ENPR: Obama Damaged, but Still Favored after "Bitter" Comment


1) Despite her impressive win in Pennsylvania, Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) still faces a very difficult path to the nomination. It is impossible for her to win more elected delegates than Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). It is possible that she could yet win a majority of the composite popular primary vote, but probably not without tallying the outlawed Michigan and Florida votes.

2) Clinton’s more feasible path—though very difficult—is to convince the super-delegates, by winning the remaining primaries, that she has the momentum. The two most important future primaries are North Carolina and Indiana May 6, but North Carolina looks nearly impossible, considering that half of the state’s 2.5 million registered voters are African-Americans.

3) That leaves Clinton with the hope that super-delegates will see Obama as a loser against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). The attacks by her and husband Bill Clinton have been counterproductive, Obama’s damage has been self-inflicted—especially the “bitter” speech in San Francisco.

4) To avoid such mistakes, Obama appears to be tamping down his rhetoric, as in his defeat statement from Evansville, Ind., that sounded like a victory statement. It also explains his backing out of a North Carolina debate. Obama would like to coast to
the nomination.

5) Obama’s difficulties and the prolongation of the Clinton-Obama confrontation have lifted Republicans from their slough of despondence to optimism about the presidential election. The transformation from deep pessimism to overriding optimism is such that McCain is privately warning supporters that once the nomination is decided and supporters of the losing Democratic candidate return to the fold, he will fall behind badly (though, McCain hopes, temporarily).

6) High-level Republican contributors and fund-raisers complain that the McCain campaign has not got its act in order and is still badly disorganized. This comes from very heavy GOP hitters.

Democratic Presidential

Pennsylvania Primary: Amid very high turnout, Clinton won the do-or-die Pennsylvania primary by a healthy 10-point margin.

1) Obama helped Hillary’s margin of error with his comments about Pennsylvania’s “bitter” voters. Exit polls say that 60% of late-deciders voted for Clinton.

2) She won in many of the Philadelphia suburbs, carrying Montgomery County, suggesting the endorsement and campaigning by Gov. Ed Rendell (D) was a real help. The former Philadelphia mayor is very popular among socially liberal upper-middle-class whites in these suburbs, and he was a key factor in bringing these voters into the Democratic party in his governor race in 2002.

3) In contrast, the endorsement of Obama by Sen. Bob Casey (D) seemed to carry little weight—typical of endorsements. Obama did terribly among Catholics, gun owners, and in the central parts of the state—where Casey was supposed to help.

4) Exit polls also suggest that Clinton won big among the groups Obama described as “bitter.” She won around 56% of voters who attend church, including about 70% of Catholics and 58% of white Protestants. She also won 62% of gun owners. Obama’s remarks that these “bitter” voters “cling” to their guns “to explain their frustrations” was both a result and a cause of his poor performance among this group.

5) The size of her victory—more than 200,000 votes—was crucial to her chances for the nomination. That knocks off more than a quarter of Obama’s nation-wide popular-vote lead, leaving his edge at about 500,000. Big wins in Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and Indiana conceivably could make up that gap. If you count the Florida vote, Obama’s lead is down to 200,000—a margin Clinton can easily overcome.

6) Clinton made a small gain in the delegate chase, picking up only a net of 12-14 delegates. Obama still leads by about 150 in the pledged delegates.

Super-Delegates: The super-delegates—the voters who really will decide the nomination—did not have their job made any easier.

1) From Super Tuesday until the first week of April—a span that included the Rev. Jeremiah Wright revelations—Obama gained super-delegate endorsements at a steady pace averaging almost two per day. Over this same period, Clinton averaged less than one new endorsement per day. This cut her super-delegate lead from 93 on February 3 down to 24 on April 6, according to “2008 Democratic Convention Watch” the website with the most thorough count of super-delegates.

2) Since early this month, however, the situation has stabilized with Obama’s momentum halting. About 300 super-delegates remain undecided, and they will be the ones to determine the nomination. Will they take sides after yesterday’s primary and the upcoming Indiana and North Carolina contests, or will most of them wait until after the voting is done in early June?

3) Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean went on television last week to call on super-delegates to make up their mind quickly. With Clinton’s big win last night bringing the party no closer to resolution, Dean has possibly shone a light on his own impotence within the party.

Senate 2008

Overview: This will be another good year for Democratic Senatorial Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Despite holding a razor-thin majority, Democrats have basically zero chance of losing control, and they are poised to make major gains.

Three GOP-held open seats (Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia) look ready to flip to the Democrats, and two Republican incumbents John Sununu (N.H.) and Norm Coleman (Minn.) are currently underdogs. Republicans have no good pickup opportunities. Democrats +5, 54-44 (2 I).

Competitive Senate Elections 2008
Likely Democratic
Leaning Democratic
Leaning Republican
Likely Republican
Louisiana (Landrieu)
South Dakota (Johnson)
Colorado (open)
Alaska (Stevens)
Kentucky (McConnell
Minnesota (Coleman)
Idaho (open)
Mississippi (Wicker)
New Hampshire (Sununu)
Maine (Collins)
Nebraska (open)
New Mexico (open)
Wyoming (Barasso)
Virginia (open)

Minnesota: The matchup for November appears to be set, pitting freshman Sen. Norm Coleman (R) against liberal comedian Al Franken (D). Big-dollar trial lawyer Mike Ciresi (D) dropped out of the race last month, leaving Franken as the only top-tier candidate in a crowded Democratic field.

Minnesota is a swing state that Kerry and Gore barely won. Since 2000, the state has had six different senators: two Republicans, three Democrats, and one appointive independent. The late Sen. Paul Wellstone‘s (D) reelection in 1996 is the only time an incumbent has won a Senate seat here since 1988. Fifteen different men have held this seat since 1923, meaning each senator averaged less than one full term.

Republicans have to wonder, though, whether Minnesota is falling off the left side of the map. The 2006 elections proved to be a Democratic tsunami: in a Senate race that was supposed to be competitive, and in which she was outspent, Amy Klobuchar (D) won by 20 points, the largest margin of victory in a Senate election here since Hubert Humphrey (D). Meanwhile, Tim Walz (D) handily beat six-term incumbent Gil Gutknecht (R) despite Gutknecht’s money edge. This is all reason for Coleman to worry.

Coleman originally won his seat in chaotic circumstance in 2002, when Wellstone died in a plane crash days before the election in which Wellstone was the slight favorite. Coleman bested the Democrats’ replacement candidate, former Vice President Walter Mondale (D) in large part because of the party’s tasteless transformation of the Wellstone memorial service into a Mondale pep rally.

Polls have generally shown a statistical tie, alternating between a slight Franken lead and a slight Coleman lead. Polling below 50% spells trouble for an incumbent.

Coleman, though, has been successful raising money. Also, Franken—whose schtick involves being obnoxious—has positives below 50% and higher negatives than Coleman.

This race, more than most, will come down to turnout. The two men who could drive turnout are Obama and Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who squeaked by to reelection in 2006. If Pawlenty is McCain’s running mate, that might motivate otherwise depressed or apathetic Republicans. If Obama is the nominee, his huge bloc of support here (he beat Clinton 2-to-1 in the primary) could push Franken over the top. If Clinton is the nominee, however, it could have the opposite effect—energizing Republicans and depressing Obama’s backers.

Assuming Obama is on the top of the ticket and Pawlenty is not, this looks like a Democratic pickup. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

House 2008

Kentucky-2: The retirement of Rep. Ron Lewis (R), announced at the last moment in an apparent attempt to hand the nomination to his former chief of staff, threatened to cost the GOP another seat, but this seat still leans Republican.

Former State Sen. Brett Guthrie (R), the pick of the National Republican Congressional Committee and state party boss, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R), has cleared the GOP field.

