About this Blog

RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

HorseRaceBlog Home Page --> April 2008

At Princeton This Week

This week I will be participating in a conference entitled "The American Electoral Process," sponsored by Princeton University's Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. The conference runs from Thursday to Saturday.

I am tentatively schedule to participate in the opening panel of the conference, with Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Thomas Mann, entitled "Overview 2008: Where We've Been and Where We're Going."

The details of the conference can be found here. The program schedule looks very promising, and there are some superb scholars participating.

If you live in the area and find this of interest, I encourage you to check it out.

-Jay Cost

Questions without Answers

There is a continuing conversation about whether Barack Obama can win working class whites in November. Some, such as John Judis, have argued that perhaps he cannot. Like McGovern, he will cede those voters to the Republicans. Others have argued that disaffection with Bush and the GOP will overcome any problems Obama might have with these voters.

So, who is right? I do not know. In fact, I don't think the question can be answered.

Before we get into this, we should probably be more specific. After all, it is wrong to assert that Obama cannot win the white working class. He did exactly that in Wisconsin. His problem has been the white working class in certain geographical reasons. The following graph, provided by Sean Oxendine, tells the tale.

Appalachia.gif

Obama's weakest performances among whites have been in Appalachia, which is traced in solid black. Oxendine has put counties that Obama won in green, counties that Clinton won in blue. Note the expanse of deep, dark blue that moves from Mississippi to New York. This is where Obama has had his greatest problems. This is why Clinton will not drop out next week, even if she loses Indiana. West Virginia comes the week after, and Kentucky the week after that. She's bound to win both, and candidates do not drop out immediately prior to impending victories.

In all likelihood, weak general election performances in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia will not cost Obama the presidency - though he would be the first Democrat ever to win the White House having lost all three. The trouble comes with southern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

To appreciate Obama's potential dilemma, consider the following chart. It examines Clinton's primary victories in the counties of metropolitan Pittsburgh compared to the general election performance of Republican candidates dating back to 1972.

Clinton and the GOP in Pittsburgh.gif

The first thing you'll notice is that the term "Reagan Democrat" is a bit of a misnomer here. In fact, Reagan barely improved over Ford, and his landslide reelection was nothing compared to Nixon's. Aside from Nixon, George W. Bush has performed best in metropolitan Pittsburgh.

Next, notice the wide variability in vote returns. Outside Allegheny County, where the African American vote provides a solid base for the Democrats, we see twenty-point swings in these counties.

Finally, turn to the primary results from last week. Obama did very poorly across the entire metropolitan area. Allegheny County was the sole exception. Interestingly, Fayette County is the poorest county in all of Pennsylvania, and no Pennsylvania county supported Clinton more strongly.

This is what John Judis is worried about. Even if you allocate most of Clinton's voters to Obama in November, he still might face trouble in metropolitan Pittsburgh. It might be that metro Pittsburgh Democrats, by swinging so heavily to Clinton, have indicated that the region as a whole is unimpressed by Obama and will therefore back McCain. Even if strong Democrats support Obama - weak Democrats, Independents, and persuadable Republicans might not.

What happens if counties like Fayette swing against Obama? It depends on how big the swing is. Would it be on the order of 1984, 2004, or (worst case scenario) 1972? Depending on the size of the swing, Pennsylvania could become trouble for him. After all, Obama had problems not just in metro Pittsburgh, but also in the northeast. He lost Lackawanna County by 48 points, and Luzerne County by 50 points. Kerry won both counties in 2004. Obama should pull a big victory out of Philadelphia, but trouble in the northeast and southwest would put more pressure on metro Philly to perform.

Ohio could also be trouble. Bill Clinton won the state in 1996 largely because he won the same counties that gave Obama just 30% of the primary vote. These are the counties that hug the Ohio River Valley in the second, sixth, and eighteenth congressional districts. Again, Obama might be able to improve on Kerry in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus - but trouble in the southeast would put more pressure on these areas.

Obama might also have trouble in Missouri. Oxendine's map does not indicate it, but he was very weak in southern Missouri, especially in the seventh and eighth districts. Many of these counties split their votes in 1996, which is one reason why Bill Clinton won the state twelve years ago.

In all, these results have been so lopsided that people have begun to wonder about Obama. Can he hold the line in these places? If he can't, will that cost him these states, and therefore the presidency itself? Some people see this happening. Some do not. This is what has brought about this discussion. His poor showings in these places is a bit of a puzzle, and has induced a debate.

What I find interesting about the conversation over places like Fayette County is that people from there are not really participating in it, at least on their own terms. Their role in the discussion is mediated by the public opinion survey. They merely answer the questions the pollsters ask them.

So, if you think about it, the voters' ability to influence the conversation is really quite constrained. In a statewide survey of Pennsylvania, you might get three or four residents from Fayette who answer "yes" or "no" to a handful of questions. That's it. No amplification permitted.

This makes me wonder about these competing theories. Just how much do they depend on the theorists, and how much on the voters?

What is more, the candidate in question happens to be black. This further limits the utility of the polls. There has been a heated debate in political science for a quarter century over whether white America has become less racist, or whether its racism has become less transparent. Researchers have found that whites now tend to answer straightforward questions about race in a much less racist way. However, some researchers claim to detect racism in responses to seemingly unrelated questions. Others vehemently disagree. Putting aside the merits of the arguments pro and con, the point is that polls have failed to arbitrate the dispute. Researchers look at the same answers to the same questions, yet see two different opinions.

Those outside the academy have been struggling with similar difficulties as regards the "Bradley Effect." Like so-called "latent racism," the issue hinges on whether public opinion surveys give us a clear read on the thinking of the American voter.

Unfortunately, they probably do not. They are limited, imperfect tools for understanding him - especially on the issue of race. Above all, they tightly restrict his role - and therefore limit his ability to influence our conclusions about him. It is very possible for a researcher or pundit to approach the polls with erroneous preconceived notions, and have the data's ambiguity "validate" the false theory.

The problem is that we are exclusively dependent upon the polls for our understanding of public opinion. Nobody is really going "out there" to interact with average people, to find out what they are thinking. We have the polls, and that is all we have. So, we only know as much as they tell us. When they are silent, ambiguous, or misleading, we are ignorant.

They did not always monopolize our knowledge base. While studying for my qualifying exam in American politics several years ago, one of my favorite reads was a dusty old book called Political Ideology by Robert Lane. Unfortunately, it is no longer part of the canon. I only read it by mistake. My department gave me an outdated reading list to study from, and I read it before the error was corrected. I'm glad I did. It is a fascinating read, not so much for its conclusions, but for its methodology. Lane engaged in detailed, dialectical conversations with a group of fifteen men from "Eastport, USA." His study was certainly not wide, but it was very deep.

For better or worse, public opinion researchers have not embraced Lane's method. Today, research is dependent upon survey data. Academics develop abstract theories of how voters think, and test them via these surveys. While some academics interact with their subjects, this is by no means required for publication. The same goes for analysts outside the academy. Extended, dialectical conversations are not required for opining on the average voter. Instead, the latest readings from Gallup are.

There are good reasons to go with the public opinion survey over Lane's methodology. If I were only going to select one method, I'd select the former without thinking twice. Lane's methodology is simply too subjective. However, the objectivity of the survey comes at a great cost - namely, distance from our subjects. This distance gives the answers to the survey questions ambiguity, and thus an opportunity for subjectivity to weasel its way back in. Ideally, both methods should be employed. The public opinion survey, with its objective and quantifiable answers to specific questions, should be supplemented with extensive conversations with our subjects.

