Friday, February 15, 2008

Obama v. Clinton: what happens next?

By all accounts, February has been a very good month for Barack Obama. He needed to at least tie Hillary Clinton on Super Tuesday, which he did. For her part, Clinton, as the effective incumbent and frontrunner, needed to outperform Obama considerably, which she didn't.

This is bad news for Clinton. It didn't help her the following weekend, when primaries and caucuses were held in Washington state, Nebraska, Louisiana, the Virgin Islands and Maine, all of which were won by Obama handily. The vaunted "Potomac Primaries" on February 12 netted solid wins by Obama in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC—outperforming even the Obama campaign's expectations. February 19 sees contests in Wisconsin and Hawaii, which Obama is expected to win. Some say that Clinton has a shot in Wisconsin, if she bothered to campaign there, but she isn't bothering.

March 4 battleground

Clinton isn't bothering with Wisconsin because she's focusing on the March 4 contests. And really, this could be where it's all decided. In all four March 4 states—Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island—Clinton is doing much better than Obama. This makes sense, because her strategy all along has been to focus on the big states (and New Hampshire) while more or less ignoring the small ones. Texas and Ohio are two of the biggest states out there, so Obama's got his work cut out for him.

The psychological effect of winning in Texas and Ohio could bolster the Clinton campaign to keep on fighting until the next big contest—and that might be smart. After the March 4 contests we see the Wyoming caucuses on March 8 and the Mississippi primary on March 11, then there's nothing until the Pennsylvania primary on April 22. That would mean that in those six weeks between March 4 and April 22, Clinton and the media will be talking about who won the last big contests, and if it's her, then that's plenty of free media for a long time.

The primaries, of course, are all about racking up delegates, and that's where Clinton has a problem. Considering how well Obama's been doing, she's going to need to win 57% of the delegates in all the contests going forward in order to blunt his momentum and overtake him in pledged delegates. Even Barack Obama hasn't been doing that well (in most contests, anyway.)

Clinton's leads in Texas and Ohio have been shrinking lately, but she still leads. Obama probably won't get much of a boost from winning Wisconsin and Hawaii; the story that he's cleaning up in relatively smaller states isn't fresh enough to turn many voters' heads. They need to know he can win big states, too. So far, the only big state that he's won has been Illinois, which shouldn't surprise anyone. If Obama wins Texas or Ohio (or both,) then it's a whole new ballgame, and we're going to see the Clinton campaign in panic mode. Running in Texas is no picnic, either: it takes money. Houston, Dallas and San Antonio are three of the most expensive media markets in the country; no other state has more than one of the most expensive media markets in it. And Texas has a total of 23 media markets, from El Paso to Corpus Cristi to Texarkana—that takes cash. Ohio's 11 media markets (none of which make the top ten most expensive list) aren't cheap, either, but they call for time and money, too. Rhode Island and Vermont are relatively cheap to run in and favor Clinton. Neither candidate is even campaigning in these two states, but I wouldn't be surprised if one or both candidates takes a break from Texas and Ohio to drop for a visit to Providence or Burlington.

At two and a half weeks out, I'm not going to dare predict what's going to happen on March 4. I will say that what happens on March 4 is going to predict how the rest of the presidential campaign goes. If Obama wins at least one of the two big states outright, the Clinton campaign will start hemorrhaging staff and losing money. If Obama comes close but doesn't win either Texas or Ohio, it's still on, with Obama looming large in the background, and six more weeks of campaigning until Pennsylvania. (What do you think of that, Punxsutawney Phil?) But if Clinton wins Texas and Ohio by, say, over 10%, she'll have bragging rights and a lot of time to exercise them, possibly getting her campaign back on its feet and winning the nomination for her.

