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March 27, 2008

Tote Board Column -- 3/27 -- The General Election Hurdles Facing Obama

    This week's Tote Board column looks at the massive general election precedents facing Barack Obama.

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March 25, 2008

Guest Blog Pundit Johanna Wald: Tell Hillary the Party is Over

The party’s over.  Only, apparently, no one is brave enough to tell Hillary Clinton. 
Granted, I pay more attention to “momentum” and to trends in public opinion polling than to the delegate math.  But I learned something that startled me today.  According to Josh Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo,
“ the press has been largely complicit in maintaining the fiction that the Democratic nomination race is not for all intents and purposes over. The obstacles in the way of Hillary Clinton are virtually insurmountable. And her now-sizable deficit among pledged voters is only one of them.’
Who would have known? 
I am a political junkie, I read articles and blogs about the campaign constantly; I watch Hardball, the Daily Show, Colbert, and sometimes even Tucker Carlson before he was cancelled. I find watching a bunch of talking heads screaming at each other about the campaign oddly relaxing.  And I honest to God didn’t know that her obstacles to the nomination are “virtually insurmountable.”
So…let me get this straight.  Hillary Clinton is tearing the party apart.  Her only remaining strategy is to destroy Barack Obama.  She is creating sound bites for John McCain’s general election campaign about Obama's experience and his fitness to serve as commander in chief.  She is feeding the Reverend Wright frenzy and shrugging non-committally when asked whether Obama may really be a Muslim.  Her campaign is sending around photographs of him in Somali garb.  She is trying to woo superdelegates to vote against the majority of Democratic voters.  As McCain solidifies his base, replenishes his coffers, and goes on international junkets, looking Presidential, she is forcing Obama to spend money trying to keep, as one commentator noted “his limbs intact.”  She is doing everything she can to alienate him from the working class voters he will desperately need in the fall. 
All for an “insurmountable” quest? 
Where are the grown-ups in the Democratic Party to step in?  Where are Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, John and Elizabeth Edwards, Howard Dean and Harry Reid?  Robert Kennedy used to say that the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, remain neutral.   I argue that this is a moral crisis for the Democratic Party, and, potentially, for the country, if we end up electing John McCain because of bitter rifts within the Democratic Party. 
Seems to me an intervention of the Democratic grown-ups on the Clintons is in order. 

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March 20, 2008

Tote Board Column -- 3/20 -- Race Gets in the Race

    This week's Tote Board column looks at how the issue of race and affirmative action may be beginning to cripple the Obama campaign.

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March 19, 2008

Obama's Speech and the Campaign

    Obama's speech on race in Philadelphia yesterday was wonderful rhetoric and the reaction has been almost universally positive. But will it help his campaign? On that, of course, the jury is out and we won't have any answers until at least the Pennsylvania primary in a month. Remember that Republican pundits tended to love Mitt Romney's speech earlier in the campaign on his faith, too, (though it wasn't nearly as good), and in retrospect, it certainly wasn't the political plus they said it was.
    For what it's worth, the hunch here is that the speech didn't advance Obama's cause nearly as far as some of his supporters might like to admit. He needs to be recasting his rhetoric more to attract white working-class voters -- a subject we'll be addressing in tomorrow's column.

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March 14, 2008

Guest Blog Pundit Tyler Carpenter: Racism and the Democratic Campaign

    As we noted recently, it's always been our view that blogs belong to the people who read them and post. So, in that spirit, the Tote Board has been seeking anyone interested to file guest blog dispatches. 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.  Please address any interest and inquiries to Steven Stark's email, listed below.

    It probably goes without saying but these guest posts represent the views of the author, not my (Steven Stark's) views.

    Over to Tyler Carpenter:


    Recent campaign and media events have exposed American divisions across racial lines.  Some events, like the "3 AM commercial" with it's subtle images of sleeping white children who need protection (images eerily similar to those in the film "Birth of a Nation", some 90 years ago) are subtle, and relatively unnoticed by the mainstream media; others, like the overtly racist message of Ferraro's recent comments, have caused much finger pointing.  But the messages of this Democratic campaign season -- moving from hope and racial unity to fear and racial division -- are significantly changing the direction of this primary.  This change benefits the Hillary Clinton campaign in a very significant manner.  It may give her the nomination.

