| All Wright Already!
The amount of media coverage on Barack Obama and Rev. Wright in the past few days has been absolutely mind-boggling, so I am hesitant to add to the flood of commentary that is already out there. But I will say briefly that anything Obama can do to bring this story arc to a close
will help his campaign, and he seemed to finally realize as much in his rebuke
of Wright yesterday. While Obama’s denunciation risks engendering hard feelings among some in the African-American community, the entire episode had become a dangerous distraction to his candidacy at a rather fragile moment in his campaign.
I have written in previous posts
that Obama’s association with Rev. Wright would be an issue in the general election. I still think this is likely, even if yesterday's developments cause the controversy to recede a bit over the summer months. Republicans will wonder why it has taken Obama 20 years to reach a point where he finds himself breaking with Wright, and they will question whether he is simply doing so as an opportunistic politician in the middle of a closely-contested presidential race. Even so, the more heat that Obama can dissipate now, the less likely he is to get burned by a flare-up of the controversy in the general election.
Update: I am pleased to note that I came up with the title of this post several hours before it was also used for a segment on MSNBC's Countdown this evening.Add/View Comments2012: A Clinton Odyssey?
While I was away from the website for a few days, the latest Clinton conspiracy theory
came into full bloom, during the weekend news cycle. This is the idea that the Clintons, realizing that they cannot catch Barack Obama for the nomination this time around, have decided to weaken him as the Democratic nominee. In doing so, their hope is that he will lose to John McCain in November, thereby establishing Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee in 2012. I initially dismissed the idea out-of-hand, but an old friend suggested to me that the Clintons are sealed in a political bubble, completely focused on devising a strategic path back to the White House, and quite possibly may view this as a realistic Plan B
should Obama be just out of reach in the primaries.
For the sake of argument, if we go with the idea that this strategy has at least crossed their minds, let me say a few words about why it would not be a workable plan. It has been my sense for a long time now that presidential candidates get one really good run at their party’s nomination. The speed and brutality of the news cycle, the length of the campaign, and the exhaustive familiarity it breeds, take the polish off of most candidates after a single go-round. That is why John Edwards couldn’t make it this year. It is also why John Kerry decided to not even try running again. Take a look at a candidate like Dennis Kucinich. While he has never been in serious contention for the nomination, most political observers would agree that his 2004 campaign was much sharper and effective than its 2008 incarnation. John McCain is a bit of an exception to this rule, but keep in mind that his second run comes eight years after his first attempt, not four. There is something about running in successive electoral cycles that makes voters weary of a particular candidate, and Clinton would be no exception.
So, while we may never know for sure whether the Clintons truly believe that this 2012 strategy is a workable alternative, in practice I don’t see it eventually securing Hillary Clinton the nomination. Should the Democrats lose the White House again in 2008, there will likely be a new constellation of fresh faces just as eager as some Democrats currently are to move beyond a Clinton dynasty. In any event, the residual anger among many voters for the Clintons’ role in weakening Obama would certainly seal Hillary Clinton’s fate.Add/View CommentsBack in a Flash
I will be away from the website for a few days, and will return on Tuesday, April 29th, with new content for you. In the meantime, feel free to explore the burgeoning archives portion of the website. – DeanAdd/View CommentsA Turning Point for Clinton?
I have argued
before that the Democratic nomination contest should be allowed to run its course through the remaining states, and Hillary Clinton’s impressive win in Pennsylvania yesterday should ensure that all remaining Democratic primary voters get a chance to register their candidate preference. That said I am not convinced that the victory represents a significant turning point
in the race. If the win had come more closely on the heels of Ohio and Texas, then perhaps Senator Clinton could have generated some fresh momentum from a string of strong performances. But last night’s victory, coming after a grinding six weeks of campaigning, will mainly push the choice of a Democratic nominee further down the road. The expectations game has been played so exhaustively by both campaigns, that the resultant spin just won’t pack the punch that it might have a month or so ago. While all of the usual nomination metrics – pledged delegates, states won, popular vote received – will continue to favor Barack Obama, his ongoing inability to shake Clinton’s core bases of support means that he can do little more than run out the clock on her.
