The General Election Campaign Begins: Barack Obama vs. John McCain

After last night’s devastating loss for Hillary Clinton, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama can now begin the general election campaign against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. I previously noted how the media has begun declaring Obama the winner, beginning with Tim Russert, Chuck Todd, and Matt Drudge. This continued on the morning news shows, increasing the sense that the nomination battle is over. Even George Stephanopoulos managed to break free of Hillary Clinton’s grasp on his balls and say, “More superdelegates will come out today for Barack Obama –they will come three, four, five at a time, and this nomination will be locked up.”

For Hillary Clinton it now comes down to preparing the exit strategy. There are reports (along with denials) that she is canceling public appearances, perhaps to give her more time to come up with reasons to justify remaining in the race. She might want to continue a battle which has now come down to satisfying her ego, but the decision might be made based upon the money. After initial denials, it has become known that Hillary Clinton, the new hero of the common working man, has loaned herself another 6.4 million dollars on top of the earlier five million dollar loan. With contributions drying up, for all practical purposes she must resort to self-financing if she is to continue. At this point she might remain in the race a little longer only to attempt to raise a little money to offset her debts, or perhaps to make a deal with Obama to assume her campaign debts.

Update: The exodus of Clinton supporters has begun. Former Clinton backer George McGovern is calling the Clintons to urge Hillary to drop out of the race and inform them of his decision to now endorse Obama. I expect many more to switch in the next couple of weeks.

The Wicked Old Witch At Last is Dead

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHCL6-GqyRk]

Hillary Clinton was right. Tuesday night was a game changer, but not as she had hoped. Obama is winning in North Carolina by 15% and Indiana remains too close to call (despite Clinton’s earlier victory speech). It is no longer possible for Clinton to win a majority of delegates or win the popular vote. Obama has withstood a couple weeks of primarily bad news and still beat expectations in both states. Clinton threw everything she had at Obama, proving she is willing to do anything to win, without success. Clinton has lost any chance she might have had of convincing the superdelegates that Obama is no longer electable.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lklfIPBK4Zg]

The media might have pretended that this was a real race long after it was mathematically over, but now the news media is getting ready to declare a winner. The New York Times says that Clinton’s options are dwindling. Drudge’s headline declares Obama The Nominee. Tim Russert (video above) and Chuck Todd have come to the same conclusion. Clinton might hold of on conceding a while longer, but for all practical purposes it is over.

It is a new era in politics, and the dirty politics of Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, and Hillary Clinton is no longer the way to win. Two families have shared control of the government for the past twenty years and have become virtually identical. The Clinton/Bush Dynasty is finally coming to an end.

A Bad Week For Hillary Clinton

Not long ago the talk was about how Obama was having a bad month, but things certainly began to turn around as I noted a few days ago. Suddenly the news is all coming out looking bad for Clinton, often because of foolish moves on her part.

I’ve already mentioned how she has resorted to taking advantage of the Jeremiah Wright issue by attacking Obama here and here. Having been caught in a big lie over Bosnia certainly didn’t help either. As a result of this and other bad news David Brooks has changed the odds on Clinton:

Last week, an important Clinton adviser told Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen (also of Politico) that Clinton had no more than a 10 percent chance of getting the nomination. Now, she’s probably down to a 5 percent chance.

Five percent.

Let’s take a look at what she’s going to put her party through for the sake of that 5 percent chance: The Democratic Party is probably going to have to endure another three months of daily sniping. For another three months, we’ll have the Carvilles likening the Obamaites to Judas and former generals accusing Clintonites of McCarthyism. For three months, we’ll have the daily round of résumé padding and sulfurous conference calls. We’ll have campaign aides blurting “blue dress” and only-because-he’s-black references as they let slip their private contempt.

For three more months (maybe more!) the campaign will proceed along in its Verdun-like pattern. There will be a steady rifle fire of character assassination from the underlings, interrupted by the occasional firestorm of artillery when the contest touches upon race, gender or patriotism. The policy debates between the two have been long exhausted, so the only way to get the public really engaged is by poking some raw national wound.

Five percent. Chuck Todd looks at the math. First he makes his projections on the remainder of the elected delegates and then estimates how many of the super delegates each candidate would have to pick up to still manage to win. He estimates that “Obama would need 34% of the uncommitted superdelegates to hit the magic 2024 number, while Clinton would need 72% of the uncommitted Supers to hit 2024.”