Practically speaking, this kind of methodological pluralism rarely happens - though there are exceptions. Instead, most researchers rely exclusively on the polls. This is a very unfortunate development. It is particularly debilitating when it comes to understanding Obama and Appalachian whites. As should be clear from the discussion of "latent racism" and the "Bradley Effect," polls are particularly unhelpful here. Race is a hard topic to explore from thirty thousand feet, which is essentially what the polls do.

What we need, then, is somebody like Robert Lane. We need an expert who is up-to-date on the latest scholarly research, and who has spent time soaking-and-poking in places like Fayette County to see whether people there are willing to vote for Obama. As far as I know, there is no such expert.

And so, we have no answers, just questions.

-Jay Cost

Obama's Success in Central Pennsylvania

On Wednesday, I offered an initial analysis of the Pennsylvania primary. In it, I argued that Clinton did roughly as well with her core demographic groups in Pennsylvania as she did in Ohio.

Yesterday, I was corresponding with a friend of mine who noted that Clinton's performance among certain groups worsened relative to Ohio, and that she made up the difference because her best groups were more populous.

The most striking instance of this was Clinton's victory among the elderly. Clinton won the elderly by 46 points in Ohio, but by just 26 in Pennsylvania. According to this hypothesis, what made up the gap is that the elderly constituted 14% of the electorate in Ohio, compared to 22% in Pennsylvania. The upshot of this is that if you take Clinton's vote margins in Pennsylvania, apply them to the demographics of Ohio, the latter would have been much closer.

However, there is a catch. Can we take the Pennsylvania results and place them with the Ohio demographics? The validity of that action depends upon how similar the two states are. I argued in March that Ohio could give us a rough estimate of what to expect in Pennsylvania. In a situation such as that, where there is not much data and we have to use what we can find, bringing Ohio into a discussion of Pennsylvania was very useful. However, as noted at the time, there are real limits to this line of analysis. Pennsylvania is a very diverse state. Some places have a lot in common with Ohio. Some places do not.

So, this offers us an interesting analytical question. Did geography play a factor in the Pennsylvania race? More specifically, how close were the results in certain parts of the state to the results in Ohio?

An easy way to test this would be to carve up the exit polls by region to create more detailed cross-tabulations. We'd look not only at how Clinton did among the elderly statewide, but the elderly in the southeast, the southwest, etc. Unfortunately, we cannot do this. We do not have access to this kind of data.

We can approach this in another way, using the countywide vote results. In March, we used linear regression to build a predictive model for countywide Ohio results based on median white income, the percentage of African Americans in a county, and the percentage of residents aged 20 to 24. We can tweak this model to work for Pennsylvania. In fact, we can build a model to explain Pennsylvania and Ohio at the same time. We'll use the three variables mentioned above, plus the percentage of senior citizens among all whites in a county.

Remember that our analytical question is whether voters in certain parts of Pennsylvania behaved like Ohio voters. Accordingly, we'll divide Pennsylvania into five segments: southwest, northwest, central, southeast, and northeast. Our predictive model will include a factor for each of them. The idea behind this is that if Obama did better in a given Pennsylvania region relative to Ohio - controlling for race, income, and age - it will be picked up by one of these variables.

We might expect Obama to have improved relative to Ohio in the southeast. However, this does not appear to have been the case. When we control for race, income, and age, we get roughly the same results in Ohio and southeast Pennsylvania. The same goes for southwest Pennsylvania.

What is significant is the variable that captures counties in central Pennsylvania. This was surprising. The model indicates that, controlling for race, income, and age, Obama performed better in central Pennsylvania than he did in Ohio. Additionally, there is a modest statistical significance to the variables for the northeast and northwest segments of the state. However, when we use a more expansive definition of central Pennsylvania, re-classifying the counties in the northeast and northwest segments that abut the center segment as part of the center, this significance washes away.

What is the upshot of this? Obama did not improve relative to Ohio in Erie, Pittsburgh, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, or even Philadelphia. However, he did improve in the "Middle T" of the state. This improvement was not puny. If we compare a county in Ohio to one in central Pennsylvania with similar racial, income, and age demographics, we should find Clinton's margin to be 7 to 17 points smaller in the Pennsylvania county.

Let's enliven this with a graphical illustration.

First, let's build a simple predictive model of Ohio countywide returns based upon median white income. We know, of course, that other variables are important factors. We just finished building a comprehensive model, after all. However, median white income is the best predictor, and our task here is just to illustrate the point.

This model gives us a line to graph. It looks like this.

Ohio Predictions.gif

The idea here is that we plug in the value of median white income for an Ohio county, and we get a prediction for Clinton's margin of victory in the county.

Next, we place on top of this graph a scatter plot of the counties in each segment of Pennsylvania.* What we are looking for is whether the Pennsylvania observations systematically fall above or below the line. We expect that there will be no systematic pattern for the counties of the southwest, southeast, northwest, or northeast. They will fall above or below the line randomly because each segment of the state behaved roughly similar to Ohio. However, we do expect a systematic difference between this line and central Pennsylvania counties. In particular, we expect the observations to fall systematically below this line because Clinton's margins should be smaller in central Pennsylvania.

Let's check the northeast, northwest, and southeast first.

OH and PA 1.gif

There seems to be no pattern here. The counties in these segments of Pennsylvania do not fall systematically above or below the line. Next, let's check the southwest and the center.

OH and PA 2.gif

Notice how the counties of southwestern Pennsylvania fall very tightly along the line. No part of the state mimicked Ohio more closely than southwest Pennsylvania.

Next, notice the two counties toward the bottom. One of them is Centre County, home to Penn State. The other is Union County, home to Bucknell University. So, the fact that Clinton "underperformed" here should come as no surprise.

Placing them aside, we can notice that the remaining central counties fall systematically below the Ohio prediction line. This means that Clinton's margins in central Pennsylvania were smaller than they "should" have been. This is exactly what we found above. Controlling for race, income, and age, Obama did better in central Pennsylvania than he did in Ohio. We can't say that about any other part of Pennsylvania.

This is not to imply that he did particularly well in central PA. Clinton still won the counties by an average of 25 points. The point is that, if this area were behaving like Ohio or the rest of Pennsylvania, she would have won them by something closer to 33 points.

What might explain this result? It is hard to say, though it is noteworthy that central Pennsylvania is the most Republican part of the state. We have found again and again in this primary season that, outside of the South, white Democrats in heavily Republican areas tend to prefer Obama more than other areas. It is unclear what has caused this trend, but the observations in central Pennsylvania are consistent with it.

Finally, we should note the irony of central Pennsylvania's support of Obama. These are the locations where you can find many of the "small towns" about which Obama was speaking in San Francisco - and yet they seemed to be tilted in his favor. In a certain sense, small town Pennsylvanians preferred Obama more than the rest of the state!

***
Endnotes

[*] We'll display only the counties where the African American population is less than or equal to 10%. The reason for this is that, as the African American population increases, the tightness of the dispersion of the data points decreases. Remember that this is only for the purposes of illustration. Our linear regression model accounted for this perfectly well.

-Jay Cost

A Review of the Pennsylvania Primary

Hillary Clinton won a strong victory yesterday in Pennsylvania. As expected, her voting coalition was quite similar to the one she had in Ohio and in previous non-southern contests. This is another sign that the basic demographic divide separating Obama and Clinton remains in place, some three and a half months after voting began.

The following chart details this by comparing Clinton's performance among the select demographic groups in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

OH and PA Demographics.gif

By and large, we can see why Pennsylvania and Ohio produced similar results in the aggregate. Clinton did roughly as well these groups in both states. Obama, for his part, improved here and there on her best Ohio groups. For instance, he trimmed her lead among white men. However, Clinton minimized this by doing slightly better with some of Obama's best groups - like, for instance, the college educated. Overall, it added up to a roughly similar result. Clinton won Ohio by 10.3%. She won Pennsylvania by 9.4%.

