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McCain, GOP in Trouble as Obama Wraps it Up

Outlook

  1. Sen. Hillary Clinton‘s landslide victory in West Virginia only strengthens her determination to stay in the race without opening the way for her to be nominated. There remains no clear path for her to the nomination.
  2. The determination in party circles to nominate Sen. Barack Obama is intense and pervasive. However, powerful figures inside the party want to stop the nagging of Clinton, pressing her to leave the race, and get on with the business at hand: to run down Sen. John McCain as the third term of George W. Bush, associating him with the general decline.
  3. Nevertheless, Clinton loyalists insist that the race may not be over. They say Sen. Clinton is a very "tight" woman with a buck and that she would not be putting up $11 million of her own money if she did not have some plan to win the nomination.
  4. The claims that McCain has a united Republican Party behind him are greatly exaggerated. We find considerable opposition on the right, ranging from economic conservatives (who consider him too green) to evangelicals. The biggest problem is that he does not realize he has a problem.
  5. The third straight Democratic win in a special election in a Republican district — in Mississippi yesterday following Louisiana and Illinois — raises the prospect of a tsunami in November against the GOP. Pessimism about McCain reversing this tide against Obama is growing.
  6. In the face of a possible catastrophe, Republicans in Congress are doing nothing to change their brand — and President Bush is not helping. With the spendthrift farm bill coming up in the House Thursday, the House Republican leadership has informed the GOP "aggies" that they can vote their districts. Bush, in effect, has given them the same signal even while threatening a veto.

Presidential

West Virginia: Clinton’s blowout win in West Virginia Tuesday came as no surprise and does very little to shake Obama from his perch as near-certain nominee.

  1. The Mountain State is 95% white and 3.3% black. Individual income is about 24% below the national average, and the poverty rate is 16.2% compared to the national rate of 12.7%. It is more elderly and less educated than the average state. All the demographics make it Clinton country.
  2. Obama basically conceded the state last week, an attempt to minimize the importance of the inevitable loss. Clinton efforts to parlay the blowout into a sign of "momentum" are fruitless.
  3. The big Clinton win probably will temporarily quiet the calls for her to step down. After next Tuesday they will start up again.

Remaining Primaries: Four states plus Puerto Rico, worth a combined 183 pledged delegates, remain between now and June 3. Clinton has the edge in these final contests.

  1. Next week’s Kentucky primary (51 delegates at stake) will look something like Tuesday’s West Virginia contest, though not as ugly for Obama. The black population and the college crowd in Louisville will help Obama, but he’ll still lose badly.
  2. Oregon (52 delegates at stake) also votes May 20. Obama is the heavy favorite in this liberal, green-leaning state. While Obama should win Oregon big, Clinton’s margin in Kentucky will probably be larger than his margin in Oregon. Clinton should win the day.
  3. Twelve days later, on Sunday, June 1, Puerto Rico (55 delegates at stake) holds its primary. The island of nearly four million people typically has a high turnout. There are no recent polls here, but Clinton is favored, despite Gov. Anibal Acevedo-Vila‘s endorsement of Obama.
  4. Obama is slightly favored in the final two contests: the June 3 primaries in Montana (16 delegates at stake) and South Dakota (15 delegates at stake).

Delegates: As of Wednesday morning, Obama was 140 delegates shy of clinching the nomination — by some counts. Although Obama’s chances of losing the nomination are near zero, it will take a Clinton concession speech for the race to officially end.

