Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

March 24, 2008 10:57 PM

2008 Presidential Campaign - Act VI Has Begun

Clinton, Obama And Mccain

The Democratic primary, the Republican primary that is now effectively over and the general election which looms large ahead, involves just 3 people. Strangely enough, given the history of U.S. Senators in races for president, it is passing strange that those 3 people are United States Senators, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain.

In the last NBC/WSJ survey, first Clinton and Obama are evaluated by Democratic voters and and then Clinton, Obama and McCain are evaluated by all votqualities.

When it comes to being

  • knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency
  • having strong leadership qualities needed to be president, and
  • being a good commander-in-chief
Clinton is ranked over Obama by Democratic voters and McCain is ranked over Clinton and Obama among all voters.

On the other 7 qualities, Obama ranks ahead of Clinton among Democratic voters and ahead of Clinton and McCain among all voters. However, on 2 of these qualities, "high personal standards" and being "honest and straightforward", Obama and McCain are essentially rated even.

Clinton, Obama and McCain were rated on a 5 point scale with 5 being "very good" and 1 being "very poor". The percentages below represent the number of respondents who said "4 or 5."]

  Dem Primary Voters   All Voters
Knowledgeable and experienced
enough to handle presidency
73% 44%   50% 28% 66%
Having strong leadership
qualities needed to be Pres
71% 62%   50% 46% 61%
Compassionate enough to
understand average people
64% 76%   44% 59% 40%
Being a good commander-in-chief 64% 59%   43% 41% 61%
Having high personal standards thatset proper moral tone for country 61% 73%   40% 57% 56%
Bring real change to direction of country 58% 72%   38% 50% 20%
Shares your positions on issues 56% 59%   34% 39% 31%
Inspirational and exciting
choice for president
52% 73%   33% 56% 22%
Honest and straightforward 52% 70%   33% 53% 52%
Easygoing and likeable 45% 81%   30% 69% 37%

Democratic Primary

The Democratic Presidential primary campaign is a play in multiple acts. Act VI has begun.

During Act I the major candidates, for the most part, played quite nicely together and were basically positive. In fact, they might have been described as downright civil to each other.

During Act II the gloves came off.

Act III ended with the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary after which the field the field narrowed to two, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Act IV played out on Super Tuesday. This was the date on which early prognosticators said the play would be over and the Democratic nominee would be known. Turns out no one told the writer that was supposed to be the plan.

In Act V, which took place on a set that looked a lot like Texas and Ohio, a variety of Clinton campaign types including the former President, said she had to win those two states to stay in the race. To the surprise of many in the audience she did.

Act VI began on March 11th. It will end on May 6th. During this act the "play" will go to Pennsylvania (4/22), and North Carolina and Indiana on May 6th. [345 pledged delegates to be elected.]

Here is a summary of the first 5 acts [as of March 19th]

Obama Clinton Obama's Net
Pledged Delegates 1414 1246 +168
Super Delegates* 213 248 -35
Total 1627 1494 +133
[Source: realclearpolitics.com]
  • Total pledged delegates still to be elected - 562
  • Super delegates who have not yet announced -334
  • Number of primaries and caucuses to be conducted - 9
Popular Vote 13,281,132 12,577,409 +703,723
States won** 27 14 +13

* Super delegates who have publicly announced their choice.

** 48 states + D.C. + Puerto Rico (Florida and Michigan are not included)

Act VII will open on May 7th and finish on June 3, and includes scenes in West Virginia, Oregon, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, Montana, and South Dakota. [217 pledged delegates to be elected.]

Act VIII starts on June 4th, and will end no later than August 28th. The curtain could effectively come down earlier.

How is this play likely to end?

The consensus (if it means anything) seems to be that Clinton will win Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico, with a total of 292 pledged delegates. Obama will win North Carolina, Oregon, Montana, and South Dakota, with a total of 198 pledged delegates. It seems that Indiana may be in play with its 72 delegates.

Given the proportionality rules, the net result of these 9 contests could be a net paid delegate gain of 12-20 delegates for Clinton.

As the primary and caucus window closes, June 3rd, it does not currently appear that either Obama or Clinton will have sufficient pledged delegates and currently announced super delegates to hit the needed 2025 delegates.

Obama could be leading in pledged delegates by 130-155 and in States (+DC & PR) by 31-19.

It is possible that Clinton might catch up to Obama in total popular vote, but that will require some awfully good fortune on her part. She has not gotten many breaks up to now.

So, after 18 months of campaigning, winning the nomination will come down to which of them can convince a sufficient number of currently uncommitted Super Delegates to vote for them. They will also try to get publicly committed Super Delegates to switch.

