The backlash against the Clinton Florida and Michigan strategy

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.

On this primary night where do things stand?

Before I weigh in with fresh thoughts, check out this recent post, Is Obama Recovering?, and this one, So, after Pennsylvania, where are we?

More soon.

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 is amazing 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.

Gas tax policy as character -- updated

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."

Clinton's ad:

Obama's response:

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.

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."

NDN gas tax coverage round up:

  • Obama goes after Clinton on gas tax
  • More on the gas tax - including a quote from Globalization Initiative Chair Dr. Robert Shapiro
  • Ads focus on gas tax
  • Energy Insanity - coverage of Thomas Friedman's column by Green Project Director Michael Moynihan
  • Candidates talk energy policy

Is Obama recovering?

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.

Obama goes after Clinton on gas tax

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.

Watch "Pennies"

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
  • Ads focus on gas tax
  • Energy Insanity - coverage of Thomas Friedman's column by Green Project Director Michael Moynihan
  • Candidates talk energy policy

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.

More on the gas tax

Dr. Robert Shaprio, Chair of NDN's Globalization Initiative, was quoted by Sam Stein in the Huffington Post on the gas tax holiday proposal. The article, entitled "Expert Support for Gas Tax Holiday Appears Nonexistant," comes on the heels of a Thomas Friedman column and New York Times editorial that both deride the proposal.

From the Huffington Post:

"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.

Ads focus on gas tax

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.

Candidates talk energy policy

Americans have dealt with significant increases in their costs of living during the Bush administration. One of the most significant is rising energy costs, most visibly seen in high prices at the pump. This issue has suddenly found itself at the center of the Presidential campaign in the form of a proposal to suspend the gas tax for the summer, saving the average American, according to estimates, at most about $30 over that time.

From the New York Times:

As angry truckers encircled the Capitol in a horn-blaring caravan and consumers across the country agonized over $60 fill-ups, the issue of high fuel prices flared on the campaign trail on Monday, sharply dividing the two Democratic candidates.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.

While Mr. Obama’s view is shared by environmentalists and many independent energy analysts, his position allowed Mrs. Clinton to draw a contrast with her opponent in appealing to the hard-hit middle-class families and older Americans who have proven to be the bedrock of her support. She has accused Mr. Obama of being out of touch with ordinary Americans who are struggling to meet their mortgages and gas up their cars and trucks.

Mrs. Clinton said at a rally on Monday morning in Graham, N.C., that she would introduce legislation to impose a windfall-profits tax on oil companies and use the revenue to suspend the gasoline tax temporarily.

"At the heart of my approach is a simple belief," Mrs. Clinton said. "Middle-class families are paying too much and oil companies aren't paying their fair share to help us solve the problems at the pump."

Mrs. Clinton said the tax on the oil companies, which have been reporting record profits as oil prices soar, would cover all of the lost revenue from the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. She also said no highway projects would suffer.

Mr. Obama derided the McCain-Clinton idea of a federal tax holiday as a "short-term, quick-fix" proposal that would do more harm than good, and said the money, which is earmarked for the federal highway trust fund, is badly needed to maintain the nation’s roads and bridges.

Here at NDN, we are pleased to see the candidates addressing energy reform and discussing America’s weakening infrastructure. NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan recently wrote a paper about the need to invest in America’s infrastructure, and the Green Project has been promoting a long term solution to America’s energy needs. Going forward, we encourage the candidates to incorporate long term solutions these issues into their policy prescriptions.

So, after Pennsylvania, where are we?

I'm traveling this morning, so only could a quick post. Sorry in advance for any typos....

So, after Senator Clinton's impressive win last night, where are we?

In a post yesterday, I wondered whether Senator Clinton still had the power on her own to alter the dynamic of the race, a dynamic that currently has Senator Obama winning and her losing. There can be no question now that Senator Clinton had a big "win" last night, and initial fundraising numbers show her in the process of reloading her depleted coffers. So it is possible that last night was more than postponing the inevitable -- it was a new opening, a new opportunity for her to recast the race.

We will know more about that in the next few days. Things to look for are the national poll numbers (which have been trending heavily against her in recent days), both her fundraising and Senator Obama's, the polls in the next round of states and whether she can raise her own game up and start crafting a more positive vision for the country. Her recent spate of brutal attacks on Senator Obama have dramatically increased her own negatives. So while it may have kept him from getting too close in Pennsylvania, it has cost her in the rest of the country. She will have to take on the growing unhappiness with the tone of her campaign (an issue I discussed a while back) that is beginning to permeate the chattering classes, if she is to have any chance of winning the nomination and going on to win the Presidency.

As for Senator Obama, I offered some thoughts on the state of his campaign on Monday. His job is a different one from Senator Clinton's. Among the things I might suggest is that he needs to re-orient his campaign around the economy (his closing Pennsylvania ads did not directly address the economy, both the number one issue in the race and Senator Clinton's greatest strength), more adroitly indict - not attack - his opponent, dramatically improve the paid advertising of the campaign, which has yet to produce a single memorable piece of video or demonstrate that it can move numbers in key states and address his perceived weakness with Hispanics.