  1. On May 3, Obama picked up 99 pledged delegates to Clinton’s 88. Following his North Carolina rout and Indiana near-win, he received a flood of super-delegate endorsements, including Rep. Donald Payne (N.J.)—an African-American—who switched from Clinton to Obama. By all delegate counts, Obama now leads among super-delegates. He has held the pledged-delegate lead since Iowa.
  2. Not counting Michigan and Florida, as of now there will be 4,049 delegates at the Democratic National Convention in August. Even barring a solution with the two states that had their delegates stripped, this number is subject to change because the number of super-delegates is not fixed (see point 6, below).
  3. Currently, Obama needs 2025 delegates to clinch the nomination, and he has 1,885. In the remaining primaries, there are 183 delegates at stake, of which Clinton will probably win the majority. Obama will be left 50 to 65 delegates short of "clinching." Can he gather that many super-delegates in the next three weeks?
  4. Each campaign, however, has set its own threshold of "clinching." For Obama, according to a story in Politico, it will be when he clinches the pledged delegate majority not counting Florida or Michigan (1617.5 would be a majority). He needs only 18 delegates to reach that threshold, which means he will "clinch" next Tuesday after the Oregon and Kentucky primaries. Obama will use his win of the pledged race to signal that the campaign is over, and as a way to lobby super-delegates to settle on him.
  5. The Clinton campaign, however, rejects any delegate count that doesn’t include Michigan and Florida. This way of counting allows them to hold out hope of winning even after the voting is done, if they wish.
  6. Other factors could alter the total number of delegates. If a congressman, governor, or senator resigns and is not replaced in time for the convention (or is replaced by a non-Democrat) the total number of delegates goes down. If a Democrat wins a special election or takes over a governorship or Senate seat, the total number of delegates goes up. If a non-elected super-delegate dies, he is probably not replaced.

Obama Running Mate: Talk has begun about Obama’s running mate, with a few names rising to the top, and at least one getting shot down.

  1. Michelle Obama, the candidate’s wife, may make unthinkable the idea of an Obama-Clinton ticket. While withholding fire from other Democrats, Michelle has been sniping at Hillary for a year. Obama campaign sources tell us that her dislike of Clinton is deep.
  2. Freshman Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) is a favorite pick of many liberals. His military background can counter McCain’s, and he brings a tough, blue-collar image to a ticket whose leader can reek of snobbery. Webb has been an effective critic of the Iraq War, making it easier for Democrats to make the 2008 election a referendum on Bush and Iraq.
  3. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is gaining support among Democrats as a V.P. pick. He brings some gray hair to balance Obama’s baby face, and a strong gun-rights record to assuage the fears of Obama’s famous "bitter" voters. When looking at the Electoral College map, Strickland provides the biggest boost.
  4. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.) wants the job. Before Iowa, Richardson looked as if he was running to be Hillary’s vice president. After Obama pulled ahead, Richardson endorsed him. Richardson could carry New Mexico (five Electoral College votes), and might boost Obama’s numbers among Hispanics. His strong resume is also a plus. Obama, however, probably needs a white guy on his ticket.
  5. Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.) is mentioned as a way to lock up shaky Pennsylvania for Obama. If Casey couldn’t help him "Casey Democrats" in the primary, running against liberal Hillary Clinton, could he deliver these voters to Obama against a more conservative candidate?

Obama-vs-McCain: The November matchup is now clear, and the two candidates have already begun taking shots at one another. Although 2008 promises to be a strong Democratic year all around, the Obama-McCain battle starts off as a near tossup.

  1. In the Gallup tracking poll, McCain held a slim lead over Obama in the days before the North Carolina and Indiana primaries — when the second wave of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright situation was buffeting Obama–but that has vanished. The Gallup Poll (of more than 4,000 registered voters) was the most McCain-friendly survey. Other polls this week show a slim Obama lead, which will likely balloon into a significant edge as he wraps up the nomination over the coming weeks.
  2. National polls, of course, are of very limited utility, mostly useful as a judge of momentum. This Obama bump will be temporary, like Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis‘s 1988 lead over George H. W. Bush just after Dukakis wrapped up the competitive Democratic nomination that year.
  3. Of course, the president is elected by the Electoral College, and the landscape this year presents a few questions: Will McCain’s crossover appeal or Obama’s skin color and liberalism put any of 2000 and 2004 blue states in play? Will Obamania and the horrible Republican brand give Obama a chance at red states? Will demographic shifts affect the map? Finally, how would running mates affect the calculus?
  4. Right now, there is no reason to expect a landslide in either direction, which means the electoral map will look largely as it did in 2000 and 2004. A presumptive Republican nominee from a red state matched up against a Democratic nominee from a deep blue state enforces past trends.
  5. The Hispanic vote presents an interesting question. In 2004, top Bush advisor Karl Rove expressed worry about keeping Nevada and Arizona in the GOP camp because of growing Hispanic populations. Will McCain, the foremost GOP advocate of amnesty and more liberal immigration, fare better among Hispanics than Bush, a fairly open-borders governor of Texas? Will Obama’s poor performance among Hispanics in the primaries carry over into the general election? A GOP surge among Hispanics could take New Mexico off the table and make Florida more solidly Republican.
  6. McCain has gone so far recently as to say California is in play, in part because of the Hispanic vote. This could be pure spin, aimed at helping his fundraising among the often-neglected Golden State; for Republicans, at worst, this is monumental arrogance and naiveté.
  7. On the flip side, Obama has suggested he can compete in the Carolinas, which have very high black populations. The numbers do not add up for a Democratic win anywhere in the South this year. Recent special election wins for white conservative congressional candidates bear no relevance to the chances of a black liberal from Chicago.
  8. Other Bush states in 2004 where Obama has a good chance of doing better than Kerry: Iowa and Virginia. Kerry states in 2004 where McCain should fare better than Bush did: New Hampshire, Michigan, Maine, and Pennsylvania. The states that could move out of contention this year due to Obama’s strength are Minnesota and Wisconsin.
  9. A running mate pick could be intended to change things. For Obama, Senators Bob Casey (Pa.) and Jim Webb (Va.) could help out in their respective states, as could Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.). McCain could profit from picking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist or Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. However, the influence of a running mate is often overstated.
  10. Over the next six months, serious shifts could occur in this map. The most glaring "known unknown," is race: How will white, Hispanic, and black voters respond to a black candidate for President?

