In our long essay about the future of left of center politics, Peter Leyden and I point out that Democrats have won 19 states worth 248 electoral college votes in each of the last four presidential elections. This group includes important states like PA and MI. It is this analysis which has led us to argue that the true battleground of this election will be in the heavily Hispanic states of AZ, CO, FL, NM and NV (and a handful of other states like OH, MO, IA, NH and perhaps NC, WI and VA).
One of the big arguments coming from both the McCain and Clinton camps has been that Obama cannot win those northern industrial states so critical to this Democratic map, and that they can. But is this true? Can McCain, in this environment in which the GOP is weaker today than it has been since at least 1982, and perhaps the 1960s, really think about winning a general election state they have not won since 1988? I have always believed that once a Democratic nomiee was picked, those 248 Electoral College votes would begin to settle in for the nominee and the game would move to the battleground described above, which in recent years was won by the GOP.
A new Survey USA poll of Pennsylvania indicates that as Obama begins his transition from candidate to nominee, that these traditional Democratic states may be reverting back to form. This new poll has Obama beating Senator McCain in PA by 8 points, 48-40, well outside the margin of error -- and this is before Senator Obama has been officially crowned the nominee. Another poll has the uber battleground of Ohio even. I've seen other recent polls that have Obama within a few points of McCain in Texas and Arizona (driven to some degree by the Hispanic community's aggressive abandonment of the GOP).
While it is early, and these polls will bounce around, looking at the national polls (A new Reuters poll released today has Obama up 8) and new state polls, there is growing evidence that Obama is successfully bringing the Democratic Party together, is winning over key Clinton constituencies and that his much discussed weakness with certain white voters is not carrying over to the general election battlefield in any meaningful way.
It also means that we will be seeing an unprecedented national campaign for the Hispanic vote, a battle which Senator McCain begins in a very weakened position and without a lot he can do to change a very anti-GOP dynamic that has taken hold in the Hispanic community.
Incredibly, Senator Clinton has revived her efforts to persuade us that the votes of people in Florida and Michigan - two states she agreed along with all the other candidates to ignore and sanction - should count, and that she has thus won more votes than Senator Obama.
In a recent post I argued it was time for the Clinton to let go of the Florida and Michigan fantasy and to recognize this case was doing grevious harm to her with the superdelegates in the other 48 states and 6 territories.
In addition to sounding like she has been trying to rewrite the rules in the middle of the game, I think the strident rhetoric by the Clinton campaign on the sanctioning of FL and MI has done grave damage to their campaign. Most of the superdelegates, who at this point have the power to decide the outcome of the race, are from the other 48 states and 6 territories. They played by the rules. They are not interested in rewarding FL and MI for bad behavior and have resented the approach taken by the Clintons.
In addition, Senator Clinton's campaign agreed to the sanctioning of Florida and Michigan. If the voters of those states were disinfranchised then she was instrumental in bringing that about. The superdelegates in these other places understand all this better than anyone, and I think her wild approach to resolving the unfortunate problem of FL and MI has ended up being a major cause of her terrible showing with superdelegates these last 2 months. Like many of us who understood the system, and her role in creating it, the campaign's consistent whining and strident rhetoric has spoken very badly of her character. To many this episode has reinforced the notion that she and her husband were her willing to say and do anything to get elected, including what appears to be, let us say, lying and cheating.
Given that no one campaigned in either place, or that Barack was not even on the ballot in MI, these states did not have legitimate elections. Counting the outcome towards the eventual delegate count is simply not an option. The idea of somehow splitting each of them 50/50 to each of the 2 candidates, and reducing their total number by some percentage, now seems the most fair way to proceed.
For the Clinton campaign it is time to let go of the FL and MI fantasy. It has done a great deal of damage already to her standing with far too many.
Update: For more on the state of the Democratic primary race visit here.
Update Thur pm - Amazingly, Senator Clinton sent a letter today to Senator Obama about this very issue. Read it here. I first weighed in, strongly, on this issue the night of the Florida primary, and have felt very strongly since then that this was a terrible decision by the Clinton campaign.
