Thursday, May 15, 2008

Misreading Endorsements

John Edwards endorsed Barack Obama yesterday. It's a crucial endorsement for Obama, but I've been amazed at how badly the pundits are misreading the situation.

Actually, I shouldn't be amazed at all, because they did the same thing with the endorsements of Ted and Caroline Kennedy earlier in the contest. In fact, some of them still don't get it. New York Times writer Jim Rutenberg is quoted in a Caucus blog post today: "Mr. Obama was not greatly helped when Caroline Kennedy, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and other big-name Democrats supported him earlier this year."

Pundits like Rutenberg usually point to the fact that Kennedy didn't magically win the state of Massachusetts for Obama or bring in lots of Latino voters on Super Tuesday, February 5th. But votes were never the main point of the Kennedy endorsement.

Instead, the support of Ted and Caroline Kennedy sent out a clear signal that major figures within the Democratic Party establishment were getting behind Obama. That was absolutely essential for a relative newcomer to the national scene like Obama to have any chance against the well-oiled, deeply entrenched, and and far-reaching machine of the Clintons.

Bill and Hillary were furious at Ted Kennedy for not staying neutral. They knew even then that it meant the Democratic establishment wasn't fully behind them. (Nobody, as far as I know, has ever analyzed why the Democratic establishment was never fully behind the two most public figures in the party - a two-term Senator married to the only two-term Democratic president since FDR. Funny that.)

I would argue, in fact, that the Kennedys' endorsements and the stunning overall results for Obama on February 5th were major factors in dismantling the inevitability argument of the Clinton campaign.

Now, the pundits are failing again - and miserably - in regards to the Edwards endorsement. Last night, I listened to one pundit after another talking about John Edwards helping Obama with those less-educated white voters making less than $50,000 a year. This morning, I stared in disbelief at a headline on the Yahoo homepage that said: "John Edwards brings blue collar voters to Barack Obama." (That's totally one person's opinion, and an opinion that's not even based on evidence. Yet it goes out as "news." Is this post-Bush journalism?)

Sorry folks, but John Edwards ain't gonna magically bring the white working class over to Barack Obama. Nor will he suddenly make the Kentucky primary competitive next Tuesday. The pundits have made a truly asinine assumption: 1) Obama has a problem with white voters who make less than $50,000 a year and have lower levels of education. 2) Edwards is white, has the support of the Steelworkers Union, and talks about poverty. 3) Therefore, Edwards' endorsement will resolve Obama's problem.

But as I pointed out earlier in the primaries, Edwards message about poverty never actually resonated with the poor. Nor with the under-educated.

Edwards came in second place in Iowa, winning 30% of the vote. Among people who earn less than $15,000, Edwards did terribly, only getting 17% of the vote. (Obama got 37% of their vote and Clinton got 30%.) Edwards' best numbers, in fact, were among those making over $100,000. He also did badly among Union Households, coming in third with only 24%, compared to 30% each for both Obama and Hillary.

So in Iowa, his best performance, Edwards underperformed significantly among the very groups the pundits now say he's going to somehow deliver to Obama.

There was no education level information in the Iowa polls, but in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Edwards did poorly. He received 17% of the vote in New Hampshire but only got 11% of the vote of Democrats who didn't finish high school. In South Carolina, he received 18% of the overall vote but only got 14% of those without a high school diploma.

And, as in Iowa, he did badly again among those making less than $50,000, especially among the poorest, who made less than $15,000, and he underperformed in Union households.

So, can someone please point to actual evidence that Edwards' endorsement will make much difference with the kind of voters who thoroughly rejected Obama in West Virginia and will do so again in Kentucky?

This isn't to say that Edwards endorsement isn't important. It is. But the pundits are setting up a bad situation for Obama by making it appear that Edwards should help him with working-class whites next week in Kentucky. Tuesday night, when Obama is getting his ass kicked by Clinton, get ready for all the "Aha, Edwards endorsement didn't mean anything!" crap.

It's an important point, because Obama does have a problem with this group of voters, and it's going to hurt him in the general election unless he can figure out a way to bridge the gap more. What will not help him are blaring and endlessly repeated comments that Obama must really be in trouble with these voters because even John Edwards' incredible influence on blue-collar voters somehow couldn't erase a 30-point lead in 5 days. Look for this narrative to play out Tuesday night and beyond.

