Sunday, January 27, 2008

South Carolina and Beyond - The Democrats

Wow. Someone opened a big can of Whoop-Ass in South Carolina yesterday.

Obama - 295,091 - 55%
Clinton - 141,128 - 27%
Edwards - 93,552 - 18%
Kucinich - 551 - 0%

The delegate count: Obama 25, Clinton 12, Edwards 8.

It was an impressive win for Obama, especially after 10 days of ugly tactics by "the two-headed monster" (as the New York Post called the Clintons). Everyone always lauds Bill Clinton's political acumen (myself included), but did his tactics backfire this time? Or was South Carolina just the price paid for a successful longterm strategy? Have they turned Obama into a "black candidate" who can't win anywhere outside of the South? As one of the analysts said on TV last night, there had been questions earlier in the race if Obama was "black enough." The Clintons, she said, have made him black enough. Obama received an astounding 81% of the African-American vote in South Carolina. It's astounding because Hillary actually had more support among blacks only a short while ago.

After getting their asses kicked, the Clintons were graceful in defeat. Hillary fled the state and didn't bother to give a concession speech. Bill, the first Clinton to speak publicly after the results, said earlier in the day, "Well, Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88."

Just to clarify, the Associated Press reported: "Clinton campaign strategists denied any intentional effort to stir the racial debate. But they said they believe the fallout has had the effect of branding Obama as 'the black candidate,' a tag that could hurt him outside the South."

Well, thank goodness the Clintons are done with the race-baiting.

John Edwards finished in third place but vowed to stay in the race. Perhaps, after a few days to think things over, he actually will withdraw. Third-place finishes in Nevada and South Carolina mean any hope of the nomination - always a long shot - is really over. Watching his concession speech (not every candidate skips them), I was struck by the sense that he's a man on a mission. I just don't know what the mission is, exactly.

Still upbeat, he promised that those who are poor and unfortunate would have their voices heard, because he's staying in the race. I thought his strategy for a while was to stay close enough in case one of the top two candidates got into trouble and had to drop out. But that doesn't seem likely anymore. There have been articles about Edwards playing a king-maker role at the national convention. If he continues to gain delegates and neither Obama or Clinton have enough to win the nomination outright, Edwards would be in a powerful position. While I suppose that's a possibility, it doesn't seem likely to me. Does he want to be someone's vice president? That doesn't seem likely either. A nice cabinet position? Maybe. But can you really see Edwards wanting to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development? Last night, listening to him, it seemed like he had something in mind. Maybe just to raise the issue of poverty? I don't know. Though I hope he stays in the race, my gut feeling is that he will drop out, probably soon. But my gut feeling also told me the New York Jets (3-13) would be in the playoffs this year.

Though I continue to have serious questions about Obama as a candidate, I can't deny his impressive way with words. His victory speech last night may have been the best I've ever seen him give. While he continues with his hopeful message, it was mixed last night with a sense of righteous anger at what he's been through over the last two weeks. It worked well. He seemed tougher, to me, which I liked. At times last week, he seemed befuddled, unable to figure out how to handle the Clintons. With this speech, he seems to have found a way: Maintain the high road, keep focused on hope, but get a little angry at the cynical forces trying to deny or destroy that hope. Here are excerpts from the speech. [The video captures it better.]

[R]ight now, that status quo is fighting back with everything it’s got; with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face, whether those problems are health care they can’t afford or a mortgage they cannot pay.

We are up against the conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as President comes from longevity in Washington or proximity to the White House. But we know that real leadership is about candor, and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose – a higher purpose.

We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together to make college affordable or energy cleaner; it’s the kind of partisanship where you’re not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea – even if it’s one you never agreed with. That kind of politics is bad for our party, it’s bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.

We are up against the idea that it’s acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election. We know that this is exactly what’s wrong with our politics; this is why people don’t believe what their leaders say anymore; this is why they tune out. And this election is our chance to give the American people a reason to believe again.

And what we’ve seen in these last weeks is that we’re also up against forces that are not the fault of any one campaign, but feed the habits that prevent us from being who we want to be as a nation. It’s the politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon. A politics that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us. The assumption that young people are apathetic. The assumption that Republicans won’t cross over. The assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor, and that the poor don’t vote. The assumption that African-Americans can’t support the white candidate; whites can’t support the African-American candidate; blacks and Latinos can’t come together.

The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It’s not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white.

It’s about the past versus the future.

It’s about whether we settle for the same divisions and distractions and drama that passes for politics today, or whether we reach for a politics of common sense, and innovation – a shared sacrifice and shared prosperity.

There are those who will continue to tell us we cannot do this. That we cannot have what we long for. That we are peddling false hopes.

But here’s what I know. I know that when people say we can’t overcome all the big money and influence in Washington, I think of the elderly woman who sent me a contribution the other day – an envelope that had a money order for $3.01 along with a verse of scripture tucked inside. So don’t tell us change isn’t possible.

When I hear the cynical talk that blacks and whites and Latinos can’t join together and work together, I’m reminded of the Latino brothers and sisters I organized with, and stood with, and fought with side by side for jobs and justice on the streets of Chicago. So don’t tell us change can’t happen.

When I hear that we’ll never overcome the racial divide in our politics, I think about that Republican woman who used to work for Strom Thurmond, who’s now devoted to educating inner-city children and who went out onto the streets of South Carolina and knocked on doors for this campaign. Don’t tell me we can’t change.

Yes we can change.

