I’m so sick of the Spitzer talk. Yet here I am.
Jon Wiener over at the Nation’s blog the Notion suggests how the Spitzer scandal is going to play out in the Democratic primary: it’ll help Hillary Clinton because she–or any other woman–won’t be a patron of the Emperor’s Club.
Sure, it’s snort-inducing: would be nice if a sex scandal could help Hillary Clinton, for once. And it also goes against what is quickly-becoming the blogosphere conventional wisdom: that the Spitzer scandal will hurt Clinton because it will remind voters of her husband’s indiscretions (which, as far as we know, did not include patronizing a prostitute). But I’m also not convinced it’s so. As Wiener points out, this prediction requires the corollary prediction that McCain and/or Obama is likely to engage in the same stuff Spitzer did. While anything is possible, I just don’t see this one playing out that way.
For my part I think that the superdelegates should be able to consider whatever they want when deciding between Clinton and Obama, and if they want to take seriously the idea that cobbling together a national popular vote makes any sense, more power to them. Along with “Obama can’t win the big states, so kiss New York and California goodbye”, the national popular vote notion has been one of the few remaining tropes that the Clinton-supporting blogosphere can trot out with a straight face. Mark Schmitt, however, crunches the numbers and demonstrates that this line of thinking doesn’t solve any of Clinton’s problems. Even accepting a big Clinton win in Pennsylvania and a win in the Florida re-vote as big as her win in the straw poll, Clinton remains substantially behind Obama. To close the gap she would need to win huge in Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and a Michigan re-vote, and virtually tie Obama in such states as Oregon and North Carolina.
In short, it’s remarkably difficult to imagine a plausible scenario in which Obama doesn’t reach the convention with leads in the popular vote and the pledged delegate total. A Clinton victory would almost inevitably involve the superdelegates overturning both of those outcomes. The only other option, I suppose, is pushing the Lukasiak “we can use exit polls to demonstrate that Clinton wins a subset of the popular vote” nonsense, but it’s hard for me to believe that even the people peddling that line take it very seriously.
That explains why there’s nothing resembling a vote count in the Texas caucuses. I believe that the operative words are “in” and “ept.”
Howard Dean says that delegates will not be seated based on the Michigan and Florida straw polls, but would be willing to sanction delegates based on an actual election agreed to by both campaigns. This is obviously the correct decision. We’ll see if the state parties choose to enfranchise their voters or not.
Kevin Drum, citing 1968, says that Democrat’s needn’t panic. I don’t really buy the historical analogy for a reason that can be summed up in two words: George Wallace. Without him in the race to split the white supremacist vote that went for Goldwater in 1964, Nixon almost certainly wins in a massive landslide. For this reason, I don’t think that this is a very encouraging precedent. On his overall argument, however, I agree with him at least to a point. I don’t think that the extension of the campaign per se is a big deal at all. Were Obama to win Pennsylvania and end the race, for example, I don’t think that the extra month of campaigning would hurt him much as a candidate, and as Kevin says depriving McCain of oxygen may even be a net positive.
The bigger problem is a scenario (which, given that Clinton has to be considered a strong favorite in Pennsylvania, has a substantial likelihood) where Obama has a lead of pledged delegates in the high double or low triple digits but is coming off some high-profile losses in state popular votes. Serious attempts by Clinton to seat delegates based on the results of Michigan and Florida straw polls (although not necessarily a re-vote agreed to by both campaigns and the DNC), for example, would produce very serious conflict. And if Clinton were put over the top by superdelegates (which I continue to think is highly unlikely) she would be severely weakened as a general election candidate. Is it possible that the Democrats could win after a protracted convention battle? Sure. But it would turn an election in which the Democratic candidate has considerable structural advantages into a much dicier proposition. I don’t think that this is something to be sanguine about.
But that’s life; politics is messy. Even having two very strong potential candidates has its downside. It’s especially ironic that a process re-designed to produce a quick victory and party unity has led to the opposite, but unintended consequences are endemic to political institutions. Hopefully this won’t put John McCain in the White House.
