Friday, September 28, 2007

The Richardson Surge?

John Nichols has an article in the October 8, 2007 issue of The Nation entitled, "The Richardson Surge." Here's the first part:

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was supposed to be the cautious candidate Democrats respected but never got excited about. With his extensive diplomatic experience and his hunger for a return to the national stage--if not as a realistic candidate for the presidency then as a top vice presidential prospect or the next Secretary of State--the man who served as Bill Clinton's Energy Secretary and United Nations ambassador was tagged at the time of his January announcement as a deliberate, capable but almost certainly inconsequential contender for the 2008 nomination. But Richardson has refused to play his assigned role, and with an unexpectedly resolute antiwar stance and a freewheeling campaign style that distinguishes him from the field's punch-pulling frontrunners, he is the first member of the race's "also-ran" pack to elbow his way from the margin of error to the verge of serious competition.

Richardson's edgy, opinionated and at times risky high-wire campaign has gained him double-digit poll numbers in the first primary state, New Hampshire, where he has begun to attract endorsements from key local Democrats and favorable reviews from the state's influential newspapers. One recent New Hampshire poll put him ahead of John Edwards. A summer survey of Democrats in the first caucus state by Iowa's Des Moines Register had Richardson in front of Barack Obama and just five points behind Hillary Clinton as the choice of the most likely caucusgoers. In Nevada, another early caucus state, Richardson's support has grown from 2 percent in March polling to 11 percent in August.
To getter a better sense of what Nichols is talking about in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, let's look at some pictures. aggregates all of the various political polls and displays the overall results graphically. The site was developed by Mark Blumenthal, a longtime political pollster, and Charles Franklin, Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in the statistical analysis of polling and election results. Here are the graphs for Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada:

Nichols continues:
Why is Richardson clicking? Against a field of first-tier candidates (Clinton, Obama and John Edwards) who don't mind savaging the Bush Administration's management of the Iraq imbroglio but who regularly fall short of proposing clear exit strategies, Richardson offers not just a résumé but specifics--and a sense of urgency. His TV ads in the early caucus and primary states identify him as the candidate with "the only plan that pulls every single soldier out of Iraq." As the contender with the most international experience--save, perhaps, hapless Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden--Richardson says it is not merely possible but necessary to end the US military presence in Iraq and to replace it with diplomacy and targeted aid initiatives. Rejecting all the dodges of the frontrunners, Richardson argues, "If we are going to get out, we need to do it now."
Richardson's strategy, and his new ad featuring several well-known Netroots figures, also received coverage this week in The Washington Post, in a piece entitled, "Richardson Speaks to the Base." Chris Cillizza talks about Richardson distinguishing himself from the other candidates via his withdrawal plan, shows the new ad, and then discusses its possible affect:
The three voices in the ad -- Matt Stoller, Chris Bowers and Christine Siun O'Connell -- are all prominent members of the so-called "netroots", the loose coalition of bloggers and online activists that has rapidly emerged as a new (and vocal) constituency within the Democratic party over the last several years.

By putting these three individuals in an ad focused on his Iraq proposal, Richardson is hoping to generate buzz among activists, who pay close attention to the personalities of the netroots, not just in New Hampshire but nationwide. The netroots have proven to be a cash cow for candidates they unite behind, and Richardson -- like anyone in the field not named Clinton or Obama -- can use the money. But, more than money, Richardson's ad is a wink of sorts to the netroots; "I'm one of you," Richardson is subtly saying. . . .

Richardson is an underdog in the race and has to take chances if he wants to topple the big boys (and girl). Running an inside-the-box campaign ensures defeat for Richardson. These sorts of unorthodox moves might not get him where he needs to be either, but at least they show his campaign is thinking creatively.
Richardson's website features the full four-minute video from which the ad is culled. For those concerned about ending the war, I think it's an effective piece of campaign propaganda.

But does Bill Richardson really have any chance in this race?

