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February 27, 2008

Ted Van Dyk on Last Night's Democratic Debate

    Ted Van Dyk on last night's Democratic debate.

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February 22, 2008

Guest Blog Pundit Vic Sholis: The Battle for Texas

    This is it, folks.  After months of skirmishes across
the country, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in
Texas for the next two weeks, waging what possibly is
a fight to the death.

    Texas is the biggest state left on the Democrats'
calendar, and both sides acknowledge that for Clinton
to survive, she must win in Texas.  So what's it look

    Early conventional wisdom held that because Latinos
will comprise 30 to 40 percent of the Democratic
turnout, Clinton had the edge.  However, like most
"conventional wisdom", the facts are a little more
complex.  And its in the details that Clinton has her
work cut out for her.

    First, Texas has what's known as the "Texas Two-Step"
- a combination primary and caucus on the same day.  
Essentially, two-thirds of the state's convention
delegates are awarded based on the primary vote, with
the rest awarded in the caucuses.  To date, the Obama
forces have routed the Clinton folks in caucus states.
    However, be assured - the Clintons this time are
really focused on THIS caucus, so expect a fight for
every delegate. 

    Further complicating the picture, primary-result
delegates are not strictly determined by the popular
vote.  Rather, convention delegates are apportioned by
state senate district, based on Democratic voter
turnout in recent elections.  And the problem for
Clinton is that in those recent elections, Latino
turnout in South Texas has been lighter than the
turnout in the Black districts of Houston, Dallas, and
San Antonio, as well as the more affluent, liberal
districts around Austin - Obama's core constituencies.
So even if Latinos turn out in higher numbers than in
the past, they'll drive fewer convention delegates to

    Also, there is much anecdotal evidence that Clinton's
core base of Latino voters is starting to crack, as
Obama's message starts to take hold among younger
Latinos.  If that happens, Clinton could be in real

    Further, among whites, Obama also has reason to feel
encouraged.  There's a local saying that all the white
Democrats in Texas have turned Republican.  However,
the ones that remain tend to be the more affluent,
liberal types, that would naturally favor Obama.
Plus, the continuing migration of blue-collar white
males (i.e. the John Edwards base) to Obama that we
saw in the Potomac states and Wisconsin should
continue in Texas.

    Finally, Clinton has to face the challenge that Obama
has lots of time to campaign there, and in this
election season, when Obama's been able to campaign
"in person", as in South Carolina, Virginia, and
Wisconsin, his "movement" takes hold, with devastating
results for her.

    He seems to be working the same magic in Texas.  This
week he's appeared before standing-room-only crowds of
20,000 at the Toyota Center in Houston, and 17,000 at
Reunion Arena in Dallas.  He has another mega-rally
scheduled in Austin tonight.  If the Obama
"movement" catches fire in Texas, it may be all over.

    Another worrisome sign for her, although newspaper
endorsements don't mean what they once did, all five
of Texas' major morning papers - in Houston, Dallas,
Austin, San Antonio, and Ft. Worth - have endorsed
Obama.  All supported George Bush in the past, but it
looks like Texans may be ready for Obama's message of

    Another factor - Texas allows independents to vote in
its Democratic primary, another advantage to Obama.

    Finally, the Obama campaign has a much bigger
financial warchest than Clinton's, and certainly
recognizes the opportunity to knock her out for good
in Texas.  They outspent her in Wisconsin, and won't
hesitate to do so in Texas.

    So, does all this mean Hillary is finished?  Of course
not.  She still is a very appealing, formidable,
Democratic candidate for President, with a
resourceful, resilient organization. It just means that she's
going to need to bring everything she's got to this one, because she's
in the fight of her life.

    Clinton's recent double-digit lead in the polls in
Texas has evaporated, so get ready for a Texas-size
fight to the finish. And now it's for all the marbles.
No excuses - no spin.  Texas votes in eleven days,
and the game's on the line.  And both candidates know

    May the best candidate win!

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February 22, 2008

Ted Van Dyk on Last Night's Austin Debate

    One of the Democrats' great senior wise men, Ted Van Dyk, former aide to Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and others, sent me this wrapup of the debate last night. As always, he bears listening to:

     . . . Both Obama and Clinton have honed their performances over many months until, now, they are in late-playoff form.  Both kept their poise in the presence of the other.  Clinton---having lost 11 straight contests one-sidedly to Obama and facing elimination if she loses Texas and Ohio on March 4---gave what I thought was her best performance of the year.  Her closing statement, which could be read as accepting possible defeat, was graceful and well delivered.  Her husband was not in evidence.  It was Hillary, just Hillary and her daughter Chelsea on the stage and working the audience.  And Hillary came through famously.
    Obama, for his part, conceded nothing in the substantive debate and skillfully made his case.  In the end, it was two heavyweights battling to a draw.  The energy in the University of Texas auditorium was far greater than at any Republican debate from the beginning of the process. I favor Obama but found myself being proud of both Hillary and Obama at the end of the evening. It is unlikely they will form a ticket.  Neither should want to be No. 2 in an administration led by the other.  Either, in 2009, would have far more power and influence as Senator from New York or Illinois than as understudy to the other.
    One thing to know about debates:  Candidates go into them attempting, first of all, to make no big mistakes but, otherwise, to reinforce their own supporters.  Both Obama and Clinton did that well last evening.  The trouble for Clinton is that Obama's supporters are now more numerous than hers. . . .

