- The best indicator of Sen. Hillary Clinton‘s (D-N.Y.) distress is the fact that erstwhile supporters, including former Clinton Cabinet members, are badmouthing her as a very poor candidate. Inside the Democratic Party, it is already taken for granted that the queen is dead and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is the king.
- Conservative apprehension about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has less to do with issues than personalities. For example, the picture of Republican moderates and liberals at McCain’s side as he celebrated his Virginia primary victory signaled nervous conservatives in the state that they are being read out of the GOP.
- However, McCain had a good closed-door dinner meeting Saturday night with Republican governors during the annual National Governors Association (NGA) meeting in Washington. Governors from coal- and oil-producing states spelled out their problems with McCain’s energy policies, and he was responsive.
- It was a less favorable NGA meeting for the organization’s chairman, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. His carbon-emissions proposal was shot down by bipartisan opposition from the coal-oil bloc of governors, and that did not help his vice presidential aspirations.
- As Congress reconvened, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) walked into a trap. He permitted anti-war Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to bring up two Iraq troop-withdrawal amendments to the Defense bill, assuming Republicans would filibuster by blocking cloture. But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) did the opposite, forcing an unwanted war debate and sending Reid’s Senate schedule into chaos.
- The lack of liquidity in the economy is a menace that could implode the economy and create a Democratic electoral landslide. Financial sources see the stimulus bill and actions by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury as unresponsive and ineffective.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), in his second week as the presumptive nominee, was thrust into two fights — one with the New York Times over his personal ethics and another with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) over possible campaign finance violations. The first turned into a boon for McCain, while the latter could develop into a distraction.
McCain vs. New York Times: The New York Times‘ front-page story last Thursday (appearing on the Internet Wednesday night) was not entirely about rumors that McCain had had an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, but that was all readers took away from it.
- McCain’s Democratic critics relished the story for two reasons: (1) McCain’s air of ethical uprightness, and (2) revenge for the "sexual McCarthyism" of Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
- As an attack on McCain, though, the story fell well short. As thinly sourced and based on anonymous speculation as the story was, the sex part was even thinner. By any objective standards, the piece did not belong on the news pages of a major paper.
- For McCain, the article was a boon in two ways, by assuaging conservative concerns regarding McCain and the media.
- First, conservatives have long regarded the Times as the chief villain among the liberal news media. That this paper would attack McCain paints him as "one of us" for many conservatives — the enemy of my enemy. It also relieves some of the conservative fear that McCain will continue to cozy up to the media establishment.
- For Republicans, this episode showed that McCain knows how to battle an antagonistic media — something he has not had to do for 10 years. Most Republicans, including his former rivals for the nomination, had proven success in running against a hostile mainstream media. McCain hadn’t before last week. He handled himself well.
- Wall Street thought the story reflected poorly on the Times: NYT closed at $21.07 a share Wednesday, and it closed Friday at $19.03 — a 9.7 percent drop. Shares recovered Monday afternoon after the paper’s ombudsman harshly criticized the editors and the reporters.
McCain vs. DNC: The DNC’s complaint against McCain involves complexities of arcane campaign laws and partisan politics, and it puts McCain in an uncomfortable position.
- The background: McCain, during his summer doldrums, applied and was approved for federal matching funds in his primary run, which come with limits on spending until the GOP convention. His post-New Hampshire surge revitalized his fundraising, and so he has decided to forgo the matching the funds in exchange for freedom from the spending caps.
- The Federal Election Commission chairman has said McCain is not free to reject the federal matching funds (and thus the spending limits) without approval from the FEC. The FEC, however, cannot grant approval because it lacks a quorum. Also, the DNC has filed a complaint, arguing that McCain has violated FEC rules with his maneuver.
- The substantive legal question behind the DNC’s complaint is indeed ambiguous. McCain, by some interpretations of a loan agreement with a private bank, used as collateral federal matching funds to which he was statutorily entitled. This complaint cannot receive a hearing, also due to the FEC’s lack of a quorum.
- Currently, only two of the six commissioners are seated, and four commissioners comprise a quorum. Two others, nominated by President Bush, have been held up by Senate Democrats. Republican nominee Hans von Spakovsky was blocked by Sen. Barack Obama last year on charges of voter suppression. Since the New Year, Obama’s office says, the hold has been maintained by Majority Leader Harry Reid. Senate Republicans are blocking a vote on the Democratic nominee until von Spakovsky receives a vote.
- FEC Chairman David Mason is not inclined to treat McCain nicely. He is a movement conservative, averse to heavy regulation of campaigns, and for that reason he has taken abuse from McCain for not implementing campaign finance restrictions more aggressively.
Overview: After losing 11 consecutive contests, Sen. Hillary Clinton has staked her campaign on next Tuesday’s primaries in Texas and Ohio. Losses there will spark calls for her to step aside.
- Clinton, in all likelihood, will "lose the primaries," but that does not mean it is impossible for her to be nominated. Among pledged delegates (delegates tied to primaries, caucuses, and conventions) she trails by 164, according the Associated Press’s count. By that count, 1,047 pledged delegates remain, and Clinton would need to win 57 percent of those in order to beat Obama in pledged delegates.
