Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Should she stay or should she go?

So, it didn't turn out quite as I had hoped it would in Pennsylvania. I thought Clinton would only win by 5, shutting down her momentum. Instead, she won by 10, just as in Ohio. But, Hillary's in barely a better position than she was at the beginning of the week. The newspaper headlines were about Hillary staying in the game, but not about winning the game. Obama actually performed slightly better with a whole range of demographic groups than in Ohio. This from Kos:
Obama's percent of the vote:

60 and older 28 38
White 34 38
White men 39 44
White women 31 34
Less than $50K 42 46
No college 40 38
College 51 49
Catholic 36 31
Protestant 36 53

What was a 10.5% win in demographically friendly Ohio has become an 8.6% 9.4% win in similar Pennsylvania, except the state was even less black and with a much smaller youth voter population (Pennsylvania's seniors accounted for 32 percent of the electorate, compared to 23 percent in Ohio).

And, those gains were made despite the Wright controversy as well as manufactured bullshit about "bitter" and flag pins and whatnot.
And, don't forget, Obama, had Ed Rendell's machine running against him, along with the machines of local electeds from around the state. (BTW, even though he supported Hillary -only because Obama had supported one of his opponents in last year's mayoral election- I really came to like Philly Mayor Michael Nutter. Definitely a politician with a bright future).

But, one thing that came through in Tuesday night's exit polling is that there is some seriously deep-seated antipathy and resentment developing between Hillary and Obama supporters, at least in PA. And, it's not the kind that's going to go away overnight. Those polls show that two-thirds thought Clinton attacked Obama unfairly; 50% thought Obama attacked Clinton unfairly (exit polls in other states were at 15% and 12%). Only 53% of Hillary voters say they will vote for Obama in November, 26% will vote for McCain.

As much as Tuesday night sucked for Obama, Hillary can still not win this nomination without a bunch of elite party regulars (i.e., Superdelegates) stealing away the election from a black candidate who's winning the nomination while playing according to all the rules. I don't know if Hillary and Bill know this, but certainly everyone else, including most superdelegates, does.

Also, as again Kos points out, Obama is kicking ass in state match-ups with McCain. In red states like Colorado and North Carolina, solid blue states like California, "purple" states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, Oregon and Iowa (and Washington), Obama against McCain outperforms Hillary against McCain. Even in New York, he does a hair better than their Senator over Obama. And, of course, we can't forget that Obama is still way ahead in states won, electoral votes and, yes Hillary, the popular vote.

So, should Hillary exit the race? No. After May 6? Maybe.

As those exit polls indicated, and as increasingly amplified by the media, this campaign is heading into increasingly treacherous ground. But, as I've said before, if Bill and Hillary can keep their worst instincts under control, it's fine, or even desirable, for Hillary to stay in the race. The competition in each state allows both to build up grassroots networks that Obama can utilize in a general election campaign (for several reasons, McCain is unlikely to have a strong ground game going into the Fall campaign). And, of course, the media stays focused on the Democrats, while McCain speaks into a media echo chamber.

Also, I wanted to point to an argument by (now former) Stranger news editor, Josh Feit. Josh makes an argument I haven't heard anywhere else: Hillary is helping the eventual Democratic party nominee by re-building the bond between the party and working class voters:
The more the media keeps talking about Hillary as the lunch-pail candidate (and the more McCain is ignored during the primary season), the more this important bloc actually begins thinking and voting Democratic. It’s the old “everybody’s doing it” advertising ploy, and she’s getting free advertising.

For the first time in a generation—thanks to the media coverage during this prolonged campaign that’s linking the working class vote with a Democratic Party candidate—the Democrats are poised to represent Jane and Joe Six Pack.

