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ENPR: Popular Vote is Hillary’s Last (Slim) Chance

Outlook

  1. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) is on the edge. Though she still can be nominated (see below), super-delegates are poised to leap to Sen. Barack Obama (D) if there are any further problems for Clinton. Her slippage in the Pennsylvania polls is most worrisome for her.
  2. The resignation of Mark Penn as Clinton’s campaign manager looks like a non-resignation. Several prominent Democrats say they have been told Penn that he will go on as before (except for the television appearances). Clinton owes his company at least $2.5 million in unpaid bills.
  3. Advisers within Sen. John McCain‘s (Ariz.) campaign have two major strategic worries: a) his age–a problem that will be hit hard by the Democrats; b) the danger of being seen as “Bush III.” The second is the more difficult, more perplexing problem that will be a big part of the general election campaign.
  4. McCain, badly outraised by Obama so far in the money derby, is trying to turn a disadvantage into an advantage by accepting public money and chiding Obama for failing to do so. That’s a pretty technical issue to accomplish much.

Democratic Presidential

Overview: Hillary Clinton has not gotten many breaks recently, but she still has a narrow path to the nomination before her.

  1. As has been clear since Super Tuesday, the nomination comes down to super-delegates. That means Clinton needs to build a case that: (a) she deserves the nomination, so that giving it to her is not “stealing” it from Obama; and (b) she is the stronger nominee come November.
  2. It is nearly impossible for her to win the race for pledged delegates. She would need to carry 64% of remaining pledged delegates to do this.
  3. To “deserve” the nomination, she needs to “win the popular vote.” That is, her aggregate vote across all 50 states plus D.C. and the territories could exceed Obama’s. If she can pull off this feat, she could make the legitimate argument that she is the choice of the Democratic voters rather than the winner of an arbitrary, archaic, arcane, and barely democratic system of delegate selection.
  4. It’s a long shot, but a Clinton popular-vote victory is possible. High turnout and large margins of victory in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico (where turnout typically is impressive) could get her most of the way there. She is favored in 6 of the remaining 10 primaries (including Guam and Puerto Rico). Nevertheless, is nearly impossible for her to win the popular vote unless Florida’s vote is counted.
  5. Additionally, she would need to increase (or restore) the perception that Obama is a greater liability than previously imagined. The words of Obama’s mentor Rev. Jeremiah Wright provided Clinton with a bit of a wedge, but she will need more than that.
  6. Even given both of those developments, many super-delegates would worry that giving her the nomination would create the perception that the first black presidential nominee had the nomination stolen from him by a bunch of white people. Beyond the racial angle, a Clinton nomination at this point would alienate much of the liberal vote, which could turn to Ralph Nader or just stay home.
  7. Polls in Pennsylvania have been erratic, showing Clinton leads ranging from 5 to 18 points. The larger leads are probably more accurate, but there is still time for Obama to close the gap. A close vote here nearly wipes out her chances at a national popular vote win. An Obama victory in Pennsylvania would end the race.

Delegate Race: As always, there were minor movements in the super-delegate picture.

  1. North Dakota, Missouri, Delaware, and D.C. each selected their two add-on super-delegates, resulting in a small gain for Obama. Each of these jurisdictions selected one Obama supporter and one undecided super-delegate, yielding a plus-four for Obama.
  2. With a special election in Maryland’s 4th District now looking very likely (see below), Obama stands to gain another super-delegate when liberal activist and heavy favorite Donna Edwards is sworn in to Congress.
  3. Jackie Speier (D), elected in yesterday’s special election in California’s 11th District (see below), has endorsed Clinton for President, but has suggested she might vote for Obama at the convention. She indicated she thinks Clinton should bow out of the race considering her nearly insurmountable deficit in pledged delegates.
  4. Convulsions and proposals continue on the questions of Florida’s and Michigan’s delegates. As always, the only certainty is that these states will not be excluded from the convention. How the delegates are to be chosen remains a quandary.
  5. By the Associated Press’s count, Obama has closed Clinton’s super-delegate lead to 28, from about 100 before Super Tuesday. The AP’s count has Obama with an overall lead of 136 delegates and a pledged-delegate lead of 164.

