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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

News Roundup, 4/23/08: The Rorschach Primary

All day yesterday, the psychological number to merit success for Senator Hillary Clinton was ten. The media, the occasional campaign spokesperson, and the man on the street agreed that she had to win by ten points in the Pennsylvania primary to, for lack of a better term, keep hope alive. And wouldn't you know it, that's just what she did?

It seemed sort of arbitrary to me — normally in politics you win if you get more votes. But this year we have constantly been told, about both candidates in varying situations, that they may win a primary or a caucus but unless X and Y also happened or they won hard enough they wouldn't have actually won.

And in some ways, in each of those situations, that sentiment is probably true. This morning Curtis Rochelle and I were discussing the spinterpretations of yesterday's results, and he said that it was like a Rorschach test: essentially, any results are inconclusive in the current political environment without context, and everyone will extrapolate their own meaning based on any number of constructivist factors or personal leanings. I thought the analogy made an excellent point and was a true story.

What is clear, though, is that yesterday was in fact a victory for Senator Clinton. Lorenzo Sadun made the point last night that delegates-as-ammo are running short, and Patrick McLeod asserts that Clinton's Pennsylvania win almost certainly means that the superdelegates will decide the election and that we're guaranteed more primary action through the beginning of June.

I am still not sure where I come down on whether the long primary is hurting the party. Anyone that knows me knows I'm a big party discipline guy so I'm never incredibly happy about primaries between good candidates to begin with. I understand the purpose they serve — don't get me wrong, I understand — so I haven't been able to firmly get on the 'this is destroying the party' train. I am confident that the Democratic Party will get to the other side of the primary and be able to effectively make its case to the American people, both at the executive and the legislative level.

The Republican Party is still not able to get their act together. President George Bush is wildly unpopular. Did you know he was on a game show with Howie Mandel the other night?

OK, that isn't entirely fair, after the whole wrestling thing. So we could move on to this guy, from Colorado, who referred to Mexican guest workers as "illiterate peasants" on the floor of the Colorado state house. And John McCain is on the wrong side of pretty much every substantive issue the American people care about. You combine that with strong Democratic candidates with big ideas and a strong party organization, and you have plenty to be excited about come November.

Unless we have to watch a general election debate on ABC. Then we can all be tired of politics for one terrible night and be totally justified.

He can't knock her out; she can't get traction

9.3% is definitely a win for Clinton. Obama can't seem to beat her on her turf, which is what it would take to knock her out. On the other hand, she only netted a dozen delegates, and even that meager haul is more than any other night of the campaign.

Obama has won big when he has the demographic or organizational advantage (SC, Potomac Primary, Wisconsin, various caucus states), and has kept it reasonably close when she has the advantage (Super Tuesday, TX/OH, PA). He's never stopped her cold, but she's only kicked field goals while he's scored touchdowns, and now he gets the ball again (North Carolina). I just can't see her cutting his pledged delegate lead below 130 by the time we're done.

Which means that Obama has the nomination sewn up, but he's bleeding. The last few contests, especially KT, WV and PR, could make him look very bad, to McCain's benefit. For that reason, I expect the supers to weigh in to end the competition before KT, probably immediately after NC.

Time To Get Dirty

The only thing that is for certain here is that barring some kind of skeletons in the closet that we haven't seen from either candidate, this nomination will be settled by the superdelegates. Obama cannot hit the 2,025 delegate mark in the remaining contests unless polling moves radically in his favor. Clinton cannot hit the 2,025 delegate mark in the remaining contests unless polling moves even more radically in her favor.

My feeling is that if there were a "dealbreaker" in Clinton's closet or in Obama's closet that we would have seen it by now. Without a dealbreaker or a weekly drip-drip-drip of pastors and ill worded comments or sniper fire and "screw 'em" comments, neither Senator can win the nomination on their own.

From this point on, the nomination isn't going to be about who is more qualified, whose health plan is better or who has a more forward-looking foreign policy. It's going to be about a personal slugfest between the elitist rookie Senator who disparages rural America while bowling gutter balls and the untrustworthy, unlikeable former First Lady who likes her Crown Royal with her beer unless it's on a runway under sniper fire.

Did I hit all the memes?

One way or another, superdelegates are going to decide the nomination. It's just a matter of when and a matter of how much each candidate's reputation and national appeal are damaged when the dust settles.


I should start producing the "I Survived the 2008 Democratic Primary" t-shirts now.


I'd also suggest a line of shirts for all those who say they'll vote for McCain if their candidate doesn't win:

"I'm Voting For George W. McCain in '08!"

Winning in regulation

Yes, it's in the hands of the supers, and if they all take back their endorsements then anything could happen. But most of them (500 out of 800) are firmly committed, and most of the rest are going to take sides soon. If in the next six weeks the 300 remaining superdelegates split 100 for Obama, 100 for Clinton, and 100 still uncommitted, that will put Obama over the top without a whole lot of dust flying. And if Obama gets more than a third, he'll be over the top before Puerto Rico gets a chance to embarass him.

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