But what if Obama gets the nomination (which still seems like a given)? Well, first of all, even without Hillary on the ticket, there’ll be an established connection between a Democratic candidate and working-class voters, an association that hasn’t been authentic in a generation or two. This will give the party and Obama an opening they previously didn’t have. (How is this campaign destroying the Democrats, again?)
I'm not sure I buy this argument. I'm worried that these working class voters are going with Hillary more out of racist antipathy toward Obama than class affinity with Hillary. But, then again, it's undeniable that these working class voters do not want to vote Republican this year. So, maybe if they can't stomach Obama in the Fall, they'll just stay home rather than vote for McCain.

And, in spite of what the NY Times ed board had to say on Tuesday night, I actually think that Hillary is backing off a bit from her original mission to destroy Obama. The uncommitted superdelegates seem to be getting more public in their warnings to Clinton that any attempts to destroy the likely nominee will bring them out in his favor.

There's also increasing chatter that she's running for the VP spot on the ticket - the more delegates she gets, the harder it will be for Obama to deny her the pick (as much as he'd like to) is the argument. While she ran for president to win, she would, after all, be the first woman VP and ensconce herself as the presumptive nominee next time around whether Obama wins or loses.

Whether she's staying in the race to be VP, or to be the nominee-in-waiting in case Obama screws up at the end, or because she wants to be in the strongest position possible to be the next Sen. Majority Leader, or because she just hasn't found a good opportunity to exit gracefully (hard to do when you're winning), as long as Hillary will not indulge in harming Obama's chances of winning in November, she should and will stay in the race. Of course, if she loses both NC and IN on May 6 (and there's a better than 50% chance she will), it'll be over.

Update: I just noticed this article in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. I guess whatever restraint Hillary might be inclined to show could, at any moment, be undermined by the "Billification" of her campaign. This is one of those classic Maureen Dowd columns in the making. And, a McCain presidency in the making too. Fuck you, Bill! They should have impeached your ass!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pennysylvania Preview

Today's the big day. Polls close at 8pm Eastern. That means those of us on the West Coast will start seeing results around 5:30 or so. Wait until at least 20% of the precincts have reported before jumping to any conclusions, more if the results are close. So, it may well be 6:00-6:30 Pacific before we have real clarity about the outcome and what it means.

Easiest place to check for nearly up-to-the-minute results is the NY Times home page. If you want to dig into county by county results go here. And, if you want to watch on TV, go with CNN, not because of the analysis but because of their amazing mapping tool.

Here's a run-down of the polling released in the last 24 hours or so:

Zogby: Clinton +10
SurveyUSA: Clinton +6
Suffolk: Clinton +10
Quinnipiac: Clinton +7
Strategic Vision: Clinton +7
American Research Group: Clinton +13
Mason-Dixon: Clinton +5
Public Policy Polling: Obama +3

And, here's the best analysis of that polling that I've seen (btw, Survey USA's final robo-poll has been the best predictor of final results this primary season).

My prediction? For a while last week, I thought Obama might actually pull off an upset and win this thing. That's almost certainly not going to happen (almost - I'll come back to that in a second). I'm having a hard time seeing Obama doing any better than the Survey USA poll, especially given the overall consistency of the polling and because voter movement has rapidly diminished over the last few days.

But, here are a few reasons why it could be even closer: The Obama campaign registered a lot of new Democrats in this closed primary, at least 60% of the late Democratic registrations. That, along with the Obama campaign's superior field effort could well translate into turn-out that surpasses what's predicted by the polling. And, finally, this film from Bill Maher's show may indicate a much better performance by Obama with those gun-clinging, bitter heartland Pennsylvanians than anyone would have guessed (go to the film about 1:30 into this recording).

One more reason why Obama could do better than expected -- if any of you saw him on the Daily Show last night, Hillary's continued participation in this race is starting to turn into a joke and no one wants their vote to be in furtherance of a joke.

With all this, I'm predicting that Obama comes within 5 points. With the media laying down 10 points as the spread, that would be perceived as a big win for Obama and help close the deal in Indiana.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pennsylvanians: bitter but proud

I never got a chance to see that debate last night. I think there's an ordinance here in Boston that when the Red Sox are playing, every TV in every bar must be tuned into the game. Even more so when the Sox are playing the Yankees as they were last night. Well, I got to see enough of the debate clips that I'm glad I missed it.

