ENPR: Obama Momentum Puts Clinton in Dangerous Position


  1. Amid the exciting windup of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and the mop-up of the Republican contest, the reality is that 2008 shapes up as a very bad year for the GOP. The fact that the Democratic turnout in yesterday’s Virginia primary was double the Republican reflects the larger, more boisterous Democratic rallies from Iowa to the Potomac primaries. The pessimism and gloom in the business community is particularly pronounced.
  2. Adding to the dark mood among Republicans is the increasing prospect that they will not be able to bolster their morale by running against the detested Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). Her unification of Republicans has been one of the few GOP assets going into the campaign. It will take time and effort to work up a passion against the likable Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) no matter how leftist he really is.
  3. While the Democratic delegate race looks like a dead heat, all the momentum is with Obama. He showed increasing ability to win white votes yesterday. The Clinton campaign is in disarray with the sacking of the campaign manager and the resignation of the deputy campaign manager, plus the migration of campaign contributors to Obama. Clinton’s reliance on the March 4 Ohio and Texas primaries, where her nominal lead is based on out-of-date polls, is risky in the extreme.
  4. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) did wrap up the Republican nomination a week ago on Super Tuesday. But his supporters were nervous yesterday afternoon that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee might surprise him in Virginia, thanks to the rural vote, undermining McCain’s efforts to unify the party and feeding conservative discontent. They were relieved when the 5 p.m. exit polls showed a six-point McCain lead, and the ultimate margin was nine points — fairly comfortable by normal standards but still keeping Huckabee in the race.

Democratic Presidential

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) is steamrolling Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), winning eight straight contests, but the delegate picture suggests this race is not over. However, Obama momentum puts Clinton in a very dangerous position.

Potomac Primaries: Obama’s monstrous sweep of the Potomac primaries — particularly his big win in Virginia — is perhaps his most important triumph so far.

  1. Obama’s wins in Maryland and the District of Columbia were not surprising. Both of these states have large African-American populations as well as large populations of hardcore wealthy liberals — Obama’s two bases. His 60% in Maryland and his 74% in D.C. were in line with expectations.
  2. His Virginia win, on the other hand, was momentous. While the commonwealth does have wealthy liberal pockets (Fairfax County and Alexandria), and black sections (Richmond and Norfolk), this was not one of the states where circumstances favored Obama. This breaks the mold of the states he has been winning, and suggests that he could win in almost any state.
  3. In Virginia, Obama won every age/race demographic except for white people over 45. White baby-boomers are Hillary’s base, and it now seems that is all she has left. Obama also won in all parts of the state except the "Kentucky" or "West Virginia" parts of the state — the rural Southern portion in the Southwest.
  4. The Virginia win indicates that Obama is broadly appealing to mainstream Democrats. It could be the perception that he is more electable. It could be backlash against Clinton negativity. Whatever the cause, Obama is reaching outside his base for the first time, while Clinton is being relegated to her base.
  5. Last night, Clinton was in Texas, having given up on the three primaries after perfunctory campaigning. As in Maine (see below), she was "supposed to win" Virginia, and then by Election Day, it was clear she had no chance.
  6. Obama took home at least 70 delegates Tuesday to Clinton’s at least 37, giving him the lead in all delegate counts. With the Democrats’ proportional allocation of delegates, Obama’s margins of victory mattered, going over the 60 percent level yielding more delegates.
  7. Bill Clinton, in D.C., continued his strategy of painting Obama as the black candidate. This gambit could backfire, or it could payoff big in Ohio and Texas.

Weekend Caucuses/Primaries: Obama unexpectedly carried all four contests the weekend after Super Tuesday.

  1. Obama’s near-draw with Clinton on Super Tuesday worked to his advantage. It confirmed that his few early wins were not flukes, and showed that he would be in it until the end. Hillary’s strongest point had been her veneer of inevitability, which was cracked in Iowa and completely erased on Super Tuesday.
  2. Obama’s caucus win in Louisiana came as no surprise, considering the high black population.
  3. His Nebraska win continues his march across the heartland but, together with his victory in Washington and his upset win in Maine, shows that Obama dominates caucuses. This stems from Obama supporters’ pride in standing up for him in public caucuses, and Clinton supporters’ near-embarrassment in backing her.
  4. Maine was the biggest upset of the weekend, because the Northeast is supposed to be Clinton territory, and the state is neither wealthy nor black. Also, it is the most elderly state in the country, judged by median age. The caucus factor and Obama’s bump from Super Tuesday pushed him over the top.

Going Forward: Obama’s momentum is real, and he has expanded his pool of voters, but to be a genuine frontrunner, he must win in Ohio or Texas, or possibly both, March 4.

