07 February 2008

Donkeys in a Real Horse Race

[06 Feb 2008]

Admittedly, I did not pay as close of attention to the Democratic contests. It seemed like Obama won slightly more states than Hillary, but Ms. Bill Clinton took the big prizes (aside from Illinois) like New York, California and Massachusetts. The Bay State win must have really made Hillary happy, since it ignored the endorsement of Tedward Kennedy. Hillary might be troubled by the narrow loss in Connecticut as it reflects that those with higher educations and more affluent are taken by Obama's rhetoric, and Sen. Clinton's support tends to skew older and lesser educated. So Hillary has 845 delegates and Obama 765 delegates according to The Politico).

Obama has shown that he can win across the country and that his support is not reliant upon identity politics or regional support. In fact, some of the states where he won, there were very few black voters. For example, Obama won with 80% of the Idaho primary. His viral fundraising is impressive. And now he has a sleight edge in the delegate count. Yet I am not convinced that he is going to be the Democratic nominee.

Democratic primaries are proportional delegation (as long as one garners at least 15% support). The delegate count does not include Superdelegates. Superdelegates comprise 40% of the total in the Democratic Primary process. Despite the much ballyhood defection of Senator Kennedy, I am skeptical that most elected Democrats do not owe favors to the Clintons, so that undercuts an en mass defected by elected SuperDelegates. And frankly, do you want to cross Billary? She's a part of Senate Democratic leadership and what ever happened to those missing FBI files from the White House? Secondly, Organized Labor has a good chunk of Superdelegates. Hillary did well in most manufacturing states, save Illinois. But two other major portions of the labor movement are government workers and teachers' unions. How many favors does a three year Senator have to Democratic core constituencies?

Then there are the contested delegates from the Michigan and Florida primaries. Those states were punished for having early primaries by having their delegates being denied credentials. Hillary did not pull out of Michigan like all of the other serious candidates so she won big. Hillary also won in Florida. Now Hillary wants every vote to count. Surprise, surprise! After all of the stink that Democrats made after the 2000 election about every vote should count and disenfranchised voters, is the party really going to deny Florida real representation at the convention? That means Hillary could gain 86 delegates from Michigan and 111 delegates from Florida (that is almost 10% of what is needed to win). There could be a consequential fight over seating these delegates, which well could decide the eventual nominee. That could be ugly and be a long, dragged out fight.

I just heard Dick Morris tauting another Clinton fundraising scandal regarding $5 million of personal money that the Clintons laundered from investments with partners from Dubai. It's interesting and not surprising, but Clinton financial scandals are not easy to understand by the electorate and are not taken seriously, regardless of merit. What I thought was more insightful was Morris' observation that Clinton seemed unable do well in flyover country unless it was in or near Arkansas. The bi-coastal approach may work well in the General Election but this is about picking up delegates.

I am also curious about constituency voting blocks during the course of the campaign. I do not believe that Barack Obama is relying on Black votes or even is primarily appealing to that block. Shelby Steele characterizes his persona as a “Bargainer” who appeals to white voters by projecting “I will not rub America's ugly history of racism in your face if you will not hold my race against me.” But the Clinton's ran a campaign in South Carolina that tried to frame Obama as another Black candidate like Jessie Jackson in 1984, which was not a winning message in the Palmetto State but projecting subtle race messages to “less enlightened” constituencies elsewhere. Granted the candidates had a love fest at the next debate, but if the Clintons win the nomination this time around, will this be remembered in Black voting circles and slightly depress Democratic turnout? Dennis Praeger also took note that older female Hillary supporters had an animus against a Black candidate. While many parts of the country are open and even eager to prove that they will support a minority candidate, would such bigotry have consequences in November? Dick Morris was also quick to point out the Hispanic vote for Hillary which she has relied upon for her wins. Would an internal identity group animosity hinder the Democratic candidacy in the general?