A Quiz

When Super Delegates were created before the 1984 campaign, it was intended that they cast their votes for

  • a) the candidate who won the most state contests
  • b) the candidates who won the most elected delegates
  • c) the candidate who won the popular vote
  • d) the candidate who won the state or Congressional district in which the Super Delegate lives
  • e) the candidate who they think is most electable
  • f) the candidate who won the most large must win states in the general election
  • g) the candidate who they want to support for whatever the reason
The answer is (g), which also makes the answer,"all of the above."

To qualify as a Super Delegate a person must be a Member of the U.S. House or Senate, a state governor, the chair or vice of each state party, a distinguished party leader (former presidents, vice presidents, Congressional caucus leaders), and members of the Democratic National Committee for each state.

Any number of party leaders and candidates, etc. have voiced opinions as to which of (a - g) should bind the Super Delegates. Almost always the selection is the one that is most likely to result in their preferred candidate winning the nomination.

There does not seem to be a majority view among Democrats generally as to the basis on which Super Delegates should make their decisions.

In a Newsweek survey conducted in early March, Democrats opined that if neither candidate has enough pledged delegates after all the primaries and caucuses,

  • 43% say that the trailing candidate should concede,
  • 42% think the Super Delegates should decide.
There is also not a consensus among Democrats as to the basis on which the Super Delegates should make their decision if their votes will make the difference.

42% of Democrats believe that the Super Delegates should vote for the candidate who they believe is best qualified. 38% think the supers should vote for the person who leads in popular votes cast. Only 14% think the Supers should go for the candidate who has accumulated the most delegates. [Newsweek 3/5-6/08] Stay tuned.

It is an old story by now, but it is quite unlikely that Democrats in Florida and Michigan will have any say in the selection of the Party's nominee for President.

While the situations in Michigan and Florida are quite different, the net result is the same.

Both states held primaries outside of the designated time periods allowed, and recent efforts to find a way for them to "redo" these elections have come to naught.

No surprise, the Clinton campaign has encouraged "redos" in every way possible, while the Obama campaign has been luke-warm to chilly to the efforts being made in these two states.

The respective positions of the two campaigns make perfectly good sense. Clinton is interested in every opportunity to cut down Obama's net paid delegate lead, and even more important in passing him in the popular vote. Obama's campaign is chilly to the efforts to redo these elections for exactly the same reasons that Clinton is for them. Each campaign is arguing for its self interest.

Well before the convention, decisions will be made that provide for delegations from these two states to be seated. But either the composition of the delegations or limits on their rights to cast ballots in certain circumstances will make certain that they can not affect the outcome of the Presidential contest.

On January 18th Clinton had 190 publicly announced Super Delegates and Obama had 103. Through March 20th, Clinton had 248 Super Delegates, an increase of 30.5% while Obama had 213 Super Delegates, an increase of 106.8%.

If you need proof that nothing is ever simple when it comes to Democratic party Presidential nominee practices and results, consider the question of the size of the popular vote for each of the two candidates.

As generally reported, the popular vote is:

Obama 13,281,132 Clinton 12,577,409 = Obama +703,723

However, 4 states have not reported total participation; Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington, all caucus states. If you add in best estimates of turnout, the total popular vote is

Obama 13,615,216 Clinton 12,801,271 = Obama +813,945

Then if you add in Florida on the grounds that Clinton and Obama were on the ballot, the popular vote is

Obama 13,857,346 Clinton 13,338,395 = Obama +408,951

And finally, if you decide to include Florida and Michigan, which is a real stretch since Obama was not on the ballot, then the popular vote is

Obama 13,857,346 Clinton 13,776,704 = Obama +80,642

Finally, there is the tally of the number of states won by each of the candidates [including Puerto Rico]: Obama 27 states; Clinton 14 states.

That seems simple enough. Well not so fast.

15 of the 27 states that Obama won (55.5% of them) were lost by the Democratic Presidential candidate in 2000 and 2004. 7 of the 14 states that Clinton won (50%) were lost by the Democratic Presidential candidate in those two elections.

The 15 "Republican states" that Obama won have a total of 618 pledged delegates in 2008, of which he won 383, or 62%. The 7 states of similar kind that Clinton won have a total of 556 pledged delegates, of which she won 301 or 54%

It was inevitable that race would be on the table in the fall election. Now it is squarely on the table in the balance of the nominating process.

[The poll that is discussed below was taken after excerpts from Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons hit the airwaves. 3 of the 4 days of polling were conducted before Barack Obama's speech.]

39% of Americans believe that a woman faces more obstacles in Presidential politics today than an African American, and 33% say that an African American faces greater obstacles.

African Americans say that an African American faces greater obstacles than a woman by a margin of 56% to 18%.