Add/View CommentsAre We There Yet?
Many of Clinton’s supporters will no doubt rally around Obama, should he become the party’s nominee. The stark differences between John McCain and Obama on virtually every dimension of federal policy will be too much for many of these good Democrats to ignore. But, as I have previously noted
, Obama will have his work cut out for him, in trying to win over the women, seniors, and working class voters who have provided the foundation for Clinton’s resiliency as a candidate. The results from Pennsylvania suggest to me that many of these voters have become increasingly hardened against an Obama candidacy. He will need a significant portion of them on his side going into the crucial battleground states this fall.
Add/View CommentsAssessing Democratic Damage
After a long six-week run, the Pennsylvania Primary comes to a close tonight. I will be in-studio at WMUR-TV
(Ch. 9) to do some live wrap-up commentary, during the 11 PM broadcast.
In yesterday’s Washington Post
, David Broder provides a useful overview
of the current state of the argument over whether the Democratic nomination contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is damaging the party’s chances of recapturing the White House in November. To paraphrase Broder, party elites are concerned about damage, but rank and file voters want the contest to continue, especially if the alternative is for their candidate to drop out of the race, and all of the stuff being dredged up by the two campaigns will be used by the Republican Party to John McCain’s advantage in November.
While this is a fairly accurate assessment of where the Democrats are right now, I am still not convinced that ending the contest early would necessarily make all that much difference for the general election. There will be huge amounts of opposition research by Republicans in the fall, irrespective of what Clinton and Obama throw at each other now. And, although McCain currently fares well against both Clinton and Obama in national polls (in contrast to the generic ballot), once the Democratic nominee is chosen, you will see the party quickly pivot to a sustained attack on McCain, and those numbers will likely change. This is not to say that McCain won’t win, but my guess is that regardless of whether the Democratic pivot occurs in May or July, October in Pennsylvania will feel very different politically than does April.Add/View CommentsMcCain Prepares to Reach Out
Earlier this month, I wrote
about John McCain’s upcoming political outreach tour. This campaign swing would have McCain visiting urban and rural areas that are not typically considered fruitful electoral ground for Republican presidential nominees. I noted some of the risks involved, but also found it to be an infinitely more interesting (and potentially productive) use of McCain’s time than his earlier attempt to reintroduce
himself to the American public, through a personal biography tour. This latter type of campaign trip has become almost a cliché in presidential politics – the idea that we somehow don’t really know a candidate who has already been under the media microscope for the better part of two years, or, in McCain’s case, an entire decade. As I predicted, McCain’s biography tour didn’t get much press beyond the standard campaign coverage, and it was also criticized by some for being overly nostalgic.
Add/View CommentsThe Philly Forum
Well, the new outreach tour is officially getting underway
on Monday, and I’ll be very interested in the level of media coverage it will draw, during a critical week for Democratic primary politics. With the Pennsylvania primary taking place on Tuesday, coverage will reach a fever pitch over the next 72 hours. Toss in the days of political postmortem to follow, and you have to wonder about who will be watching McCain. If the tour encounters a few rough patches along the way, then perhaps having media attention diverted elsewhere would be a good thing from a campaign perspective. But the tour also has the potential to be an important opportunity for a Republican politician to reach across the partisan divide and foster greater dialogue on a variety of policy issues. McCain has demonstrated an aptitude for these kinds of gestures in the past, and, assuming that they are again legitimate, one can only hope that the outreach tour doesn’t go unnoticed.
It has been fascinating to read all of the reaction to last night’s presidential debate in Philadelphia. While I would agree with some of the commentary suggesting that Barack Obama had a rough night, I’m not as pessimistic about his performance as some other political observers seem to be. I would place myself somewhere between the D+ given to Obama by the New York Times’ David Brooks
and the B+ assigned by Time’s Mark Halperin
, but much closer to Halperin on this. Obama certainly seemed tired, with a strained voice contributing to his overall subdued demeanor, but I did not find his responses to be all that far outside the norm for what he typically brings to the debate format.
