Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Poll failure: a boon to Clinton AND Obama?

What's weird about New Hampshire is that Clinton was safely the leader there for months, and by double digits, until right after the Iowa caucuses. Then Obama went from a fourteen point deficit in the New Hampshire polls to something like a four to ten point lead—completely unprecedented. Every major poll had Obama ahead, and even all the campaigns' internal polls—Clinton's included—showed the same thing.

I don't know enough about how polls are taken to explain why this happened. No one seems to know enough, it appears. But from the looks of things, it would appear that Obama got an eleven-point bounce in New Hampshire after Iowa—which is pretty typical. It was probably the sharply increased turnout that made people think that there'd be a colossal break for Obama, but in the end, he got a pretty typical bump there.

I don't know what this means for the next campaigns, but the poll failure gives the impression that Clinton outperformed what's normal instead of seeing a very average dip in her New Hampshire numbers. It's great for Senator Clinton, but only the craziest conspiracy theorist could possibly conclude that her campaign or the media or some entity manufactured this. But it's a fantastic piece of luck for her.

Now Obama needs to move on to Nevada and South Carolina and do well. This hit in New Hampshire might actually help him to manage expectations; after all, if you're seen as inevitable, one or two mistakes could seriously crush you.

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Anecdotal bit about today's poll failure

I remember listening to the NPR commentary leading up to the Iowa caucuses. The Iowans tended to say who their candidates were, or who they were leaning toward, if they were undecided. Then while listening to the New Hampshire coverage this morning, with voter-on-the-street interviews at polling places, the voters would clam up. Sure, some said which candidates they liked, but it was more common to hear them say things like, "I know who my candidate is," or "Oh, I'm deciding between two right now."

For whatever reason, New Hampshire voters seem to prefer to keep such information to themselves, at least on these programs. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that does seem like at least a partial explanation of what could have happened.

All those irregular primary voters probably threw off polling, too. I'd imagine polling works better if you've got a more predictable sample to work with. Regular voters are predictable, but the kind that don't usually bother are probably more difficult to figure out.

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Obama leads delegate count in New Hampshire?

Okay, I'll pull no punches and I'll come right out and make it clear that I am not nor ever have been a Hillary Clinton supporter, fancier or even much of a tolerater of her. However, the TV told me that tonight she won the New Hampshire primary by 3%, more or less, and I believe it, in spite of what all the polls—even Clinton's internals—said. Well done, and I'll see you and your supporters at the next contest.

But apparently Barack Obama has scored 12 delegates from New Hampshire, while Hillary Clinton has 11 (and John Edwards has 4,) according to CNN's Delegate Scorecard. Now sure, a victory's a victory, and I'd rather see Obama have more delegates, but what's the deal here?

It looks like it's a matter of superdelegates, that unknown quantity who float around and attach to whomever they want. That's why although Obama and Clinton each won 9 delegates in today's New Hampshire primary, Obama leads Clinton by one delegate in the state. That does figure, but how many other superdelegates are out there? And can they stay uncommitted until the convention, free to play kingmaker (or queenmaker, as the case may be)? CNN's Delegate Scorecard shows that Clinton is leading in delegates, currently, with 183 to Barack Obama's 78, who's the nearest runner-up. Surely there are more superdelegates out there in the remaining 46 states, so another question is: how many are there, and under what conditions—if any—do they get to make up their minds? Due to the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, Obama has 25 pledged delegates and Clinton has 24, so what are the rules concerning their holding onto those delegates? I mean, when a candidate drops out of the race, what happens to his or her delegates? Do they have to vote for their candidate at the convention? Or do they then become superdelegates themselves?

These things really aren't that simple, as my research is showing me. Nevada's caucuses are coming up and they've got 33 delegates at stake, but winning isn't everything. Eight of those delegates are appointed by party leaders, while the remaining delegates will be uncommitted, and will get to vote at the state party caucus in April, where they have to pledge for somebody.

South Carolina is a little simpler—but not by much. Its 54 delegates are chosen in the primary later this month, except for eight of them, which are determined at the party's May convention. So again winning isn't everything—but it's most of it.

If this proves to be a crazy year where the accumulation of delegates does turn out to matter, then there's going to be a lot of state election rules and regulations we're going to have to keep on top of. Plus we're going to have to keep an eye on those superdelegates, and see where they're leaning. Hillary Clinton's lead in superdelegates is certainly surmountable, much like Howard Dean's lead in superdelegates prior to the 2004 primary season, so it's nothing to sweat over yet. But I'd like to find a superdelegate tracker of some kind. Here's a pretty good list of superdelegates, but it doesn't say if there are any who haven't committed yet.

