Two central dynamics are now taking over the Presidential campaign - the enormous, even historic, structural advantage of the Democrats, and Obama's new "surge", brought about through the early stages of his imminent victory over Senator Clinton.
Poll after poll these last few years have documented the emergence of a whole new political dynamic in American politics - the end of the conservative ascendency, the collapse of the GOP brand and the rise of the Democratic brand. Simply put, the country is more Democratic today than it has been since at least 1982 and perhaps all the way back to the 1960s. Today's Washington Post has a new national poll which again captures the yawning gap between the two parties, and the strong wind blowing behind the Democrats as they head into 2008 (for further evidence of this note huge fundraising and turnout advantage for the Dems so far in 2008).
A big looming question over the Presidential race has always been would the Democratic nominee be able to match the 10-15 spread between the two parties, resulting in what could be a truly realigning election and the dawn of a new progressive era? So far there has been little evidence of this, and indications have largely pointed to a very close general election.
But in the last week, there are signs that Obama's slowly emerging "victory" over Senator Clinton is beginning to alter that dynamic. Winners often get a bounce from their victory. It can be a few points or much more. And given that Senator Clinton is still in the race, it would be surprising for the Obama bounce to be more than a few points. But looking at the Post poll, the new LA Times poll, Rasmussen and Gallup, there is evidence that Obama is in the early stages of a bounce. He now leads Senator Clinton in all these polls by a larger margin than he has at any time in the campaign, consistently in double digits now (destroying her argument to be a stronger general election candidate). But he also is now starting to show three, six and in the Post poll, seven point advantages over Senator McCain.
While the Post makes the case that at this point McCain is outperforming the GOP and is showing remarkable early strength, I think that interpretation, while partially true, does not really capture what is happening in the race (particularly on the day GOPer Bob Barr entered the race, again showing how hard it is going to be for McCain to take full control over his party). Given the nature of the Democratic race, we really have no idea what a true McCain-Obama match up looks like. Senator Obama has yet to go through his ascension to be the Democratic chief, and all the public benefit that accrues from winning. This week, we are starting to see the public in the early stages of seeing Obama now as the Democratic nominee, and his numbers are rising across the board. But has he has not yet really won yet. I don't think at this stage he has risen as far has he will once Senator Clinton drops out of the race. He is in a sort of "mid-bounce." Which given that Senator Obama is now up mid- single digits now without having fully won, and given that the structural gap between the two parties is between 10-15 points, means he is likely to keep climbing over the next few weeks.
So, to me, this new Post poll should not be a comfort to the GOP, but yet another reminder of the catastrophic legacy of the age of Bush, and another early sign of what may be an historic realigning election to come in 2008 (the Mississippi House Special Election will be another sign).
For more on the dawn of a new political era, be sure to read our recent magazine article, The 50-Year Strategy: A New Progressive Era.
The Rasmussen daily track has seen a 15 point shift from Clinton to Obama in the last ten days. The last two nights of their daily track now has Obama up over Clinton by 11 points, the largest margin yet recorded, and him up over McCain by 4, 47-43. Obama appears to be getting a "bounce" from Tuesday night.
Given the generic numbers for President and Congress (Dems up 10-15 points), I fully expect that once Obama secures the nomination, and Clinton ends her campaign, for him to get a significant bump and to be in front of McCain by at least high single digits. This new poll is the first evidence that we may be seeing this scenerio beginning to be playing out already. It will be interesting to see what other polls show in the coming days, and how the media coverage of Clinton's likely victory in WV affects this possible new dynamic.
Given her already weakened financial state, if a national swing like this is actually happening and shows up in other polls over the next few days, it is going to make it very hard for Senator Clinton to go on past next week.
We will see.
Sat 4pm Update - Gallup now also shows significant movement to Obama. Again still early to say this is a definitive across the board bounce, but these 2 major tracks have both now shown real movement to Obama these last few days.
The NYTimes has a very bad piece for the Clinton campaign today. It details how cash-strapped the campaign has become.
It has been my belief all this week that the most critical moment for the Clinton campaign would be today through this weekend. It would be at that point at which the candidate would have enough information about her financial situation to make a determination on whether she could afford to proceed. There can be little doubt now that the Clintons have poured more money into her race than almost any other candidate in recent political history. It is their wealth that is keeping the campaign afloat. Believing they would do better than they did in Indiana and North Carolina, they borrwed and spent heavily, and have put her campaign deep into debt.
Initial reports indicate that Senator Clinton has not been raising a lot of money this week. It takes $1 million every day or two to keep a campaign like hers going. If she is only taking in $2 million to $3 million a week, she will add another $15 million to $25 million in debt over the next month. That is a lot of money. Politicians traditionally don't get out of a campaign because they are losing. They get out because they run out of money. And it sure appears that Senator Clinton is out of money, with little prospect that she can change that in the next few weeks.
If Senator Clinton somehow decides that she has enough money to get through the weekend, I think she will stay in through the June primaries. But right now, today, with stories like this one in the NYTimes, the financial reality of her weakened standing is beginning to become clear, and this more than any endorsement, poll or issue will determine whether Senator Clinton continues through June.