    I offer 2 recent examples from the past week:

    The first example is the (very funny) Saturday Night Live skit . The sketch, played at the very beginning of the show, when the ratings are highest, plays into almost every negative African American stereotype -- the shiftless, stupid, profanity-filled, drug-abusing man who gets a job for which he is totally unqualified and needs help from the eminently qualified more deserving (white) person.  When you combine this with the previous SNL skits that promote the message that Obama isn't being properly examined by an overly fawning media, you get a very clear message: The black candidate is where he is primarily because of his race, and that he probably doesn't deserve to be there.

    The second example is the recent Ferraro comment, where she says that Obama's successful candidacy is due solely to his race. Like the SNL piece, it couches racist views in politically correct language.  While Ferraro might not see herself as holding racist views, her statement delivers a subtle implication that we, the voters, only support his candidacy because of his race, and that Obama's professional and political success is due to a subtle, liberal form of reverse discrimination.

    The change in the nature of this campaign is already having effects. These effects benefit the Clinton campaign.  The first sign of success in her revamped campaign message was in the results of the Mississippi Democratic primary.  While most of the broadcast media focused on "another easy and expected win for the Obama campaign", the real story is the divisive nature of the victory.  According to exit poll numbers, over 90 percent of African Americans voted for Obama. Almost 75 percent of non-Hispanic white people voted for Clinton.  This shows two things: (1) the percentage of African Americans who vote for Obama is increasing slightly (from about 80% to about 90%), and (2) the percentage of non-African Americans who vote for Obama is decreasing -- significantly and rapidly.  It marks the first time that "white" people voted in wide numbers against Obama, and as we move to Pennsylvania, a state where a much smaller percentage of the Democratic voting population is African American, it shows a possible opening in Obama's campaign message where Clinton's message can drive a wedge between different factions that make up Obama's core support.

    One of Karl Rove's tenets of campaign wisdom was to "find your opponent's strongest point and undermine its effectiveness".  In 2000, Al Gore's strength was his policy knowledge and his interest in identifying solutions to difficult problems.  The undermining was to imply that "he really wasn't that smart" or that "he was a know-it-all".  John Kerry's strength was his war record and his ability to see both sides of thorny issues. The undermining there was to imply that he "really wasn't that brave" or that he "can't make a decision". Barack Obama's strength is his ability to organize and to bring people with differing political viewpoints together.  His undermining message will one that implies that "he really isn't that organized" or that, because of age and his oratorical skills, "he really doesn't work hard".  By subtly but repeatedly working the racial divides in our country, the Clinton campaign intends to get voters to consider the idea that, despite his professional and political success, Barack Obama might be nothing more than "an uppity, lazy and ignorant ***". Certainly, no person associated with the Clinton campaign will ever say this -- that message is too crude and offensive.  We voters may never realize we're thinking this -- after all, "we're not racists".  But the message will be there, disguised in subtlety or humor or politically correct language, and we'll hear it.  Then we'll vote.

    This tactic could work.  It already started paying results in Mississippi, and from the early numbers in Pennsylvania -- where a recent poll shows Clinton's lead extending to almost 20 points -- it will work there too.  This election is far from over, but if I were a betting person, my money would be on Clinton at this point.  Her campaign has finally found its voice.  We the voters will respond appropriately.

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March 13, 2008

Tote Board Column -- 3/13 -- "Ridge to the Future"

    This week's Tote Board column looks at why John McCain should pick former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge as his running mate -- if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee.

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March 12, 2008

In Mississippi, Obama Holds Serve

    Sporting analogies are overdone in politics but this year's Democratic campaign -- with its clear demographic contours -- is a bit like a tennis match. Obama last night won a state he was predicted to win. Now, on to Pennsylvania, where it's up to Hillary to hold serve in a state she should carry.