59% say the country is ready to elect a woman as President, while 62% say it is ready to elect an African American.

By 42% to 10% respondents said that racism is a more serious problem than sexism today.

35% could recollect someone they know having made a sexist remark in the past few months, while 42% could recollect someone making a racist remark.

While everyone has a favorite pollster, Gallup provides the most continuous public tracking, by a single pollster of the national primary scene. [Gallup uses a rolling 3 day sample with the oldest day of interviews being dropped as a new day's interviews are added.]

Here is what it has reported since February 1st.

  • February 1, Clinton 44% - Obama 41.%
  • February 1-12 Clinton led
  • February 13-19 Obama led
  • February 20-21 Clinton led
  • February 22-24 Obama led
  • February 25 - Clinton and Obama tied
  • February 26-29 Obama led
  • February 29th Obama 49% - Clinton 43%
  • March 1 - Clinton and Obama tied
  • March 2-6 Clinton led
  • March 7-15 Obama led
  • March 16-20 Clinton led
  • March 20 Clinton 48% - Obama 43%

Look for Obama to surprise in Pennsylvania - do better than expected - where Clinton currently leads by a recent average of 16.6 points. Look for Clinton to surprise in North Carolina where Obama currently leads by a recent average of 5.4 points. (3/21)

Obama has a massive voter registration drive going in Philadelphia and Clinton has sent one of her two best operatives to run North Carolina.

One thing about which the Democrats have to be concerned is that the primary contest goes all the way to the convention.

Think about two campaigns continuing to raise large amounts of money for campaigning during the primary period, while also raising money for the general election because they think they can exceed the amount available under the federal system, planning for the general election and operating separate, secret searches for a vice-presidential candidate

The National Journal runs a political insiders poll in which it surveys about 50 Democratic activists and 50 Republican activists.

In the current issue of the Journal, 59% of the Democratic political insiders believe that the Democrats will have a de facto nominee by the end of June. Another 24% believe it will happen sometime in the July/August time frame. Only 9% think the matter will not be settled until the convention.

Mark the Watch down for July 4th.

The Republican Primary

John McCain is the Republican nominee.

McCain has to be given great credit for resurrecting what was a floundering campaign.

It is, however, the case that McCain led in every national poll gauging the Republican contest going back at least to January 2007 with the exception of a six week period (11/14/07 - 1/6/08) when Mike Huckabee was the leader.

McCain is currently enjoying the good fortune of time to continue to build his campaign toward the fall while the Democrats are still fighting with each other.

Interestingly, McCain is still not coming close to raising the amounts of money that either Obama or Clinton are raising. This reality seems to assure that he will opt for public financing in the general election.

The General Election

45% of Americans have a positive view of the Democratic party while 34% have that view of the Republican party. 49% have a negative view of the Republican party while 34% have that view of the Democratic party. [NBC/WSJ 3/08]

The spread between the number of folks who identify themselves as Democrats vs those who identify as Republicans is greater now that it was in 2000 or 2004, according to a series of interviews conducted by the Pew Research Center in the first two months of this year.

While the number of people identifying as Democrats has remained relatively constant, the number of folks identifying as Republicans has fallen. This is the lowest number for Republicans in the 16 years in which Pew has been polling.

Democrats also enjoy an advantage over the Republicans among those Independents who are willing to say how they lean.

Democrat Republican
Today 36% 27%
2004 35% 33%
2000 35% 31%

50% of registered voters would prefer to see a Democrat elected as the next president. 37% would prefer a Republican to continue holding that position. [NBC/WSJ 3/08]

But when it comes to actual matchups between John McCain and Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton the results are much closer.

In the same NBC/WSJ survey which found a 13% point lead for a generic president, Obama leads McCain by 47% to 44%, while Clinton leads McCain by 47% to 45%.

Looking at a 7-poll average in surveys taken between March 10th and 13th. Obama has a 1.4% point lead over McCain and Clinton has a 1.3% point lead over McCain.

47% of registered voters say that President Bush's endorsement of Senator McCain would harm McCain's chance in the general election. This includes about a third of Republicans. [Fox News 3/08]

Of course it goes without saying that candidate matchups, this far ahead of November 4th, mean very, very little.

Of real importance however, is the fact that the last time four foreign born actors won the top prizes from the Academy of Motion Pictures etc, was 1964, which was the best year for the Democrats since WWII. [This vital insight is provided by Peter Hart.]

Remember that initiative that would change the way California's electoral votes would be allocated? You will recall that the state's 55 electoral votes would be apportioned on the basis of Congressional Districts won, with the Statewide plurality or majority winner getting the extra two electoral votes?

Well, happily for Democrats, the proponents have not accumulated sufficient signatures and the appropriate California official "failed" the petition last Friday.

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