Obama Catching Up in National Polls

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Obama has moved from a twenty-point deficit to within six points of Hillary Clinton in the latest Gallup daily tracking poll:

Barack Obama has now cut the gap with Hillary Clinton to 6 percentage points among Democrats nationally in the Gallup Poll Daily tracking three-day average, and interviewing conducted Tuesday night shows the gap between the two candidates is within a few points. Obama’s position has been strengthening on a day-by-day basis. As recently as Jan. 18-20, Clinton led Obama by 20 points. Today’s Gallup Poll Daily tracking is based on interviews conducted Jan. 27-29, all after Obama’s overwhelming victory in South Carolina on Saturday. Two out of the three nights interviewing were conducted after the high-visibility endorsement of Obama by Sen. Edward Kennedy and his niece Caroline Kennedy.

Tomorrow we’ll see the first effects of Edwards dropping out of the race. I think it is possible that Edwards’ twelve percent will break somewhat in Clinton’s favor, but it might not be enough to matter. Worst case scenario is probably eight percent to Clinton and four percent to Obama, and with this momentum Obama has a good shot of making up even more than four additional points.

A twenty point deficit would appear overwhelming if it had persisted. A single digit difference can change quite quickly. Considering how many voters in a primary change their minds at the last minute, and considering all the limitations in polling before a primary as opposed to a general election, things can go either way on Super Tuesday. Momentum is definitely in Obama’s favor. The deciding factor in the race might be the manner in which Clinton turned to dishonest tactics. If Obama wins it will be largely due to his added support from the anti-Clinton backlash for their recent tactics, which includes the Kennedy endorsements. This will probably also result in a higher percentage of Edwards supporters moving to Obama than would otherwise be the case. Resorting to a dishonest campaign might have doomed Clinton, but this assumes that Clinton would have still have won New Hampshire without the dishonest mailers about Obama’s positions. It is also possible that if Clinton hadn’t gotten dirty Obama would have won Iowa plus New Hampshire, and go on to totally dominate the race.In most years we are approaching the time when the insurgent candidate would start falling behind the establishment candidate. This year Obama has a number of advantages which previous insurgent candidates have not. Often it is the more educated Democrats against the bulk of the party. At the very least Obama adds the black votes to those who would otherwise vote for the insurgent. Clinton has a number of negatives which might make her less unbeatable than most establishment candidates. The support of people like Kennedy and Kerry also help Obama pick up many more core Democratic voters who would normally support the establishment front runner.

I suspect that things are now close enough that the tracking polls won’t pick up the exact vote and we will have to wait until Tuesday night to know how things will turn out. All the conventional wisdom about the race could be totally changed at that time. Mathematically it won’t be possible for one candidate to win the nomination on Super Tuesday, but we may or may not have a clear leader. If we see a number of 51% to 49% victories the race will remain tight. If one of the candidates should win the bulk of the states by substantial margins the winner will be hard to stop. At this point anything can happen.

Obama Takes on Bush/McCain/Clinton All At Once

Matthew Yglesias presents a portion of Obama’s speech in Denver:

Its time for new leadership that understands that the way to win a debate with John McCain is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq; who agreed with him by voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we dont like; and who actually differed with him by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed.

We need to offer the American people a clear contrast on national security, and when I am the nominee of the Democratic Party, thats exactly what I will do. Talking tough and tallying up your years in Washington is no substitute for judgment, and courage, and clear plans. Its not enough to say youll be ready from Day One you have to be right from Day One.

This is excellent, and what we will need to continue hearing between now and Super Tuesday. Obama shows how he will differentiate himself from John McCain by showing both how he is different from Hillary Clinton, as well as showing how Hillary Clinton represents just a continuation of the Bush/Clinton Dynasty.

One place where the conventional wisdom and most pundits got it wrong this year is in claiming there is not much difference between the Democratic candidates. There is a tremendous difference between Obama and Clinton. Alex Knapp, in commenting on the same speech, gets it right:

Now that Edwards is out of the race and John McCain is the GOP frontrunner, one of Obamas great strengths in the campaign is his foreign policy positions. Bushs foreign policy has become rather unpopular, and the fact of the matter is that McCains foreign policy is Bush-plus (Bush isnt hawkish enough for him), and Hillary Clintons, frankly, isnt much differentespecially if we judge by her campaign advisors, her Senate voting record, and her husbands record while in office.