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March 10, 2008

Review of Wyoming; Preview of Mississippi -- Obama Strongholds

    Given the demographics of the Democratic race, by now one can predict with some accuracy the outcome of most contests. If there's a high percentage of African-Americans in the electorate and/or a large percentage of upper-income voters, Barack Obama does well. If there is a high percentage of Latino voters and/or a large percentage of working class voters, Hillary Clinton does well. Virtually all caucuses go to Obama handily, most likely because the Clinton campaign negligently failed to prepare in these states.
    Given these trends, Obama's landslide win in the Wyoming caucuses over the weekend was no surprise and it would be a shock if he did anything but win handily on Tuesday in Mississippi.

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March 07, 2008

Guest Blog Pundit Matthew Sawh: Some Possible Dark Horse Vice-Presidential Choices for Obama

  Obama's Dark-Horse Veep List:

1.   Senator Russ Feingold:
    The strongest counterpoint to the McCain aura of reform and cleaning the corporate system up.  If Senator Obama is truly serious about challenging the 'Iraq Mindset' he needs to strongly consider Russ towards the top of the list. His selection would generate a serious debate about America's role in the world and its ideals at home.  He is the other piece of the McCain Campaign Finance Bill. Additionally, he is the only senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act in 2001.  This may be the highest-risk and highest-reward prospect in the Democratic line-up. Still, Feingold's vote for Obama in the Wisconsin primary makes it possible and plausible. Could a constitutional law professor (Obama) make his point about the Iraq Mindset using the reformist aura of Mr. Feingold? He also plays into the generational dynamic that Obama has against McCain. Feingold is in his fifties and, his Jewish faith won't hurt amidst the Farrakhan issues.
    Negatives: Introduced Censure of President Bush, Is that a new politics? Voted for John Ashcroft. 

2. Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

    Jewish (a plus with the Farrakhan brouhaha in the papers and, a key group in Florida). Another M.B.A. at a time when we appear to be drifting towards recession.  Philanthropy background may give him a unique perspective on the proliferation of national and international NGOs.  Impairs of the ability of the Chief GOP spokesman about the War on Terror (Rudy Giuliani) to go after an Obama/Bloomberg ticket given Rudy's strong support for Bloomberg in the Fall of 01.  Legitimate continuing gains in falling crime, Perceived Gains in Education policy
    Negatives: Earlier sexual harassment claims, stridently pro-choice; opposes Iraq withdrawal timeline. Too gruff for the country?
    UPDATE:  New York 1 is reporting that in an interview on "Inside City Hall" Friday night, Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey promoted the idea of an Obama-Bloomberg presidential ticket – and revealed that Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke Thursday with the Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama.

3. General Colin Powell:
     Recently, Mr. Powell has speculated that he might endorse a Democrat in the upcoming presidential campaign.  Would the 'good soldier' be willing to fight against his old bosses? Probably not.  Still, the potential to reinforce many of the messages of an Obama candidacy -- unity, diversity and a new approach -- could be reinforced by Powell in many the same ways that Gore reinforced Clinton in 1992. The founder of 'America's Promise’ and the man who coined the Powell doctrine would be a powerful critic of the Iraq War and would make this election truly a referendum on Bush and the run-up to Iraq. Press accounts from 1996 suggest Powell was hesitant to enter the race because of his standing as a giant above politics.  Since that halo has since been tarnished by a UN performance, he may be more willing to entertain such notions now.
    Negatives: How would the Democratic base receive a man who said that the Contract with America was a 'little too harsh and hard'? Would Alma Powell support the decision?  Would he? Is the country ready? He's also 71.

4. Senator Kent Conrad:
    Compelling life story (orphan); Critic of spending habits of Bush administration; Moderate on abortion and gun control issues; Very popular democrat in very Republican State; Critic of deals like NAFTA may help in the industrial Midwest. He voted against the Iraq War in 2003. Further, he presents well on Television.
    Negatives: Wouldn't lock up a swing state as would say an Ed Rendell. No added heft on the War on Terror front and since he voted against the 1991 Gulf War Act it may be a liability.