Winning delegates is very different from winning states, apparently. Winning a state's primary can give you mojo, sure, but some years the number of delegates must actually matter. This could well be one of those years.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The results are in from Dixville Notch

Every election the national media makes a big fuss about it. Their polls open at midnight, all the citizens vote before they go to bed, and there's a national story about this remote mountain hamlet the next morning. I think this started back in the 1950s. Nearby Hart's Location, New Hampshire, with a similar population, also grabs headlines.

These two towns are, as you might well expect, rather conservative, as many small hamlets in the middle of nowhere are. That's why it's a bit surprising that while Obama got 7 votes in Dixville Notch, the Republican candidates got 7 votes *combined*. (2 votes went to John Edwards and one to Bill Richardson.) Conservative Hart's Location saw 16 Republican votes (McCain 6, Huckabee 5, Paul 4, Romney 1) and 13 Democratic votes (Obama 9, Clinton 3, Edwards 1.) Democrats don't normally do so well in these towns. Militant California xenophobe Duncan Hunter put in an appearance in Dixville Notch in the wee small hours, but no one actually voted for him. That's gotta hurt.

Predictions? Well, it looks like Obama's a cinch to win the Democratic nod in New Hampshire. Independents can vote in one primary or another in New Hampshire, and they're flocking to him. Clinton will probably pull a distant second, maybe beating Edwards this time. Richardson might pull double digits, but might not.

The Republicans are trickier to predict this time around. McCain leads the polls right now, but will suffer due to independents breaking for Obama instead of him. Romney will probably narrowly win this over McCain. Ron Paul will pull a surprise third, Huckabee fourth. Giuliani, Thompson, Hunter and Keyes will divide the scraps among themselves, which won't amount to much. A couple of Republicans might drop out at this point, and maybe Richardson, if he doesn't do well.

We'll then see the Republicans fly off to storm Michigan starting Wednesday morning, while the Democrats proceed to divide their time between South Carolina and Nevada.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Romney dominates Wyoming caucuses

Not a big deal. No Republican has campaigned in Wyoming since early December, and only twelve delegates were at stake, anyway.

Willard "Mitt" Romney won eight. Freddie Thompson won three. And the remaining delegate was won by—good lord—Duncan Hunter. He actually won one. What kind of place is this? It's times like these that, as much as I don't like it that Iowa and New Hampshire get too much say in choosing our president, it could be much, much worse.

Wyoming Democrats have their caucus on March 8, I believe.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

The importance of Iowa

Strictly speaking, maybe Iowa isn't so important—it yields up a mere 48 (or thereabouts) convention delegates and a paltry seven electoral votes. But once the nomination is secured, it's still a swing state, a place where Republicans and Democrats are competitive. Between 1988 and 2004, Iowa has gone Republican only once—in 2004—but it was close during all those contests. In the general election, whether a state is large in population or small, candidates will fight to win there if the vote is close. No one who wants to be president will sneer even at a trifling three electoral votes if he can win them.

Hillary Clinton has definite woes with the Iowa caucuses. The mere fact that she hadn't been way out ahead in the polls all along has tarnished her inevitability some, but the fact that she came in third in Iowa finally gives some solid evidence to those who want to make the case that she's not inevitable. She can still win, but she can hardly be called inevitable. And given that she's run her whole campaign as if she were the incumbent, now that she's losing, supporters have to wonder what the reason for her campaign is anymore. She could win in New Hampshire, but if she doesn't, she's in big trouble. She'll still play well enough in New York and New Jersey and maybe Massachusetts and Connecticut—strong Democratic states that are among the 22 holding their primaries on February 5—but that same day we'll also see primaries in Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and Alaska, among others. If she can't show that she can win in different regions of the country, her national viability will really be exposed. I expect California to be a real contest, the single state which has the largest number of delegates and a winner-take-all primary. She could win there, too—but so could Obama. Unless Clinton melts down some time this month, I see a real dogfight in the Golden State.