On the Democratic side, State Sen. David Boswell (D) faces Daviess County Judge Executive Reid Haire (D) in the primary. Haire is a strong fundraiser and holds a huge cash edge over Boswell, who has not faced a tough election recently. Boswell, however, has stronger name recognition and important union support. Both candidates had tried to talk the other out of the race, but now they face a contentious primary.

This is a Republican district, where Bush beat Kerry nearly two-to-one in 2004, though more conservative Democrats do better here. In last year’s governor race, Democrat Steve Beshear carried every county in the district. McCain and McConnell should do well here, helping Guthrie, and there is no real Obama constituency here either, meaning the upticket races mainly benefit the GOP.

Guthrie is a veteran in a veteran-heavy district, and his cash advantage will be important because the rural district spans three media markets.

This should stay in the Republican column. Leaning Republican Retention.

Kentucky-3: Of the freshmen Democrats who won GOP-held seats in 2006, Rep. John Yarmuth (D) has one of the toughest opponents, but he also has played his hand well.

Former Rep. Anne Northup (R) won this seat in 1996 with 50% while Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole by 13 points. Al Gore and John Kerry also carried this district, but Northup kept on winning, often by narrow margins after spending huge sums. In 2006, the Democratic tidal wave nationwide combined with the state party’s troubles stemming from Gov. Ernie Fletcher‘s indictment was enough to push this seat over to the Democrats. She is attempting a comeback in this Louisville-centered district.

Yarmuth has not upset his base or the swing voters who elected him, and he is a likable politician. While he won’t have the same wind at his back he did in 2006, he will benefit from the presidential race if Obama is the nominee, driving the black turnout in the district and the liberal turnout at University of Louisville.

Northup, however, is a seasoned campaigner with very high name recognition. She has been raising money at a pace comparable to Yarmuth’s. She challenged Fletcher in the governor primary last year, and so she may have some GOP enemies, which would be devastating in a close race. She faces no serious primary opposition.

If Hillary gets the nomination, Northup might have the upper hand. With Obama on the top of the ticket, Yarmuth should win. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Other Results Last Night

Mississippi-1: Republicans got something of shock yesterday when Prentiss County Clerk Travis Childers (D) nearly won outright the special election to fill the seat vacated by Roger Wicker (R), now an appointive senator. In the multi-party single-ballot primary, Childers finished with 49%, just 700 votes shy of the majority that would have given him the congressional seat without a runoff.

Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R) finished second, a few points behind Childers, whom he will face in the May 13 runoff.

Davis and Childers on April 1 won their respective party primaries for the regular November election, but Davis’s runoff win was particularly bruising.

By all rights, this is a Republican district: Bush won 62% here in 2004. Yesterday’s results are a bad omen for Republicans wondering just how bad 2008 will be. If Childers wins the seat May 13, Democrats will be talking rout.

Pennsylvania-3: Pro-life arborist Kathy Dahlkemper (D) won the four-way primary with 45% in this northwestern Pennsylvania district, and she will face Phil English (R) in November. English generally has won reelection easily in the past, but in 2006, despite outspending his opponent 6 to 1, English was held to 54% here.

Districts like this one were at the heart of the Democrats’ 2006 surge. This could be a tough retention for Republicans.

Pennsylvania-5: Retiring Rep. John Peterson (R) got his way, as his hand-picked successor won the GOP primary for this open seat. Centre Co. Republican Chairman Glenn Thompson (R) eked out a victory in a nine-way primary, while Club-for-Growth candidate, developer Matt Shaner (R) came in 1,400 votes behind Thompson in third place.

Democrats nominated Clearfield Co. Commissioner Mark McCracken (D). Thompson should win this race, but this year, it could get hairy.

Pennsylvania-10: Businessman Chris Hackett (R) defeated manufacturer Dan Meuser (R) 52% to 48% for the nomination in one of the most promising GOP pickup opportunities. Hackett faces Rep. Chris Carney (D) in this northeast Pennsylvania district with a heavy Republican bent. Carney won in 2006 thanks to the extra-marital affairs of Rep. Don Sherwood (R) and accusations that he strangled his mistress.