  1. Obama, by all counts, now has more delegates than Clinton, but only barely. The bottom line is that neither candidate can reach the requisite 2,025 delegates by winning primaries. Thanks to the Democrats’ extreme reliance on proportional representation, Obama would need to win more than 70% of the delegates in each state to win, unless he gains many more of the currently 400 or so unpledged super-delegates.
  2. This means Obama could win every primary from here on out, and theoretically he would still need to beat Clinton in the battle of backroom dealing with established Democratic politicians and operatives. A race for undecided super-delegates could favor Clinton (she is significantly ahead of him among those super-delegates already announced).
  3. Still, eight losses in eight straight contests is a severe blow for Clinton. She really needs to worry about getting trampled by a surging candidate with an enthusiastic base, crossover appeal, and media adoration. While Obama can’t clinch this nomination by winning primaries, he could bury her and build up a 300-delegate lead if he wins 60 percent going forward.
  4. Clinton is reconnoitering to Ohio and Texas on March 4. If she loses Wisconsin and Hawaii next week, her losing streak will hit 10, and she will be 27 days without a win by the time Ohio and Texas roll around — whiffs of Rudy Giuliani‘s spectacularly failed rope-a-dope strategy.
  5. Obama could ride his momentum into Ohio and Texas wins, although those states do not favor him demographically. Obama victories in those states would not even come close to mathematically clinching the nomination, but it would spark calls for Hillary to step aside.
  6. Clinton wins on March 4, or close contests in the remaining states could spur the Republican dream scenario: an ugly, backroom, undemocratic wrestling match for super-delegates where Clinton would be favored. But there will be strong internal Democratic pressure against going into the unusually late Democratic convention the last week of August without a nominee virtually selected.

Republican Presidential

Overview: Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) is now the presumptive nominee, but he continues to face serious problems with his party’s base.

  1. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney correctly assessed after his Super Tuesday beating that he had no chance of winning the nomination. His withdrawal Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., caught some supporters off guard, but was a prudent embrace of the inevitable.
  2. Romney’s withdrawal confirmed for the country what Super Tuesday had made a fact: John McCain will be the Republican nominee.
  3. In fact, McCain was the favorite from the moment he won the New Hampshire primary, a victory attributable to Romney’s loss in Iowa to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. McCain’s South Carolina and Florida wins made his nomination nearly inevitable. Super Tuesday was merely the proof.
  4. Throughout his campaign, Romney made strong showings in nearly every state, leading the pack in second-place finishes, and often winning the conservative vote. Were he more appealing personally and more convincingly conservative, he could have rallied conservatives behind him after McCain’s New Hampshire win. He fell short in these fields, and the failed late burst by former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) gathered more movement conservative enthusiasm than did Romney.
  5. For all these reasons, the strident anti-McCain movement never gained steam. It never had a compelling standard-bearer, and the party’s ideological core has been dissolved by the recent six years of wayward Republican government.
  6. Huckabee is remaining in the race with no real chance of winning, barring a McCain stroke or huge scandal. He is certainly not a credible conservative but a very likable candidate, and continued exposure could serve him well in a few ways: (1) It could increase the pressure for him as McCain’s running mate; (2) it could boost him in a potential run for the U.S. Senate this year; or (3) it could simply increase his commercial value and speaking fees.
  7. Huckabee kept the race fairly close in Virginia yesterday, holding McCain to 50 percent. For many GOP voters, Huckabee is the conservative alternative.
  8. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) admitted to his supporters this week that he has "nearly zero" chance of winning the nomination. But once McCain locked up the nomination, Paul’s support ticked up a bit.

General Election: As the Republican candidate, McCain has an odd set of relationships with his party’s base and with the media.

Conservatives: The first negative to come to the forefront is his difficulty with much of the conservative base.