The more reading and research I do, the more I think he does. It may be a slim chance, but there are several favorable signs. I've been going back and forth between Edwards, Richardson and (to some degree) Obama, but I recently decided to concentrate my financial support (which isn't much, to be honest) on Richardson alone. So I need to make that clear. Unlike previous posts, where I tried to refrain from pushing any of the candidates, this one can be seen as an endorsement. I'll continue to try and maintain objectivity when talking about the 2008 race, but at least you know where my money's going. It's still early, and I may change my mind, but until further notice, I'm supporting Richardson.

Richardson speaks with women in a refugee camp in the Darfur region, Janaury 2007

In my last post, I talked about the 1992 and 2004 campaigns for the Democratic Presidential Nomination, and where things stood in October-November of the previous year. Bill Clinton and John Kerry were both running in fifth place in the national polls, and were far behind in the early caucus and primary states. Richardson is actually in a better position in some ways than either of them were at the time, with strong, upward-trending numbers. Clinton and Kerry's numbers were much more up and down than Richardson's have been. Granted, though, the field of contenders this time is probably stronger than it was in 1991 or 2003. Richardson will probably need some help.

If Edwards and/or Obama falters, and Hillary struggles in Iowa, Richardson is well-positioned to take advantage of the situation. Hillary has huge expectations on her, so she needs to win in Iowa or at least come in a strong second place. At this point, Iowa is very close, though 2004 proved how useless looking at Iowa's numbers in October can be. Still, Hillary has the added disadvantage of her high unfavorability numbers - up to 48% in some polls. A lot of people seem to dismiss this aspect of her campaign, and I don't know why. How many times does it have to be proven that voters want to like the person they're choosing as President? Do we need to watch the first Gore-Bush debate again? We're in Iraq today in part because George W. Bush knew how to come off as a likable fellow, while Al Gore looked uptight and arrogant. JFK was cool and calm while Dick Nixon sweat like it was mid-summer under those huge television lamps. It's not rocket science. As silly as it sounds, the question about who you would rather have a beer with really does matter. I still believe this is Hillary's biggest weakness. A lot of people just don't like her - a lot of Democratic voters don't like her. She may raise huge amounts of money from major donors and party insiders, and she may lead in national polls, but that has always been based more on name recognition than anything else. Hell, Jerry Brown was running first in some national polls in late 1991, because he'd been in the public eye long enough. All that insider money and name recognition won't help Hillary at all if folks in Iowa don't think she's likeable enough or they're still angry about the war.

As far as Edwards and Obama, Edwards is already in trouble, with his poll numbers falling across the board and the SEIU, one of the most important labor unions, unexpectedly withholding its endorsement for him this week, which was a big blow to his campaign. He's done everything to court the labor vote - and they basically told him, "Uh, well, we're not so sure, John." Evidently they like Hillary's poll numbers better. And, of course there's the Clinton family tradition of supporting labor unions to consider. (NAFTA? what's NAFTA?!) Meanwhile, Obama has been the superstar fund-raiser, but his poll numbers haven't really moved much, which may mean he's reached a plateau level of support. I can see one of them, probably Edwards, being out of the race after Iowa. If Richardson can make a strong showing there, at least coming in third, he'll be in a great position.

Richardson won seven elections as a U.S. Representative and two as Governor. He won his first election as an unknown newcomer to New Mexico, against a popular opponent who was supported by Party insiders. The man knows how to campaign. He likes "retail campaigning" -getting out in the crowds, shaking hands, kissing babies, talking to folks - in much the way that Bill Clinton did. It energizes him. And it's worked for him well in the past.