Yes we can heal this nation.

Yes we can seize our future.

And as we leave this state with a new wind at our backs, and take this journey across the country we love with the message we’ve carried from the plains of Iowa to the hills of New Hampshire; from the Nevada desert to the South Carolina coast; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope; and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people in three simple words:

Yes. We. Can.

One of the most exciting aspects about yesterday was the record turnout and what it could mean in a general election:
"More than 532,000 people cast ballots yesterday in a state that hasn't voted for the Democrat in the presidential general election in three decades. That is almost double the number who voted in the 2004 primary and 100,000 more than voted in the Republican contest a week earlier."
An interesting note: Though I haven’t seen any news yet, the polls in South Carolina were actually more off target than they were in New Hampshire. Just to give one example, Zogby, which has probably been registering the most accurate numbers in the primaries, had Obama at 41%, +/- 3.4 percentage points in their final poll on Friday. If you take into account the margin of error, Zogby still underestimated Obama's vote by 11%. In New Hampshire, Zogby underestimated Hillary Clinton’s numbers by 6.6%. This was true of other polling outfits as well. I suppose because the outcome was the same as expected, unlike in New Hampshire, no one bothered to mention it.

In both New Hampshire and South Carolina, a higher-than-expected turnout seems to have caused pollsters problems, but only in regards to the ultimate winner. Evidently, last-minute momentum swings for a particular candidate have been dramatic. For the other candidates, the poll numbers in both cases were fairly accurate.

And, if you somehow missed it, Caroline Kennedy endorsed Obama today in an Op-Ed in the New York Times, "A President Like My Father."
OVER the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

Senator Obama is running a dignified and honest campaign. He has spoken eloquently about the role of faith in his life, and opened a window into his character in two compelling books. And when it comes to judgment, Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.

Going forward, it's clear that the Clintons have the advantage on Super Tuesday. Hillary is leading in three of the four major states: California, New York, and New Jersey. Obama leads by 2-to-1 in Illinois. But Obama has three things going for him:

1) I think the Clintons angered a lot of people last week, and not just African-Americans in South Carolina. Bill Clinton's tactics have been called undignified by many leaders within his own party. And the media seemed much more willing to challenge him on his statements. They actually seemed angered as well, with a number of pointed articles and columns about his actions. (One of my favorites: Jon Meachem, Editor of Newsweek, appearing on Jon Stewart's show, said, "Now we have the husband running around loose. He's sort of King Lear with a southern accent.Wandering around out there ")

2) Obama's victory in South Carolina was enormous. Unlike all of the other contests to this point, this one wasn't even close. And it's not just about Obama getting 81% of the black vote. He also beat Hillary 2-to-1 among younger white voters, and did well in a race against a white male who was born in South Carolina (Edwards) and a white female. He won every age category, beating Hillary overall among 18-49 year-olds by almost a 3-to-1 margin. The huge turnout and the excitement of such a big win will be a big boost in the next ten days.

3) Obama has the momentum right now, among leading Democrats (Daschle and Kerry both slammed Bill Clinton last week for his tactics, and Ted Kennedy is about to endorse Obama), among the media (though they're not supposed to take sides, I think they were turned off by the Clintons over the last two weeks), and among the public. He has the money to compete across all of the states. And I think he's found his way to take on the Clintons.

It probably won't be enough to come out ahead on Super Tuesday, but I don't think Hillary Clinton will be so far ahead that Obama won't be able to compete afterwards. This is shaping up to be a long race.


Liam said...

That speech was incredibly moving.

I'm trying to figure out Edwards as well at this point? Has he gone completely Quixotic or does he have something up his sleeve? How does the delegate thing work? Does a candidate automatically have the right to switch his delegates over to another candidate, or is it just assumed they'll follow his recommendation?

With all due respects to Edwards, I am now officially an Obama supporter.

cowboyangel said...

Quixotic is a good word, I think. Not sure if he has something up his sleeve - I don't get that sense, but I was uncomfortable when I saw that he and Hillary had a closed-door session after the last debate.

So, you finally drank the Obama kool-aid instead of just sippiing at it!

I'm still sipping. Though it's clear to me who I support between Obama and Hillary. Just wish I felt more comfortable with some of my concerns about him. He's just as DLC as she is, falls to the right of her in some ways economically, does seem a bit naive, and does have some kind of messianic thing going, I think.

I'll continue to support Edwards as long as he stays in the race. I just sent him a contribution last week.

cowboyangel said...

As far as the delegates, I'm not sure how it works if Edwards stays in the race. I imagine on the first vote at the convention, they're supposed to stay with their original choice. After the first vote, however, they may be able to change. Don't know, to be honest. If he drops out, it seems they would have the option to change.

Liam said...

Yes, I'm enjoying the kool-aid, it's very good.

I have a lot of concerns about a lot of Obama's policies. I don't know if he's really any more messianic than most leaders that have been as inspiring as he is (RFK?). Still, I agree with what he said in the NH debate -- words do matter (Like Nanni Moretti in Palonballo rosso: "Le parole sono importanti!"). I also think it is essential for whatever Democrat to beat whatever Republican in November (the only human being among the GOP lot is McCain, who admits that he knows nothing about economics, wants to go to war against every Muslim country and says it would be great to be in Iraq for 100 years) and I feel sure now that Obama is much more electable than Hillary (the Rich column in the Times yesterday was very good on this), especially now that Bill has gone King Lear on us.

So I will enjoy the koolaid for now.