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.
Before I weigh in with fresh thoughts, check out this recent post, Is Obama Recovering?, and this one, So, after Pennsylvania, where are we?
Update: The African-American vote looked like it came in very heavy for Senator Obama tonight, and may have been the key to his impressive win in North Carolina. For more on this check out this excellent recent essay by Tom Schaller, who will be part of our exciting event this Friday, New Tools, New Audiences.
With his win in North Carolina, Senator Obama has ensured that the fundamental dynamic in the race - that he is winning and she is losing - has not changed. With fewer delegates left for Senator Clinton to win, the end result tonight is that Senator Obama is now ever closer to becoming the Democratic nominee. After a few tough weeks this is a very good night for Senator Obama.
Update 7:57pm - Why is Lou Dobbs on my TV? He is truly one of the biggest asses on tv. It isamazing everyone is being nice to him. CNN and Time Warner should be ashamed.
Update 8:00pm - On CNN Schneider and O'Brien are talking about how Obama's struggle with non-college white votes could be fatal in the fall. Why then is Obama even or beating McCain in the general election polls? Is it that the electorate has changed? For more on this check out my recent essay, On Obama, Race and the End of the Southern Strategy which includes a link to our big recent article, The 50 Year Strategy.
Update 8:15pm - Do the Clinton people tonight now regret their gas tax strategy? In retrospect was their aggressive approach on the gas tax instrumental to moving the conversation from Wright to the struggle of every day people, and giving Obama a break from a news dynamic that was deeply effecting his standing? In response to this offensive by the Clinton campaign the Obama campaign effectively countered, and made the struggle of every day people central to their argument in both states. I think there can be no doubt now that the way Obama closed was a strategic breakthrough for his campaign, which has struggled to make this critical issue central to his spirited fight.
Update 8:45pm - I love Donna Brazile. She has been great tonight.
Update 9:15pm - Another Tuesday night. Another night at the church of Obama. It is good to hear his powerful and uplifting voice again, and not all the nasty and crazy talk of the last few weeks. Somehow Senator Clinton's speech now seems vital, critical, essential. Can she make a pivot, a turn, and begin to lift us up and inspire us all at this important moment in history, and not be just strong and tough but also wise and generous?
Update 10:23pm - Lake County. Holding their results past primetime. Anyone think Obama supporters run that county?
And man is Lanny Davis a seriously bad spokesperson for the Clinton campaign. All he is talking about now is process, griping, rewriting the rules, complaining about Florida and Michigan. It is an awful whinefest. The tenacious and spirited Senator Clinton deserves better.
Clinton and Obama have released a new round of gas tax ads in advance of Indiana and North Carolina. Clinton's argues that she will fight the oil companies and make them pay the gas tax, while Obama's argues that her propsal is "bogus" and "a gimmick."
Both ads again use this policy issue to ascribe character traits to the candidates: Clinton argues that she is a fighter, while Obama argues that Clinton is a Washington politician interested soley in political expediency. A recent CBS/NYT poll shows that Obama may be landing blows with this argument.
On the gasoline tax, the survey underlined the risk Mrs. Clinton is taking in embracing a position that most Americans — including a majority of her own supporters — appear to view as political pandering. More than 60 percent of voters in the poll said that Mrs. Clinton said what people wanted to hear, rather than what she believed. Forty-three percent said that about Mr. Obama, and 41 percent about Mr. McCain.
The same poll showed that the fighter argument may be working for Clinton:
Fifty-eight percent of respondents said Mr. Obama was "tough enough to
make the hard decisions a president has to make." Seventy percent said
the same of Mrs. Clinton, and 71 percent of Mr. McCain.
As NDN President Simon Rosenberg has written about John McCain, his positive numbers on these character issues will quickly change once the media scrutiny begins. He has run away from his days driving the Straight Talk Express on issues from immigration to campaign finance, and now, with his stance on the gas tax, on climate change and energy issues.
Update: Clinton has a new gas tax ad out, using some of the same footage from the one found above, that goes after Obama more directly. Take a look:
Update 2: Obama's latest ad going into tomorrow's primaries says Clinton is taking "the low road."
Obama's new "minute" ads (see Travis' post) are a vast improvement over what I have felt has been his meandering and unfocused media campaign in recent months. These ads reintroduce Obama to voters, do not assume voters understand who he is, and do a much better job at showing he is in touch with the central issue of the race - the struggle of every day people.
What happens on Tuesday is anybody's guess. But the drama continues to be can Senator Clinton somehow change the dynamic of the race enough to forstall her inevitable defeat (see this New York Times piece for an excellent summary of the state of the race)? Can she get a big enough "win" on Tuesday to begin truly challenging the "Obama is winning this thing" narrative?