It looks increasingly likely: Obama, assuming something like his 10-point lead in the Texas caucuses holds up, will win Texas by the metric that actually matters for determining the nomination and overall will do well enough in the delegate count to remain a prohibitive favorite. But with Clinton winning Ohio and “winning” Texas by winning the popular vote in the primaries, she’s certain to stay in and the media narrative that she won a major victory is well in place (and, in a sense by preventing Obama from landing a clear knockout blow she did.) So this thing will go on for another month, and the chances of a debilitating convention fight (still the only foreseeable way that Clinton could win the nomination) that could seriously compromise the Democratic nominee in the general have increased.
Political junkie or not, I’m really not looking forward to this.
Ohio finally called for Clinton.
It also looks increasingly like she’ll narrowly win the vote in the Texas primary — when was the last time that an updated vote count significantly improved Obama’s standing? I don’t like the trend.
My worth-very-little guess is that the most likely outcome is that (with Clinton winning OH and RI, and Obama carrying VT) Obama wins the delegates in Texas and Clinton squeaks out a popular vote victory there. Should that come to pass, I think most of what Atrios says here is relevant:
I think candidates can stay in the race as long as they want, though I do think they all have an increasing obligation to keep criticisms responsible for the sake of the general, but I’m not sure I understand this particular line in the sand. If, say, Clinton wins Ohio, wins Texas by 1 point, but loses Texas in the delegates, is this really different from the same situation except with her losing Texas by one point? It doesn’t really seem to make any difference. I’m not trying to encourage her to drop out, I’m just not sure why that particular hurdle (if true) is meaningful.
An Obama win in Texas effectively ends the race. But I wouldn’t (so long as the campaign is minimally responsible) think to tell Clinton to drop out; it’s her decision when she wants to end the campaign, and I don’t think keeping some attention on the Democratic candidates is a bad thing. It’s also worth noting that if Clinton narrowly wins a narrow vote in Texas while losing the delegates it doesn’t mean anything. Not only because the nomination is decided by delegates not total votes, but because the strategic context affects the vote outcome. Acquiring delegates, after all, is the goal being pursued by the candidates, and Obama may have campaigned differently in a way that would have maximized his vote rather than delegate count. You can’t assume that a small vote advantage would have held up in a different set of rules, and under the rules we have whoever wins the delegates wins the state, period.
Chris Bowers, in the context of discussing whether or not Obama is a progressive:
Campaigning is often a sign of how someone will govern. In 2000, the Bush campaign ended up “winning,” basically by preventing many people from voting in Florida, and then stopping the recount there altogether. He won through a power grab, foreshadowing the many power grabs to come in his administration. In 2004, Bush won through a base strategy, and then preceded to govern directly to the base without any concern for broader public sentiment. In the 2008 campaign, Obama is winning by appealing to a huge wave of progressive activists, but also by appealing to beltway, center-right conventional wisdom.
Bush may have won by preventing votes in Florida being counted, but he got into position to win by running a campaign that stressed unity, bipartisanship, cooperation with Democrats, and even (believe it or not) hints that he would include Democrats in his cabinet. He then governed from the far right; even farther right than the national GOP of the 1990s. As such, his governing ran directly counter to the way that he campaigned. So I’d have to say that Bowers is actually wrong on this point; Bush is an outstanding example of candidate whose centrist direction (at least in 2000; I think Bowers is right about 2004) had no noticeable impact on governing strategy. And so to then draw the conclusion (as Bowers does) that centrist moves in the Obama campaign (or the Clinton campaign, for that matter) herald a centrist orientation is quite wrong, at least based on the evidence of the first Bush term.
What’s notable about 2000 wasn’t that Bush ran right in the general, but rather that he was able to run a centrist campaign while having such a clearly right wing record as governor of Texas. A better argument challenging the “Obama as progressive” stance would be to suggest that Obama’s relatively short record can be interpreted as stressing such things as unity, bipartisanship, etc., and that as such we can’t be certain that he’ll govern as a genuine progressive/liberal. But as for the campaign, it really doesn’t tell us much, other than that Obama believes he’ll need independent and Republican votes to win in November, and that he believes he essentially has the Democratic nomination sewn up. On the first I’m sure that he’s right, and on the second we’ll know more on Tuesday.