- Sen. Hillary Clinton‘s landslide primary victory Tuesday over Sen. Barack Obama in Kentucky is cause for at least a little Republican cheer in a bleak political landscape, despite Obama’s healthy win in Oregon.There is substantial voter rejection of Obama, with half of Kentucky’s Democrats (as reflected in exit polls) saying they cannot vote for Obama in November.
- Obama’s quasi-victory speech from Iowa Tuesday night was intended to accelerate the impression he has been trying to make for the last month: that the fight for the nomination is really over, and it is time for Democrats to turn their attention to defeating Sen. John McCain.
- With Republican prospects getting worse all of the time, how is it that polls show a competitive McCain-vs.-Obama race? It is far more Obama’s weakness rather than McCain’s strength. There are many sober Democratic strategists who see the anti-Republican tide sweeping in Obama with a landslide.
- The Obama campaign has already begun to identify McCain as the third coming (that is, the third term) of George W. Bush. When President Bush inserted himself in the campaign-however intentionally or unintentionally-in his Israeli Knesset speech last week, Obama seized on it to buttress his main theme that McCain, improbably, is a Bush clone.
- The other element in Obama’s strategy is to rule out-of-bounds any efforts to pierce the flattering image Obama has painted of himself and the media for the most part has amplified. Obama, by attacking such “swift-boat tactics,” hopes to shame the good-government side of McCain into running a vanilla campaign. While he mercilessly pummels McCain as “John McBush,” Obama strategists want McCain to stick to the Iraq war, economic decline and health care.
- McCain, however, is not prepared to disarm himself unilaterally. Tim Griffin, the crack opposition research operative, is about to move into the Republican National Committee to turn his fire against Obama. McCain strategists see their only hope is to focus on the real Barack Obama.
- While the McCain campaign feels it has secured the party’s conservative base, we feel that is not the case. There remains substantial resentment from a wide variety of elements. The McCain problem here is that he does not recognize he has this problem.
- The love affair between John McCain and the news media is over. The time when McCain described the press as his base is finished. The journalists feel the bad McCain of 2008 is not the good McCain of 2000, and McCain’s advisers feel the journalists are in the bag for Obama.
Kentucky and Oregon: Clinton thrashed Obama in Kentucky, while Obama scored a smaller, but still strong, victory in Oregon. These results bring us no closer to concluding the race, and do nothing to shake to Obama from his perch as near-certain nominee.
- In Kentucky, Clinton dominated by a 2-to-1 margin, ensuring she would win the day: gathering more delegates and more popular votes between the two states than Obama did. Winning the day by about 150,000 votes takes away ammunition from anyone who would call for her to step aside.
- Clinton won nearly every corner of the state. Obama carried Louisville-with a university and a hefty black population-but only barely. Clinton won big among suburban voters and dominated among rural voters.
- Even the one-third of primary voters who described themselves as “liberal” voted 62% for Clinton according to CNN’s exit polls.
- High turnout (43%) for a primary where the nomination is basically settled reflects strong anti-Obama passion-a fairly new phenomenon.
- Obama’s dismal performance among white voters across the South-together with the half of the state’s primary voters who said they would not pull the lever for Obama in November-confirms that Obama cannot win Southern states in the fall, even those with high black populations.
- In Oregon, Obama scored the big victory he had hoped for carrying the state 58% to 42%. It’s a large margin of victory, but when compared to Clintons two recent 2-to-1 wins, it doesn’t look that impressive.
- Comparing Oregon to similar states shows an Obama drop-off since February, when he dominated the Idaho and Washington caucuses (though he always did worse in primaries than in caucuses). His huge rally-cum-rock concert in Portland over the weekend reflected the enthusiasm of his young support, but it failed to show broad support.
- Winning Oregon and driving turnout reflects Obama’s real strength in November. This state-competitive in 2000-is off the table in 2008, probably. He could have a similar impact in places like Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Endgame: When will the election end? Obama and Clinton are not making it any clearer. Indeed, there will be no “objective” measure of the nomination race until the vote on the convention floor in Denver in August. Until then, the question of whether Obama has won yet is a judgment call.
- Obama backed off his earlier decision to declare victory after clinching the pledged-delegate victory (excluding Michigan and Florida). That victory declaration would have come today. A handful of super-delegates-most prominently Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Calif.)-have pledged to back the winner of the pledged delegates. As of press time, however, there was no flood to push him over the top.