Perhaps the most unbeatable ticket that could come out of either party right now would be Edwards/Obama, but it doesn't look like Edwards is going to pull it off (and I doubt that Edwards would want to accept another running mate position.) He probably won't do well in New Hampshire (on January 8,) and if he doesn't do well in South Carolina (on January 26,) he's probably cooked. Edwards might be able to eke some support out of the Nevada caucuses (January 19,) where he's got a lot of union support, but Clinton's held a firm lead there for a while, and no one's really bothered to campaign in the Silver State yet. The Democratic Party moved its caucuses to January 19 in order to give the early contests more regional variety, but for some reason, Nevada's been ignored. Maybe it's just habit: people have been thinking of the linear Iowa-New Hampshire-South Carolina train for years. Too bad for Nevada.

Edwards is a native of South Carolina, and it's his native North Carolina's more conservative neighbor, so if he doesn't do well there, it hurts him all the more. Clinton held a lead in South Carolina for a long time, but Obama has eaten into it recently. South Carolina's large population of black Democrats have been moving toward Obama in recent weeks, and yesterday's win in Iowa will probably boost him in the Palmetto State. Edwards will probably stick it out through February 5, when he might do okay in the Oklahoma primary like he did in 2004, but after that, he'll probably drop out. If Hillary Clinton can win enough large states on February 5, she'll stay in. States with primaries after February 5 include Maine, Maryland, Washington, Nebraska, Louisiana, Virginia, Hawaii and the District of Columbia. If someone can maintain a lead in those states, then the March 4 primaries (in Rhode Island, Vermont, Ohio and Texas) won't matter. My hunch is that it'll be over before then, but if it goes to March 4, it probably won't go past March 4.

As to the Republicans: Huckabee would be squashed in the general election, if nominated. He won't play well in the Northeast. Romney won't play well in the South. McCain won't play well among social conservatives and a certain kind of fiscal conservative. Worse for McCain, Obama's rise will siphon independents who would otherwise pull the lever for McCain in the primary states where you can vote for whoever you want despite party affiliation. This is the fruit of the Republicans' pandering to the Christian right for the past thirty years: it's nearly impossible to find a viable candidate who appeals both to the religious conservatives and the starve-the-government libertarians in the Republican Party. This has always been an awkward coalition, and without Ronald Reagan or his two inheritors—the George Bushes—it's awfully hard to hold together. Just ask Bob Dole.

The Ron Paulist cult has been exposed, but it won't make much difference. The Paulists will continue on in their way, and everyone else will continue to be indifferent toward them. Some of the liberals who have been embracing Ron Paul strictly on his anti-war vote might move back to the Democrats and back Obama. There's a lot to be said for being the kind of politician who's interested in reaching out to everyone, as Dr. Paul shows.

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CNN's excellent news coverage

This morning I made some obnoxious crack about CNN preëmpting election coverage because a white woman had gone missing. Then what happens? Someone who happens to be watching CNN at that moment tells me that is reporting on a missing white woman. I certainly don't wish this missing white woman ill—I mean, my mother was a white woman—but man, aren't there more important things to focus on? Like the Iowa caucus results? Pakistan? China? Surely something is going on out there that a citizen would want to keep him or herself informed about. Not to hear CNN tell it, though. Nowadays the most serious thing on that channel is James Earl Jones' voiceover.

If you want to keep in step with the world, you might do better to keep your TV tuned to a different channel. Try Nickelodeon.

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Barack Obama wins the Iowa caucuses

The results are:
Obama 38%
Edwards 30%
Clinton 29%

Obama gave a fine speech after winning, too. Edwards isn't giving up, but I doubt he'll recover. Clinton is in trouble, but I won't count her out quite yet. Dodd, Gravel and Biden have dropped out, so five remain: Obama, Edwards, Clinton, Richardson and Kucinich. God damn, I'm happy to see Obama winning, and happier still to see Clinton in third place.

In the Republican straw poll, Huckabee won. The results:

Huckabee 34%
Romney 25%
Thompson 13%
McCain 13%
Paul 10%
Giuliani 3%

And I forget the rest. Anyway, Evangelicals put the Huckster over the top. Romney will struggle after this. I can't see McCain winning, but this will help him. I still think Romney will win the nomination, but it'll be ugly.

With any luck the Republicans will go to a brokered convention. Newt Gingrich himself promised that if the Republicans had a brokered convention and if they decided to nominate him there, he'd accept the nomination. Ain't he generous?

Clinton in third place. We can all sleep better—for tonight. But this thing ain't over yet.

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