The bigger concern for Obama is the way in which the relentless sequence of topics in the debate’s first several segments painted a remarkable tableau of all the personal gaffes and question marks that have driven much of the tactical warfare against him. Whether you believe (as does Brooks) that Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos deserve credit for this approach to moderating, or should be taken to task for it (as does Tom Shales
in the Washington Post
), the bigger issue is that Obama as the Democratic nominee will most definitely face all of this again in the general election. Whether the sum total is sufficient to sink him as a candidate remains to be seen. Hillary Clinton argued yes
last night. We will have to wait to see whether she is right about the general election, but I don’t think it will in the primaries, which of course is very bad news for her.
As for Hillary Clinton’s performance, in these sorts of situations she typically has two options. She can take the high road and act presidential, as we have seen her do in other debates, or she can go on the attack. It was clear to anyone watching last night that Clinton went for the jugular. As I noted above, Clinton wielded her it’ll be worse in the general election argument to suggest that the litany of personal issues raised by the moderators would imperil Obama as the nominee. As other political observers have pointed out, however, when Clinton goes negative like this, her unfavorable rating has a tendency to climb. So, there is certainly the possibility of a backlash against her aggressive performance last night, but we won’t know for a few more days whether it materializes at the polls.Add/View CommentsMcCain's Choice on Pro-Choice
I have come across several mentions
today of John McCain’s recent appearance on Hardball
, in which he discussed whether he would consider choosing a pro-choice vice presidential running mate. While he didn’t dismiss the idea outright, he was apparently somewhat less open to it than he had been in 2000.
As much as political observers like to say that the general election will be a battle for moderates and independents, many of whom are pro-choice, it is just as likely to be about a competitive mobilization of the two partisan bases, left and right. I can’t imagine a quicker way for McCain to undo any progress he has made reassuring social conservatives about his bona vides, than for him to pick a pro-choice running mate for his ticket. Given the concern
about his age, what if McCain could only serve one term as president? As unlikely a scenario as that is, can you even imagine the GOP running again in 2012 with a pro-choice, incumbent vice president now at the top of the ticket? No, of course you can’t.
For all of McCain’s maverick tendencies, my guess is that there will be an implicit pro-life litmus test for the vice presidential nominee. Anything else would cause a host of new problems for McCain among social conservatives. In fairness, you are just about as likely to see a pro-life vice presidential nominee sharing the Democratic ticket in November.Add/View CommentsBitter Late Than Never
Some of you may have stopped by the website in the past few days looking for my take on the Obama bitterness controversy. As I sometimes like to do with these potentially big campaign moments, I decided to hold off from contributing to the initial avalanche of blogospheric reaction, in order to watch the situation play out for several news cycles. It has been my experience that these sorts of episodes often look somewhat different after they’ve had time to percolate a bit in the media, on the internet, and out on the campaign trail. It looks like the bitterness flap is no exception. So here is my sense of where we are now:
In the short-term, the comments may cost Barack Obama a few additional points in what will likely be a losing effort in Pennsylvania, even though the most recent polling
shows virtually no impact from the controversy. We will get a more accurate measure of the fallout with next weekend’s round of major polling, shortly before Tuesday’s balloting. But, I would also not be surprised to find next week that Hillary Clinton’s willingness to pivot her entire campaign, in order to hammer Obama with maximum force over these comments, has actually blunted the impact of the episode. Clinton's reaction provided both an amusing media distraction (shooting lessons and boilermakers) and a target against which Obama could strike back in aggressive fashion. An initial statement of disapproval followed by relative silence on the issue might have actually helped Clinton more, in terms of underscoring the potential peril of Obama’s remarks, than did her full frontal assault
on the candidate.
Add/View CommentsCarter's Gift to Obama Keeps on Giving
In the long-term, Obama's comments will feed into the longstanding Republican narrative that Democratic nominees are radically
liberal elitists, who are out of touch with the lives of average American citizens. This narrative would be a central tenet of the Republican attack against Democratic nominee Obama, even without his bitterness comments. So, while Obama has inadvertently provided some additional ammunition
to his Republican opponents, I don’t think that the episode will fundamentally alter the strategy that would otherwise be used against him in the general election.