As of today, it seems that Obama's very bad week has begun to turn. He won Guam. He has continued to win important superdelegates, including NDN's Chairman Joe Andrew. The Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracks today suggest Obama's Wright-induced slide in the national polls has abated, and in both polls he has gained a little ground in the last two days. Reviews for his "Meet the Press" appearance have been strong. Obama's media is giving more help down the stretch than we've seen in sometime. It is now fair to say that this week the Obama campaign has demonstrated the kind of counterpunching capacity many believe has been lacking in the last few months, and will be requiired for him to become the President.
For Senator Clinton, this is yet again another make or break Tuesday. She has without doubt had a strong last couple of weeks. But I believe she will now have to win both Indiana and North Carolina to have any chance of changing the central dynamic of the race, which is still very much stacked against her. Her chance to win the race outright has increased a great deal in recent weeks, but with the remaining states likely to break 50/50 Obama/Clinton, this Tuesday night is shaping up to be another nailbiting night of cable TV news, and one that may be among the most important of a lot of important Tuesdays this year.
Who would have thought that the gas tax would be a top political issue going into the Indiana primary? Both Democratic campaigns have used the issue to push their narratives: Clinton's that she is a fighter for the working class and Obama's that he represents a new kind of politics. Both have been running ads in Indiana on this policy difference, and Obama has released a new one taking on Clinton directly on her support for John McCain's gas tax holiday proposal.
Also, today's New York Times has an interesting article entitled "Unlikely Allies Campaign for a Gas-Tax Holiday."
Senators John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton found themselves taking a lonely stand on the campaign trail Thursday, defending the proposed gasoline-tax holiday while critics from both parties lined up against it.
Three times, twice unprompted, Mr. McCain, of Arizona, brought up the idea, which Senator Barack Obama's campaign began calling "the McCain-Clinton gas-tax holiday."
Their proposal would suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season.
Mrs. Clinton, campaigning in central and southern Indiana, championed her plan as a boon to commuters, truckers and summer vacationers.
At an event in Jeffersonville, Ind., on Thursday evening, Mrs. Clinton amplified her frequent pledge to introduce legislation to suspend the gas tax, saying she wanted to put members of Congress on the spot on the issue.
"Do they stand with hard-pressed Americans who are trying to pay their gas bills at the gas station or do they once again stand with the big oil companies?" Mrs. Clinton, of New York, said. "That's a vote I'm going to try to get, because I want to know where they stand, and I want them to tell us - are they with us or against us?" (Some Clinton supporters and superdelegates in Congress are among those who oppose a gas tax holiday.)
In Iowa, sounding more exasperated as the day went on, Mr. McCain grimaced slightly when a questioner at a town-hall-style meeting asked him about the plan.
"You'd think that I was attacking Western civilization as we know it," Mr. McCain replied. "The special interests, ‘Oh, my God. This will destroy our transportation system in America. This will have disastrous consequences.' Look, all I think is we ought to give low-income Americans, in particular, a little relief."
Mr. McCain did not say which special interests he meant. But by Thursday afternoon, opposition to the plan was robust and bipartisan, including Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota; Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa; and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.
Even lawmakers in Mrs. Clinton's backyard, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City (a former Republican, now an independent) and Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, expressed doubts.
"It's about the dumbest thing I've heard in an awful long time from an economic point of view," Mr. Bloomberg told reporters, adding that he did not see "any merit to it whatsoever."
The Wall Street Journal also has an article on the issue today, entitled "Will Voters Accept Obama's Gas Plea?" which points out that Obama's arguments on the issue are not always getting through to voters.
NDN gas tax coverage round up:
More on the gas tax - including a quote from Globalization Initiative Chair Dr. Robert Shapiro
UPDATE: Senator Clinton is reportedly introducing legislation today to suspend the gas tax for the summer. With broadbased opposition to the measure, including Speaker Pelosi, this legislation probably is not going anywhere, but Clinton has said that she wants to "get every member of Congress on the record," on this issue. The Obama campaign is arguing that Clinton is overplaying her hand and risks alienating the members of Congress (read: super delegates) she needs to win the nomination.
"Stated as clearly as I can," [Shapiro] wrote, "it's utterly misguided both environmentally and economically. Environmentally, it does actual harm, since it reduces the price of producing greenhouse gases. And economically it's trivial or worse -- by reducing the price of driving it encourages more of it, thereby increasing demand for gasoline, which inevitably pushes the price back up - the consumer gains nothing, and the oil companies and OPEC collect the extra bucks instead of the government."
On another note, the conferees on the upcoming farm bill agreed to reduce the subsidy for ethanol. Corn based ethanol has been blamed, among many factors, for the rise in food prices.
The past two days have seen a back and forth from Senators Clinton and Obama on the proposal to suspend the gas tax for the summer. Green Project Director Michael Moynihan blogged on a Thomas Friedman column on the subject today, and the New York Times covered the debate yesterday. Now, both candidates have ads airing in Indiana on the subject.
Senator Clinton hits Obama:
Senator Obama's response:
Obama has said he was going to avoid going negative in the coming weeks, while Clinton has not shied away from her strategy. Both ads clearly reflect that, and stay on message: Clinton's of being a fighter and Obama's change in Washington argument. We will see if this issue can score points for either one.