January 9, 2008


The broad principles of American presidential campaigns aren't especially hard to figure out. Except under extraordinary circumstances--like when one party is held responsible for a ghastly Depression--the two major political parties hold the allegiance of roughly similar percentages of the population. This is especially the case since women's suffrage, with men generally supporting the GOP (the freedom party) and women the Democrats (the security party). So to win a national election you want to position yourself to be able to appeal to those who don't strongly affiliate with either party and those who only loosely affiliate. As a rule, you can count on your own party supporting you, almost regardless of what you say and do, so long as you can get the nomination in the first place. Thus, the ideal presidential campaign is one that can get through the primaries without having to identify the candidate too strongly with the party's partisan political positions.

In 1992, you had Bill Clinton being able to actually run against a Democratic Party that was so shaken up by 12 years of Reagan/Bush that it was willing to be whipped by its own nominee. In 2000, George W. Bush tried to run against the GOP to some extent, but after losing NH was forced back to the Right and cost (or nearly cost) himself the general election, especially in the otherwise winnable Catholic Rust Belt. Meanwhile, Al Gore, who should have been able to win just by casting himself as the conservative Southern heir to Bill Clinton, instead jagged so far Left in fending off Bill Bradley that he couldn't even hold his home state.

Here, in 2008, both Democrats -- smartly, we ought add -- tried running general election campaigns instead of primary campaigns. Hillary, just as a function of who she was married to, is a sufficiently partisan figure that she needs to really tone back her natural political positions just to make herself a mildly palatable option in the general. Given the featherweight opposition she faced, it was certainly worth attempting to sneak through the primary season as a moderate. Likewise, with the early win in IA and strong poll numbers in NH, no one can blame Barrack Obama for trying to avoid saying anything specific on any issue. The ink blot strategy was his best option for retaining an opportunity to appeal broadly in the Fall.

But Hillary's victory last night--and even more so the constituencies that handed it to her--have in all likelihood tossed both campaign's
game plans into the dumpster. This is about to turn into a race about who is the "real Democrat" and who can get the base of the party to pull the lever for them. That means they'll be running hard for the votes of the most dependent cohorts in the electorate--single women, the elderly, the inner city poor, etc.--and the most fanatically liberal--the anti-war, anti-business, pro-abortion, etc.. In many states, the race will essentially boil down to the black vote and the margins within that vote. While it is expected, by the press, that Senator Obama has a big advantage there just because of his race, Hillary is more closely identified with the issues that move these votes, has strong support from black leaders, and has her husband's historically good relationship with black voters going for her. If this vote does turn out to be competitive and the race devolves into a fight over this battleground it could be disastrous for the eventual nominees chances in November. Recall that Bill Clinton ran against black America in ways large and small--advocating Welfare Reform and Sista Souljahing Jesse Jackson--secure in the knowledge that he'd win black votes in the general anyway while giving himself cover with white voters (recall the several neocons--like William Safire--who publicly announced they'd vote for him). Pandering to the black vote could be especially problematic this time around with Latinos having become a larger demographic and a GOP nominee -- either John McCain or Mike Huckabee -- who is not off-putting to Hispanics.

Republicans could hardly have asked for better results coming out of the Granite State.

Women voters held the key to Clinton's resurgence (CRAIG GORDON, 1/09/08, Newsday)

Women voters — whose support for Obama helped fuel his surprising Iowa win — were solidly back in Hillary Rodham Clinton's column Tuesday night, giving nearly half their vote in the Democratic primary here to the former first lady.

Registered Democrats too rallied overwhelmingly behind Clinton, who went into Tuesday night with four polls showing her with a double-digit deficit to Obama, whose message of "change" Clinton and other candidates scrambled to match.

In the end, partisan and personal loyalty to Clinton were able to swamp a wave of independent support for Obama, who pulled many independent voters into the Democratic race here on the power of his appeal to political and racial unity.

Six in 10 independent voters here chose to vote in the Democratic contest, and roughly 4 in 10 of those picked Obama. But it wasn't enough to overtake a figure even many Democrats regard with a mix of admiration and skepticism — particularly when older voters also jammed polling places to back Clinton.

Clinton, Obama split black voters: Houston leaders reflect conflicting candidate loyalties (BENNETT ROTH and RICHARD S. DUNHAM, 1/08/08, Houston Chronicle)
The differences between Jackson Lee and Green reflect a split among African-American leaders across the country — and rank-and-file voters themselves — about the choice facing the Democratic Party.

Black voters, particularly women, greatly admire the New York senator and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. But they are torn between affection for the Clinton family and an opportunity to make history by electing Obama.

Even some prominent African-American families are divided. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a two-time presidential candidate, says he'll vote for Obama. But his wife Jackie, supports Clinton.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political science analyst at the University of Southern California, points to "a pull between ethnic identity and gender identity" among black women looking at presidential choices.

N.Y. Black Caucus Standing by Clinton (NY Sun, January 9, 2008)
New York's black congressional representatives, all of whom have endorsed Senator Clinton for president, are standing pat in their choice, reaffirming their loyalty before the results of Mrs. Clinton's victory in New Hampshire were in last night.

Women go to Clinton; McCain wins independents (David Paul Kuhn, Jan 9, 2008, Politico)
Win by Clinton could affect Senate race here (R.G. RATCLIFFE, 1/09/08, Houston Chronicle)
The ability of the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee to raise national party money for the general election campaign in Texas may be hindered if Hillary Rodham Clinton is the party's presidential nominee, one-time senatorial candidate Mikal Watts said Tuesday.

"If Hillary is the nominee, that will have an effect on whether the national Democrats will play in Texas," Watts said.

Democratic women surged behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and revived the candidacy of the country’s first viable female presidential candidate.

Sen. John McCain owes his victory as much to the Republican faithful as to independents.

Thus New Hampshire women and Republicans interrupted the Iowa momentum of Sen. Barack Obama and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 9, 2008 6:25 AM

A narrow Obama victory (~1000 votes) would have been even better. The Dems could have argued about voting irregularities in their own primary, and Hillary would have been shoved further left. Plus, some previous Clinton supporters would have begun a slow exodus.

She will probably still be the nominee. Obama's best chance now (after winning SC, which he must do) is a win in CA and a narrow loss in NY. I doubt if he can win FL, but he should win IL. The question now is how bad does he want it? We know about Hillary's ambition.

The media's spin will be worth watching - I'll bet some go back to the Hillary is inevitable theme, trying to puff her up as the standard. But they will portray the GOP as hopelessly fractured, especially if McCain doesn't win SC. Even FOX might swallow it.

Posted by: ratbert at January 9, 2008 8:45 AM

Even after yesterday Senator Keating-McCain is still second in the delegate count.

Also, considering all the other politicians that New England and especially Mass. have inflicted or tried toi inflict on the rest of us, is a rejection of one of their own such a bad thing?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 9, 2008 9:33 AM

Can you imagine the conspiracy theories if Obama had lost in a general after such fantastically deluded coverage?

Posted by: Mike Earl at January 9, 2008 10:45 AM

Agree with oj's analysis on the Dem side. Hill pricked the Obambi bubble just enough to royally tick off his fawning flock. A nice wedgie.

Posted by: ghostcat at January 9, 2008 2:20 PM