In two recent posts
, I discussed why I thought that the near-endorsement of Barack Obama by former president and superdelegate Jimmy Carter might actually be a mixed blessing for the Obama campaign. I suggested that Carter’s upcoming meeting with representatives from Hamas has the potential to cause at least a peripheral headache
for the campaign, despite Obama’s recent statement that he personally would not take such a meeting.
Add/View CommentsThe Clinton-Obama Antipathy
Well, the McCain campaign released a statement
on the matter today, and it is pretty much the kind of headache I had in mind. The missive is ostensibly directed at President Carter, but it actually spends more time chiding Obama for not denouncing the former president, and attempts to turn the whole episode into a broader reflection of Obama’s lack of leadership in foreign policy. While Obama isn’t responsible for Carter’s actions in Syria, it is also no surprise to see the McCain campaign use the current situation and Carter’s earlier not-so-veiled statement of support for Obama to its own tactical advantage, and probably not for the last time.
A few weeks ago, I put up a post
discussing the concern among Democratic Party elites that the mutual antipathy between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama supporters would ultimately play to the benefit of John McCain. I argued that the hard feelings between supporters of the two candidates would eventually subside, and that McCain would seem somewhat less appealing as an alternative, once Democratic operatives focused their full attention
on him in the general election.
I still think this is the case, but in looking over the results of Time’s
new Pennsylvania poll
, it is clear to me that Obama still has his work cut out for him, at least in the short-term. Here is the relevant portion of the Time
There also appears to be a measure of deep anti-Obama sentiment in Clinton's Keystone State coalition. Roughly a quarter of Clinton voters — 26%, the poll found — say they "would be more likely" to vote for John McCain in the general election if Obama is eventually the Democratic nominee. By contrast, only 16% of Obama's backers report they would be likely to vote for McCain if Clinton emerged as the party's nominee.
So, these most recent data suggest that if Obama eventually receives the nomination, he may find that it takes more than just time to heal all wounds in the Democratic Party. Political elites in the party have consistently said that both camps will put aside their differences and come together to defeat their Republican opponent in November, but I will be interested to see if the Obama campaign also rolls out some sort of comprehensive initiative designed to win over these alienated Clinton supporters by November.Add/View CommentsCarter Doesn't Disappoint
Add/View CommentsNice to Meet You, Two (Too)
When former president and superdelegate Jimmy Carter came close to endorsing Barack Obama last week, I posted
an item suggesting that a Carter endorsement might actually be a mixed blessing for the Obama campaign. Now with Carter’s announcement
that he will personally meet with representatives from Hamas in Syria next week, despite the Bush Administration’s opposition to the meeting, the Obama campaign has been forced to issue a statement reiterating its own opposition to the visit. While Carter's actions are certainly not the responsibility of the Obama campaign, it is precisely these sorts of episodes by supporters that can cause peripheral headaches
for a presidential campaign.
When John McCain announced last month that he would be embarking on a biography tour at the end of March, in order to reintroduce
himself to the American electorate, I posted
an item (somewhat amused) suggesting that while this was something that most nominees feel the need to do, I did not expect it to have much of an impact on the presidential race. The tour would provide an opportunity for McCain to tout some of his leadership qualities and identify their origins in his personal history. But since McCain is one of the best known politicians of the past decade, I did not think that the tour would be particularly eye-opening for voters. If anything, my sense was that it would give the media an opportunity to focus even more intensively on the Democratic race. In the end, the McCain biography tour did get some obligatory press coverage, and even a little bit of criticism from other Republicans that it was too nostalgic (and thus not forward-looking), but not much more.