Edwards' endorsement helped Obama yesterday, primarily because it obliterated (brilliantly) a continued discussion of Hillary's crushing victory in West Virginia. (41 points! - 41 points! "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!")

And it was important because, like the Kennedy endorsements earlier, it sends a clear signal from major Democratic Party figures - in this case, that the contest is over.

Or, at least, that they want it to be over.

(I don't think the Clintons will agree.)

Partly because of the endorsement, look for more and more super delegates to move over to Obama in the next few days. He won't close the 30-point gap he's facing in Kentucky, but he will continue to lengthen his lead among super delegates.

After Oregon, he will also secure the majority of pledged delegates.

The only major metric he still has to worry about is the popular vote. And he should worry about that, because his abysmal showings in West Virginia and Kentucky are going to make the race much closer than it had to be.


Liam said...

Good post, batman.

I think one of the big mistakes of all the pundits (and the majority of them have been mistaken over and over again during this election) is assuming that the primary election will reflect the general election, i.e., if Obama doesn't win certain sectors of the vote in the primary, they will automatically vote for John McCain. He does have to worry about the voters he didn't get, but it's apples and oranges.

"After Oregon, he will also lead in pledged delegates."

He's led in pledged delegates at least since Super Tuesday. Do you mean he will have clinched it?

From what I've read, it would be hard for Hillary to win the popular vote at this point, even counting Florida and Michigan. And how do you count "popular vote" in caucus and convention states?

cowboyangel said...

He's led in pledged delegates at least since Super Tuesday. Do you mean he will have clinched it?

Yes, sorry. I'll revise that.

You're absolutely right about the primaries being different from the general election. And I, too, have probably put too much emphasis on how they relate to each other. I am concerned, though, about Obama doing poorly among so many working-class Democrats. It was one thing to lose Ohio. Then he lost Pennsylvania by quite a bit. Then he gets utterly blown out in West Virginia, and is losing by 30 points in Kentucky. It's starting to add up for me. I think some of these voters will come over to him once he's the nominee, but I'm not convinced that he's going to do as well as he needs to with this group.

And I think I'm concerned about the campaign he's run over the last two months. I feel like he did so well in the first half and is going to hang on to win the game by a thread. But he's not playing well. And the championship looms ahead.

Makes me think of the Broncos-Browns AFC Championship Game in ( . . . have to go check Wikipedia . . .) 1988. The Broncos played really well in the first half, but then their defense started making lots of mistakes. In the end, the Browns drove down to the two-yard line. Ernest Byner took the snap and headed for an apparent game-winning touchdown, only to fumble - he landed in the end zone, the ball did not. The Broncos recovered and won an exciting contest.

Only to get their asses handed to them on a platter in the Super Bowl. The Redskins crushed them 42 to 10. And the Broncos were favorites going into that game, too. But after the Super Bowl, that horrible second half against the Browns made a lot more sense.

How's that for a totally irrelevant and long-winded analogy?!

cowboyangel said...

Actually, that game, known as The Fumble, (to distinguish it from the even more dramatic Championship between the same two teams the year before - The Drive) has its own entry in Wikipedia.

I was wrong. Byner was going in for a tying touchdown. But the Browns totally had all of the momentum at that point.

And I think it's obvious from my long and logically sound references to the Broncos-Browns rivalry in the 1980s, what all of this means for Obama in the general election.

I mean, how many more DANGER signs do you need?!

Liam said...

I think you're a bit more pessimistic about the way he's run his campaign lately. Eventually slimeball politics will catch up with any candidate, and it is true that there has been a loss of energy lately, but I still think on balance it's been a remarkable campaign. A black freshman senator named Barack Hussein Obama takes on the Clinton machine and wins? That's amazing.

The Jeremiah Wright thing is not over, but I think he's weathered it very well. I wish he had thrown more resources into WV to show he cares about every state, but on the other hand, campaigning for the general election against McCain while Hillary was campaigning for the primary in WV was an acknowledgment that the race was over.

cowboyangel said...

A black freshman senator named Barack Hussein Obama takes on the Clinton machine and wins? That's amazing.

You're right, it is amazing. And overall he's run an exceptional campaign.

It just seems to me that he's been too much on the defensive in the last two months, letting his narrative be determined by outside forces - Hillary, the media, the right-wing, etc. Controlling your own narrative as much as possible is essential in a presidential election.