- Clinton, meanwhile, seized on the popular vote count by ABC News that shows her slightly ahead if you count Michigan and Florida. Arguments like this only matter as media spin and as arguments to offer to super-delegates. Considering that Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan after all the candidates pledged to boycott those two states for violating DNC rules, it’s hard to imagine a super-delegate feeling comfortable using that defense for handing Clinton the nomination.
- Discarding Michigan or counting the caucus states whose popular votes are not officially tallied gives Obama a significant popular-vote lead. If most of Michigan’s “uncommitted” votes counted for Obama, he has the popular vote lead even including Michigan.
- One key step could be the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee meeting May 31. If this meeting agrees to seat Florida and Michigan delegates, we could at least be closer to a shared understanding of the national delegate count.
- Tuesday’s results combined with Wednesday morning’s super-delegate movements leave Obama about 63 delegates shy of clinching the overall delegate count (excepting Michigan and Florida). The May 31 meeting, combined with a few more super-delegate endorsements, could put Obama in position to clinch the delegate count with the June 3 South Dakota and Montana primaries.
- Of course, “decided” super-delegates could switch, and so a devastating Obama scandal could conceivably reopen the nomination. Considering the liberal and African-American backlash that would follow a Clinton coup, the scandal would have to be huge.
- Former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.)-two-time failed presidential candidate and former vice presidential nominee-by endorsing Obama last week, was issuing a high-profile call for party unity behind Barack. He stopped short of calling on Clinton to step aside, but such explicit calls may come shortly. Obama insiders have told us for months that Edwards would endorse Obama in return for being named Attorney General-a post that organized labor wants Edwards to get.
McCain: McCain has begun laying out his platform on hot-button issues, playing for both the middle and the right.
- A couple of weeks back, McCain hit on an issue that was key to mobilizing conservatives in 2002 and 2004: the courts. McCain starts from an odd position regarding conservatives and the Supreme Court-being prominently on the wrong side of the most important recent constitutional issues for conservative activists, campaign finance and political speech restrictions. The creativity involved in his “maverick” stances is at odds with one of the principles of the conservative courts push: strict reading of the Constitution.
- McCain hit the standard conservative notes, criticizing the “airy” and “vague” ideas and the “penumbras” and “emanations” behind Roe v. Wade and other decisions enshrining abortion-on-demand as a constitutionally protected right. McCain is not a leader on the pro-life issue, and he cannot believably become one. For many pro-lifers, however, the litmus test is judges who won’t read radical new “rights” into the Constitution. McCain has suggested he’ll try to resurrect this as an issue.
- McCain is making up for an early misstep in which he suggested that Justice Samuel Alito was more ideological than his model nominee. This statement, together with his role in the Gang of 14-which still angers some Beltway movement conservatives-started him off on the wrong foot with conservatives worried about the courts.
- The California state Supreme Court ruling establishing same-sex marriage as constitutionally protected on equal-protection grounds could re-energize the judge issue. McCain, however, voted against the constitutional amendment aimed at blocking gay marriage, which puts him in a typically ambiguous position on this issue.
- McCain followed his outreach to the cultural right with a tack to the middle on energy regulation. McCain went to Portland, Oregon to announce his plan: mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from some sources as part of a cap-and-trade plan aimed at mitigating climate change. This is not a new position for McCain, but emphasizing it now is a bit of a risk. Polls regularly show that the environment is not a big driver for swing voters, and sounding like Al Gore could depress his base.
- Opposing pork and government waste are his strongest issues among portions of his base as well as with some independents. He has not attacked the bloated farm bill (see below) or other congressional spending as passionately as he might have. This all raises the questions of where and how vocally “maverick” McCain is willing to take on his own party in this election.
- For a week, now, McCain has attacked Obama’s foreign policy pronouncements. Politically, it is important for any Republican presidential candidate to paint his opponent as weak on defense. War is a difficult issue for Republicans this year, considering Iraq, but McCain might still be able to use national security as a winning issue against Obama.
Farm Bill: Republican embrace of the farm subsidy bill reflects a wholesale rejection of the reform movement within the party.
- Among the many causes of Republicans’ precipitous 2006 election were corruption and overspending, which in many cases went hand in hand. The reform push within the congressional GOP-led by Representatives Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Paul Ryan (Wisc.) and Senators Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.)-have had little success to date. When a majority of the House and Senate GOP voted for the $300 billion pork- and subsidy-filled farm bill last week, it showed that the GOP, on spending, is the same party it was in November 2006.