What we see, then, is what we have seen again and again in this contest. Clinton continues to do well with "downscale" whites. Obama does well with "upscale" whites and African Americans. What is intriguing about this result is not just that it is similar to Ohio - but also that it is similar after seven weeks and millions of dollars in campaign expenditures. Clearly, these voting groups are entrenched.

Let's amplify this analysis with a look at how both candidates did in each region of this diverse state.

Clinton Share of PA Vote By Region.gif

These results are as we might have expected. Clinton dominated the western portion of the state - winning Erie in the northwest and Pittsburgh in the southwest. What is more, if you look at the counties in the far southwest corner of the state, you'll see that Clinton's margins were quite lopsided. For instance, Fayette County gave Clinton 78.9% of the vote. This, I think, is an indication of how West Virginia will go. Expect Clinton to win the state overwhelmingly. A 40-point victory does not seem unimaginable to me.

She ran strong in the northeast - winning Scranton and its surroundings. Furthermore, while the chart does not indicate it, Clinton performed extremely well in the "Middle T" of Pennsylvania - the great rural expanse that stretches across the center of the state. Obama only broke her winning streak in Centre County (home to Penn State), neighboring Union County, and Dauphin County (home to Harrisburg).

In the east, Obama ran strong in Philadelphia County, but the two split the five suburban counties. Clinton also won the Lehigh Valley. Additionally, the two split fast-growing York and Lancaster counties in the southeast.

All in all, it was a strong, and generally predictable win for Hillary Clinton. But what does it mean?

We can say the following. If the superdelegates had grown concerned after Ohio about Obama's ability to win lower income whites in the general election - these results will not alleviate their worries. Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Erie all swung decisively for Clinton. If Ohio had them worried, so will these results.

As for whether it will serve Clinton's short-term goal of spinning herself as still having a chance to capture the nomination - that remains to be seen. That will be a matter up to the media, potential Clinton donors, and superdelegates. As of this writing, she was up by 9.4% in the Pennsylvania vote. Whether this is "enough" is not a question I can answer.

Nevertheless, I can say the following. As of this writing, Clinton has netted 216,000 votes from the Keystone State. Last month, when working out my "Predict the Race for Yourself" spreadsheet, I inserted values that seemed to be favorable numbers for Clinton that were also doable. These were not meant as predictions, but rather as an illustration of how Clinton might come back to win at least one valid popular vote count. The number of votes inserted for Pennsylvania was 211,000. I took that to be a reasonably optimistic outcome for her. She basically met that goal last night. This implies that she is "on track" to catch Obama in one of the more valid vote counts. It won't be easy, but she can still do it. If she does, this could be a compelling argument for the superdelegates.

I hope to return later in the week with a more comprehensive analysis of how Pennsylvania voted. Stay tuned!

-Jay Cost

Unconventional Thoughts on the Democratic Primary

A lot of analysis on the Democratic campaign has depended on a few key points that have become the conventional wisdom. While many of them are on the mark, some strike me as incorrect. In what follows, I outline where I think the consensus view is mistaken.

For the good of the party, the Democratic primary battle needs to end. It is providing no benefit whatsoever.

I think the primary battle has actually been quite helpful for the Democrats. It has exposed weaknesses in both campaigns that might not have been identified until October. This has given both an opportunity to strengthen themselves.

Consider a few examples. We have learned that the Clinton organization was plagued by pro-Clinton myopia. Operating under the assumption that she could not lose, it failed to do everything it could to ensure victory. This included small things like mismanaging Bill, to big things like leaving caucus states unorganized. If Clinton had won Iowa and New Hampshire, knocking Obama out, it might not have discovered its myopia until it was too late. Learning in October that its basic assumptions were fundamentally flawed would have been disastrous.

The Obama campaign has learned several important lessons about "elitism." It has learned that Republicans are quite attracted to this idea. This is a good thing. Now it knows how the Republicans will come after him. Furthermore, thanks to last week's debate, it also knows it must have a better response ready for the GOP. Suppose Obama had won Texas and Ohio, knocking Hillary out. Flash forward to the fall debates, when Obama is asked about William Ayers. Not having the benefit of having been asked in April, he gives a tepid answer like the one he actually gave last week. This time, his debate opponent is not Hillary Clinton, whose spouse pardoned members of the Weather Underground, but John McCain, who was in the Hanoi Hilton when they were engaging in terrorism. Obama would have been in much more jeopardy.

The problem is not that the campaign has gone on this long. Rather, it is that there is no obvious terminal point. There will be a point at which the benefits to the campaign are outweighed by the costs. I do not think we are there yet, but we are getting close. The trouble is that there is nothing to stop the race when that point is reached.

Put another way, when does Clinton meet her Waterloo? It probably won't happen today. It probably won't happen on May 7. Even if she loses Indiana and North Carolina, she can still limp to West Virginia the next week and Kentucky the week after that. What's to stop her then? If she can limp to West Virginia and Kentucky, can't she limp to Puerto Rico, and then to Denver? Remember - no candidate who has won as many votes and delegates as Clinton hasn't taken the fight to the convention.

Of course, it is easy to overestimate the likelihood that Denver will be a mess. There are two distinct ways I could see the nomination battle ending, even if Clinton doesn't get knocked out in a specific contest. First, the superdelegates could grow tired of the race and swing Obama's way. In response, Clinton could work to flip them. However, if her endeavors to do so are met with strong assurances that no, in fact, they are not interested in changing their minds - there will be strong pressure on her to drop out.

Second, she could run out of money. This is why many presidential candidates drop out. They can no longer afford to put fuel in the plane. Clinton is not yet at this point. Pundits who frequently mistake the race for cash as a proxy for the race for votes have been hung up on the fact that Obama has outraised her so far this year. This emphasis misses the point. At least as of March, Clinton was raising enough cash to subsist. In fact, she could still put forward a real campaign. Nothing on the level that Obama could, but she could still advertise and do mailers and get-out-the-vote activities.

If this changes, that could be the end for Clinton. And it might change. In the last six weeks, we have had just two primaries. In the next six weeks, we will have eight. It will become more expensive to subsist, let alone put on a real campaign.

This prolonged campaign is damaging the party's prospects by dividing the base.

Any poll you look at will indicate that the Democrats are divided. However, I think these numbers belie the relative ease the nominee will have in stitching the core coalition back together.

According to the American National Elections Study, the last time "strong Democrats" defected in significant numbers was 1984, when 11% went for Reagan. In an election like this one, where the Democrats face better-than-even odds, it is quite unlikely that this will occur. Barring extraordinary circumstances, the two parties are going to pull 95% of their strong partisans. In that case, this election will be determined by the question that has decided all recent ones: who wins that middle chunk of the electorate, the weak partisans and the Independents?

Here's how I think it could work out. Suppose that the nomination battle continues to Denver. It will be messy and divisive. However, when it is over, the general election campaign will begin. McCain will attack Obama or Clinton, and Obama or Clinton will attack McCain. This should unify the Democratic base. Disappointed Democrats will begin to perceive the vast differences between their side's nominee and McCain, and they'll feel affinity for the candidate they currently oppose. The rhetoric will re-activate their partisanship. By November, they'll be ready to go.

That being said, I think the Democrats could suffer some damage if the nomination battle continues to Denver. The problem will involve the nominee's campaign organization, rather than his or her core voting group. I see three potential difficulties.