I just spent the last hour hanging with my counterpart for Environment Pennsylvania. Even though he's based in Philadelphia, he spends a lot of time in the state capital, Harrisburg, as well as Pittsburgh. He told me he could tell me hundreds of instances of Pennsylvanians who went from the undecided column or even soft support of Hillary to deciding to vote for Obama because of the bitter comments. Instead of feeling offended, these people felt that someone actually got it and was listening to them.

You could look at these second and third-hand accounts as unreliable anecdotal evidence but recent polling backs 'em up. According to a Zogby poll released today, 60 versus 29 percent of PA voters were more likely to agree with Obama's assessment of their bitterness than with Hillary's assertion that he's out of touch. That's a 31% margin - enormous. While Zogby polls have not been the best indicators of primary election outcomes this year, the sheer size of this margin shows that, yet again, Obama's frankness attracts voters, while Hillary's attacks on that frankness backfire. I'm sure Obama still regrets the statement - he really should have framed the discussion of this very real bitterness in a different way- but overall the episode should serve as positive reinforcement for the kind of direct honesty that is antithetical to Hillary's old school politics.

Updated prediction: By the way, the same Zogby poll shows a statistical dead heat in PA - Hillary 45-Obama 44. I'm not going to get carried away and predict an Obama victory, but I think there's a very good chance she's going to win it by less than 5%. I'm guessing that'll drive more superdelegates Obama's way (he's only behind in superdelegates by 22 or so) and lead to a small but significant Obama victory in Indiana- along with a landslide victory in North Carolina- 0n May 6. Then it'll be over.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Generally, I don't think celebrity endorsements mean that much, especially in a presidential race. However, today's endorsement of Barack Obama by Bruce Springsteen could not have been better timed. Springsteen, more than any anyone since Woody Guthrie, is the troubadour for the common man, particularly the common man living in a rusted out NE industrial town. You know, the kind of common man that Hillary is still portraying -to the point of self parody- as heartlessly dissed by an elitist Obama. (Check out this video of Clinton getting booed -by Steelworkers- after raising the subject, yet again).

As a teenager, I was a huge fan of Springsteen's and, really, still am. I saw him in concert with the E Street Band just a couple weeks ago. I had not seen him perform since 1988, and he and the band still put on a surprisingly exhilarating show. The biggest difference from the numerous shows I saw him perform in the 80s was how much Bruce talked about politics and the dire state Bush has put this country in over the last eight years. I kept waiting for Springsteen to follow on his description of the problem with an endorsement of Obama as the best shot we have at a solution. He didn't that night, but he used much of Obama's language of hope in talking about where we must go next as a nation. The endorsement did not come until today, but the foreshadowing was certainly there at the Seattle show.

Anyway, the endorsement letter is more substantive than most and worth a read. Here's my favorite passage:
...[Obama] speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where "...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone."

...critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision, so well described in his excellent book, Dreams From My Father, often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues: war and peace, the fight for economic and racial justice, reaffirming our Constitution, and the protection and enhancement of our environment.
PS. I'm in Boston this week for work. So, I'm looking for a bar that will actually have the TV tuned in to tonight's debate instead of the Red Sox. Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Well, I guess I was wrong about Hillary in some way giving it up. She obviously feels that Obama has given her an opening through which she can salvage her chances for winning the nomination. Really, it's a sign of what desperate straits she's in.

Except for all the ways she's played these same rural, older white Democrat's latent racism (e.g., disseminating pictures of Obama in African/Muslim garb, darkening his skin tone in campaign commercials a la Willie Horton, drawing pararallels between the Obama campaign and Jesse Jackson's 1984 and 88 runs, etc., etc.), this is may be the most despicable of Hillary's efforts to destroy Obama. It's certainly the most hypocritical.

A quick recounting...