Also, his extensive resume serves as a kind of deeply-planted foundation. Over the past nine months, I've talked about Edwards, Richardson and Obama to various people who weren't really sure who to support. I've noticed that most people don't know much about Richardson, but when I start talking about him, they respond quite favorably, mostly, I think because of his resume. He's not a hard sell. I'm especially thinking of the over-30 crowd. On the other hand, mention John Edwards, and if people don't like him, there's absolutely nothing you can do to persuade them otherwise. I think, in part, because he just doesn't have much to fall back on. What can you point to? His concern about poverty, which I think is genuine, is discounted by his detractors because of his giant house, or his hedge funds, or his $400 haircuts, etc. And if you don't believe in or care about his views on poverty, what broad political experience does he offer? I and others may distrust and dislike Hillary, but there's a grudging awareness that she does have experience and other necessary qualifications to be president. I don't think Edwards has that kind of solidity. And while people don't seem to dislike Obama, I've noticed he can also be a hard sell to people, primarily because of his inexperience. He's got a lot of vocal supporters, it's true, especially among younger voters. (And Oprah, of course.) But he seems more and more like the Howard Dean of this election. A lot of excitement, a lot of energy and media coverage, but where's it all going? What has he done that a 65-year old retired banker - who will make it to the polls to vote - can look at? What does he fall back on when his "Can't we all just get along" message fails? Three years in the Senate? Even Fred Thompson has more experience than that.

One of the most interesting aspects of this race so far has been Richardson usurping the Iraq war issue from Obama as the way to distinguish himself from the other candidates. Nobody was better set-up to channel the country's anger about the war as Obama was. Yet he's never been able to separate himself from Hillary on the issue, which is amazing, considering he was against the war and she supported it for so long. Credit has to go to her campaign for winning, hands-down, her most important battle against Obama. If they're the same, why would anyone vote for him? She has so much more experience. Meanwhile, Richardson, who initially supported the war (though he was never in a position to vote on it) has recognized how important the issue is - not just to get elected, but for the future of the country. He's pulled an end-around on the other three main candidates. Obama, in this regard, has looked like a rookie playing way out of position.

Richardson's debate appearances haven't been great so far, but I think this weakness is offset by four things: 1) As I mentioned, Richardson does very well in person, talking to real people. Old style - and still extremely important - campaigning. He's a big personality with a hunger to connect with people. 2) His television ads have been very successful, gaining him a lot of attention not just from the public but from the political analysts and media. His numbers started going up in Iowa and New Hampshire immediately after his first round of humorous "interview" ads. I would venture to say that far more people have seen his ads than have seen his debate appearances, which brings me to. . . 3) How many ordinary voters have watched any of the debates so far? 4) I don't think Richardson's problems in the debates - stiffness, awkwardness, not seeming natural enough at times - are long-term problems. From most accounts, he's very comfortable with himself in public. I think the more he does these debates, the more successful he'll be at them. I recently watched the Univision debate, and Richardson did quite well, though they refused to let him to speak in Spanish. (That debate had at least two amusing aspects: 1) Richardson introduced himself to the audience, speaking in Spanish until the uptight Univision hosts got all in tizzy. But he had made his point to a crowd that may not have even known he was part Latino. Finally, they got to the first question of the debate: What would you do to make Spanish the second language of the United States? My aunt and I sat on the couch and cracked up - "Well, you'd let the first Latino candidate for president speak in Spanish for one thing!" 2) This is politics: The Democrats make a big deal about refusing to appear at a debate sponsored by Fox News. Instead, they go on Univision, which is run by Cuban gusanos who are far to the right of Fox in some cases. Questions at the debate about Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez were outrageously leading and showed how right-wing Univision can be. Ah, but it's surrealism in a good cause, right?)

What about finances? Well, Richardson will never be able to compare with Hillary and Obama, but who can? He's said all along that he would have enough money to run the kind of campaign he needs to run, and if you look at what he's accomplished with much less money than his two main rivals, it's pretty impressive. Obama raises the big bucks but can't generate movement in the polls, whereas Richardson spends much less money and has steadily rising numbers. His well-made and well-timed TV ads have also spread around the internet to even more people. And if his numbers continue trending upwards, more money will come in.

It's a long shot, granted. But I don't think it's as unrealistic as people think.