Now the campaign has announced a far more interesting excursion for Senator McCain. It is an outreach tour in which McCain will hold town hall meetings in both urban and rural communities, where he is likely to draw audiences that are heavily comprised of minority populations (and Democrats). In essence, McCain will be campaigning in areas that are not typically considered Republican-friendly terrain, thereby exposing himself to some potentially hostile questioning in the process. Over at Slate
, John Dickerson provides a sharp take
on this new enterprise, labeling it a form of campaign performance art
While it is true that McCain is not likely to win over large numbers of minority voters, I do think that the tour will garner him greater media attention than did the biography trip, and may (as Dickerson suggests) score McCain some additional points with moderates and independents who admire his willingness to cross over. While there are certainly some risks (of the YouTube sort) with this kind of unscripted exposure, McCain will be at home in his favorite campaign venue, the town hall meeting, a format which has returned big dividends for him in the past.Add/View CommentsThank You, the Management
runs a tough piece
today on the management problems that have plagued the Clinton campaign in recent months, and the danger that these episodes
might undercut Hillary Clinton’s ability to run on a platform of managerial excellence in government. The piece reminded me of a post
I wrote way back in October. At the time, I was reacting to an article
in the New York Times
, which noted that Senator Clinton’s long-standing reputation as an efficient manager was viewed by political observers as a significant asset to her candidacy.
My post dealt more broadly with the tradeoffs between inspirational leadership and efficient management that one often finds in our presidents. I argued that as presidential character goes, leadership will trump efficiency at the polls every time (case in point, Bill Clinton, who is legendary for both his persuasive personality and managerial laxness). My sense back then was that Hillary Clinton’s ability to make the trains run on time, while certainly helpful, would not be decisive for the nomination or general election. Clinton’s recent problems aside, I think that this is still the case. Nonetheless, if the media and/or the Obama campaign are now able to call into question Clinton’s foundational claim about managerial competence, then her already challenging task will become substantially more difficult.Add/View CommentsPenn's Landing
Political observers are continuing their preoccupation with the employment saga of former Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn. The Clinton campaign has reason to be concerned that what should have been a one-day story about Penn’s firing over a conflict of interest on the Columbian free trade deal, has turned into a multi-day media headache for its communications team. My sense is that the controversy is being driven by some genuine ambiguity
over whether Penn still has an advisory role with the campaign. The fact that Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Hillary Clinton’s chief political sponsor in the state, is calling
for a clearer cutting of ties with Penn underscores the level of confusion.
Add/View CommentsHope Springs Eternal
As you might expect, the Obama campaign is now gearing up to capitalize
on the episode, and attempts by the Clinton campaign to respond by drawing parallels with Obama’s earlier Canadian NAFTA controversy
won’t likely draw attention away from the story. While the latter was a case of poor judgment by an Obama adviser, the current Penn situation involves a good old-fashioned conflict of interest with several hundred thousand dollars in lobbying fees at stake for Penn’s firm. As the Clinton campaign no doubt knows, these kinds of stories can take on a life of their own and continue to dominate the news cycle, until more definitive action is taken by the candidate. Even with all of today’s Iraq testimony
in Congress, the negative press on Penn will continue to hurt the Clinton campaign for as long as he is allowed to hang in there.
Over at TheAtlantic.com
, Marc Ambinder caught my attention with a report
on a new website being launched by an ex-Clinton staffer that promotes a petition calling for a Democratic unity ticket with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The site seems to suggest that Clinton would be at the top of the ticket. You may also recall Mario Cuomo’s recent op-ed piece
in the Boston Globe
, in which he makes a similar plea for unity, as a means of averting what he sees as a looming Democratic disaster
in November. Unfortunately, Cuomo does not answer the magic question of who should be at the top of the ticket, nor does he suggest which criteria should be used for determining the appropriate ordering of the two candidates. I would have enjoyed reading more from him on these two very thorny issues.
Add/View CommentsShrum Gets the Last Word
Anyway, I thought that the unity ticket boomlet had subsided, but perhaps not. If you missed my post from a few weeks ago on why the unity ticket (or dream team ticket, as it's often called) is a bad idea, you can read it here
It really feels like the latest Hillary Clinton should drop out now
cycle has come to a close. Hopefully Bob Shrum’s op-ed piece
in today’s New York Times
will be the last full-length treatment of the issue that we’ll have to read for at least the next month or so. Shrum covers all of the familiar arguments
for why Senator Clinton should remain in the race and ends by echoing the newly emerging conventional wisdom among journalists, political elites, and other observers that the Democratic nomination battle will likely be resolved by the end of the official primary schedule in early June, and well, heck, it’s already April, anyway.
