two state representatives. Don Cazayoux (D) finished first on Saturday with 35 percent, while Michael Jackson (D) finished second with 27 percent. Both of these lawmakers had campaign machines still running from their re-elections five months ago. Cazayoux’s strength was the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, while Jackson benefitted from being the leading black candidate in the race.
In the runoff, Cazayoux looks like the favorite. Counting unaffiliated voters, who are eligible to vote in the Democratic primary but not the GOP contest, the electorate for the runoff is only 23 percent black. Cazayoux’s totals added to those of the second-strongest white candidate are over 50 percent. Jackson, on the other hand, has greater overlap between his state legislative district and the congressional district than does Cazayoux.
If Jackson is the nominee, Jenkins will almost surely win. If Democrats pick Cazayoux, however, this becomes a hard-fought special election, with Baton Rouge’s popular black mayor weighing in on behalf of the eventual Democratic nominee. Will Jindal flex his muscle in his home town for a federal race, or will he save his capital for state battles?
Mississippi-1 Primary: This district will host a special primary in April followed by a runoff in May to fill the unfinished term of Rep. Roger Wicker (R), now an appointive U.S. senator. But last night, the parties held their primary elections for the November elections to choose the congressman for the full term beginning in 2009.
The top two finishers in each party last night advance to the April 1 runoff. Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R) and former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough (R) will battle for the GOP nod, while Prentiss County official Travis Childers (D) and State Rep. Steve Holland (D) will face off in the Democratic runoff.
Mississippi-3 Primary: The seven-way GOP primary for the seat of retiring Rep. Chip Pickering (R) will go to a runoff. Former State Sen. Charlie Ross (R) finished second, while Rankin County GOP Chairman Gregg Harper (R) looked like the second-place finisher.
Ross and Harper benefitted from an ugly spat between two early favorites, Agriculture Department official and former Pickering aide John Rounsaville (R) and millionaire businessman David Landrum (R). Both came out looking bad, and they finished fourth and third, respectively.
This is a solid GOP district, and the winner of the April 1 Ross-Harper runoff will probably be headed to Washington in January.