  1. Exit polls in Virginia confirmed the consistent pattern: He lost to Huckabee among pro-life voters, conservatives, regular church attendees, and in the Republican part of the state. He continues to be the non-Republicans’ Republican.
  2. The anti-McCain litany is the list of bills he has co-sponsored with Democrats: McCain-Feingold (campaign finance restrictions), McCain-Lieberman (greenhouse gas restrictions), and McCain-Kennedy (illegal immigration). These are policies hated by the right.
  3. The issue where McCain draws the most conservative ire might be immigration. His amnesty policies for illegals combined with his early opposition to increased enforcement (since retracted) absolutely infuriate conservative immigration restrictionists. Additionally, it is an issue where the base feels ignored and abused by the party establishment — though it has paid as an election issue.
  4. McCain-Feingold upset many Beltway conservatives, as attacking free-speech and disdaining the Constitution. More importantly, it was fawned over by the media although conservatives knew it would do nothing to reduce corruption.
  5. McCain-Lieberman, a bill to institute a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, is another media favorite and a far bigger offender on the limited-government front. Federal control over the energy sector is seen as devastating to the economy and individual liberty, while the global warming battle strikes conservatives as overblown media hype.
  6. His other prime offense was his opposition to Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, though he now supports them. He currently claims he was demanding corresponding spending cuts at the time, but he was actually using class-warfare, almost Socialist arguments against them. In this issue, he has abandoned those positions.
  7. McCain began his conservative outreach last Thursday, at CPAC, after Romney’s withdrawal. McCain gave the perfect speech to the crowd of conservative activists. His rhetoric was conservative, but believable, and he made sure to hit on all the points of agreement he shares with conservatives.
  8. He mostly avoided discussing the problem areas at CPAC, and he certainly didn’t try to convince any of his detractors on those topics. On immigration, though, he was skillful, mentioning the issue and granting that his opposition is motivated by legitimate concerns — the rule of law. This was an important outreach to a crowd that is regularly pilloried as racist, nativist, or ignorant by its opponents.
  9. If Hillary is the nominee, conservatives will almost all line up behind McCain, even if they hold their nose while doing so. If it is Obama, his work will be harder. In any event, expect a gradual thawing of McCain’s relations with the right.

Media: McCain has long been the mainstream media’s favorite Republican. This could have an impact on the general election.

  1. McCain, while far more conservative than most Republican "moderates," tends to side with the media on the issues they care most about: global warming, torture, and campaign finance reform are top examples. Also, in the past, he has attacked his own party’s leadership and conservative wing.
  2. If he is running against Clinton, it will be a match-up of the media’s least-favorite Democrat against its favorite Republican. This could deflate the favoritism Democrats typically enjoy from the mainstream media.
  3. On the other hand, McCain is not nearly as experienced as other Republicans in dealing with a hostile media. Even throughout the primary season, he stayed mostly unscathed, in part because he disappeared from August until just before New Hampshire. A major party nominee — especially a Republican — is not likely to be treated as well as McCain has been treated to date.

Congressional Primaries

Maryland: Two Maryland incumbents fell in yesterday’s primaries, one from each party. In both cases, the parties’ ideological bases upset an entrenched politician.

Rep. Albert Wynn (D) lost to liberal activist Donna Edwards (D) who gathered national support from liberals thanks to Wynn’s occasional support of conservative policies — such as his vote to repeal the estate tax and his opposition to campaign finance reform. Wynn’s district, mostly based in the middle-class African-American D.C. suburbs of Prince George’s County (but also reaching into wealthy, white, liberal Montgomery County), is more in line with Edwards’ liberalism.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R), meanwhile, lost to conservative State Sen. Andy Harris (R) in his conservative, largely rural, Eastern Shore district. Gilchrest has long been a target of conservatives, and this year the Club for Growth helped knock him off.

Special Elections

California-12: The death of Rep. Tom Lantos (D) has spurred a special election to fill out his term. On April 8, candidates from all parties will be on one ballot in an open primary, and if no candidate receives a majority, a June 3 runoff between the top two finishers will select Lantos’s replacement.

The clear favorite is former State Sen. Jackie Speier (D), who was also the 2006 nominee for lieutenant governor. She was Lantos’s anointed replacement when he announced recently he would not seek re-election. It is likely Speier will carry a majority in the special election on April 8, avoiding a runoff. Likely Democratic Retention.

Indiana-7: The December death of Rep. Julia Carson (D) has spurred a March 11 special election in this Indianapolis district.

City Councilman Andre Carson, grandson of the late congresswoman, is the Democratic nominee, and he is the favorite. The district is 29 percent black, and Kerry took 58 percent here in 2004. In the past, Republicans have considered this a competitive seat, and State Rep. Jon Elrod (R) is their standard bearer this year.

Rep. Carson was held to less than 55 percent in each of the past three elections, putting this district within reach. A concerted turnout effort could make this an upset, but the young Carson is the favorite here. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Mississippi: The State Supreme Court has sided with Gov. Haley Barbour (R) that the special election for U.S. Senate should be held in November, rather than this spring as a lower-court judge had ruled. This is a defeat for Atty. Gen. Jim Hood (D), and a boost to GOP chances for holding onto this seat, vacated by Sen. Trent Lott‘s early resignation.

Appointive Sen. Roger Wicker (R) will face former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) and former Rep. Ronnie Shows (D) in an open primary in the November special election.

Holding the election in November, though, helps Wicker by allowing him to further establish himself as an incumbent, and by putting the election on the same ballot as the presidential contest. However, if no candidate receives a majority in the three-way primary, a runoff will be held a few weeks later.

Musgrove is the likely second-place finisher, and he would have an outside chance in a runoff. Leaning Republican Retention.