First, the nominee will have spent the summer angling for the nomination, rather than preparing a general election strategy. A good strategy is going to be harder to develop than it might first appear, given that the Republicans have put forth John McCain. He needs to be tied to the Bush administration - but this will not be as easy as Democrats might think. The guy has a reputation for being a thorn in Bush's side. So, the strategy that links him to Bush has to be a clever one.

Small example. I was watching Hardball last week. Chris Matthews had Joe Biden on. He was critical of McCain, but he couldn't resist complimenting him at several points. As an individual incident, it was pretty trivial - but if Democratic surrogates can't help but say nice things about McCain amidst their attacks, the forcefulness of those attacks is going to be muted.

Second, there are organizational tasks in the swing states that might be delayed because the nominee's campaign is distracted. I'm talking about the little stuff like hiring staff, getting office space and supplies, preparing a get-out-the-vote strategy, etc. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the DNC does not have the funds to make up the difference while Obama and Clinton are wrapping up their nomination fight.

Third, there is the simple matter of fatigue. I'd wager that John McCain is getting more and better sleep than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Over the course of four more months, this could make a major difference - for the candidates and the staffs. Obama seemed a bit drained in last week's debate. How drained will he be if he has to fight Clinton all the way to Labor Day, only to turn around to face McCain?

The only reason this pointless, self-destructive race persists is Hillary Clinton. She's a hyper-ambitious pol who won't do the high-minded thing and drop out.

I have three problems with this argument.

First, while it might be that Clinton is more ambitious than Obama, both of them get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and think to themselves, "I should be the next President of the United States." This makes them more ambitious than 99.999999% of the nation. The difference between them, if there is any at all, is in the barest of degrees. It is certainly not in kind. If the shoe was on the other foot, Obama would probably remain in the race, too.

Second, what exactly are we talking about here? Is it hyper-ambition that is driving Clinton, or is it simple scrappiness? I would submit that it is scrappiness, which is actually kind of admirable.

The Clintons are a scrappy crew, and most Democrats have appreciated this at one point or another in the past. Most were grateful for their scrappiness when the bottom fell out in 1994. In just two years, Bill Clinton went from defending his relevancy to trouncing Bob Dole. That's the thing about the Clintons. They play until the buzzer sounds. If you watch C-Span late at night, as I do, you'll see people crowd around Bill and Hillary after their speeches are over. At least half of the intelligible phrases I hear are, "Thank you!" I think this is what they're thanking them for. The Clintons hang in there. They don't quit.

Third, blaming Clinton just obscures the real problem, which is that the Democrats' nomination rules are socially inefficient. They are not designed to secure the collective good of the party, i.e. maximizing the chances of electoral victory. Instead, they are a hodge-podge of rules designed to satisfy the personal interests of politicians, state governments and parties, and interest groups. Each group gets a slice of the pie; all the while, the party's collective good remains unsecured. Why? Nobody is really in charge of the party.

Take a simple example. Super Tuesday saw 51% of all pledged delegates allocated. This was a bad idea. It greatly enhanced the likelihood that the Democrats would face the problem they currently do: no decisive tiebreaker. It would have been better to hold back several more significant states - California, Massachusetts, etc. - to serve as tiebreakers. In fact, the only reason Pennsylvania can serve as a modest tiebreaker is that the Pennsylvania legislature refused to go along with Rendell's idea to move the primary forward.

This is thanks to the state governments. They saw all of the attention and money that campaigns and media organizations devoted to Iowa and New Hampshire in 2004 - and they wanted a piece of the action. Never mind that these individual choices added up to collective peril for the party. That wasn't their concern, nor should we expect it to have been. It is unreasonable to expect California to submit willingly to a diminished role so that there might be a tiebreaker in case one is needed. Instead, what is necessary is some central agent who could force states to behave in a way consistent with the party's collective good.

Nobody like that exists. Nobody has the power to make sure that the rules are made to give the Democrats the best chance of winning in November. You can thank the party reforms of the 20th century for his. When progressives reformed the plutocratic party system of the 19th century, they chose not to make them wield power responsibly. Instead, they chose to disempower them. The power of the parties, which was once concentrated among the state organizations, was disseminated downwards - to state governments, interests groups, and politicians. The parties retain many of their old functions - like nominating presidential candidates - but they lack the power to ensure that those functions are performed efficiently.

There's nobody approaching a "party boss" these days, and the Democrats are paying the price for his absence.

-Jay Cost

The Pennsylvania Polls Look Familiar...

Over the last few weeks, I have been intrigued by the movement in the Pennsylvania polls. It has had a striking resemblance to how the Ohio polls moved.

To confirm this, I graphed Clinton's lead in the RCP averages of the Pennsylvania and Ohio polls over the 21 days prior to each state's primary. The horizontal axis represents the number of days before the primary. The vertical axis represents Clinton's lead. The blue line is for Pennsylvania; the red line is for Ohio.

Clinton's Lead in PA and OH.gif

Clearly, the polls in both states have behaved similarly. The only significant difference is that Obama closed Clinton's lead much earlier in Pennsylvania than he did in Ohio. He moved to within 10 points 19 days before the Pennsylvania primary. This happened about 12 days before the Ohio primary. Other than this, Clinton's lead in one state has fluctuated almost identically with her lead in the other state.

We can check this via another direction. Let's graph Clinton's performance in Ohio and Pennsylvania against Obama's performance in both states. We'll keep red for Ohio and blue for Pennsylvania. We'll use triangles for Clinton and squares for Obama.

Clinton and Obama in OH and PA.gif

This confirms what the initial graph indicated. Here we see that perhaps Pennsylvanians have been a bit more undecided than Ohioans. However, as of yesterday in Pennsylvania, Clinton and Obama were essentially where they were at that point in the Ohio cycle.

What does this mean moving forward? I have no idea! Clinton could improve relative to Ohio. She could worsen. Yesterday gives us no assured indication of today or tomorrow. But it does put the Pennsylvania race to date in context.

Of course, it should not come as a big surprise that Pennsylvania and Ohio have behaved similarly to date. There are reasons to expect them to move in tandem. For those interested in an in-depth review of the Keystone State primary, I think this analysis I wrote last month is still largely valid. If you haven't read it already, you might find it worth your while.

-Jay Cost

Delegates to Dean: Make Us

Howard Dean was on Wolf Blitzer's show yesterday, and Drudge picked up his admonition to the superdelegates with the splashy headline: "Dean To Delegates: Decide Now." In the interview, Dean says that he wants the superdelegates to begin "voting" now. "We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time," he said. "We've got to know who our nominee is."

Unfortunately for the party, Dean is in no position to tell the superdelegates when to decide. The reason? The chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee carries with it very little political power - certainly not enough to sway superdelegates.

It has been this way for a very long time. Fifty years ago, political scientists thought of the political parties as "truncated pyramids." The idea behind this metaphor is that it was the state parties that were really in charge. The national parties were powerless organization that few paid attention to. In fact, while digging through the scholarly literature on the parties from the 50s and 60s, I could only find two major works on the national committees. One of them is Politics Without Power. In it, Cornelius Cotter and Bernard Hennessy argue that the DNC and RNC were basically ad hoc entities without coherent organizational structures. They were there to be used by the president for his electoral purposes and, when the President was of a different party, to host the national conventions. That's it.

Flash forward to the 1970s. There's a convergence of two trends in electoral politics. First is the rise of television and the mass media campaign. This induced a great need for campaign cash. Second is the imposition of the Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA) of 1972, and the 1974 amendments that limited the amount of money that candidates could collect from individuals. This gave the national parties a new task - legal money laundering. This is their essential function today. All six national party organizations (the two national committees plus the four Hill committees) collect large sums of cash by waving the party banner, and then distribute this money to candidates. The Hill committees help candidates for the House and the Senate. During presidential elections, the national committees primarily help the presidential candidates - which is exactly what John McCain and the RNC are working out right now.