Starting a week ago Friday Senator Clinton surged in the national polls, erased a sizable Obama lead, won more votes in OH and TX, and raced ahead of Senator Obama by between 4 and 6 points. Both daily tracks, Gallup and Rasmussen, and now Newsweek, have the race changing again, finding the candidates within a point of one another either way. Clinton's surge has come to an end, and the race now appears tied as we enter this next phase of the campaign.
Update: As hard as it is to come to terms with, it sure appears that the Democratic race will continue through early June. 3 more months. Following Mississippi this Tuesday is PA on April 22nd, Indiana and North Carolina on May 6th, West Virginia on May 13th, KY and OR on May 20th, MT and SD on June 3rd and Puerto Rico on June 7th. My hope is that a deal can be struck to let FL and MI hold primaries in that early June window so at least all the voting can be wrapped up by then.
We will now be entering a very different phase of the campaign. Fewer states in play, fewer elections, less horserace, more attention to the candidates themselves, their views, their values. The media beast will need to be satiated, and without polls and elections to fill it, we will see a remarkable and complicated dance between and among the President, John McCain and the two Democratic candidates, all focusing much more on national issues - and new developments in international and domestic affairs - taking the current debate to a new and different place. The Democratic nominee may end up being decided by how the two candidates adjust to this changed issue and political environment, which will force them to leave behind their early primary positioning.
The Democratic campaigns are simultaneously having their playing field shrunk and enlarged, as this phase is both happening in many fewer places while going national - if not international - at the same time. It will be interesting to see how each of them decide to deploy their massive networks of support in this period - what exactly are all those millions of Obama and Clinton people in the early primary states suppossed to do now?
The first phase of the Democratic nomination for President ended this week. It ends with the two candidates tied in national polls and Obama ahead in delegates, votes, money and organization. But amazingly this next phase, one that will take us through June, is a little longer than the 8 week window that took us from Iowa to Texas. So much happened in the last 8 weeks. It is incredible to think we have another phase of even greater length about to begin. There will no doubt be many twists and turns along the way in what is clearly a very different phase in the race to the Democratic nomination.
Sunday update: Gallup's daily track is picking up addiitonal movement for Obama, and now has the Illinois Senator up 48%-46%, a net change of 6 points towards Obama just in the last few days. Rasmussen isn't showing the same movement and has it unchanged from yesterday. So time will tell if Gallup is picking up something new or things are just bouncing around within margin of error. But we do know now that the powerful Clinton surge has ended and we move on to a new phase in the race.
Could we be headed towards early June Florida and Michigan primaries? How to pay? Governor Dean could ask all Democrats to chip in $25 and raise a quick $25 million. The two states themselves should chip in whatever remains, up to half the costs. If the primaries are scheduled for that first week in June it is possible for the nomination process to be over and a nominee picked by the traditional end time, early June, and allow the Democrats to end with lots of attention on two critical general election states.
Gvoernor Dean released this statement yesterday:
"We're glad to hear that the Governors of Michigan and Florida are willing to
lend their weight to help resolve this issue. As we've said all along, we
strongly encourage the Michigan and Florida state parties to follow the rules,
so today's public overtures are good news. The rules, which were agreed to by
the full DNC including representatives from Florida and Michigan over 18 months ago, allow for two options. First, either state can choose to resubmit a plan and run a party process to select delegates to the convention; second, they can wait until this summer and appeal to the Convention Credentials Committee, which determines and resolves any outstanding questions about the seating of delegates. We look forward to receiving their proposals should they decide to submit new delegate selection plans and will review those plans at that time. The Democratic Nominee will be determined in accordance with party rules, and out of respect for the presidential campaigns and the states that did not violate party rules, we are not going to change the rules in the middle of the game.
"Through all the speculation, we should also remember the
overwhelming enthusiasm and turnout that we have already seen, and respect the voters of the ten states who have yet to have their say.
"As we head towards November, our nominee must have the united support of a strong Democratic Party that's ready to fight and ready to beat John McCain. After
seven years of Republican rule, I am confident that we will elect a Democratic
president who will fight for America's families in the White House. Now we must
hear from the voters in twelve states and territories who have yet to make their