If Clinton can’t even win this with the super delegates any more, it looks like she is going back to the idea of going after the pledged delegates:

I just don’t think this is over yet, and I don’t think that it is smart for us to take a position that might disadvantage us in November. And also remember that pledged delegates in most states are not pledged. You know, there is no requirement that anybody vote for anybody. They’re just like superdelegates.

Most people realize that Clinton has lost the opportunity to win the nomination cleanly, but that will not stop her. Her strategy is now being referred to as the Tonya Harding strategy:

l just spoke with a Democratic Party official, who asked for anonymity so as to speak candidly, who said we in the media are all missing the point of this Democratic fight.

The delegate math is difficult for Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, the official said. But it’s not a question of CAN she achieve it. Of course she can, the official said.

The question is — what will Clinton have to do in order to achieve it?

What will she have to do to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, in order to eke out her improbable victory?

She will have to “break his back,” the official said. She will have to destroy Obama, make Obama completely unacceptable.

“Her securing the nomination is certainly possible – but it will require exercising the ‘Tonya Harding option.'” the official said. “Is that really what we Democrats want?”

At least there is hope that the Democratic Party leadership might not let her continue this indefinitely. Harry Reid has suggested that the race will be resolved before the election:

No, it will be done. I had a conversation with Governor Dean (Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean) today. Things are being done.

Unfortunately it is doubtful that anything will be done until after the last states vote, giving John McCain the advantage for several more weeks.

Obama Nets Ten More Delegates in Iowa County Conventions

Barack Obama increased his lead over Hillary Clinton by ten delegates this weekend following the county Democratic conventions in Iowa. There were a number of reports with different numbers over the weekend, but this report appears to represent the final changes at the county level. Obama picked up the Edwards delegates who did not stick with him, helping Obama net more delegates today than Clinton’s margin over Obama in her victory in Ohio. Some reports speculated that the delegates did not like the negative manner in which Clinton was campaigning, or perhaps they just did not like the fact that Clinton was discounting the value of caucus states. Chuck Todd calculated a new delegate total based upon these changes:

Pledged Count: Obama leads 1,409-1,250
Superdelegates: Clinton leads 253-217
OVERALL TOTAL: Obama leads 1,626-1,503

Obama Extending Lead in Democratic Race

The Democratic race is certainly not over, but baring a major change in the dynamics it is looking quite hard for Clinton to win without resorting to tactics which would totally divide the party and probably destroy any chance of her winning the presidency. All news services now place Obama in the lead:

NBC: Obama 1,078, Clinton 969
CBS: Obama 1,242, Clinton 1,175 
ABC: Obama 1,232, Clinton 1,205
CNN: Obama 1,215, Clinton 1,190
AP: Obama 1,223, Clinton 1,198

NBC only counts committed delegates won at caucuses and in primaries while the others include their estimates of super delegates. The committed delegates is the key number because it will be difficult for the super delegates to over rule the decision of the voters. Chuck Todd describes how difficult it will be for Clinton to overcome her current deficit:

For Clinton to overtake Obama for the pledged delegate lead — which we think is the single most important statistic for the superdelegates to decide their vote — she’ll have to win 55% of the remaining delegates. Assuming next week goes Obama’s way in Wisconsin and Hawaii, that percentage rises to 57%. Toss in likely Obama victories in Vermont, Wyoming, Mississippi, Oregon, Montana, and South Dakota, then Clinton’s percentage need tops 60% of the remaining delegates available. And this is simply for her to regain the pledged delegate lead… 

This is especially difficult with the momentum going against Clinton. Some cite New Hampshire as an example of a Clinton come back. What is forgotten is that Obama went from far behind in the polls to coming close enough to tie for delegates. If New Hampshire had continued their usual practice of randomizing the candidates on their slate of over twenty candidates the race would have been even closer. Some believe that simply being on the top of the ballot was enough of an advantage for Clinton to receive a slight majority of the popular vote.

The lesson of New Hampshire when applied to Ohio and Texas is that Obama can close large gaps in the polls in a short period of time. He may or may not win in those states, but it is doubtful Clinton can win by enough to pick up significantly more delegates.

