Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sunday Soliloquy - "The Story" in Ohio and Texas

On Meet The Press this morning, an interesting mix of Republican and Democratic strategists explored the Ohio and Texas Democratic primary election themes and the prospects for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Tim Russert introduced the panel:
MR. RUSSERT: "He helped put Bill and Hillary Clinton in the White House in 1992: Democrat James Carville. She worked for Bush 41, Bush 43 and Dick Cheney: Republican Mary Matalin. He worked for John McCain on his 2000 presidential campaign: Republican Mike Murphy. And he worked for Kerry, Gore and Barack Obama's key supporter Ted Kennedy: Democrat Bob Shrum. The very latest polls, strategies and issues. The race for the White House through the eyes of Carville, Matalin, Murphy and Shrum, only on MEET THE PRESS." - [Transcript]

While "Conventional Wisdom" has Obama pulling a victory out of Texas, if Texas turns into New Hampshire Redux - Mike Murphy knows the reason why:
"She's got one thing working for her, that is the near death experience phenomena this year - every time it looks like the perils of Pauline., the trains coming, she has a rescue." - Mike Murphy
Remember New Hampshire? - Obama up by 10 points in the polls the night before the primary, with Olbermann, Matthews and the media in general fawning and falling all over themselves waxing poetic about a new dawn for America and virtually conceding the primary and nomination to Obama - right up to the minute that the votes were counted and Clinton declared the winner. There was lot of speculation of what moved the voters and changed the votes those last days. Was it - The Clinton tears? The sympathetic woman vote? The humanization of Hillary? Hillary "finding her voice"? - I think it is none of these, but a variation of Murphy's observation. What moved the vote, was the specter of the nomination process ending in New Hampshire.

This is the dynamic - Clinton is such a polarizing personality, that if a primary is perceived by voters as a popularity contest, or even just a mechanism for allocating delegates, Obama wins. If, in the voting booth, the voter is simply answering the question "Who do I like better?" - they tend to vote for Obama. It is only when the voter clearly understands that they are voting for the end of the 2008 Democratic party selection process, that the dynamic changes. When a vote for Obama is a vote to end the Clinton campaign, the personality and likability preferences are swept away and voters face different, tougher questions:
  • "Am I certain that Obama is the best choice to lead the party?"
  • "Do I understand what an Obama presidency would actually be like?"
  • "Are we really ready to decide or would we prefer the the process continue?"
  • "Should we or should we not look at this choice a little longer?"
In January, in New Hampshire, the frenzied media bias for Obama created the perception that a victory for Obama would be the practical end of the Democratic nomination process. This time, in Texas and Ohio, a victory for Obama is, in fact, the practical end of the Democratic nomination process. My guess - Like New Hampshire, when the undecided voters walk into the booth thinking a vote for Obama is a final vote for the selection of the Democratic nominee "beyond any reasonable doubt", they will vote instead to continue the deliberation. Bill Clinton made the smartest move on the campaign trail when he stated this choice explicitly - telling voters:
"If she wins Texas and Ohio, I think she will be the nominee. If you don’t deliver for her then I don’t think she can be. It’s all on you.
He was making sure they understood that a vote for Obama was a vote to stop looking and evaluating - the exact message that changed the vote in New Hampshire. James Carville then explained the significance if she does win both.
"If she wins both, it changes the narrative, then she has a real case to make. She is coming back." - James Carville
Absolutely correct. This is what I have been saying here and in comments on other blogs. With a Clinton win in Ohio and Texas, the narrative, The Story, becomes more important than the elected delegate total. That said, it is appropriate to paraphrase an infamous Clintonian parsing and state: It depends on the what the definition of “win” is. What exactly does it mean to "win" in the byzantine undemocratic process that is the Texas primary/caucus?