The key word is "help." The consensus among political scientists is that the national parties do not impose some kind of "party will." My research has found that this consensus, while essentially true, is overstated. The national parties do exercise some political power over candidates. However, it is only a modest amount.

Relevant to the issue of the Democratic nomination, there is no formal mechanism for Dean to exercise power over superdelegates. Nor, for that matter, is this a power the DNC chairman has ever typically had. He has not been a party strongman. As noted above, in the days when there were party strongmen, the state parties ruled the roost. They supplied the smoke for the smoke-filled rooms.

Dean, of course, might have some informal power - perhaps thanks to the "50 State Strategy," which has tried to rehabilitate atrophied state parties. Some superdelegates might owe him a favor or two. However, I doubt that this would imply influence over the congressional superdelegates. Furthermore, Dean is a bit of a lame duck. His term is up next year. If the Democrats win the election in November, what we will likely see at the DNC is an adjustment to fit the needs and preferences of the President. This is typical. For instance, David Wilhelm, Clinton's campaign manager, became DNC chair in 1993.

Here we can appreciate how the national committees are still a bit like the powerless organizations that Cotter and Hennessy found. Unlike the Hill committees, they are "captured" by the President for his term in office. This makes it difficult to develop long-range institutional goals, and therefore difficult to exercise real power. Ironically, if the Democrats do win the election in November, that might mean the end of the "50 State Strategy." If President Obama or President Clinton doesn't buy into it, we can be confident that the new chairman will discontinue it.

To understand this nomination battle, we need to adjust our image of the national parties. The best way to think of them is as little more than guidance counselors with bank accounts. The candidates are in charge. Contrary to what Blitzer says in the aforementioned interview, Dean is not the "leader of the Democratic Party." That's a mischaracterization of the role of the DNC and its chairman.

It is instructive to contrast the changes in the parties with the changes in the government. The 20th century saw a federalization of many governmental tasks. Matters previously entrusted to state governments were turned over to the federal government. The parties had a completely different experience. The powers of the state parties were handed over to candidates for office, not to the federal parties. The role of the parties now is essentially to serve the electoral needs of those candidates.

This is why the "Democratic Party" cannot stop this nomination race. There is no party entity with the power to say, "OK, you two. Enough is enough." In keeping with the "candidate control" model of electoral politics, the only two who can stop it are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. That's the modern party system for you. 20th century reformers thought the parties were meddling institutions that corrupted the political process. So, they stripped them of their power. Accordingly, the Democrats are at the mercy of their candidates.

Footnote: if you listen to Dean's interview, he says that some superdelegates have already "voted," and that he wants the rest to "vote" soon. This is not how the superdelegate system works. Dean knows that, and I think what he is trying to do is spin things a little bit. The fact is that the superdelegates have only endorsed candidates so far. They vote in Denver. Not before. What they say today does not necessarily constrain their votes in Denver. So, we should expect that, if the race remains close through the summer, both Obama and Clinton will work to "flip" superdelegates.

-Jay Cost

Obama Takes the Bait

Like many, I thought the questions at last night's debate were tough and sometimes a little small.

That being said, I disagree with the suggestion that this is a new feature to these debates. Hardly. This is par for the course. I recall the debate on October 30, 2007 - hosted by MSNBC - that focused relentlessly on Clinton. When the focus was off Clinton, the questions were weak.

What connects these debates? Both were focused on the frontrunner. In October, Clinton was in the lead. So, she took the heat. Today, Obama is the frontrunner. So, it's his turn. The media being the media, it asks hot questions not about policy - but about the silly campaign soap opera. That's what it does.

Unfortunately, Obama did not help himself. In fact, the hard time he received was partially his fault. There were two critical instances of this.

The first came near the beginning of the debate. After the moderators asked each candidate about the veep slot, Gibson gave Obama an opportunity to clarify his "bitter" comments. He did a good job. He said:

Well, I think there's no doubt that I can see how people were offended. It's not the first time that I've made, you know, a statement that was mangled up. It's not going to be the last.

But let me be very clear about what I meant, because it's something that I've said in public, it's something that I've said in television, which is that people are going through very difficult times right now and we are seeing it all across the country. And that was true even before the current economic hardships that are stemming from the housing crisis. This is the first economic expansion that we just completed in which ordinary people's incomes actually went down, when adjusted for inflation, at the same time as their costs of everything from health care to gas at the pump have skyrocketed.

Good answer.

Gibson then gave it over to Clinton for a response. She hit Obama, but not terribly hard. She said:

I don't believe that my grandfather or my father, or the many people whom I have had the privilege of knowing and meeting across Pennsylvania over many years, cling to religion when Washington is not listening to them. I think that is a fundamental, sort of, misunderstanding of the role of religion and faith in times that are good and times that are bad.

And I similarly don't think that people cling to their traditions, like hunting and guns, either when they are frustrated with the government. I just don't believe that's how people live their lives.

Now, that doesn't mean that people are not frustrated with the government. We have every reason to be frustrated, particularly with this administration.

But I can see why people would be taken aback and offended by the remarks. And I think what's important is that we all listen to one another and we respect one another and we understand the different decisions that people make in life, because we're a stronger country because of that.

Now, let's get real. That's not too hard. I mean, Obama really stepped in it with those "bitter" comments, and he should expect to pay. He should have let this be the last word. Let his people do the serious pushback, but get the debate off this subject. Take this hit - it wasn't that bad! - and just move on.

For their part, Gibson and Stephanopoulos seemed satisfied. They moved on to a tough question for Clinton. Stephanopoulos asked: "Senator Clinton, when Bill Richardson called you to say he was endorsing Barack Obama, you told him that Senator Obama can't win. I'm not going to ask you about that conversation. I know you don't want to talk about it. But a simple yes-or-no question: Do you think Senator Obama can beat John McCain or not?"

Stephanopoulos boxed Clinton in here. Either she says something that she can't say in public, or she looks two-faced. She chose the latter, thus yielding a free point for Obama.

They then turn it over to Obama for a rebuttal, which would have been a great opportunity to talk up his electability. What did he do? He returned to the "bitter" comments. He said:

Let me just pick up on a couple of things that Senator Clinton said, though, because during the course of the last few days, you know, she's said I'm elitist, out of touch, condescending. Let me be absolutely clear. It would be pretty hard for me to be condescending towards people of faith, since I'm a person of faith and have done more than most other campaigns in reaching out specifically to people of faith, and have written about how Democrats make an error when they don't show up and speak directly to people's faith, because I think we can get those votes, and I have in the past. [SNIP]

So the problem that we have in our politics, which is fairly typical, is that you take one person's statement, if it's not properly phrased, and you just beat it to death. And that's what Senator Clinton's been doing over the last four days. And I understand that.

This wasn't a convincing hit. He certainly didn't say anything that he hasn't said many times already. Of course, since he attacked Clinton, Gibson gave her a chance to respond. This was when she really nailed him:

Well, first of all, I want to be very clear. My comments were about your remarks.

And I think that's important, because it wasn't just me responding to them, it was people who heard them, people who felt as though they were aimed at their values, their quality of life, the decisions that they have made.

Ouch.

Obama was hit later on when Gibson went after him for his staff's petty emails about Bosnia. So, his response actually induced two clean counter-punches. The frustrating thing watching this is that his initial response was great. He should have let that be the end of it. Instead, Obama chose not to let this go. Rather than take the hit and move on, he hit back - and he was worse off for it.

This happened again, immediately after this exchange ended. Gibson moved on to ask Obama about Jeremiah Wright.

