Wednesday 5 March 2008

Elections News: Super Tuesday II - Analysis

Andy Rudalevige offers up analysis of last night's events - exclusive to the AMS blog:

March 5, 2008: Will the Circle be Unbroken?

Rhode Island (easily) to Clinton, Ohio (comfortably) to Clinton, Texas (barely) to Clinton, Obama a landslide winner only in the Northern Kingdom of Vermont. And so we find ourselves back where we were a month ago, and two months ago, in a perfect tie. The Democratic race so far has traced an unbroken circle – what will happen, by and by?

Of course some things have changed since New Hampshire, or Super Tuesday – for one thing, Barack Obama has the lead in the overall delegate count (which he did not, after “Super Tuesday”). Indeed, because of Texas’s odd rules for delegate selection, even in narrowly losing the primary there he may wind up with more delegates than Hillary Clinton from that state. The math is not pretty for the Clinton camp.

But Clinton has nonetheless re-acquired the “comeback” moniker and the plausibility (even inevitability?) associated with her candidacy, a key intangible lubricant to the campaign engine that had been draining away, drop by small-state drop. Voters seem willing to re-examine Obama's candidacy, to get as much information as they can moving forward. Thus this is a race that will go through several more iterations, to the end of the primary calendar (see here for dates and places to come). We may yet end up with a convention that is not a coronation. Is that good news for the Democratic party (energized voters! lots of media coverage!)? It's worth remembering that in years past, and not so many years past, March 4 was a plausible date for the first primary, not the putative last, so we should not be swayed by media breathlessness about how late it is for Democrats to come together. Still, if the voters turn out to be mostly energized by their hatred of the other candidate - and one wonders how readily the new voters inspired by the Obama campaign will transfer their loyalties come November - all that media coverage may be of dissent, sniping, and backroom deals. And that in turn helps John McCain, who will have an open field to re-establish himself as the genuinely decent, independent-minded maverick of 2000, rather than the legislator who has voted in lockstep with the Bush administration and who, during this campaign, has largely renounced the honorable exceptions to that record.

The Clinton spin, as put forward with (I must assume) a straight face on Radio 4 this morning, is that the candidate who wins the Ohio primary must win the general election. Alas, this is ludicrous both in logic and history. The Clinton spokesman cited unnamed “scholars of the presidency” to make this point; as one such, though, I can state with some conviction that this “evidence” was pulled largely from the speaker’s nether regions.

What Ohio did suggest, though, is that Obama cannot win by out-pandering Hillary Clinton on economic issues. Bill Clinton, after all, was famously termed the “pander bear” by his 1992 opponent, Sen. Paul Tsongas; and, to be fair, Hillary Clinton is associated, through her husband, with the 1990s economic boom – though she spent most of the Ohio campaign running away from NAFTA, the North American free-trade agreement President Clinton rightly backed in 1993-94. Obama sought to decry NAFTA, too, but wasn’t as persuasive – perhaps because he was intellectually honest enough to know that NAFTA has little to do with the loss of Ohios’s manufacturing jobs -- and the suspicious leak of a memo from the Canadian government suggesting that he didn’t really mean what he was saying on the trail hurt him badly. Obama might learn from Ohio that he should be consistent in appealing to voters’ best instincts, not their worst. The Clinton campaign knocked him off his game plan there, and it worked.

The media did turn far more hostile towards the Obama campaign by the start of the week. Spurred partly by “NAFTA-gate,” this reflected fear that Washingtonians might have missed some skeleton in the Obama closet, and partly, perhaps, the Clinton camp’s incessant whining over what they claim is unfair coverage paid off. Less creditably, though, the new tone also likely derives from the national media’s incessant desire for “news” – and Obama winning is no longer news. It was time, most reporters might have felt, for a new turn in the dramatic flow of the race, and so they wrote the opening paragraphs of that new chapter. In any case, why would any political junkie, as national reporters must be, want this race to end abruptly? – this is the most fun they’ve had, well, ever.

Indeed, the only rationale for a quick ending would be – as Gloria Borges said, not quite tongue in cheek, on CNN last night – that they don’t want to spend the next month covering the campaigns in the less-glitzy parts of Pennsylvania. As a resident of that great commonwealth most of the time, I wish Gloria a very pleasant stay with my cousins in Scranton. Luckily they’re too nice to hold her snootiness against her. And suddenly they are elevated into key voters in this race.

A quick postscript. As disappointed as the Obama camp must be in the Texas primary results, it does stagger the imagination that one could plausibly be disappointed that a black candidate lost a statewide vote in the ex-Confederacy...

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