Its worth noting that while its a fashion among the punditocracy that theres hardly any policy difference between Clinton and Obama, that isnt exactly the case. True, large portions of their domestic economic policies are similar, but on crucial issues like civil liberties and foreign policy, there are important differences. Unfortunately, these arent exactly covered well by the media. Or at all.

If McCain is the Republican nominee he has an excellent chance to beat Clinton on both experience and integrity. Whether or not it is true, the race will pit the straight talker McCain versus Hillary Clinton, who has been widely branded as a liar and cheat by even her own party. By adopting a variety of dishonest tactics, and showing her true colors, Clinton saved herself from certain defeat for the nomination but might have made a general election victory unobtainable for her. Even without losing on the character issue, Clinton has far less to offer voters who desire a change in course than Obama does.

Update: Via Memeorandum I find that Pamela at The Democratic Daily cites this speech as a some sort of evidence that Obama is engaging in the politics of personal destruction. Such Clinton supporters frequently attempt to create a false equivalency between criticism of a candidate on issues and principles as Obama has done and outright lying about the opponent’s position and race baiting like the Clinton campaign.

In answer to the question she poses to Senator Kennedy, there are significant differences here between Obama and the Clintons. This is why Kennedy decided to get off the side lines, and why so many honest Democrats have been outraged by Clinton’s tactics. As Alex Knapp also said about today’s speech, “I think that this is an excellent attack, both in the fact that its substantive and there’s nothing really unfair about it.”

Pamela also repeats the other common Clinton talking point that “Obama speaks in platitudes on the issues, Hillary Clinton offers a clear, substantive vision of her plans for the future of our nation.” Obama does speak more in poetry than verse in such campaign events, but he has also laid out detailed plans as to what he would do. One major difference between Obama and Clinton comes down to judgment. From Iraq to health care to her various nanny state ideas, Clinton has a history of displaying poor judgment. She’s a self-professed government junkie who doesn’t understand the limits of government power as Obama does. It is also significant that Clinton supporters see Obama’s speeches as “platitudes” rather than principles. It is the easy abandonment of principles for political expediency which characterizes the Clintons and is why it is time for an end to the Bush/Clinton dynasty.

Edwards Quits Race, Possibly Giving Clinton a Needed Boost

Just when Obama appeared to have all the momentum going into Super Tuesday there has been another game changer which might work to Clinton’s advantage. John Edwards has dropped out of the race. He is not currently endorsing either of the candidates, leaving some question as to who this helps more.

Among conservative bloggers there appears to be a consensus that this helps Obama. Ed Morrissey sums up this viewpoint:

Edwards has until now split the Hillary opposition with Barack Obama. His departure provides a single point of focus for those who resent the Clinton influence within the party — a faction that has grown, undoubtedly, after the nasty and mean-spirited campaigning of Bill Clinton over the last month. Democratic pundits and politicians alike have raised their voices against the Restoration, and now Obama personifies the opportunity to prevent it.

Edwards essentially has taken himself out of the middleman role. Hillary now has to contend with Obama by herself, with no one to run interference for her, on the eve of the closest thing we’ve ever had to a national primary. This could very well be the tipping point for the Clintons.

Gaius also leans towards a similar view, even questioning if his supporters would go with Clinton if Edwards were to ultimately endorse her. The analysis of Democratic voters as being primarily for or against Clinton is the strongest argument that this will help Obama, and he will certainly pick up some support.

Obama will pick up more of the intellectual and better educated voters, and I suspect that more pro-Edwards bloggers will move to Obama than Clinton. Those who view the election in more abstract terms as being about “change” are hardly going to vote for Clinton.

The situation is different among the actual voters. Clinton and Edwards are both vying for the same downscale Democratic vote. They both appeal more to the “gimme” vote, or those who ask “what can my country do for me?” I’ve seen compelling arguments that Obama’s proposals would do more for poverty and the lower middle class than those of either Edwards or Clinton, but it is Edwards and Clinton who have been most effective at pandering appealing to such voters. We will have to see how Obama now responds to the challenge of appealing to Edwards voters.

The absence of Edwards from the race is also significant following the race baiting tactics of the Clintons. As seen in South Carolina, many of the voters who Clinton was successful in keeping from voting for a black candidate wound up going to Edwards as opposed to Clinton. It is not clear what they will do now.

