There can now be little doubt that Senator Obama's recent comments in San Francisco have become a major test for this candidacy. The ad Senator Clinton launched yesterday on the subject is one of the most powerful ads of this election cycle, and will require a sustained and significant response from the Obama campaign.
As Senator Obama demonstrated in the recent flap over Jeremiah Wright, every attack is an opportunity to offer a very public response. For the Obama campaign those words will never be able to be taken back, but what his campaign can do is to view this as a moment to better address the core of what is being discussed here - his understanding of the struggle of every day people, and to better clarify his plan to raise improve the lives of those facing increased struggle and hardship in an era when the standing of the middle class has deteriorated. As I have written many times, I have long felt this whole area has been a weakness for Senator Obama and his campaign. This moment is in essence an opportunity to correct a major structural weakness in his candidacy and thus if handled successfully could be a moment of great opportunity for the Senator.
Campaigns are a series of tests, some small, some big. For Senator Obama a few words spoken in private have begun to drown out the millions of words he has spoken throughout this long and grueling campaign. But that is politics, and this new test may be among the most consequential and important faced by Senator Obama so far.
In the last few weeks Clinton spokesman after Clinton spokesman has made the claim that Senator Clinton had won more important states than Senator Obama. I have tried hard to figure out what this claim means and simply cannot.
The Rasmussen electoral college analysis lists 13 states as being up for grabs this fall (with EV counts): Florida (27), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), Michigan (17), Virginia (13), Missouri (11), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Iowa (7), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5) and New Hampshire (4).
Obama has won Virginia, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa and won more delegates in Nevada. 6 states, 60 Electoral College votes. Clinton has won Ohio, New Mexico and New Hampshire. 3 states, 29 Electoral College votes.
Florida and Michigan did not have legitimate elections, and PA has not voted yet.
That makes 6 states for Obama, 3 for Clinton, 1 in dispute, 2 not legitimate and 1 not yet voted, with Obama having won twice as many states and Electoral College votes than Senator Clinton. So how exactly has the Clinton campaign won more critical states than Obama?
There are good arguments to make for Senator Clinton's candidacy. The "important state" one is not one of them.
Both the Rasmussen and Gallup national daily tracks are showing significant and sustained new movement for Obama.
Gallup now has him up by 10 ponts, 52% to 42%, a net change of 17 points in the last ten days. Rasmussen has it 47% to 42%, and McCain 47% Obama 44%, McCain 50% Clinton 40%.
For reasons I don't really understand the Clinton campaign seems to have to lacked a real game plan since its strong showing on March 4th. Much of what is breaking through in for the campaign in the national media are process stories, and increasingly those stories are now a variation of the road ahead is a hard one. It has been a very bad few message weeks for the Clinton world.
The last time the Clinton camp found themselves in such a sustained message trough they launched the 3am ad, which seemed to fundamentally alter the dynamic of the race, for at least a few critical days. If the trends in these new tracks continue into the early part of the week expect the Clinton campaign to launch a dramatic new ad or launch a major new assault on Senator Obama. They cannot afford to let Obama surge too far ahead, or claw his way back into contention in Pennsylvania. Will be important to watch the PA polls this week to see if Obama's sustained campaigning there along with this new national movement is making that state closer than ten points.
The Washington Posthas reported that Bill Richardson will endorse Senator Obama.
As I wrote a week ago, this long lull 'til Pennsylvania is a very dangerous time for Senator Clinton. It is giving people time to look deeper at the campaign, and what they are seeing is that Senator Obama is winning, and given the delegate math will be very hard to beat. Expect more calls for Senator Clinton to end her candidacy in the coming weeks. Adam Nagourney reviewed this emerging dynamic in the NYTimes yesterday.
The Richardson endorsement will no doubt help Senator Obama address one of the most important weaknesses of the campaign, his standing with the Hispanic community. For more on the importance of Hispanics and the Southwest, see this new article in the American Prospect by Tom Schaller, our recent essay, The 50 Year Strategy, or our new analysis of how Hispanics have voted so far in 2008.