I'll say that Clinton never expected things to turn out this way. Her campaign was predicated on the idea that no other Democrat would last as long or do as well as Obama's been doing. Her focus on the big states could wind up hurting her, which she never saw coming. Clearly that's the case: Clinton campaign manager Mark Penn has dismissed the smaller states that Obama has won, saying that Clinton has won "all the states that matter." I find it hard to believe that Democrats in Washington state, Colorado, Minnesota and Virginia, among others, are okay with being told that they "don't matter." The Clinton campaign has been working on rectifying this misjudgement, though, beefing up staff in post-March 4 places, like Wyoming (March 8) and Puerto Rico (June 7.)

If the election were held today, Clinton would win all four of the March 4 states, those ones on the map up there in yellow. However, the election isn't for over two weeks, and in politics, two weeks is practically an eternity. Either candidate has a decent crack at this, so hold onto your hats.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

February 5 predictions

Take all this with a large grain of salt. The primaries can wind up turning out all kinds of ways. We could well see a candidate emerge on the Republican side tomorrow, and that winner could well be Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). Since most Republican primaries and caucuses are winner-take-all, winning a state gets you all the delegates, which creates a particular dynamic in this race that doesn't favor underdogs.

On the Democratic side, allocation of delegates is proportional, so if you don't win a state but you come in a comfortable second place (or even third,) you still win delegates. So strictly speaking, even in the unlikely event of Obama or Clinton coming in first in every single contest, each would still rack up a number of delegates, keeping the primary contest relevent. However, despite the fact that the number of delegates is what's supposed to count, there's a psychological element to coming in first place, which seems to give a candidate a kind of momentum. One candidate's going to do better than the other tomorrow, and that's going to mean bragging rights and all the glories that come with them. After Super Tuesday, there's a number of primaries occurring throughout the months of February and March that favor Obama:

Feb. 9: Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, Virgin Islands
Feb. 10: Maine
Feb. 12: Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC
Feb. 19: Hawaii, Wisconsin
Mar. 4: Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont
Mar. 8: Wyoming
Mar. 10: American Samoa
Mar. 11: Mississippi

Then there's nothing until the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. If Clinton doesn't do well on Super Tuesday, March 4 is probably her last chance to turn things around. However, I don't think she's going to go down in flames tomorrow, but we'll see.

The rest of the Democratic calendar:

May 3: Guam
May 6: Indiana, North Carolina
May 13: West Virginia
May 20: Kentucky, Oregon
June 3: Montana, South Dakota
June 7: Puerto Rico

Sure, there are more Republican primaries and caucuses scheduled, but I don't think they're going to matter. I'd like to see McCain and Romney and Huckabee continue to bloody each other for as long as possible, but I don't think that's going to happen. But we'll see.

The numbers below are the amounts of delegates each state is worth. The Democrats' numbers are higher because they use a system that calls for more delegates than the Republicans do. For both parties, the total numbers of delegates aren't going to be decided tomorrow, but enough of them will to settle quite a bit for the Democrats and maybe to settle everything for the Republicans. We'll see.

THE DEMOCRATS

Alabama (60)—Obama likely.

Alaska (18)—Most likely Obama, but I can’t find any polling here.

Arizona (67)—Clinton favored; she still leads among Hispanics nationally.

Arkansas (47)—Clinton, the former First Lady of this state, is heavily favored.

California (441)—Obama has pulled ahead in recent polls. Since independents can vote in the Democratic primary in California but not in the Republican primary, they’ll gravitate toward Obama, helping him pull ahead. It’ll still be pretty close, so Clinton and Obama will split the delegates in California anyway.

Colorado (71)—Close, but Obama favored.

Connecticut (60)—Too close to call. Obama’s gained ground here lately, but Connecticut could still go either way.

Delaware (23)—Very little polling here. Delaware’s been getting more attention from Barack and Michelle Obama, so I’d give him the edge here over Clinton.

Georgia (103)—Strong lead for Obama.

Idaho (23)—Deep in the heart of Clinton-hating country, Idaho favors Obama.

Illinois (185)—No one’s even bothering to poll Obama’s home state. He’s heavily favored here.

Kansas (41)—Likely Obama. All the state’s Democratic bigwigs have endorsed him.

Massachusetts (121)—Despite endorsements from Ted Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy and Deval Patrick, Obama still trails Clinton here.