From my conversations with reporters yesterday, the idea that "he can't close" is taking hold in the media, and I think is a serious and important notion for his campaign to address. It speaks to many things - his inexperience, his toughness, his leadership skills and his ability to play the game.

Just as I wrote that the six weeks after March 4 would be tough for Senator Clinton, these next two weeks will be a truly important test for Senator Obama. He needs to prevent erosion, keep his supporters excited, address some long overdue weaknesses in his campaign and show that he has the kind of grit, toughness and wisdom to be an effective President.

So did last night alter the dynamic of the race? It is too early to tell. After March 4, Senator Clinton seemed to drift, lose focus. Senator Obama seemed to raise his game. So one never knows. But these next two weeks are going to be an extraordinary thing to watch, and very important in both picking the nominee and preparing that nominee for a tough battle in the fall.

The Pennsylvania Primary and the future of the Clinton campaign

In the last few weeks, a new fundamental dynamic for the Democratic nomination has emerged. It is now clear that Senator Obama is winning the race, and Senator Clinton is losing.

The big question tonight is whether even a significant victory by Senator Clinton alters this fundamental dynamic. I am increasingly of the belief that it won't.

To review, Senator Obama has won more states, more votes, more delegates, is about to catch up on super delegates, has built a far superior and modern campaign, has dramatically outraised his opponent and is ahead in all national polls, in one by more than 10 points. He is doing much better than Senator Clinton with Independents. If current trends continue, he will end the primary season less than 100 delegates from the amount needed to win, meaning that it won't take much to put him over the top. Based on the new FEC reports, Senator Clinton is also functionally out of money or in the process of going deep into debt. And as I wrote recently, even the argument that Senator Clinton has won more important states doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

Which is why her often repeated argument that she will be a stronger general election candidate is silly. If you get beat by your opponent fair and square, how can you claim to be a stronger candidate?

As Noam Scheiber just wrote, I have long been saying that this six-week window between March and April 22 was going to be a very bad period for Senator Clinton. It allowed the Party elites and the media enough time to actually figure out what was going on in this confusing nominating process. This slow period allowed it to become understood that Senator Obama was in fact winning and Senator Clinton losing, Period. No mulligans. No changing the rules midway through the game. By the end of March, all understood that Senator Obama had all but locked this thing up.

In this period, it also became clear to some that Senator Clinton no longer really had the power, the ability, to alter this dynamic. She couldn't win enough of the states left to get back in the game. She can no longer win the popular vote. The super delegates have broken heavily against her. The Party has kept its word, and, despite over-the-top efforts by the Clinton campaign, properly disallowed the Florida and Michigan results. Her chief strategist, her campaign manager and a top political strategist have left, and her new campaign manager, while respected, has virtually no campaign experience. Her money has dried up. The Tuzla story, for those who paid close attention to it, showed that she had the capacity to strategically lie, repeatedly, recklessly, about something of great importance. And now her relentless attacks on Senator Obama, by dramatically raising her own negatives, have weakened her own candidacy more than it has damaged him, leaving her in a more precarious national position.

I have never believed that if Senator Clinton knew she was going to lose that she would continue on past the point at which it was becoming ruinous to her very bright future. Smart politicians, as the saying goes, know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. And the Clintons are smart politicians. When that moment - the moment the candidate decides to drop out - comes in a campaign, it is never simple. But it often has to do more with money than with honor. And right now, the thing to watch is whether the outcome tonight is enough for her to keep raising the $20 million or so a month she needs to keep going. If not, the race could be over quickly. If she does have a strong and convincing win, and can quickly raise enough money to keep her supporters confident that she still has a shot, perhaps this will go on to mid-June. There will be shouts of "Comeback Kid, 3!" - but I am no longer convinced that even this scenario is possible any longer.

So even if Senator Clinton wins big tonight, it does not mean she will have the power or ability to win the nomination. She perhaps will have staved off defeat, but not recovered enough to be back in this thing. Of course, technically, she could win. But for her to win now requires an extraordinary event, one that would have to essentially end the Obama candidacy, something that, after his adequate management of the Wright and bitter moments, I no longer think she has the power herself to bring about. For her to win, it will require a political miracle, an Obama stumble of monumental proportions. Possible? Yes. Likely? No way. So why go on?

Perhaps, perhaps, what she is seeking is not a victory then, but what she and her husband have been seeking with such ferocity since the beginning of this campaign - a better and more honorable ending to what has been our promising, exhilarating, prosperous, productive and occasionally deeply disappointing long, national relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

And as long as there is a chance, even a small chance, of that coming about through this process, the battle may indeed go on - as long as the money holds out.

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