- Ryan, the least combative of the reformers, was driven to frustration by his party’s immovability on the big-government bill. He took to the House floor and castigated the party heads. “This bill is an absence of leadership,” he said.
- Ryan’s barb was directed at least two sources: House leadership and the White House. While Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) voted against the bill, he did not exert his leadership muscle to oppose it. He could not have defeated the measure-broadly backed by Democrats-but a strong leader could have rallied enough votes to sustain the President’s promised veto. Instead, the bill passed the House with 308 votes-18 more than a veto-proof majority. Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), on the other hand, supported the bill, reflecting his opposition to the reform movement.
- For his part, President Bush did not provide much leadership here. After issuing the veto threat, he suggested he would not mind if congressional Republicans “voted their districts.” This hardly inspired Boehner to go to the mat to sustain the veto.
- On the Senate side, it was even worse for the small-government crowd. Republicans in the upper chamber voted 31 to 13 in favor of the bill, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) was a booster, inserting his own horse-farm special projects.
- Following this bill’s passage and the GOP’s special election defeats in three Republican districts, the House’s conservative Republican Study Committee has begun calling on Boehner to take the party in a more conservative, reform-oriented direction. Boehner probably lacks the clout, however, to influence the 40% of his caucus that loves pork and may be content being the permanent minority.
New York-13: Republicans got the best possible news this week when Rep. Vito Fossella (R)-recently tainted with revelations of a long-running affair, an out-of-wedlock child, and a DWI arrest-announced he would retire at the end of the current term. The alternatives were all dangerous for Republicans: (1) special elections have proved disastrous for Republicans’ this year, and so an early resignation could have set the stage for another pre-November pickup; (2) if Fossella received a primary challenge, it would have been from someone outside the Staten Island Republican establishment, resulting in a weaker party; (3) if Fossella were the nominee, he would be very vulnerable in November.
While the state party is crumbling, Republicans have a deep bench on Staten Island with a few strong potential candidates. Right now, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donavan (R) is the most likely Republican nominee. The local party here is pretty close-knit, and so a competitive primary is unlikely. State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R) is climbing the ranks in Albany, and may not be interested in shifting into the permanent minority of the U.S. House, and City Councilman James Oddo (R) is expected to run instead for State Island Borough President.
The Democratic field currently includes 2006 loser Steve Harrison (D) and city councilman Domenic Recchia (D). Recchia represents part of Brooklyn on the city council, which would not play well in an overwhelmingly Staten Island district, and Harrison lost in the tidal wave year of 2006. With the seat now open, Democrats may be looking to put a higher-caliber challenger into this race.
Bush won this district with 55% in 2004, and Republicans look likely to field a stronger candidate this year. But this is another seat that the GOP will have to work to defend. Leaning Republican Retention.
Other Tuesday Results
Oregon Senate: State House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D), the establishment’s pick to challenge Sen. Gordon Smith (R), edged out liberal activist Steve Novick (D) by 4 points in yesterday’s primary. If 2008 turns from a good Democratic year to a tsunami, this race could be the bellwether.
Oregon-5: Another bruising Republican primary may have taken a rare GOP takeover opportunity off the table. On Tuesday, 2006 loser Mike Erickson (R) appears to have edged out frequent candidate Kevin Mannix (R) in the battle to challenge vulnerable Rep. Darlene Hooley (D).
Erickson is a longtime favorite of the pro-life crowd in Oregon, but Mannix leveled an attack on him for allegedly paying to abort a child. Erickson denies the allegations, arguing that if he did pay for an abortion, he did so unknowingly. Mannix refuses to concede the close race, and says he will not back Erickson in the general election. Likely Democratic Retention.
Kentucky Senate: Two-time governor candidate Bruce Lunsford (D) defeated businessman Greg Fischer (D) and five other candidates in Tuesday’s primary. Lunsford will face Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) in November. Likely Republican Retention.
Kentucky-2: State Sen. David Boswell (D) defeated Daviess Co. Judge Executive Reid Haire (D) in the Democratic primary, earning the nomination in this open seat. On the GOP side, former State Sen. Brett Guthrie (R) was unopposed for the nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Ron Lewis (R).
This is a GOP-leaning seat, but Boswell has important union support and high name recognition. Obama atop the ticket should help the GOP here, though. Leaning Republican Retention.
Kentucky-3: Former Rep. Anne Northup (R) easily won the GOP primary in this Louisville seat, earning a rematch against freshman Rep. John Yarmuth (D), who defeated her in 2006. Leaning Democratic Retention.