Senator Obama, since you last debated, you made a significant speech in this building on the subject of race and your former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. And you said subsequent to giving that speech that you never heard him say from the pulpit the kinds of things that so have offended people.

But more than a year ago, you rescinded the invitation to him to attend the event when you announced your candidacy. He was to give the invocation. And according to the reverend, I'm quoting him, you said to him, "You can get kind of rough in sermons. So what we've decided is that it's best for you not to be out there in public." I'm quoting the reverend. But what did you know about his statements that caused you to rescind that invitation?

This was a fair question. Obama, for his part, gave a good response. He didn't answer Gibson's question directly. Instead, he pivoted to a nice discussion of how his campaign is a people's movement. So, two times he did well with the initial response. His problem, once again, came in his follow up.

As per usual, Gibson gave Clinton a chance to respond. But he asked her a tough question about what she said:

There are 8,000 members of Senator Obama's church. And we have heard the inflammatory remarks of Reverend Wright, but so too have we heard testament to many great things that he did. Do you honestly believe that 8,000 people should have gotten up and walked out of that church?

Clinton being Clinton, she wriggled out of this in a single sentence. "I was asked a personal question, Charlie, and I gave a personal answer." Then, Clinton being Clinton, she hit Obama for the Wright thing. It was a good hit - about Wright's post-9/11 comments. It was harder than her first hit on him about "bitter."

Once again, Obama could have responded or moved on. Once again, he chose to respond. I would have chosen to move on. The Wright thing has not done any appreciable damage yet, so why belabor it? For some reason, that's what he chose to do. Gibson, who apparently didn't like that Obama had not answered his initial question, would have none of it. This was the exchange:

SENATOR OBAMA: Well, let me just respond to -- to two things. Absolutely many of these remarks were objectionable. I've already said that I didn't hear them, because I wasn't in church that day. I didn't learn about those statements until much later.

But --

MR. GIBSON: But you did rescind the invitation to him --

SENATOR OBAMA: But that was on -- that was on something entirely different, Charlie. That -- that was on a different statement. And I think that what Senator Clinton referred to was extremely offensive, to me and a lot of people.

This response was poor. It inclines one to ask, "Well - what 'entirely different' remark were you worried enough about to uninvite him?" Not a good exchange for Obama, who continued with a broad point about Wright. Stephanapoulus then asked him a tough-but-trivial question about whether his pastor loves America. By this point Obama was a little dazed. He went on to say that he had "disowned" Wright. Of course, he had done precisely the opposite, but he knows that. He was simply off his game by now.

[Update, 3:40 PM. Upon prompting from an emailer, I took a closer look at the relevant passage, and found that Obama does not actually say he had "disowned" Wright. I thought he had accidentally said that, and had just flubbed it. He didn't. Instead, his sentence was just awkward and his word choice poor. The relevant sentence is, "And, you know, the notion that somehow that the American people are going to be distracted once again by comments not made by me but by somebody who is associated with me, that I have disowned, I think doesn't give the American people enough credit." This is what induced the request for clarification from Gibson, after which Obama stated that he meant the remarks, not the man. The first problem is the choice of word, "disown." The second problem is placing the "I have disowned" clause after "somebody," not after "comments." Both injected some ambiguity, and were thus signs that he was off.]

I would have been, too. By this point, he had taken some serious blows from Clinton and the moderators. But who is to blame? We can, and perhaps should, give Gibson and Stephanopoulos a rough time for hitting him, though it is silly to say that this is unique. The only unique thing about this is that Obama, not Clinton, was taking the shots from the moderators.

What's more, Obama clearly committed some tactical errors here. He chose to get into it with Clinton on both subjects. He had an opportunity to take his lumps and move on - but he refused. And what happened both times? He was hit even harder.

This is Clinton's territory. She's completely comfortable down there in the muck. She even seems to like it. Journalists like it, too. It gives them an opportunity to seem smart and tough. So, unsurprisingly, Clinton, Gibson, and Stephanopoulos were all trying to draw Obama into it. Obama is not comfortable down there, and it showed. His mistake was being tricked into going down there.

Clinton often reminds me a bit of George Foreman. She has one mode in these debates: pound the crap out of everything in her path. You'd think that this would give Obama an opportunity. Like Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle, he could bide his time until she over-extends herself, then nail her. But that didn't happen. Last night, Clinton managed to draw Obama into a slugfest.

For her part, Clinton knew she had gotten the better of Obama, and chose to back off. This was the most incredible moment in the debate. It came after the Ayers exchange. Obama had just responded with the comment that her husband had pardoned some members of the Weather Underground. Then:

MR. GIBSON: And Senator Clinton, I'm getting out of balance in terms of time.

SENATOR CLINTON: I've noticed. (Laughs.)

MR. GIBSON: And you're getting shortchanged here. And so if you want to reply here, fine. If you want to wait, we'll do it in the next half hour.

SENATOR CLINTON: We can wait.

-Jay Cost

What Does "Bitter" Reveal?

The commentary on the few sentences Barack Obama uttered in San Francisco has clustered around two extremes. Roughly half see them as the revelation of his previously secret disregard for the beliefs of the mass public. The rest see them as self-evidently true, even if the words were poorly chosen.

My feeling is that we don't know what he meant. All of this analysis is based on brief, off-the-cuff remarks made behind "closed" doors. It is difficult to tease out a man's inner philosophy from such a slender data set. At best, we can only hope to have a vague sense of the thoughts that inspired the words. So, the quotation has been a bit of a Rorschach test. Commentators have seen what they are inclined to see.

This is one reason why, politically, it was a stupid thing to say. Candidates should not say vague things unless there is an identifiable benefit, like evading a journalist's direct question. Otherwise, clear and concise is the way to go. Vagueness implies interpretation. Interpretation implies discussion. Discussion eats up precious news cycles a week before the Pennsylvania primary.

And, of course, vagueness invites opponents to interpret, and therefore define. This is what we've seen. Clinton smartly chose to put her interpretation in the mouths of ordinary Pennsylvanians - and Obama was forced to respond by using the "boo's" at the Alliance for American Manufacturing meeting as the alternative interpretation. In one sense, this has already been a victory for Clinton. What is Obama spending money and airtime on? His comments in San Francisco! The Obama campaign seems to have learned one lesson from the Kerry/Edwards debacle. It doesn't let accusations go unanswered. However, it has not yet learned the other one. It needs to be more proactive in managing the definition of its candidate.

The other big problem with his comment is that Obama presumed to explain the behavior of the voters he is courting. We might not know for sure exactly how he was explaining them, but we know that he was trying to. This is something that is best left to political scientists, not candidates. They should never speak of voters in any but the most flattering terms. Otherwise, there is a risk of alienating them. When you analyze people, you are signaling that you are separate from them. You are an "other." What is more, nobody likes to feel that they are being analyzed. The analyst can come across as haughty. "Who the hell does he think he is to explain me?"

This is not the first time Obama has done this. His Wright speech sought to explain the behavior of the voters - black and white - he was courting. He really needs to knock this off. It is not the job of the candidate to analyze the voters. His job is to court them, to form a bond with them. He must have them believe that he understands them on their terms, not on some set of abstract principles derived from a book they've never heard of.

This is one reason "Bubba" and "Dubya" have won the last four presidential elections. Nobody ever tied those two to Theodore Adorno.

Of course, Obama did not analyze just any group of voters. He analyzed the ones Democrats need: whites who don't make a lot of money. In 1992, Bill Clinton and Herbert Walker essentially split the white vote. Clinton got 39%, Herbert Walker got 40%. This is all Democrats need. They don't need to win white voters outright. They just need to split them. Flash forward to 2004. Bush beat Kerry among white voters, 58% to 41%, and won a solid victory.