5. Senator Jon Corzine:
    Served in the Marine Corps; Has an MBA at a time when the economy is slowing and McCain by his own admission is lacking in economic detail.  May help the party define a vision which successfully bridges the industrial and information ages. He voted against the Iraq War. Further, his co-Authorship of Sarbanes-Oxley which cracked down on corporate fraud is a plus. 
    Negatives: Ex-Wife nastiness, Plays into perception of 'elitist' democratic party of the very wealthy.  Risks of Machine-tendency taint within NJ politics. Will his fingerprints arise on any subprime involvement?

6. Governor of Wisconsin Jim Doyle:
    Peace Corps member [what greater way to claim heir to the New Frontier]  Worked with Native Americans providing legal services; early Obama supporter; Swing state within a swing region; President of Nat Association of Attorney Generals augurs interestingly for the Democratic argument about prosecuting the War on Terror;  Early and enthused Obama supporter.                                                                                                                              Negatives: In an anti-incumbent mood, the whiff of scandal proves quite a problem. Georgia Thompson controversy wherein a state employee was accused of steering a contract to a firm politically connected with his campaign.

7. Senator Chris Dodd:
    Fluent in Spanish, Peace Corps member, Catholic, Watergate '74 Class [familiar terrain: how to restore faith in government] Family and Medical Leave Act Author.
    Negatives: Banking ties; Carbon tax for global warming won't play well in Midwest and plays into liberal narrative Obama must be very careful to avoid. As with any senator serving at length, votes can be twisted easily. 

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March 06, 2008

The Huge Problem Facing Barack Obama

    The huge problem facing Barack Obama is clearly outlined in the latest Pew poll:

    A quarter of Democrats (25%) who back Clinton for the nomination say they would favor McCain in a general election test against Obama. The "defection" rate among Obama's supporters if Clinton wins the nomination is far lower; just 10% say they would vote for McCain in November, while 86% say they would back Clinton.

Simply put, if this holds, Obama can't win a general election because over time, the independents who say they are backing him will begin to follow the same pattern and dwindle as well. He must reverse those numbers.

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March 06, 2008

Tote Board Column -- 3/6 -- "Giant Step"

    This week's column looks at the problems ahead for the Democrats and why Hillary Clinton could well be the stronger general election candidate.

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March 05, 2008

Clinton Wins Big on Mini-Super Tuesday Which Means Big Problems for Democats

    As we anticipated in earlier posts and columns, the Democratic race is now headed to a train wreck, on the heels of Hillary Clinton's strong showings last night. The race now heads to Pennsylvania in late April but, as Fred Barnes noted jokingly last night on Fox, Pennsylvania is more like Ohio than Ohio, so it's uphill for Obama there. There's now a chance Florida and even Michigan will be rerun in late June or July.
    But the bottom line is that while Obama will likely have a small delegate lead when the electoral process ends, the superdelegates will decide the nominee. And, given that Obama is likely to receive increased scrutiny in the weeks ahead, Clinton is very much alive.
    More in tomorrow's Phoenix.

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March 04, 2008

The Tote Board Previews Tonight's Contests on WFNX

    The radio preview of tonight.

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March 04, 2008

What's At Stake in Tonight's Primaries

    What's at stake in tonight's primaries? Actually, it's pretty straightforward. If Obama sweeps Ohio and Texas, it's over. If Clinton sweeps, she'll still trail in delegates but she still has a chance to win the nomination -- though it's not an easy path. If they split, Clinton can continue and cause interparty havoc but something very unusual will have to then occur to give her the nomination.
    I don't see her getting out unless she's swept.
    Stay tuned.

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March 03, 2008

Preview of Mini-Super Tuesday: Don't Assume the Obama-Clinton Race is Over

    The press has been approaching the upcoming contests in Ohio and Texas (with two other states voting) as the end of the line for the Clinton campaign. That could happen but it's far less likely than the media has been assuming. Sure, if Obama wins Ohio and Texas, it's over. But right now, the polls indicate that this is not a likely occurrence. If he only wins Texas, it's true Clinton probably can't emerge as the nominee but whether she quits at that point and decides not to contest Pennsylvania in six weeks is an open question. And, if she wins both -- and it's hardly out of the question -- the race is close to being back to even.
    In other words, let's wait until tomorrow night to see where things stand. Right now, the pundits have been getting way ahead of themselves. This is still an extremely close race.
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