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February 21, 2008

Guest Blog Pundit Johanna Wald: What Obama Has to Do in Tonight's Debate and Over the Next Two Weeks to Seal the Deal

    Barak Obama is on the verge of putting this contest away. This is what, in my opinion, he needs to do in tonight’s debate and over the next two weeks to fend off the sharks : 

1.    Somehow respond to, get past, and diffuse wife Michelle’s statement about this being the only time in her adult life that she has been proud of America.  He needs to perform the tricky task of being totally loyal to and supportive of his wife, while also defanging her statement before it comes back to bite them in the general election.

2.    Be careful about any more charges of plagiarism—cite sources, cite them again, and then again just to make sure.  He can get away with the Patrick comparisons this time, but not if he does it again.   Then, like Al Gore and exaggeration, and John Kerry and flip flopping, he gets branded forever with a character flaw, fairly or not.

3.    Be wary of making statements like “I am aware of my imperfections.” It sounded too much like the subtext was:  “But there really aren’t many.”  That statement came perilously close to “You’re likable enough, Hillary” in smacking of a certain hubris that he needs to keep under wraps.

4.    Outwonk Hillary —bore the audience tonight and Tuesday with concrete details about specific policy initiatives.  He can afford to be dull right now, he needs to show that he has mastered the finer details of his policy proposals.

5.    Challenge Hillary’s assertions—more or less blindly accepted by the media—that she is experienced, battle-tested, and ready to lead.  Her campaign’s chaos and incompetence has shown her to be anything but, her judgment has been deeply flawed in a variety of ways, her inability to manage her finances, her messages, or her surrogates suggest she is not in charge and her legislative track record is pretty flimsy.  In fact, she has no real history of fighting hard for anything besides hers and her husband’s political survival.  What major fight or issue has she successfully spearheaded in the Senate, and when has she shown real political courage in bucking popular causes or in championing unpopular ones?  How many of her famous “solutions” has she really been able to push through? 

(Note from Steven Stark: Johanna Wald is a relative of mine and a good political analyst!)

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February 21, 2008

Will Clinton Go Super-Negative in the Debate Tonight?

    There is another Democratic debate tonight and Clinton partisans are undoubtedly hoping it marks the beginning of her comeback. There's some anticipation that she will go super-negative on Obama but the feeling here is that would be a mistake. She's already been pretty negative and dour and none of it appears to be sticking so far.
    She'd be better off doing what Walter Mondale did in 1984, when he debated Gary Hart, seeking a comeback. If she wants to go on the attack, do it humorously; Mondale endeared himself to audiences by asking Hart, "Where's the beef" -- repeating the line from a well-known and popular funny Wendy's commercial at the time.
    The other alternative is to borrow from the Reagan comeback against Gerald Ford in 1976 and find a new dividing issue and keep pounding it. (In Reagan's case, it was the "giveaway" of the Panama Canal.) Without key issue differences, she can't win, since Obama clearly has the more winning personality and leadership style. Her argument about experience is getting her absolutely nowhere.

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February 21, 2008

How the Times Story Is Actually Helping McCain With Conservatives

        For weeks there’s been speculation about how John McCain could possibly convince his party’s right wing to rally around him.
         The New York Times may have helped him take a giant step in that direction.
         Opinions can differ about whether the Times should have gone with its story about McCain and his alleged close relationship ten years ago with a female lobbyist. But there are enough questions about its timing, the circumstances surrounding its publication, and its hints of improper personal improprieties without actually saying so, that there will be many who will smell a skunk.
         In some quarters, mostly Democratic ones, the Times is the beacon of truth. In others, mostly conservative Republican ones, it is anything but. Running against the “liberal media” has served Republicans well ever since Spiro Agnew helped Richard Nixon to mobilize the “silent majority” against the Eastern establishment. Conservative Republicans have suspected for years that McCain, by dint of his frequent bipartisan work in Congress, is actually a secret card-carrying member of that establishment.
         It will be hard to make that charge stick any longer. And that could actually help unify his party around him.

ADDENDUM LATER: Already conservatives appear to be rallying to McCain's defense, exactly as predicted.