You can tell the same story again and again. When Democrats break even with white voters, they win, as in '60, '64, '76, '92, and '96. When Republicans win them decisively, Democrats lose. This happened in '52, '56, '80, '84, '88, '00, and '04.

So, what Obama really did last week was analyze the group that will swing this election.

I'm beginning to wonder if analysis is a problem for candidate Obama. All candidates have quirky "ticks" that impede them from being perfect campaigners. George W. Bush has a habit of mangling words. John Kerry has a habit of going off script. Al Gore has a slightly condescending tone to his voice. These are all basically knee jerk responses that candidates do without thinking. They don't mean anything by them; they're just "ticks." But they still distract people. Obama might have a knee jerk inclination to analyze. Maybe I'm wrong, but we have seen this happen enough to make me wonder. After all, he did publish an autobiography when he was just 34. Maybe he is an analyst by nature.

In a lot of other contexts, this is a highly desirable trait. But not in this one. He needs to stop this. So does his wife, who should never again tell us that we have a "hole in our souls." If this kind of stuff continues, Clinton and the Republicans might just get that "elite" label to stick.

There is some good news for Obama in all of this. The Pennsylvanians whom Obama was analyzing were mostly going to vote for Clinton, anyway. So, it's unlikely that the comment will damage him on Tuesday. It might cost him a point or two, but that's probably it. Of course, the reason this nomination battle is continuing through Pennsylvania is Obama has failed to woo lower income whites, the same voters he'll need in the fall.

-Jay Cost

Obama, Small Town Whites, and the Super Delegates

Hillary Clinton has not won many news cycles of late. Reverend Wright helped her win a few. Ditto Obama's San Francisco comments. But these are exceptions. By and large, her press has not been good.

When not questioning her memory of Bosnia or her chief strategist's conflicts of interest, people have been asking how Clinton can actually win. Few think she is likely to. Those who give her a chance, such as myself, can only imagine her winning "dirty" in Denver, muscling her way to half-plus-one via the super delegates. No Democrats, aside from Clinton's most ardent supporters, want that. It implies a nominating campaign through the end of August and a debacle on national television.

Of course, there is a group who can stop this from happening - the uncommitted super delegates. If they swung to Obama in large enough numbers, they could effectively kill Clinton's campaign. If 50 or more of them endorsed Obama in a short span of time - Clinton would have a very serious viability problem.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we've read a bunch of stories suggesting that Clinton has a "super delegate problem." But by and large the super delegates haven't budged. Most of those who were undecided in early March are undecided as of today. According to Dem Convention Watch, Clinton had a 97-delegate lead on February 10th. By March 9th, Obama had cut that lead to 39. But since then, despite all of these stories about Clinton having no real chance, Obama has netted just 13 super delegates. As a group, the super delegates have not moved. More than 40% remain uncommitted.

I think this is curious. They surely do not want a bitter convention battle, so why haven't they brought an end to this? I think their reticence has to do with Obama's terrible performance in Ohio. He not only lost, he was roundly defeated - even after his great victories in Wisconsin, Virginia, and Maryland. The nature of his defeat might be giving the super delegates pause.

Specifically, Obama's problem in Ohio was with white voters. Consider the following chart:

Obama's Share of White Voters.gif

As you can see, Obama did worse in Ohio among whites than in these other major states. Again, what is so intriguing about the Ohio result is that it came amidst stories of how Clinton was finished. That curiosity continues. Analysts give Clinton very long odds - but Pennsylvania Democrats haven't hopped aboard Obama's bandwagon.

Unfortunately, the exit polls only tell us so much. Nevertheless, we've seen enough data to know which socioeconomic groups he's having trouble with: rural/small town whites who do not make a lot of money. We can confirm this by looking at the counties in Ohio's sixth congressional district, which makes up most of the Ohio River Valley. This is the premier swing district of the 21st century. Bush won it by 5,000 votes in 2000 and 2004. Obama did horribly there last month, as the following chart details.

Clinton's Performance in OH 06.gif

As you can see, Obama got blown out in the sixth. The only exception is Athens County, where Ohio University is located.

There are several Ohio districts that tell a similar tale. In the west, Obama did quite poorly in the fifth and the eighth. In the northeast, he did poorly in the fourteenth and the seventeenth. He actually did worse in the second and eighteenth than he did in the sixth. What's more, in geographically large congressional districts, you can always find at least a county or two where Clinton beat him by 25 points.

Beyond Ohio, Obama seems to have had this problem again and again, as Sean Oxendine illustrates in this incisive essay. Big wins in places like Virginia and Mississippi often belie a weakness with the same types of voters.

This could be a potential problem for Obama come November, but the reason is not obvious. Democrats should not worry about whether the primary voters who supported Clinton last month will support Obama in November. They probably will. Voting in a primary election is a sign that the voter is a strong partisan, and therefore unlikely to support the opposition in the fall. Nor, for that matter, are they likely to abstain from voting.

Rather, the concern for Democrats is whether Obama's poor performance among white, strongly partisan Democrats is a sign he will be weak among white, persuadable voters. We're talking about weak partisans and Independents. They're the ones who swing elections in Ohio. Obviously, they differ from strong Democrats in terms of partisanship - but they still have many socioeconomic characteristics in common with them. The weak partisans and Indies are the relatives, friends, neighbors and coworkers of the strong Democrats who voted so overwhelmingly for Clinton last month. While the persuadables do not share their strong partisan orientation, they might share the same disinclination to Obama. The strong partisans expressed it in March by voting for Clinton; the weak partisans and Independents might express it in November by voting for McCain.

The operative word here is might. This is only a possibility. Nobody knows whether these primary results are indicative of the general election. To argue they definitely are requires an inferential leap that we simply cannot take. These primary results could signal trouble for Obama in November, but they could just as easily signal nothing at all.

In other words, these primary results only raise the questions. They don't provide the answers. But when we're examining the super delegates, that's exactly the point. These questions might be holding them back. Perhaps they want the nomination battle to continue so they can get some answers. Perhaps what Obama needs to do is simply improve his showing with these voters in other states. That would show the super delegates that, when it comes time for the general election, he can compete in places like Ohio's sixth district.

He'll have plenty of chances - what with Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia all coming up. There are lots of these types of voters for him to win over, and thus lots of chances to show that the Buckeye State was an outlier, that it just takes him longer to catch on with these folks.

This is why his comments in San Francisco were so unfortunate. If they are going to turn off anybody, it's the people we've been discussing. Will they? It is too early to say. We should know in a day or so. If they do, they'll impede his cause in Pennsylvania. He needs to do just one thing in the Keystone State, and it isn't win. He just needs to pull in some respectable numbers among white voters. They don't need to be as good as they were in Wisconsin - just something closer to Maryland and Texas. Failing to do that in Ohio meant that he failed to deliver the knockout blow to Clinton then and there. If he fails again in Pennsylvania, the race will go on. And the longer it goes on, the better chance she has of coming from behind and taking this nomination.

-Jay Cost

What Went Wrong with the Clinton Campaign

With the demotion of Mark Penn, it is appropriate to take stock of the Clinton campaign.

There is no doubt that it has been a poorly run campaign. But what has been so bad about it? We could point to a lackluster message, or Bill's various gaffes over the last three months, or the staff that couldn't stop watching soap operas long enough to pay the bills. There's something to all of these things, but I think they are symptoms of an underlying malady.

As you well know, Obama has a huge lead in pledged delegates. But you might not know that nearly 90% of this lead comes from caucuses. Obama has netted 147 delegates via the caucuses alone.