I'll let Nichols conclude:
Richardson recognizes that it is his position on the war that is giving his candidacy traction. Of course, he's glad to discourse on how to tackle the crisis in Darfur and his concerns about Pakistan, and he's more than willing to detail his mainstream progressive positions on everything from gay rights to net neutrality. But the governor's antiwar position is now the primary focus of his media buys, his savvy campaign appearances and his aggressive new direct-mail fundraising appeals to liberal donors. That's smart politics. Richardson's Iraq stance is at once refreshing and reassuring for grassroots Democrats, who polls suggest are increasingly frustrated with the cautious approach of party leaders. In the former UN ambassador they get a candidate who knows his way around the world, who understands the delicacy of diplomacy, who actually negotiated with Saddam Hussein. . . . Richardson's résumé and his poll numbers assure him a place on the stage and an ability to keep prodding the frontrunners to clarify their murky positions on Iraq.

None of this means Richardson is on a fast track to the nomination. He's still playing catch-up in a brutal fundraising competition, and he remains a largely unexamined contender with his share of political baggage--the Energy Department's bungling of the Wen Ho Lee nuclear espionage scandal during Richardson's tenure is an embarrassing footnote, as is his post-Cabinet service on the boards of energy firms with troubling environmental records. But no 2008 Democratic candidate has come further on the basis of a bold stance on the essential issue of the race than Richardson. At the very least, he will make it difficult for Clinton, Obama and Edwards to continue dancing around the core questions of the war. And if the leading Democrats fail to make convincing moves toward withdrawal, Richardson is better positioned than any other candidate to ride that issue to the center of the competition.


Jeff said...

A provisional endorsement for Richards, eh? I don't know if I'd go as far as to say that his campaigning style is freewheeling, like the first commentator says, but he may be more savvy as a long-haul chess player than I've given him credit for so far. He might be very well positioned as you say.

I know Crys likes Hillary. I'm one of those who doesn't, and my biggest fear is that she will get the Democratic nomination. Her negatives are just way, way too high for the general election, in my opinion. I also don't expect anything bold from her. It really wouldn't be like having a "woman president". She's too much a creature of the establishment. More business as usual from her is what I think we could expect.

Interesting how Edwards can't seem to get any traction. I saw his SEIU speech over at Cascadia Catholics, and I thought it was terrific. I wonder if there is a sort of "Southern politician fatigue". Shallowly, I admit that the accent drives me crazy, but I wonder if there is something to that in that it reminds people of Bush, Clinton, Carter, Johnson, etc... Lots of Southern presidents and high-profile pols recently.

So far, I'm leaning towards Obama. I haven't focused all my attention on this race and these candidates yet, but right now, if I had to vote, I probably go for him. I appreciate what these guys are saying about his war caution and his inexperience, but to me he's earned gravitas just by virtue of the fact that he had the wisdom and the political courage to be RIGHT about the war to begin with, at a time when it was politically risky to take a stand against it. In my view, that carries a lot of weight in his favor right there. I also think that as a minority and a relative outsider, it might be just what the country needs to shake things up a bit, but maybe Richardson takes the same thing to the table, plus some, if he is willing to be more bold than Obama.

cowboyangel said...

Provisional is a good way to put it. I still like Edwards and Obama, and I'll be happy if one of them makes a real move. But after nine months, neither has been able to do much it seems.

Why would you think Richardson doesn't have a "freewheeling" campaign style? Freewheeling may be the wrong word, but he's known for using humor and doing things differently. Check out this ad from his last governor's race.

I agree with you on all points about Hillary. I still think she'll energize the right-wing to get out and vote in a way that the other candidates won't. And I think she'll be business as usual - and as I expressed to Crystal, I'm concerned that because she is a woman, a Democrat and that her husband had such a terrible relation with the armed forces, that she might be inclined to pursue military solutions in a way others might not.