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February 21, 2008

Tote Board Column -- 2/21 --"Civil War"

    This week's Tote Board column, "Civil War," opines that if Hillary can come back in Ohio and Texas on March 4 --a better possibility than it might seem today -- the Dems are headed for, well, civil war.
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February 19, 2008

Instant Analysis of Tonight's Wisconsin Democratic Primary Results: Clinton Loses A State She Should Have Won

    Both Fox and CNN have called Wisconsin for Obama. The exit poll data showed, for example, that only 40% of the Wisconsin Democratic electorate had a college degree. That's a demographic mix tailor-made for Hillary and her inability to prevail tonight indicates a campaign now in serious trouble.
    If she can't win Texas and Ohio in two weeks, it will be the beginning of the end.
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February 19, 2008

Clinton Fails to File Full Delegate Slate for Pennsylvania On Time: This Campaign is So Disorganized It Doesn't Deserve the Nomination

    More evidence of the Clinton campaign' inept negligence, of the sort we wrote about in last week's column: There are reports today that the campaign failed to file a full delegate slate for the Pennsylvania primary in April. Apparently she can make this up later. But still . . . .
    Ready to be president on day one? She's not even ready to be a candidate on day 340. This may be the worst run major presidential campaign in modern history. Really,

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February 19, 2008

Preview of Tonight's Wisconsin Democratic Primary: More Than Meets the Eye

    Tonight's Wisconsin primary isn't going to determine who wins the Democratic nomination, though in a race this close everything counts. But it bears watching. So far, if you accept the notion that Clinton and Obama represent roughly equal constituencies (old vs. young, Latino vs. African-American, working class vs. upper class), there's only been one real surprise in the primary results so far. (The caucus results are another matter where Clinton, for tactical reasons, has been unexpectedly wiped out.) Missouri should have gone to Clinton but Obama won it.
    Wisconsin could be a repeat of that -- which would be good news for Obama. On paper, the Badger State should be Clinton territory. Sure, there are the liberals around Madison but it's got a strong constituency of working class Democrats of the sort that have voted for Clinton in the past. If she loses tonight -- and she's expected to, which will cushion the blow -- she can still win the nomination by winning Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
    But it won't be easy. Tonight should be close and could provide a key clue to the future of the race and how far Obama's campaign has come in the last month.
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February 18, 2008

Why the "Plagiarism" Charge Against Obama Concerning His Borrowing Some Riffs From a Deval Patrick Speech May Have Legs

    It's now all over the web and will soon be all over the newscasts. On Saturday night, in a speech in Wisconsin, Barack Obama "borrowed" some phrasing from a speech Deval Patrick gave over a year ago, during his own campaign.
    It seems inadvertent; When you're as tired as these candidates must be, these things happen. It's not plagiarism when you accept advice from a friend and supporter. And, no, it won't end Obama's candidacy by a long shot -- as Joe Biden's was ended by a somewhat similar incident in 1987, when he incorporated lines of a previous speech by UK Labor Leader Neil Kinnock into his own campaign address, That was a different time, a different candidate, and the "borrowing" far more extensive and repeated.
    But this incident is going to linger for a couple of reasons. The story first surfaced in the New York Times, giving it instant validity. The charge undermines Obama's greatest strength -- his rhetoric. It plays into the charges Hillary Clinton has been making that Obama lacks heft. Perhaps most important, it's easy to illustrate; already the two speeches have been juxtaposed on YouTube and they are bound to be replayed endlessly on the news and even, perhaps, in Clinton ads. Whatever the rationale, it does look odd.
    The first "media turning point" of this campaign came when Clinton stumbled in a debate in answer to a question about giving illegal immigrants' drivers' licenses. This could be the second. It's not the kind of diversion Obama needed.
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February 18, 2008

Let the Word Go Out: The Tote Board Is Seeking Guest Hosts!! Try Your Hand at Blogging!

    It's always been our view that blogs belong to the people who read them and post. So, in that sprit, the Tote Board is seeking anyone interested to guest host in periods of several days or even a week. The requirements are that, as always in this space, the blogger attempt to provide good, dispassionate analysis of the race. It's nice to be a partisan but this isn't the blog for that.

    If you've always dreamed of being a pundit, this is your chance. Please address any interest and inquiries to Steven Stark's email, listed below.

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February 16, 2008

The Tote Board on FNX!

    The state of the race: The Tote Board on WFNX.
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February 14, 2008

Tote Board Column 2/14 -- Losing It?

    This week's column shows how Clinton's ineptitude in running her own campaign may well show she is hardly prepared to be president.

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February 13, 2008

For Clinton, It's Win Ohio and Texas on March 4 -- Or Else

    The delegate race is still close. And, yes, Clinton can come back. But she'll have to win Ohio and Texas on March 4 or the pressure will be enormous on her to scale back her campaign and her principal argument -- that Obama can't win the big states -- will collapse.
    Before the latest Obama streak -- which was hardly unexpected, by the way -- it was thought Clinton would contest Wisconsin seriously this Tuesday. That's the question her campaign must ponder over the next 24 hours -- since she now trails in that state in the polls after leading there the whole campaign.
    But it's not over yet.
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