Congress

Colombia Trade: The Colombia Free Trade Agreement just sent to Capitol Hill by President Bush faces long odds, having already become a political football.

  1. Senate supporters of the agreement say they have majority support for the agreement. The open questions are how Senate Democrats will play their hand to push for "Trade Adjustment Assistance,” and whether the agreement can pass the House.
  2. Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) is job training or welfare for workers affected by the offshoring of their jobs. House Democrats, however, have signaled they would push the same TAA bill passed by Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) last year, which would expand the program. President Bush threatened a veto of that measure, but has indicated willingness to sign some other sort of TAA measure as a companion to the Colombia agreement.
  3. Conservative Senate Republicans foresee themselves being painted into a tough corner: If Democrats vow to kill the trade agreement without a Rangel-like TAA, conservatives will need to choose between killing free trade or expanding the welfare state.
  4. The worst-case scenario, which seems very possible, would be this: The Senate passes a larded-up TAA bill in tandem with a trade agreement, but the House passes only the TAA measure. This forces Bush to veto a welfare bill for laid-off workers in the time of a recession because of his anger about a trade bill.
  5. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made it clear she is ready to postpone a vote until after the election. While fast-track authority nominally forces a House vote within 60 days, the Rules Committee can effectively overrule that timeline.
  6. Pushing a trade vote past the election could be useful for Democrats. A free-trade agreement with Colombia has almost no popular constituency, and it is not the most important issue to business, which favors it. On the flip side, the AFL-CIO is dead-set against the agreement. Democrats can never afford to upset the core of their union base in an election year.
  7. The trade deal would not directly hurt U.S. unions. The U.S. does not have much protection against Colombian products, and so the trade deal would, on net, benefit U.S. manufacturing, creating jobs. The motivating factor in the AFL-CIO’s staunch opposition to the deal is Colombian President Alvaro Uribe‘s anti-union stance, which infuriates organized labor in Colombia. Colombia’s organized labor has ties to the Venezuelan unions backed by Hugo Chavez.
  8. Sinking the trade deal altogether could broadly damage U.S. international relations. If this is how we treat our allies, how can we make new ones? As John Kerry‘s campaign taught us four years ago, however, winning the affection of the rest of the world is not a politically compelling cause.
  9. Undoubtedly playing a role in this issue will be the anti-trade stances taken by candidates Obama and Clinton. Both have voiced opposition to the agreement, and neither can have fingerprints on it if it does pass.
  10. Discussion of trade right now hurts Clinton by bringing up the contradictions between her position and her husband’s consistent free-trade record and more recently her top advisor Mark Penn‘s leading role in assisting the agreement’s passage.

Senate 2008

New Jersey: Rep. Rob Andrews (D), to the surprise and dismay of other New Jersey Democrats, launched a primary challenge to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). Andrews’ chances are slim, and the party establishment is asking him to back down.

Andrews has long had ambition for higher office, but unseating Lautenberg in a primary seems like a counter-productive long-shot. His six Democratic House colleagues have all come out in favor of Lautenberg and called on Andrews to drop out. Other local politicians and national Democrats have sounded a similar theme.

Andrews’s wife has filed to run for his House seat, but New Jersey’s flexible election laws suggest Rep. Andrews could replace her on the ballot. Given how irate he’s made his colleagues, though, his political future looks rocky.

Lautenberg should be safe in the primary and in the general. The Andrews challenge could continue to cause some sparks, but otherwise its biggest effect will probably be on his 1st District House seat.

House 2008

Texas-22: Former Capitol Hill staffer Pete Olson (R) defeated former Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs (R) in the runoff yesterday, earning the right to challenge Rep. Nick Lampson (D) in November. Lampson is perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat in the country.

This is the district of former the majority leader, Rep. Tom DeLay (R). When DeLay resigned following his indictment by a local prosecutor for conspiracy to violate state campaign finance laws, Sekula Gibbs won the special election, but failed to get her name on the ballot for the regular election. Lampson, defeated in a different district after the mid-decade redistricting in 2004, ran and won with DeLay’s name still on the ballot. Sekula Gibbs’s seven weeks on Capitol Hill were filled with awkwardness and mishaps.