Today things just seem to be going from bad to worse for Clinton. The latest news is that another super delegate, David Wilhelm, who was manager of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, is endorsing Barack Obama. AP reports, “Wilhelm planned to tell reporters that Obama can build a coalition of Democrats, independents and Republicans needed to win the general election.”

Anibal Acevedo-Vila, Governor of Puerto Rico, is also endorsing Obama. Puerto Rico, with 63 delegates, is the last to vote on June 7. While Obama eliminated Clinton’s previous lead among Latino voters last night, this endorsement may still be of value to ensure that this trend continues.

Obama Well on Track

With California still outstanding. the night is going very well for Obama. He’s not doing as well as in the exit polls I mentioned earlier, with considerable skepticism, and therefore the race will go on. At the moment he is in a better position than Clinton. Here’s how the states are projected so far:

  • Clinton: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Arizona
  • Obama: Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Alabama, North Dakota, Utah, Kansas, Connecticut, Minnesota, Idaho, Colorado

Obama is winning more states and, more importantly, might wind up with more delegates. Clinton won some of the larger states but Obama kept it close enough to still receive a good share of the delegates. Chuck Todd was on MSNBC estimating that Obama was ahead in the delegate count so far. Obama’s campaign estimates a lead of 606 to 534 in the delegate count, with The Politico noting that they earned credibility by getting the delegate prediction right after the Nevada caucus. This could still even out by the end of the night but regardless of who wins the most delegates, Obama will either lead or at worst be close behind Clinton.

Remaining close to Clinton might be all Obama needs to eventually win the nomination. The schedule now favors Obama, who has an excellent chance of winning the next few primaries and increasing his momentum. Even in the states which are still toss ups, Obama benefits from a calendar in which there are only a couple of states voting a week. One trend we have seen is that the more the voters see Obama the more likely they are to vote for him, while the opposite is often true with Clinton. It also helps Obama that he raised almost three times as much money as Clinton in January.

Obama is winning a combination of blue and red states. While he couldn’t get the hoped for upset in states such as New Jersey he is still performing reasonably in the large blue states and will prevent Clinton from taking a meaningful lead in delegates in the states she has won. Obama has won more red states than Clinton, some by large margins, and overall looks like he is picking up significantly more votes than Clinton in the red states. People who vote for a candidate in the primaries will come out to voe for them in the general election, and Obama is showing he can compete in the red states while Clinton cannot. Hopefully factors such as that will influence many of the super delegates, who might make the final decision if the race remains close.

Update: Add California to Clinton’s list. Obama picks up Alaska by a large margin and narrowly wins the bellwether state of Missouri. New Mexico is not yet accounted for. It looks like Obama will come out with a narrow lead in delegates from Super Tuesday after California is factored in. The conventional wisdom was that Obama would have the edge in the nomination battle if he kept Clinton from picking up less than one hundred more delegates than him. It looks like Obama is going to do much better than that. Obama has the edge going into the second half of the battle, but his recent momentum left him short of what he needed to definitely stop Clinton.

Early Impressions of The Nevada Debate

Hillary Clinton appears to be winning in the early post-debate media coverage. John Edwards continued to try to attack Hillary Clinton but the real areas of substantial disagreement are not between John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, but are between John Edwards Present and John Edwards Past.

Obama didn’t get many blows at Clinton. He did stick with opposing a mandate in his heath care plan which might not be popular in Democratic circles but which will make his health care plan more palatable to the general electorate. Obama did miss a chance at questioning Clinton’s experience based upon her previous health care plan, which was as big a mistake as her vote in favor of the Iraq war. On the other hand, Obama’s characterization of everyone making over $97,000 as the “upper class” could reduce his support among independents and professionals.

Chuck Todd wrote, “Biden, again, had a good night. He keeps doing well at these debates; we’ll see if he can use this to propel himself in Iowa. Richardson, btw, had one of his better performances, possibly his best.” Mark Ambinder wrote:

Richardson had his best performance of all the previous debates. On mental health, on veterans’ health, on energy, on trade policy – he was clear, concise, natural-sounding, in command of his answers, and persuasive. Viewers leaned that he was a governor who solved problems, who wasn’t in Congress, who has clear differences with the rest of the field on a variety of issues, and who sounded reasonable. Where has this Bill Richardson been?