In this context, the popular vote in Texas is the sole determinant of victory. Not delegates and not caucus results. As long as she wins the popular vote The Story stays intact. The Story is all that matters to her campaign now. The Story that Clinton wins all the big states except Illinois. The Story that momentum has shifted. The Story that Hillary Clinton is the new "comeback kid". That story is all that is needed to provide political cover for the superdelegates to vote for Clinton at the convention. Even a 200 elected delegate lead for Obama is the equivalent of a dead even tie, as long as The Story is intact.

Mary Matlin refines The Story with an interesting embellishment.
"If she wins both states, even fractionally, she can say he [Obama] can't close the deal." - Mary Matlin

Finally, while Bob Shrum agrees this is the last stand, he puts the contest in the context of a generational transition:
"...what we're really seeing is a generational struggle inside the Democratic Party. We've seen this before... And there's a huge fight going on inside the party, I think, between the old order and an emerging new order. And I don't know how it's going to be resolved. I think it's very, very close. I do believe Bill Clinton was right: She must win both of these." - Bob Shrum
Where have I heard this before? Ah - I remember - it was me. The generational nature of Obama's campaign is a theme I was pounding in my August 20,2007 post "Obama's core constituency - not racial, not geographic, but generational" and even earlier when he announced his campaign "Obama declares candidacy for Vice-President & launches pre-emptive strike on Boomers".

Certainly if The Story unravels, and she loses the popular vote in Texas, the game is over. But I still find it hard to believe that Boomers are going to step into that voting booth and say - Bill Clinton and George W Bush will be the sole boomer representatives in the White House.

My view - If this is indeed a generational struggle, it is not yet time for the Boomers to pass the torch.


Anonymous said...

Of course, Mike Murphy had one major point wrong. He said if Democrats used a winner take all system Hillary would be ahead. That's not true. If the democrats used a winner take all method Obama would still be in front of Clinton. See this NY Times graphic.

This was as of Feb. 15th. He has won more states since then with 120 delegates. So as of today he would have 1,216 and she would have 1,075.

And the entire point is moot anyway since the Obama campaign was planned and organized knowing that it was not a winner take all system. They may have had a different strategy if it was. (Campaign more in NY and CA. Campaign earlier in OH and TX.)

And of course, Tim Russert--the man with all the delegate numbers just agreed with Murphy. So much for that anti-Clinton bias.

Anonymous said...

All normal people think that Obama will win. Clinton is terrible politician and stupid woman. Her politics will lead US to disaster. She says about medical health service but her husband said the same things. Why didn`t he do promised things? And why is he remembered on the world only as guy, who buzzed Monika L. on the desk and guy, who bombed Afghanistan, Iraq and destroyed Yougoslavia? What naive people think that his wife, who voted for war in Iraq, Afghanistan, supported sanctions against Iran and contributed to ruining of USA will change something. Some people say thet she is a witch, but not fairy. Obama is actually the only candidate, who gives a perspective for USA

Anonymous said...

Hillary is the obvious choice and everyone knows it. I hope she does become the "comeback kid". I'm voting for her twice in Texas.

mw said...

Once again I find that my anonymous commenter seems to be a bit confused about where he/she stands on the issues and in particular the Clinton candidacy.

Anon#1 - Interesting observation, regarding Murphy and the hypothetical "winner take all" scenario. Unfortunately I cannot get to that link, I think blogger truncated the url. In any case, I wasn't quoting Mike Murphy on that observation.

Anon#3 - You must be a Chicago transplant. I wonder why you are limiting yourself to two votes? Do you not have any dead relatives that you can also register and vote? Try and show a little more initiative. Two votes do not impress me.

All my Anons - I guess we’ll find out on Tuesday and not beforem. who is normal and what is obvious.

But - I am not sure what, if anything, can change the fundamental fact that a Clinton presidency is a known quantity, and an Obama presidency is a crapshoot. Voters cannot learn enough to overcome that fact, they can only learn enough to ignore it.

Speaking only for myself, I would feel a lot more comfortable with an Obama presidency after four or eight years of seasoning as vice-president in a Clinton administration.