First, Obama's response to a question from an attendee at a San Francisco fundraiser about his difficulty closing deal with PA rural voters:

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Hillary's first response on Friday (only slightly more nuanced as she repeated the attack numerous times yesterday):

"I saw in the media it's being reported that my opponent said that the people of Pennsylvania who faced hard times are bitter," Clinton said this afternoon. "Well, that's not my experience. As I travel around Pennsylvania, I meet people who are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive, who are rolling up their sleeves. They are working hard everyday for a better future, for themselves and their children.

"Pennsylvanians don't need a president who looks down on them, they need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, your families."

And Obama's best, least defensive response, delivered Friday afternoon in Indiana:

How the media is letting this one unfold is almost perverse, undermining Hillary's claim that the media gives Obama a free ride. As many have pointed out, Obama was essentially echoing arguments made by Thomas Frank in his 2004 book, What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Obama has been talking about this phenomenon since at least 2004.

What's most amazing is Hillary's hypocrisy - a prime example of how Hillary is incapable of passing any sort of sincerity test. Comparing their backgrounds clarifies who is really most out of touch. Remember, Obama is the one who comes from a comparatively disadvantaged upbringing, while Hillary comes from an upper-class suburban background. Since she was about 27 or 28, she's never made less than $100,000 a year. And, as we all now know, she and her husband have made $110 million in just the last eight years ($110 million!!!).

Obama is certainly wealthy, thanks to two bestselling books and a nice fat Senate salary, along with his wife's hospital administrator salary. But, remember, he came from a very modest background, lived among poverty abroad as a child, and worked directly with laid-off steelworkers at a time when Hillary was pulling down big partner bonuses at the Rose Law Firm. At the same time, she was getting virtually free shares of a real estate partnership and pulling down miraculous windfalls off of cattle futures.

With two multi-million dollar homes - mansions really- in the wealthy enclaves of Chappaqua, NY and the Kalorama section of DC, it's not like Hillary is any sort of gun toting populist like, say, Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana. In fact, Hillary has a strong gun-control voting record. At a 1999 White House Mother's Day event, she urged Americans to push Congress to "buck the gun lobby." And, when it comes to religion, as we all know because of the Rev. Wright blow-up, Obama is the one with the more populist church affiliation (though, maybe in Hillary's world it doesn't count if it's a black church). Hillary's spiritual outlet is a cultish and secretive prayer group made up of members of Congress and other DC-based elites.

As Obama has now stated, his words were not artfully chosen; he made it too easy for Hillary and the Republicans to make it sound like he meant that religion and guns were merely a refuge from hard times. But as the Charlie Rose interview from 2004 proves, Obama has long talked about the Thomas Frank thesis of politicians exploiting people's value-based fears to distract them from voting with their economic interests. He was not discounting the social values themselves, or what they mean to voters.

I don't know how much damage this is going to do to Obama. The timing's not the best, but it could be worse. Fortunately, there's still 10 days (including a debate on Wednesday night) to recover and Hillary, handing out "We're Not Bitter" stickers to attendees at her campaign rallies yesterday, certainly seems well on her way to overplaying this and causing a backlash among both rank and file Democrats and superdelegates. And, again, to run to this extreme with one little less not so artful but nevertheless sincere and even sensitive statement shows that Hillary is in the last murmurs of a, however slowly, expiring effort.

As Harvard Sociologist and Political Scientist, Theda Skocpol wrote Josh Marshall yesterday:

I have been in meetings with the Clintons and their advisors where very clinical things were said in a very-detached tone about unwillingness of working class voters to trust government -- and Bill Clinton -- and about their unfortunate (from a Clinton perspective) proclivity to vote on life-style rather than economic issues. To see Hillary going absolutely over the top to smash Obama for making clearly more humanly sympathetic observations in this vein, is just amazing. Even more so to see her pretending to be a gun-toting non-elite. Give us a break!....