I like Obama. And I agree that his election might shake things up in this country in a positive way. If he's the candidate, I won't feel bad supporting him, though I worry that he wouldn't do well in the general election. I wish he would've waited longer to run, and I dislike his tendency to be overcautious. But he's got a lot of positives as well. Do you think he's run a good campaign? And if not, what's going on? He's obviously energized a lot of people and raised a lot of money. Why isn't he gaining any ground on Hillary?

I think he had gravitas for his stand on the war, but I feel like he's squandered it. As I said, he feels too much like a rookie playing out of position. Something's not quite right, despite all the obvious talent.

crystal said...

Will, didn't you say Obama wanted to nuke Iran? That's not gravitas, that premature erradication.

I think you guys are too hard on Hillary. I honestly think she will do the bst job of the guys running. Maybe I'll do some research on her and post something - try to get you to see the errors of your ways :-) Having said that, if only Gore would run .....

cowboyangel said...

Actually it was Pakistan, though he's probably thinking of Iran, too, and your line works in either case. Pretty funny.

Yes, you should write something on Hillary. I'd be curious to read it.

Am I being too hard on her? I've worked at understanding her more in the last few months, reading her autobiography, trying to see more of her good points. I believe she's very intelligent and capable, and would be an enormous improvement over the Bush administration in terms of competence and managing the government. I think she has good expereince behind her. I've tried to bring up those points when writing about her on my blog.

But you have to understand - In my eyes, the invasion of Iraq was one of the worst decisions our country has made in the last 100 years. As bad as Vietnam was, I think this will prove to be even worse. The damage we've done to the region, the damage we're doing to ourselves, spending over $450,000,000,000. The damage done to our military and the National Guard. The horrible damage we've inflicted upon the Iraqi people, who now live in more fear than they did under Saddam Hussein. The damage we've done to our international reputation and how that restricts us in combatting terrorism. The fact that we've replaced a secular Muslim leader who held Iran in check with probably a hardcore religious Muslim government in the future and have allowed Iran to become more of a power. Not to mention the damage we've done in the real war on terror. Even the CIA has said it's made things worse. This is going to affect us for decades.

And as an important public figure and one of the defacto leaders of the Democratic Party, I believe Hillary Clinton has played a crucial role in enabling this catastrophe to unfold, not only by voting for the invasion, but for supporting it much, much longer than other Democrats, which allowed Bush and the Republicans to continue on their course for much longer than they should have been able to. When 80% of Democratic voters were against the war, she coninued to support this hideous decision and to support Bush. Finally, when so much sentiment had turned against the war, she began to speak out. And then she acts as if she were somehow against it all along. While I give her credit for being politically shrewd and successful at making it look like she and Obama were more or less the same on the war, the fact is that she crossed a line in my mind by supporting the war for so bloody long. If she had turned against the war in 2004 or 2005, I could've dealt with it. Edwards and others voted for it - I can understand to some degree that initial vote. Though I still despise the Democrats for going along with such a horrible course when so much of the world was against it, and it was obvious long before we invaded that the Bush administration was doctoring evidence. But others realized pretty quickly what a mistake we had made and were continuing to make. Even Chuck Hagel, a Republican and a military veteran could see what a disaster the occupation was. As a leader of our country, she has to be held accountable for her decisions. And she made decision after decision after decision, and spoke out publicly in support of the war, for far, far too long. She made her choices. Now she has to deal with the conseque3nces of those choices. I believe the invasion of Iraq was and is a sin of the most severe kind, a spiritually devastating act on the part of our country. She is partly responsible.

Am I being hard on her? Perhaps. But I think she deserves it for the war alone. My question is - why are you so easy on her? Do you think the war is not important? Or do you think that we should just forget her role in it? I genuinely would like to know. Because I don't see how voters can accept Hillary so easily unless they supported the war and continued to support the war until a year ago, or they don't believe she should be held responsible in any way for what has happened, or they don't think the war is really that important.

Sorry to get emotional, but we're talking about the destruction of a people, damage to our own country's future, and creating a dangerous and unstable region. From the bottom of my heart, I don't know how else I'm supposed to react if I'm to keep a clear conscience.