It will be interesting to see how Obama's speech on race earlier this week played into Richardson's decision to endorse.
Update: TPM reports that Senator Clinton ended February in debt. In debt.
Has anyone else noticed that Senator Clinton sort of disapeared this week? That the only stories she got into were process ones about FL and MI, passports and attacks?
Update 2: A new essay in the Politico strongly makes the case that Obama has already won the nomination. Without a primary for the next 4 plus weeks and the Wright controversy behind us for now, the press will need something to focus on. It appears as if for the next week or so the focus will be on whether Barack Obama has already won the nomination, challenging the Clinton campaign to come up with a better rationale for why they are continuing the race. The pressure on her to end her campaign and endorse Obama is going to mount in the next few weeks ushering in a very new dynamic in the campaign.
Senator Obama will give a major address today on race. Somehow this feels like one of those defining moments in a campaign, where a candidate must rise to a powerful challenge to his or her candidacy. Successful candidates seize this moments. Failed candidates don't.
For this campaign, and this candidate this issue of race is one of the defining issues of our times. In my recent essayOn Obama, Race and the End of the Southern Strategy I talk about all the demographic changes happening in America today, and write:
Of all these great changes the one that may be most important today is the growth of what we call the "minority" population. When I was born in 1963 the country was almost 89 percent white, 10.5 percent African-American and less than 1 percent other. The racial construct of America was, and had been for over hundreds of years, a white-black, majority-minority construct, and for most of our history had been a pernicious and exploitive one. Of course the Civil Rights Movement (particularly the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act) began to change our understanding of race around the time of my birth, but it was the Immigration Act of 1965 that changed the face of America. That act changed who would enter America, reorienting our new immigrant pool from Europe, as it had been for over 300 years, to Latin America and Asia. And America changed.
As the chart below shows (click it for a larger version), today America is 66 percent white and 33 percent "minority". While the African-American population has grown a bit, most of that increase has come from the recent historic wave of Asian and Hispanic immigrants. In my half a lifetime the "minority" population in the United States has tripled. When I was born one of out ten people walking around America were non-white. Today it is one out of three.
I think it is safe to say that America is going through the most profound demographic transformation in its long history. If current trends continue, America will be majority minority in my lifetime or soon thereafter. In a single lifetime we will have gone from a country made up largely of white Europeans to one that looks much more like the rest of the world.
If Senator Obama becomes the Democratic nominee this profound change will become something we all begin to discuss openly. Today the nation is having a big conversation about this change - whether it understands it or not - through our ongoing debate over immigration. While this debate has seen some of the most awful racist rhetoric and imagery since the days of Willie Horton, what should leave us all optimistic is that only 15 percent of the country is truly alarmed about the new wave of immigrants arriving in America. Consistently about 60 percent of the country says we need to leave all the undocumenteds here, indicating a pragmatic acceptance of the changes happening around our people and their families. Once again the uncommon wisdom of the common people appears to be prevailing here, and it is my hope, perhaps my prayer, that if Obama is the nominee American can begin to have a healthy and constructive discussion of our new population rather than what we have seen to date.
Given our nation's shameful racial history, building a national narrative, and a politics, around these powerful new demographic realities is one of the most urgent governing challenges facing our nation's leaders at the dawn of this new century. As the nation changes, and becomes more "intolerant of intolerance," there simply is no way to lead this new America, at this time, in this century, without getting this defining development of our day right.
NDN has been at the forefront these past 3 years in pushing back on manifestations of the anarchronistic - and morally unacceptable - politics of racial resentment that defined American politics in the latter half of the 20th century, the era of the Southern Strategy. And I am proud of that to no end. But now the end of the conservative ascendency in 2006, the current debate over immigration, the emergence of the Democrat's historically diverse field in 2008 is giving the country a chance to redefine our national conversation about race, to move beyond an era of racism to an era that celebrates and embraces our diversity, and lives up to that powerful American prayer of "e pluribus unum."
