[Hi - Thanks for visiting from Lance Mannion, James Wolcott, and/or Susie Madrak. I had no idea a few observations after Texas and Ohio would cause such a stir. I've written a few things since, about Wyoming, Partisan rhetoric, that awful Charlotte Allen article in The Washington Post, and just now about Eliot Spitzer. I write about not politics, too. :) Thanks for visiting... hope you'll take a minute to look around.]
Well, let's just start here - no one, seriously, can argue that tonight's results have settled things to such a degree that Clinton needs to get out now. It's progress - of a sort - that reporters, commentators, and bloggers have had to relent on the drumbeat of Obama's inevitability, even if the "it's mathematically impossible" line continued to hold sway (I'll get to that in a bit). Ohio wasn't close, and Texas - with nearly 3 million votes cast in the primary - was solidly hers on the vote, making the less than 100,000 people who went on to the caucuses and went, less convincingly, for Obama, something of a detail.
But I have more... oh so much more. Herewith, some lessons, and after them, some less than true assertions that need to be addressed, by both sides.
- Lesson 1: Don't Call It A Comeback. Though Donna Darko already has over at H1K, Clinton didn't so much come back as reassert what had been there all along - her appeal to women, working class voters, Catholics, and Latinos all worked in her favor in the state that most closely represents the "bread and butter" of who Democrats are. And also in Texas. But Clinton had, despite a string of losses, held onto those constituencies, rarely doing worse than a tie with Obama. It's not a comeback.
- Lesson 2: Hit Back, And Hard. Obama's claims to run the "nice guy" campaign that Unifies The World will be sorely tested in the next few weeks, as he will have little choice but to engage with actually running against Clinton, rather than around her. Though Clinton's been painted as "mean" and "divisive" for raising national security and NAFTA concerns about Obama, both were bound to come up anyway - Republicans have little more than painting Democrats as weak on security and harmful to American business. That Obama was mired in responding to charges that took him off his (positivist) message - with little traction to show for it - demonstrated that they continue to get pulled into rookie mistakes. If nothing else, Obama needs seasoning to be the nominee, which as good a reason as any to let the primaries continue to play out.
- Lesson 3: Demography Is Still Destiny. Compared to this highly useful exit poll compilation over at Talk Left, the results for Texas and Ohio fit established patterns - Clinton wins majorities of white women, lower income voters and less educated ones. Obama continues to dominate the black vote, higher earners and the more educated. What changed? In Texas, more than anything, it was a heavy Hispanic vote; in Ohio, Clinton proved her appeal to white men (going back to that NAFTA/National Security focus), a key shift that Obama cheerleaders need to face, quickly, or this really will shift, finally, to Clinton's overall favor. If she can win men in significant numbers, then she has a case, and a better one than he will, for winning overall.
- Lesson 4: Adapt, Or Die. More than anything, Clinton showed an ability to process lessons in losing: she returned to the theme of experience, pushed it harder, and refocused on the ground game - turnout operations, online donations, and volunteer efforts. By contrast, Obama's engine had been chugging along largely in one established direction, unable to shift even as the story on the ground on Ohio moved away from the easy appeal of his usual inspirational lines. Obama's maddening vagueness on issues, and his reluctance to discuss specifics, finally caught up to him, and now the question is how he adapts to a changing, more competitive landscape. Relying, relentlessly, on running out the clock and emphasizing delegate math over actually appealing to voters who have not signed on to his Hope Express... will not cut it. Not by a long shot.
- Lesson 5: The Media Is Not Your Friend. Clinton showed real skill playing the hand she was dealt with the media: she combined complaints about unfair standards of coverage with pointed questions about Obama, with the hope that Obama's front-runner status would dent what has been fairly substance free reporting. Now, it's Obama complaining about unfair press treatment (which looks, as Clinton can attest, whiny in a frontrunner) and fielding a series of hard stories - from Tony Rezko to the NAFTA/Canada fallout. But then, Obama's embrace of his sunny coverage was itself another rookie mistake - both Mrs. Clinton and John McCain have been flavor of the month with the press in their careers and know better than to assume that it's all you'll ever get. Can Obama adapt his press relations fast enough? We'll see. But I'd bet on a week or two of more rough coverage before he can get back on message.