- Clinton’s campaign openly rejects the notion that she should defer to the primary voters. Her campaign’s e-mails to supporters and her proxies’ arguments in print (such as Geraldine Ferraro‘s op-ed in the New York Times) make it clear that if the nomination is winnable, by whatever means, she will pursue it.
- Super-delegates, however, have the prerogative to flip at any moment for any reason. Her current "lead" in super-delegates is based on surveys and public polls and could evaporate should the party abandon her. Indeed, her lead among super-delegates is slimming, from nearly 100 delegates two weeks ago to just more than 60 now.
- Ferraro’s Times op-ed made the unlikely claim that members of Congress are abandoning Hillary and flocking to Obama to avoid retribution from him should he become President. More likely, these members early on saw Hillary as unbeatable and wanted to be on her good side. Once the race became more competitive after Super Tuesday, some have moved towards Obama, who is more popular among liberals.
- The Texas and Ohio contests next week could go either way (see below). Two Obama wins would bury Clinton and begin calls for her withdrawal. If Clinton wins both, the media reaction will be crucial. Clinton will present herself as the new "comeback kid," having stolen the momentum. Obama will present the losses as a hiccup that does not overtake his lead among pledged delegates.
- A split result favors Obama, even though his winning streak will have been snapped.Democratic sources have suggested Clinton will be pressured to drop out if she does not win both primaries. We initially reported that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) were already petitioning party leadership to call on Hillary to step aside; Schumer and Emanuel both denied this, and further inquiry suggests that there is no basis for this report.
- Next week, in addition to Texas and Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island hold their primaries. The two big states remaining after Tuesday are Pennsylvania on April 22 and North Carolina on May 6.
Cleveland Debate: Last night’s debate was civil, if at times combative. Basically a draw, it looks like a missed opportunity for Clinton.
- The candidates criticized one another on healthcare and the Iraq War — familiar turf for Obama-Clinton skirmishes — but the debate never really got harsh. Clinton certainly did not make Obama look bad.
- Her complaint about moderator favoritism — by reference to a "Saturday Night Live" skit — did not come across well (however true it was). Clinton clearly had planned a reference to the skit ("maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow"), but she unloaded in the context of her being asked to answer a question first. In that setting, it seemed petty.
- The final question of the night, from NBC News’s Brian Williams, was more or less an invitation for the two candidates to attack one another. Neither really took the bait.
Texas: The Texas primary could go either way, but a week out, it looks like Obama has a better chance here than he does in Ohio.
- What does it mean to "win Texas?" It’s a complex question to answer, because no delegates are awarded for winning the popular vote in Texas. All 127 delegates at stake Tuesday are allocated by state senate district (there are 31 of them). Each senate district gets a different number of delegates based on the Democratic vote in the 2006 governor’s race and the 2004 presidential race. SD 14, around Austin, has eight delegates, while SD 31, in the Panhandle and on the New Mexico border has only two. The other 29 districts have somewhere from three to seven delegates.
- Each district awards its delegates proportionally, which makes it very difficult to predict the correlation between popular vote and delegates. Winning the 10 "smallest" districts with 51% each would yield a 19-to-10 advantage, while winning the four "largest" districts with 51% each would yield only a 14-to-13 advantage.
- The winner of the popular vote could certainly come away with fewer delegates — and either candidate could end up in that situation. Because delegate counts will not be available on election night, though, the popular vote will garner all the media attention, press coverage, super-delegates, and party leaders.
- Clinton leads in nearly every poll, but that lead has shrunk dramatically in recent weeks, down to within the margin of error. Indeed, polls will be even more unreliable in Texas than elsewhere, thanks in part to the question of the Hispanic vote. Hispanics make up an estimated 37% of Texas, but often they are a far smaller portion of the electorate — in part because non-citizens are counted in that 37% and in part because unassimilated citizens are fairly detached from politics.
- The assumption that Hispanics will flock to Clinton is overstated. She will win the Hispanic vote, but she is not guaranteed to trounce Obama on that score.
- Another uncertainty is the Republican cross-over vote. With a settled GOP race and an open primary, many Republicans will vote in the Democratic primary. This is unlikely to sway the race too much in one direction, because strategic votes for or against a candidate are not too plentiful, and they cut in both directions.
- On the ground, Obama seems to have a stronger game. The day after Super Tuesday, Obama had offices open, and his campaign was working at full steam by the end of that week. Clinton’s campaign got off to a slower start and will need to perform well in the final week to win this state.
- Bill Clinton has been dispatched to East Texas to woo the rural, Southern vote — the John Edwards constituency. Here, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee‘s presence on the Republican ballot could take away some of Clinton’s target voters.
Ohio: This is Hillary’s stronger state between the two large ones holding primaries next week.
- Her lead in polls here is significant, but shrinking. From 20-point leads just after Super Tuesday to single-digit margins in the most recent surveys, Clinton has seen her advantage disappear.
- The demographics here tilt slightly in Clinton’s favor. Ohio is more female and whiter than the U.S. average, and also has a higher-than-average percentage of population over 65 years of age. It is also slightly below average in black population.
- Being light on young people, blacks, and wealthy white liberals makes this a tough climb for Obama. Winning Virginia and Wisconsin was the closest he’s come to carrying a blue-collar white state. His attacking Clinton on NAFTA reflects his strongest outreach to that electorate to date.