It need not have been this way. Caucuses have exceedingly low turnout - and so victory depends upon organizational prowess. Clinton was poorly organized in the caucus states, and it cost her. For every caucus state she has lost, Clinton could have found enough supporters in those states to at least tied Obama. This is the case even in states where Obama would win a broad-based primary. In Kansas, for instance, Obama had about 18,000 more caucus supporters than Clinton. Grant that Kansas is a state Obama would win in a primary. Shouldn't Clinton have been able to find 18,000 more people? She received less than 10,000 votes for goodness sake!

Even more amazingly, Obama crushed her in states where Clinton probably would have won or barely lost a primary. Obama netted 15 delegates on her in Colorado. He netted 6 in Maine. I'd put the odds of Clinton winning primaries in those states at no less than 50-50. Clinton won the Texas primary outright, but Obama walked away with 9 more delegates in the caucus. Obama won 26 more delegates than Clinton in Washington state. One week later, he beat Clinton in the Washington state beauty contest by just 4 points. Clinton won a clear plurality of voters in the Nevada entrance poll, but Obama walked away with a net of one delegate.

This is an organizational failure of monumental proportions. There is no other way to put it. The question is why did it happen?

There is no great skill that the Obama campaign possesses that the Clinton campaign lacks. Organizing caucus states still has a lot in common with 19th century politicking. You need a friendly smile, a good handshake, and a sturdy pair of shoes. Obama didn't develop a new way to organize. He just chose to organize while the Clinton campaign chose not to.

The only reason it would choose not to organize is if it did not think it was worth the cost. More than 400 pledged delegates have been allocated through caucuses. So, it wasn't worth it because it was insignificant. Then why didn't her campaign organize? I believe it is because it never thought Obama would mount this kind of challenge. It never thought it would have to scrap for every spare delegate. Instead, it thought the race would be over before Super Tuesday.

In other words, the Clinton campaign did not see Obama coming. It underestimated him.

Of course, much of the Washington press corps didn't see him coming, either. But that's not terribly surprising. Washington is their beat, and many of them don't have a great read on how politics outside the Beltway works. But politicians are different, or at least they should be. They should be in touch with life outside the Beltway, and they should know better than journalists. The Clinton campaign should not have underestimated Obama. There were warning signs that it should have picked up on.

First and foremost, Obama raised a gazillion dollars last year, none of which came from PACs. This was an early warning of many things. First, his campaign operation was going to be awesome. It could basically match Clinton dollar-for-dollar without the benefit of a former President. If it could fundraise that well, the Clinton people should have expected it would campaign that well, too. Second, this was an early indication that Obama was resonating with people out there. Political donors are a miniscule subset of the electorate, but in terms of demographic and socio-economic characteristics they have a lot in common with a broader set of people - namely, upscale voters who can figure prominently in primaries. Unsurprisingly, Obama has been winning upscale voters coast-to-coast.

The media wrongly turned the race for money into a proxy for the race for votes. But the Clinton people should have known better. They should have said, "Holy crap! This guy raised a gazillion dollars! We better get things locked down!" I don't think the Clinton people ever said that. They certainly never got things locked down.

Her campaign also overestimated its own position. Once again, the media did this, too. Journalists looked at the summer and fall polls and bought into the inevitability argument. Again, this is par for the course - many journalists do not know the difference between good polling data and bad. Candidates should know the difference. The Clinton campaign should have known. It should have suspected that those eye-popping leads were merely a consequence of her superior name recognition, which would not hold after Obama unloaded his gazillion dollars. I don't think it suspected this. I don't know how else to explain Penn's snide memos touting Hillary's inevitability.

Why did it make these mistakes? Is it because it doesn't understand electoral politics? Unlikely. After all, Bill won two national campaigns.

I think its mistake was its starting point. It bought the same inevitability line it sold to the press. It began with the assumption that Clinton could not lose the nomination. If you assume this a priori, you will inevitably interpret all of the evidence in a way that reinforces your preconceived notions. It's like adding epicycles. If she cannot lose, there is no reason to worry about Obama's money, no need to anticipate that this might be an early indication of his appeal. If she cannot lose, those summer polls are not mere artifacts of her name recognition; they are critical pieces of evidence that demonstrate how the race is over before it begins. If she cannot lose, there is no need to organize in the caucus states because the race will be over by then.

What we are talking about here is plain old arrogance. I think this is the central mistake of the Clinton campaign. It presumed that the nomination was Clinton's. Not Clinton's to lose. Just Clinton's. Period. As a consequence, it behaved in an unduly confident manner. Mark Penn is to be blamed, for sure. So is Patti Solis Doyle. But so also is the entire upper-echelon of the campaign. Above all, it's Hillary's fault. She's the candidate. She sets the tone.

-Jay Cost

A Bad Choice for Veep

That is how I would characterize the thought of putting Condi Rice on the Republican ticket.

I am sympathetic to the idea that McCain needs a veep candidate to satisfy conservatives. I expect most self-identified Republicans will ultimately vote for him in November, but their enthusiasm would be an asset. It would be good if he can firm them up with his veep choice.

However, McCain should not nominate anybody with strong attachments to the Bush administration.

George Bush's job approval rating is in the cellar. It has been in the cellar for two years, and there seems to me to be no reason to think that it will be anywhere but the cellar come Election Day. This means that the "median voter" - the guy or gal right smack dab in the middle of the electorate who will essentially decide the whole thing - disapproves of George W. Bush. If McCain wants to win this election, this is the person whose vote he must win. And nominating Bush's Secretary of State will hinder, rather than help him with this peron.

I can just imagine the announcement of Condi Rice as the nominee at the GOP convention. The next week, the media will revisit all of the foreign policy controversies of this administration. Democrats will supply them with plenty of handy-dandy sound-bites to populate the airwaves. That will be the week after Labor Day - the traditional start of the campaign. This is not what the Republican Party needs then.

The same goes for pretty much any Bush official - even somebody like Colin Powell. In that case, the media will revisit that speech he gave to the UN on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Does the GOP really want to have another pre-election conversation about those non-existent WMD's?

After all, nominating a Bush official plays against McCain's natural strengths as a general election candidate. He won the nomination in large part because Republicans who disapprove of George W. Bush supported him. The following chart makes that clear:

McCain's Performance in Early Primaries.gif

Voters in the Republican Party upset with Bush tended to prefer McCain to any other candidate. This is thanks to the image that McCain has cultivated over the last eight years. If McCain were to nominate Rice or any Bush Administration official, he would be acting contrary to this image. This would be a mistake. It is upon this image that the GOP's hope depends. The only way to win with an incumbent president at 33% in the polls is to run away from, if not against, that president. Nominating Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell or Rob Portman or any other Bush official would impede that strategy.

Another bad idea when it comes to veep choices is the idea of nominating one of the Republican also-rans. I have heard Thompson, Huckabee, and Romney's names trotted out at varying points. All of these are poor selections. Each candidate this year manifested glaring political weaknesses. Thompson was a lousy campaigner. Huckabee was not a believable fiscal conservative. Romney seemed willing to say anything. McCain himself was weak. Above all, his campaign grossly misread the party's mood on immigration reform last year. Luckily for him, the Senate took that issue up last summer, not last fall.

Unfortunately for McCain, the Republican bench is a little old. The pool of Republican politicians has not been thoroughly refreshed since 1994. That's a long time. If McCain were young and inexperienced, this might be an asset, as the vice-presidential nominee would provide gravitas. But he's old. He needs vigor. That limits his choices considerably. In McCain's perfect world, Jeb Bush would have a different last name. But then again, if he had a different name, he'd probably be the nominee.

-Jay Cost