- Race, studiously avoided by the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and subtly peddled by the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), has bloomed into a central issue in this presidential campaign thanks to the now-ubiquitous words of his mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. This is bad news for Obama, but he is managing the development nearly as well as he can.
- National polls show a dead heat in the presidential election — for both Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) v. Clinton and McCain v. Obama. But the cloud looming over the horizon is a financial crisis. The Federal Reserve’s unprecedented intervention in financial markets to bail out Bear Stearns is intended to prevent the incipient panic on Wall Street from expanding into a depression. (See below)
- Amid the financial crisis with vast political implications, Republican insiders complain that McCain was doing the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time — in Iraq talking about the success of the surge. But simultaneously, Clinton and Obama were continuing their sterile debate on who was first in opposing Iraq policy. Politicians often attach themselves to the less relevant issues.
Obama-Racial Issues: Spurred mostly by the newly surfaced comments of Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, race has been injected as a central issue to this campaign. Obama’s speech in reaction was not great, but probably helpful.
- When race becomes more important, Obama suffers. To the extent Obama looks like "the black candidate," he has slim support outside his two bases of black voters and white hard-core liberals. However craftily Obama handles the issue, talking about race is a loser for him. He needs to change the subject.
- Perceived electability is a core factor in this dynamic: Many white voters doubt a black Democrat can get elected. The more his race is discussed, the more undecided voters see him as unelectable; Bill Clinton on Tuesday was hammering away on Hillary’s superior electability.
- Wright’s controversial comments range from the inflammatory but true to the paranoid and racist. Obama has repudiated these comments, and few rational observers believe he shares these views. Still, it stokes fears about black extremism and raises questions about his judgment in maintaining so close an association to Wright for so long.
- Obama’s speech Tuesday was not bad and was refreshingly honest in some parts, but it was hardly the ground-breaking talk on race his supporters have taken it to be. The speech’s length precluded its being great, but addressing the issue extensively allows Obama — and the media — to say he "has addressed the issue" of Pastor Wright’s comments. Given the media’s proclivity to be soft on Obama, this "addressing the issue" could work, meaning we would not hear much about Wright anymore. Early signs suggest the public is more interested than the media.
- If the media do back off this line of attack, it forces Clinton to move into the offensive on it — and so far, she has prudently maintained a distance. Her attack will not likely be directly aimed at Pastor Wright, but instead her campaign will try to remind voters of the worries that Wright’s rhetoric might prompt.
- The race card has been part of the Clinton strategy since New Hampshire, and former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro’s (D-N.Y.) remarks that drove her from the campaign articulated one of the main points the Clintons have been trying to convey: Obama’s race is an element of his success.
- The Wright controversy, most importantly, provides Clinton with a wedge in the super-delegate battle. If Hillary wins more pledged delegates and more popular votes from here until the convention but does not fully make up her pledged-delegate deficit (a very likely outcome), she can argue that the liability of Wright makes Obama unacceptable and that voters have shown that. This could provide some super-delegates with a justification for "disregarding the will of the people": The people who voted in February didn’t know about Obama’s liabilities.
- Democrats need to worry about the increasing importance of race that could threaten party unity. Will an Obama nomination alienate blue-collar white voters?
- And the Democratic "nightmare scenario" has gotten even more nightmarish. If Clinton wins on the strength of the super-delegates despite trailing in pledged delegates and the popular vote, then party insiders will have blocked the historic first nomination of a black candidate — and now they will have done so because of racial fears regarding a black preacher.
Florida & Michigan: Resolution continues to look elusive for the delegate picture in these two states.
- With Democrats in Florida and lawmakers in Michigan apparently blocking pushes for a do-over, any chance of a "fair" solution accepted by both sides seems slim now.
- The DNC almost certainly will not allow these big states to be totally disenfranchised at the convention — although that is the punishment the rules prescribe for their early contests — and so the only remaining options are counting the January primaries or, more likely, a negotiated settlement coming up with some basically arbitrary way to allocate delegates.
- With no revote likely, the apportionment of delegates will probably wait until after the primaries end in early June. That possibly gives the party the leeway to apportion the delegates in such a way as will minimally affect the race. This scenario helps Obama by running down the clock.
- If nothing is settled, the people with the real power are the credentials committee of the DNC. It’s noteworthy that the three co-chairs of the credentials committee are all alumni of the Clinton Administration: Alexis Herman, James Roosevelt Jr., and Eliseo Roques Arroyo.
Iowa Conventions: In the Iowa county conventions on Saturday, Obama made small but important gains in the delegate race.
- The precinct caucuses in January did not choose delegates to the national convention, but instead chose delegates to Saturday’s county conventions. These delegates were not bound to vote for the candidate in whose name they were sent.
- The Obama and Clinton campaigns worked the county conventions, sending paid staff there, but Obama appeared to have more success. He picked up the support of almost all the delegates for former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) and the minor candidates — which reflects his performance in the January precinct caucuses where most supporters of non-viable candidates apparently flocked to Obama and Edwards, and very few went to Clinton.
- The county conventions chose delegates to the congressional district conventions. Each congressional district will choose both national delegates and delegates to the statewide convention, where at-large national delegates will be chosen.
- Counting national delegates at this stage is imprecise, as it was in January. The fairest estimate is that Obama picked up 9 delegates over the January estimates while Clinton lost 1, thus expanding Obama’s lead by 10 delegates. With a significant lead and time running out, every little gain for Obama is a real blow to Clinton.
The Federal Reserve’s sudden and unexpected bailout of Bear Stearns casts a new light on the politically charged financial crisis.
- Nothing like the Fed’s intervention (opening the discount window to a non-bank) had been seen before, and the financial atmosphere will never be the same. It is a new world where the central bank substitutes for the working of the market. Nobody knows who will be the next entity to be bailed out: Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan have apparently already made trips to that window; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are in trouble.
- More than the livelihood of a few thousand workers at an investment bank are at stake. Treasury and the Fed fear the multiple collapse of Wall Street houses could trigger an economic collapse, the worst economic disaster since the Depression.
- Treasury, under Secretary Henry Paulson, approved the move, but the bailout was a Fed operation. In charge was President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank Timothy Geithner, a 46-year-old non-political civil servant and protégé of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. The operation was decided on and performed behind closed doors in contrast to democratic procedures that normally slow the pace of government action.
- Members of Congress seem baffled by what is happening. One who understands is Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a fierce partisan as two-term chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee but also a staunch ally of the securities industry. Schumer was on television after the weekend to quickly endorse the bailout.
- In contrast, country banks are not happy about what they consider favorable treatment of Wall Street by the Fed. They see no financial crisis in Main Street and bridle at the regulators’ overlooking excesses that led to the financial crisis. The old slogan of "too big to fail" has apparently been transformed to "too big to be punished."
Federal Funds Rate
Alabama-Cramer: Republicans got some good news in the battle for the U.S. House, with the surprise retirement announcement of Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.).
This district stretches across the entire top of the state, running along the Tennessee border, including Huntington. Republicans held this district only once — for the two years just after Alabama’s reentry into the Union after the Civil War. Other than a less-than-one-term interlude after the contested election victory of Populist Albert Taylor Godwin in 1896, Democrats have held this seat since then.
It is conservative turf, however. Bush won the district with 60 percent in 2004. Everything about the district suggests Republicans can carry it if they get the right candidate — a rare chance for a GOP pickup. However, the favorite candidate of many local Republicans was State Sen. Robert Orr (R), who immediately announced he would not run. The field on both sides is still shaking out. Leaning Republican Takeover.