As I wrote in my Obama and Race essay, redefining race is a prerequisite for any post-Southern Strategy progressive majority. Moving beyond an era of racial resentment is not just the right thing to do, but as I argue it is a necessity for progressives if they hope to build a durable governing majority in this much more racially diverse - and much more tolerant - America of the 21st century. Which is why the mixed signals on race and tolerance coming from the Clinton campaign is not just morally questionable, but also dangerous for the long-term interests of the progressive movement itself.
This is the challenge and moment Senator Obama faces today. To talk about what is universal rather than specific, to embrace the inspirational principles on which this great nation was founded, to help the nation move beyond a shameful period in its history, to make it clear that he believes that as a nation, and as a world that "we are all in this together." Let us hope that he seizes this important moment and helps usher in a new and better politics for our nation.
Update: The speech was simply amazing. Read it here. We will have video links in a bit. I remain deeply proud of Barack Obama, his courage, his eloquence and his abiding faith in us and this great nation.
Today Senator Obama opened up a significant lead in the two daily tracks, Rasmussen and Gallup, hitting 50 percent in each.
Earlier this week I speculated Senator Obama might climb this high, and if he did, his case that he is winning and that Senator Clinton is losing the election would become very persuasive to those remaining superdelegates. Obama is now at 50% in the polls, has won more delegates, votes and states, and has raised more money and has a far superior organization. He appears to be, by all important measures, winning the race for the nomination.
One of the last remaining arguments the Clinton campaign has used is that she has won more important states than Senator Obama. But this argument is not persuasive on many levels. Using Chris Cillizza's analysis of the ten most important swing general states, for example, Obama comes out ahead. Of the ten in his list, Florida is unresolved, Obama has won 5 outright (CO, IA, MN, VA, WI), won the delegates in another (NV) and Senator Clinton has won 3 (NH, NM, OH). Additionally, one of her wins, NM, was essentially a tie. No matter how you cut the "important" states it is hard to argue that Senator Clinton has done better in those states that matter most.
What will the media do if Obama manages to catch and pass Senator Clinton with her last remaining area of strength, the superdelegates? Will and can that happen before the April PA primary? I still maintain these next 5 plus weeks before the April PA primary is a dangerous time for Senator Clinton, one where if the current trends continue, we could see a growing chorus for her to end her campaign.
Sunday Update: While Obama's Sat poll numbers dropped a bit, two stories today reinforce the danger that may await Clinton over these next 5 weeks. A major NYTimes look at the superdelegates reports a growing concern about the the Democratic race continuing, and a powerful desire to end it soon, In the 2nd story, Obama picks up more delegates from CA and IA, increasing his lead and adding to his momentum.
Just a few days ago Senator Clinton was leading by 4 and 6 points in the two major daily Presidential tracking polls. Now Gallup has Senator Obama up 5 (49-44) and Rasmussen has him up 2 (46-44). Obama has clearly now recovered from his tough week last week and seems to regaining some degree of national momentum. In both polls the movement is two way - he is trending up and she down. It is astonishing how this race continues to change, evolve, mature.
See this post for more on my thoughts about this next phase of the Democratic campaign for President.
Tue Update: Rasmussen now has it 48% Obama 41% Clinton, Gallup 48%-45%. If Obama breaks 50% later this week with the small momentum he will get from his Mississippi win tonight, he will be able to say to all the undecided superdelegates that he is over 50 percent in the national polls, has won more votes, states and delegates, has raised much more money and has a far superior national organization. And that given the math the only way she can win is by destroying him and his campaign, something nobody wants.
So while the campaign moves on to the next round of states, you could see a scenerio developing in this 6 week window before Pennsylvania where elite Democratic opinion decides that he is definitively ahead, that it is dangerous for the party to prolong the fight and pressure mounts on Senator Clinton to fold. For her campaign Obama's rebound in the national polls is a dangerous development, and one she is going to have address quickly or risk having this race slip from her grasp before we get to the Keystone State.
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.
After a week of gains by Senator Clinton, my two daily tracks, Gallup and Rasmussen, have the race stabilizing, and arriving in about the same place - her up 4 and 6. Will be interesting to see how the WY and MS elections effect the national polls.