House 2008

New York-13: Rep. Vito Fossella‘s (R) Staten Island district is now in play, thanks to Fossella’s arrest for drunk driving and the revelations about his long-running affair and child with his mistress.

The first question is: What will Fossella do? Will he resign early, triggering a special election? Will he serve out his term, but not run again? Will he run again? All three are possible.

Staten Island is an odd place in many ways. It’s a conservative enclave in a liberal state, but the 13th is also a Democratic district. Bush won only 44% there in 2000, but four years later, after the district suffered more deaths on 9/11 than any other district, Bush took 55%.

Democrats hold a registration advantage, but they tend to be more conservative Democrats — white ethnic Catholic firemen and cops. Washington Democrats, seeing their recent dominance across the state and the voter registration figures here often push hard to unseat Fossella, but they don’t really come close. In November, Obama atop the ticket won’t help the Democrats.

If there is a special election or if Fossella is on the ticket in November, Democrats have a great shot here. The two Democrats in the race already — 2006 nominee Steve Harrison and NYC Councilman Dominic Recchia — are staying in the race, but an open seat or a vulnerable Fossella could draw in higher-caliber Democrats such as City Councilman Michael McMahon or State Assemblyman Michael Cusic.

Fossella seemed ready to resign, but Republicans got him to hold off until July to avoid a special election.

On the GOP side, there is a fairly deep bench if Fossella steps aside. State Sen. Andy Lanza and City Councilmen Jimmy Oddo and Vincent Ignizio are all close to Fossella. One of them would run, and would be a strong candidate. Leaning Republican Retention.

Other Recent Results

Mississippi-1: It’s becoming a familiar story: a Republican resigns early to become a lobbyist, spurring a special election in a strongly Republican district. The GOP comes out of the primary weakened, but still confident. Then the Democrat wins the seat.

In Mississippi’s 1st District, there were two steps from the lobbyist resignation to the special election — Sen. Trent Lott (R) resigned, and Rep. Roger Wicker (R) was appointed to fill out Lott’s term, leaving Wicker’s seat vacant — but the pattern continued. Prentiss Co. Clerk Travis Childers (D) handily defeated Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R) Tuesday in a seat Bush won by 25 points in 2004..

Compounding the enormity of this upset is that Mississippi, together with Louisiana, has been one of a few bright spots for the GOP since 2004. Democrats have shown that they can win anywhere — a harrowing fact for the Republican Party. Unlike Republican losses in industrial or suburban districts, the recent Southern losses don’t reflect a stained GOP image nearly as much they reflect a diminished and dysfunctional party.

The keys to the Democratic win here were three: 1) Democrats nominated a fairly conservative-seeming candidate who fit the district; 2) the Republican primary runoff was brutal and damaging; 3) it was a low-turnout special election. Republicans on Capitol Hill were shocked by the results.

As with last week’s Democratic upset in Baton Rouge, Childers is vulnerable in November with Obama atop the ballot. Still, Republicans need to come to terms with a very bad 2008 on the congressional front.

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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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