When Olson finished second to Gibbs in a ten-way primary month, the party’s establishment lined up behind him. Amid low turnout, he demolished Sekula Gibbs yesterday by a two-to-one margin after the campaign had turned ugly in the final days.

This is a very Republican district, and Olson is a strong candidate. Democrats, however, can pour serious resources into this race, as Lampson is one of very few legitimately vulnerable incumbents on the D side of the aisle. Leaning Republican Takeover.

Special Elections

California-12: Former State Sen. Jackie Speier (D) handily won the five-way single-ballot, three-party primary yesterday, pulling in the majority needed to avoid a runoff. This is the House seat left vacant by the February 11 death of Rep. Tom Lantos (D).

Speier is also the heavy favorite the June 8 primary, in an overwhelmingly Democratic district stretching south from San Francisco. Speier, a 2006 candidate for lieutenant governor, was the immediate favorite for this seat when Lantos announced his retirement, a few weeks prior to his passing.

Former Member Party State District Left Office Replaced by Party
Charlie Norwood
R
Ga.
10
Died Feb. 13, 2007
Paul Broun
R
Juanita Millender-McDonald
D
Calif.
37
Died April 22, 2007
Laura Richardson
D
Marty Meehan
D
Mass.
5
Resigned July 1, 2007 to become college chancellor
Niki Tsongas
D
Jo Ann Davis
R
Va.
1
Died Oct. 6, 2007
Rob Wittman
R
Dennis Hastert
R
Ill.
14
Resigned Nov. 26, 2007
Bill Foster
D
Julia Carson
D
Ind.
7
Died Dec. 15, 2007
Andre Carson
D
Roger Wicker
R
Miss.
1
Resigned Dec. 31, 2007 to become senator
vacant; special election May 13
Bobby Jindal
R
La.
1
Resigned Jan. 14, 2008 to become governor
vacant; special election May 3
Richard Baker
R
La.
6
Resigned Feb. 2, 2008 to become lobbyist
vacant; special election May 3
Tom Lantos
D
Calif.
12
Died Feb. 11, 2008

Jackie Speier

D

Louisiana-1: State Sen. Steve Scalise (R) with 58% of the vote beat State Rep. Tim Burns (R) in the runoff of the primary in the special election to fill the seat of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Democrats had nominated college instructor Gilda Reed in the March 8 primary.
This North Shore district is conservative and very Republican. Scalise should cruise to victory in the May 3 general election, as well as the primaries and general for the regular November election. Likely Republican Retention.

Louisiana-6: Former State Rep. Woody Jenkins (R), who just barely missed a majority in the March 8 primary, easily dispatched businesswoman Laurinda Calongne (R) by 24 percentage points. On the Democratic side State Rep. Don Cazayoux (D) defeated State Rep. Michael Jackson (D) in the runoff.

A Cazayoux-Jenkins matchup is dangerous for Republicans. Jenkins has enemies, and Cazayoux has labor backing. This is a serious pickup opportunity, and much depends on whether Jindal is willing to help out. Leaning Republican Retention.

Maryland-4: Annapolis legislators, at the request of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), rushed through emergency legislation that would allow for an expedited special election to fill out the term of resigning Rep. Albert Wynn (D). While current law would require a primary and a general election combined with filing periods — or that the seat be left vacant until the next Congress — the new legislation would allow, in this one instance, a back-room nominating process and then a general election.

The clear favorite in any special election process would be liberal activist Donna Edwards (D), who defeated Wynn in the Feb. 12 primary. The new legislation would get her in the door more quickly. Edwards is also the overwhelming favorite in November for the full term. Likely Democratic Retention.

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Written By

Mr. Novak was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, a political newsletter he founded in 1967 with Rowland Evans. He passed away August 19, 2009. Read tributes to Robert Novak and his legendary work, as well as memories from Novak alumni and the Human Events family.

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