The effect of Edwards’ departure from the race will vary among different types of voters, and the net effect could vary from state to state. On the whole I believe this will help Clinton more, but it might not be enough to change the results. The momentum is moving in Obama’s direction and it remains questionable if Clinton will pick up enough voters from Edwards to counteract this momentum as well as the backlash which is developing over her unethical tactics.

If nothing else, this change makes a primary battle which was already interesting even more so going into Super Tuesday, which does have the potential to settle the nomination in a two way race. Thursday’s debate now becomes a one on one event which might have significant impact going into the closest thing we have to a national primary. Both Clinton and Obama will be looking at appealing to Edwards supporters, the delegates Edwards has accumulated, and Edwards himself. Edwards has suggested that Obama is closest to his view of change, but his endorsement will come down to who offers more in return. An endorsement from Edwards would help either candidate, but the other factors I’ve discussed might remain more important in determining the future votes of many Edwards supporters.

The Biggest Losers Out of Florida: Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton

The good news for Rudy Giuliani is that he was finally able to soundly beat Ron Paul. The bad news is that he came in a distant third place and will be leaving the race to endorse John McCain. At this point McCain is looking very hard to beat, and we will probably know for sure if he’s unstoppable next week. Unless the anti-McCain conservatives can quickly and effectively unite around Romney there’s no stopping McCain. Complicating matters, Huckabee will continue to draw the support of a large share of the social conservatives, reducing potential conservative voters for Romney. Further complicating the issue is that conservatives have good reason to doubt Romney’s commitment to their views.

The good news for Hillary Clinton is that she won. The bad news is that this is a Pyrrhic victory which highlights her growing problems. In terms of delegates, Clinton ties Obama, Edwards, and even Gravel at zero. By celebrating a victory Clinton highlights how she has broken the spirit of the pledges made by the Democratic candidates not to campaign in Florida. As The New Hampshire Union Leader wrote on Tuesday:

Clinton coldly and knowingly lied to New Hampshire and Iowa. Her promise was not a vague statement. It was a signed pledge with a clear and unequivocal meaning.

She signed it thinking that keeping the other candidates out of Michigan and Florida was to her advantage, but knowing she would break it if that proved beneficial later on. It did, and she did.

Clinton has lost a lot of credibility for zero delegates. She might manage to get the delegates at the convention, but if she squeaks by with a stolen victory in this manner she will have a hard time getting enough Democrats out to vote for her to win a general election.

An initial review of the results also highlights Clinton’s growing weaknesses. There was a disproportionate number of women and elderly voters compared to earlier primaries, suggesting that Clinton supporters were more likely to turn out. The Democratic vote was 59% female and 41% male. Greater turnout by Clinton supporters is hardly surprising considering that she was doing the most to appeal for votes in the state.

Clinton’s base remains women and the elderly, except those who are educated. Having Ted Kennedy campaigning should help Obama pick up votes among the elderly, the core Democratic voters, Latinos, and even some working class women. Obama picks up the young, the educated, blacks, and more independent minded Democratic voters on his own. Obama beat Clinton among voters who decided who to vote for in the past week, further showing who has the momentum.

Having John McCain as the likely opponent can also hurt Clinton among Democrats who are choosing based upon electability. McCain negates Clinton’s strengths. If Clinton wants to run based upon experience, McCain has her beat. McCain will be portrayed as the straight talker, running against a candidate who has been widely and accurately branded as a liar and a cheat by members of her own party. McCain has the support of many independents while Clinton’s support is limited to hard core Democrats, potentially reducing her constituency to those who voted Democratic during the party’s losing years.

Clinton offers nothing to inspire very many people to get out to vote for her over John McCain. Both supported the war. Neither is particularly strong on social issues or civil liberties from a liberal perspective, but neither is as awful as the current president. A government junkie like Clinton who has been a strong backer of presidential power and nanny state regulations is hardly going to expand her appeal. It’s really hard to find reasons why it is even worth the wear and tear on my shoes to get out to vote for Hillary Clinton and extend the Clinton/Bush dynasty for yet another four years.

Obama is the only Democrat who can take on John McCain. Obama has shown the ability to not only receive the support of the young, but the ability to get them out to vote, negating McCain’s advantage of strong support among the elderly. Obama, but not Clinton, can challenge McCain on his support for the war, providing a reason to ignore McCain’s greater experience. Obama, but not Clinton, can frame the election as a choice of looking towards the future instead of the past.