To the casual observer, it seems so clear—Democrats would have a sweeping victory in November if Hillary and Obama team up as President and VP or vice-versa. Well, I believe that is a pipe dream. When I've spoken with Democrat leaning people, their gut reaction is “Oh, you can't have the first woman and first black major presidential ticket together”. That is not where I am coming from but it shows the way identity groups figure into Democrat politics and the harboring of what I think is a subtle bigotry. I think that Senator Clinton and Senator Obama really despise each other.

History shows that there does not have to be a mutual admiration society when a nominee chooses his VP. There was no love lost between Kennedy and Johnson in 1960 and Reagan and George H.W. Bush in 1980. But in 1960, Johnson's Presidential ambitions were thwarted because of Southern segregation policies. Kennedy was a charismatic politician who had to fight the stigma of anti-Catholic bigotry. Kennedy was able to racket down his religious problem by choosing a good old boy who had also been a powerful legislator and was a low key but good soldier on the campaign trail.

Reagan was a charismatic conservative who was had been the presumptive favorite in the 1980 GOP campaign. But Reagan had been upstaged at small cattle call events by George H.W. Bush, who won no delegates but earned good publicity early on. This Bush advantage quickly faded when delegates were actually selected. Reagan was a Washington outsider and a conservative who cultivated a cowboy image. His rough fight for the 1976 nomination probably left bad blood amongst the country club moderate conservatives from the Northeast. Thus, Reagan seriously considering naming former President Ford as his running mate. But during the convention in Detroit, Ford made some unacceptable demands, such as naming Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan to the Cabinet, and maybe having a substantive role in foreign policy. That killed the co-presidency concept, so Reagan turned to Bush. Bush was a 2 term congressman from Texas who had been a head of the RNC, a UN ambassador, had headed the CIA and was chief diplomat to the US Chinese liaison office. So Reagan could select an establishment Republican who was still an outsider, had good diplomatic experience and was not a Rockefeller type Republican.

With these recent historical examples in mind, Hillary is an insider who is not particularly charismatic but holds lots of political favors and has entrenched constituencies (working women, Friends of Bill, Pro-Choice and Labor groups). Obama is an outsider, charismatic and does not seem to be facing overarching bigotry (save in small pockets like older Jewish women and less enthusiastic Hispanics). Obama clearly can raise funds, but that doesn't matter much for Democrats in the General Election.

If Obama is on the top of the ticket, but drags along Hillary (and Bill), he would have to owe success to the Clinton machine. The scandals associated with the Clintons would tarnish Obama's squeaky clean image (even considering Tony Rezko). Plus there is the likelihood that Bill and Hillary would grab the spotlight, or backstab him in backroom politicking.

Hillary is 60 years old right now so the queen of our hearts would not patiently wait until 2016 for her turn (she would be as old as McCain is now). Lyndon Johnson was only 52 when he ran with Kennedy, so he could hope to succeed a two term President. But Johnson been a Senator for 24 years and had been Senate Majority Leader for 6 years. If Hillary's ego matters for much, she has been the Junior Senator from New York for almost 8 years and was First Lady (or co-President with Bill) for 8 years. I simply do not think that she would settle for being the bottom half of the ticket—she would rather be eventual Senate Majority Leader.

If Obama put her on the ticket, Hillary is such a polarizing force that Republican, conservatives and even some Independents would crawl over broken glass to vote against the Democrat ticket. As it stands, Obama is the political equivalent of being a rock star so why would he want her?

Considering the other possibility, pardon my bon mot, but Bill may like menage a trois but not with Barry. There is no way that Billary would want the bottom of the ticket to outshine them. What would Obama bring? Maybe a 50 state win but with the promise of a fight for the crown in 2012. Fundraising doesn't matter for Democrats for the general election. Obama would bring the fractional black support that might be alienated by the Clinton's earlier antics. I just don't see a Democratic Unity ticket happening.

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