Minnesota (88)—Evenly split. I don’t get a sense for recent movement on the part of either Clinton or Obama here. Minnesota will be a surprise. Conventional wisdom says that Obama will do better in the urban caucuses, while Clinton will do better in the suburban caucuses. Iron Country up north is the wild card here; if they weren’t voting, Clinton might have a safe lead. I’d give Clinton a slight edge in Minnesota.

Missouri (88)—Obama has opened up a lead in Missouri lately. Missouri’s newly elected Senator Claire McCaskill has endorsed him, which probably gives Obama an edge over Clinton.

New Mexico (38)—An endorsement from Governor Bill Richardson could give a boost to either candidate, but he’s not endorsing, so New Mexico’s a mystery. My gut says it’s going for Clinton, but that’s all I got.

New Jersey (127)—A natural Clinton state, it’s surprising that she’s been running dead even with Obama in recent days. I think New Jersey voters will come home, though, and Clinton will win the Garden State. Of course, some polls show a slight Obama lead, while others show a huge Clinton lead. Makes you wonder if there really is a contest in New Jersey in the first place.

New York (281)—No one’s even bothered to poll New York Democrats. Clinton’s got a safe lead here in her home state.

North Dakota (21)—Another part of Clinton-hating country will likely go for Obama. Endorsements from Senator Byron Dorgan and Representative Earl Pomeroy also help.

Oklahoma (47)—Obama’s been improving here, but it still looks better for Clinton.

Tennessee (85)—A very strong preference for Clinton here.

Utah (29)—A very strong preference for Obama here.

Democrats abroad (11)—I have no idea how they’ll vote. I don’t even know how anyone could go about finding out.


THE REPUBLICANS

Alabama (48)—Huckabee and McCain are running close here. Huckabee might win it.

Alaska (29)—Probably McCain, but if there’s going to be a Ron Paul surprise anywhere, this is it.

Arizona (53)—McCain’s a strong favorite in his home state.

Arkansas (34)—Huckabee’s a strong favorite in his home state.

California (173)—Slight edge to Romney here, but I wouldn’t write McCain off. McCain and Romney will probably wind up splitting the California delegates, since California is one of the few states where the delegates can be split in Republican primaries.

Colorado (46)—Edge to Romney here, if only because of a larger Mormon population and more active social conservatives.

Connecticut (30)—Solid McCain lead.

Delaware (18)—Looks like McCain.

Georgia (72)—Slight edge to Romney.

Illinois (70)—Strong McCain.

Massachusetts (43)—Romney can probably count on his “home” state, but McCain’s been surging here, and has actually been campaigning in Massachusetts. It’s probably just an attempt to make people think McCain can win Massachusetts, thus getting people to think that Romney’s vulnerable in a state he should win. The Bush campaign pulled the same trick by campaigning in California during the general election in 2000, but the Gore campaign didn’t take the bait.

Minnesota (41)—Looks like McCain has a pretty solid lead over Huckabee, with Romney trailing.

Missouri (58)—Very tight race; one of the states where Huckabee still has a shot. I think Missouri will go for Romney, though any outcome wouldn’t surprise me.

Montana (25)—I can’t find any good polling. My hunch says Romney, so take that with a large grain of salt.

New Jersey (52)—Strong for McCain.

New York (101)—Also strong for McCain. McCain was already leading Rudy Giuliani here before the mayor dropped out of the race, and Giuliani’s endorsement of McCain only solidified that lead in New York and New Jersey.

North Dakota (26)—Probably Romney.

Oklahoma (41)—Massive lead for McCain.

Tennessee (55)—Huckabee does okay here, but McCain’s leading. However, Romney’s been closing on him, and he might pull off a win. McCain’s favored, though.

Utah (36)—Romney leads solidly in the Mormon center of the universe. McCain and Huckabee aren’t even factors here.

West Virginia (30)—No one’s been polling West Virginia or even talking about it. This one could go to anyone. I’ll call it for McCain, but really, who knows?

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