After the jump, where the "conventional wisdom" is wrong.
Now for the myths we still have to deal with:
- Myth 1: The Numbers Game Is All Bad For Clinton. However the Obama supporters like to frame the discussion of delegates ("she'd have to get 75% of the vote forevermore" or "She has to circumvent the election process to get her way"), most of this argument is overblown. With last night's results, absent a major gaffe by either side, or a clear frontrunner, we will finish the primary cycle with a fairly even split of "committed delegates" (those elected in primaries or caucuses), where neither Clinton nor Obama have the required number to get the nomination. After that, two things become more crucial: who John Edwards endorses (the only source of remaining delegates), and the decision of Superdelegates. What will this mean? Probably a reexamination of the whole "superdelegate" logic - which is what's really meant to circumvent voting results - and some sort of negotiated compromise, which will depend on a lot of calculations who can best win in November. We can have this discussion, and come up with a nominee. The world will not end.
- Myth 2: Florida And Michigan Cannot Be Seated. A key piece to the whole discussion of delegate math is that Clinton is much better positioned, and possibly in the lead, if the - admittedly flawed - results from Florida and Michigan are allowed to stand. It should never have come to this; but since we are here, as I've said before, it's all but unthinkable that two of the most populous states, key to Democratic victory, would not participate, something the Florida delegation has been especially vocal about. While Charlie Crist's mischievous suggestion for a do-over primary in Florida deserves consideration, it's worth noting that Crist wasn't offering to pay for it out of altruism: he thinks dragging the primary cycle into June hurts us. It probably doesn't, but there are other solutions, and we should consider them. And hopefully, either Clinton or Obama can begin to make greater headway that will make this issue less crucial, and allow the delegations to be seated without up-ending the final result.
- Myth 3: The Fearsome McCain. Now that McCain has limped to the requisite number of delegates, he is suddenly declared "formidable" and "well situated" to raise funds and "unite the party"... or so we're told. Nonsense. Though McCain may have a few restful nights off the campaign trail, he is stuck with a badly fractured party, which is not inspiring confidence among donors, with little to animate his campaign except proposals on Iraq that amount to a continuation of Bush's largely disliked policies. The notion of a highly dangerous McCain plays well for Obama-philes, who argue that the youth and new ideas comparison to old and tired McCain works better than Hillary Hatred vs. Mr. Straight Talk. That logic was sorely tested this week with the "red phone at 3am" ads that pointed to perceptions of weakness on Security for Obama... but set that aside: both Democrats will be under fire on National Security and Iraq issues. The real story here is that nothing, not the protracted primaries, nor the internal debates, however heated, suggest that Democrats aren't prepared to unite behind either candidate, or that we will lack energy against McCain and the GOP at the Congressional level. Letting fear of the bogeyman substitute for a discussion of the best Democrat to run is silly. McCain is beatable, and the GOP is in shreds. And they know it.
- Myth 4: Dirrty. High toned notions of "respectable" campaigning aside, political arguments are not ice cream socials: things are bound to get rough, a little ugly, more than a little mean. My own suggestion: toughen up. If you're prepared to get into it with people you disagree with, great; but if you plan to complain that such-and-so is unfair or mean or beyond the pale, don't expect much sympathy. Neither side is innocent here, and things will get worse before they get better... and that's before John McCain's "we will respectfully and politely call the other side terrorist loving pantywaists" approach to campaigning comes into play. You want nice... look elsewhere.
- Myth 5: Bloggers, or The Media, Will Decide this. We won't. But getting involved will. Volunteer. Contribute. Do Something.
And remember, it's good to live in interesting times.