....This has to be one of the few times in U.S. political history when a multi-millionaire has accused a much less wealthy fellow public servant, a person of the same party and views who made much less lucrative career choices, of "elitism"! (I won't say the only time, because U.S. political history is full of absurdities of this sort.) In a way, it is funny -- and it may not be long before the jokes start.
It would be an ugly irony if this statement were to somehow undo Obama's pending victory and allow Hillary to emerge with the nomination. For one sloppily worded, but essentially accurate, political observation to defeat a once-in-a-generation presidential candidate would say so much about how fucked up the system really is. The ironic part is that Obama is the only candidate interested in transforming this kind of politics, while Hillary thrives on it.

Monday, April 7, 2008

My brush with Mark Penn

Well, really it was with his PR firm, Burson Marsteller, and it was more of an indirect interaction.

Last year, I helped out with a campaign to phase out the use of a toxic class of flame retardants known as PBDE's (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers) here in Washington state. These chemicals are used in all kinds of home and commercial products, from consumer electronics to office furniture and mattresses. As these products age, the chemicals leach out into the environment and are ubiquitous in household dust, bodies of water and even in breast milk. In fact, just about every nursing mom that gets tested has these toxins in her breast milk. PBDEs are linked to liver and thyroid problems, as well as neurodevelopmental effects on fetuses and babies.

Through working on this, I came to know the dirty, deceptive tactics of Burson Marsteller. The company was hired by the Bromine chemical producers trade group (a pretty sleazy organization in and of itself) to fight off the bans in several states. Although perfectly effective alternative flame retardants are available (Sony, Apple, HP, Dell and IKEA have all long ago stopped using PBDEs), the industry, with B-M's help, tried to fight off the bans with the argument that, essentially, all our children would be burned alive if we banned PBDE's.

The methods used by B-M were particularly abhorrent. They created videos of living rooms and nurseries going up in flames; created fake fire safety groups such as the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and American Fire Safety Council; hired retired fire chiefs as hired guns; and brought in people (from out of state) with severely burned faces to testify against the bill in legislative committees. These guys - Mark Penn's people - would stop at nothing to try to kill the bill. It worked for two years before, in the third try, outraged fire chiefs, the state Fire Marshall, and the Firefighter's union joined the environmental community's effort to pass the bill.

And B-M didn't just use these tactics in the fight over PBDEs. As a lengthy story published last May in the Nation laid out, B-M pioneered the technique of creating false grassroots organizations to make evil companies, or in some cases, evil governments, look good. The technique is known as "astroturfing." Hired by the commercial fishing interests to push back against warnings to expectant mothers not to eat fish species likely to be tainted with mercury, B-M formed an organization called "Healthy Mothers/Healthy Babies Coalition" to release a biased report urging mothers to eat as much fish as they wanted, even fish on the government's do-not-eat list. Penn and B-M have also done work for the union-busting uniform company, Cintas; worked to make Royal Dutch Shell look good in spite of a long record of human rights abuses in Nigeria; and the company has a contract with the Blackwater USA, which was contracted by the US government to provide security services in Iraq that killed eight innocent civilians as they fled a public square in Baghdad.

In other words, Hillary's most trusted advisor, until today, was the CEO of one of the most despicable, sleazy PR firms in the world (and by many reports, he remains in the campaign's inner circle). Mark Penn was Hillary's Karl Rove - a man who would stop at nothing to win. He was the architect of the plan to win the nomination by destroying Obama. Fortunately, it appears that she has not only jettisoned Penn , but also this strategy. Still, Hillary chose, for most, if not all her campaign, to be associated with this man and his strategies. It's one of the reasons, I believe, that she does not deserve the nomination (at least not the Democratic nomination!). Mark Penn may no longer be Hillary's chief strategist, but his impact on her character, as well as her campaign, lingers on.

The world has changed, you can too..

I'll be back to the presidential race with some comments about Mark Penn (good riddance!). But, in the meantime, enjoy this great PSA.

Hat tip to ECB at the Slog.