Add/View CommentsCarter's Non-Endorsement
After all of the hand-wringing
over a frontloaded schedule, it is nice to see a consensus finally emerging that the process should be allowed to run its course, largely as it was originally designed to do decades ago. The goal back then was to bring voters into the presidential selection process by democratizing and decentralizing the power to pick a nominee, through a system of state primaries and caucuses. The schedule would provide a true test of a candidate's political skill, organizational ability, and personal fortitude, thereby producing a better nominee for the general election. It seems to me that the process is working as intended.
Several news sources are reporting
that former president (and superdelegate) Jimmy Carter all but endorsed Barack Obama in a recent interview with a Nigerian newspaper. It’s always nice to have the support of a party elder and ex-president, but as these kinds of endorsements go, President Carter is actually a pretty interesting case. It is true that Carter is often credited with being a much stronger ex-president than sitting president, largely due to the various good works
with which both he and First Lady Rosalynn Carter have occupied their time since leaving office. But the Obama campaign also knows that Carter has been no stranger to controversy
in recent years.
Add/View CommentsNAFTA Redux
Carter’s comments on Obama also reminded me of his odd non-endorsement
of Howard Dean in 2004. You may recall that Dean made a surprise trip to Plains, Georgia, to meet with President Carter on the eve of the Iowa Caucus. Dean had previously drawn parallels between his own insurgent candidacy in 2004 and Jimmy Carter’s rise to national prominence in Iowa and New Hampshire in 1976. Yet, even with Carter’s pat on the back
, we know how well Iowa worked out
for Howard Dean.
I can’t decide if I am surprised to see the Obama campaign revisiting
the issue of Hillary Clinton’s support for NAFTA, as it did quite aggressively in a conference call with the media earlier today. You may recall that Barack Obama was put on the defensive
just prior to the Ohio Primary, when his economic adviser’s comments to a Canadian official appeared to undercut Obama's public criticism of the treaty. Some political observers (myself included), have suggested
that the controversy contributed to Obama’s defeat in the state, by exacerbating his difficulties with working-class Democratic voters concerned about the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and unfair foreign competition. So there is some risk for the Obama campaign in again attacking Clinton on the issue.
Add/View CommentsSpeak Easy
Given the proximity of Ohio to upcoming primary states Pennsylvania and Indiana, however, the Obama campaign probably believes that it needs to confront the issue, if it intends to make greater inroads among blue-collar voters with similar economic concerns. Hoping to put Clinton on the defensive in Pennsylvania, the Obama campaign is once again pointing to the entries in her recently released White House schedules, which raise the possibility
that the First Lady did not oppose NAFTA from within the Clinton Administration, as strongly as she has previously claimed. The Obama campaign is also playing on new seeds of doubt among Democratic voters about Clinton’s trustworthiness
, by portraying her avowed opposition to NAFTA in the early 1990s, as an exaggeration
similar to her recollection of the Bosnian sniper fire incident. Not surprisingly, the Clinton campaign is working to quickly turn attention back to Obama’s own earlier problems with the Canadian episode. You can read the Clinton campaign’s preemptive response to the Obama campaign’s NAFTA attack here
Here is an interesting follow-up to yesterday’s post
on the Obama campaign’s increased focus on retail politics in Pennsylvania. A piece
in today’s New York Times
reports that the change in strategy evidently extends to Barack Obama’s soaring oratory, as well. The Obama campaign is hoping that the candidate can make a more direct cultural connection with blue-collar Democratic voters in the state, by providing more plain-spoken policy detail and less broad conceptual rhetoric on the stump.
I will be curious to see the extent to which this revamped oratorical style spills over into Obama’s campaigning in places like Indiana and North Carolina, and whether it becomes a more visible stylistic element of his campaign speeches in the general election, should he become the Democratic nominee. There is a long tradition in politics of candidates adapting their stump speeches to fit the cultural mannerisms of particular audiences. Bill Clinton certainly had a talent for this as a candidate, and we'll soon see whether the technique works for Senator Obama, as well.Add/View Comments