HILLARY V OBAMA
Three major factors dominate the Democratic contest: gender, age, and race.
Hillary’s surprising victory in New Hampshire placed gender squarely back at the center of the contest. Women voters were the ones who made the big difference: Hillary carried single women by 16 points and married women by 11, while losing men by 13%.
For the last year, Hillary ran as a kind of androgynous front runner, but now she has re-emerged as the first woman candidate for president. Look forward to hearing more and more about how her candidacy is historical and how her experience as a daughter, sister, wife, and mother will make her a unique president.
Her new focus on seeing the “invisible” people and hearing their voices and their needs strikes just the right tone to develop her gender-based victory coalition in the primaries. No doubt it was carefully poll tested and focus grouped. She is now forcefully stressing the issues that are important to her female constituents, who are generally poor and old. Amid all of the talk about experience vs. change for the last year, Hillary had switched her attention away from her core issues, but now concerns that are important to women and their families are directly back in her sights.
This re-emergence of gender as the key factor in the Democratic contest is the single reason for her incredible comeback in New Hampshire. With at least 55% of the vote cast by women, their voice will be decisive in determining the winner and Hillary is playing them just right.
By the way, we really don’t know what proportion of the New Hampshire vote was actually cast by women. Pollsters always pre-determine how many men and how many women they will interview because women are much more likely to answer the phone than men. Unless you predetermine the correct quota for women, they will end up accounting for two thirds of your sample. So the female turnout may have been very much higher than the pollsters thought, accounting for some of the error in the pre election polls.
While women are coalescing around Hillary, young people have emerged as a decisive electoral force for the first time in American history. And they are overwhelmingly for Obama. (In the 60s, with a 21 year old voting age, they were a strong presence on the streets but not at the polls). Obama carried voters aged 18-24 by 3:1 over Hillary. But, surprisingly, his lead didn’t continue as the voters got older – even by only a few years. Among those 25-29, the race was tied!
And, more importantly, the turnout among 18-24 year olds was twice that of the overall population. 11% of the vote was cast by this age cohort, compared to only 5% by the next highest one – 25-29 year olds.
Obama is generating a youth rebellion, fueled by the rock star excitement and inspiration that his candidacy is generating. And, as the generation least likely to be racially prejudiced, they are backing him in incredible numbers.
Hillary, by contrast, draws most strongly among voters over 50 and particularly among senior citizens.
If Hillary’s grip on female voters falters, age could reassert itself as a key factor in the contest.
It is almost inevitable that African-American voters will now rally to Obama and desert the Clintons in droves. The controversy over the Clintons’ use of the race card is only going to continue to escalate – especially since Bill and Hillary are shamelessly blaming Obama for their questionable remarks.
More and more, Bill and Hillary will suggest that Obama cannot win the general election, leaving the argument that it is because he is black unsaid but understood. This will provoke a greater and greater backlash among blacks and will deliver the black vote to Obama in future contests – and most likely with a huge turnout.
On the strength of the black vote, Rasmussen has Obama 12 ahead in South Carolina.
But Nevada and South Carolina, while pivotal in the still emerging Republican field, count for little in the Democratic contest. The two way race between Obama and Clinton is already set and neither of these early contests will end the process.
But a decisive swing to Obama by blacks, and a high turnout along with it, could be very important in key states like New York and California, which ballot on Super Tuesday and in Florida the week before.
If the Clintons continue their Obama bashing, they risk ever more alienation from black voters and black leaders.
THE DEBATE BETWEEN HILLARY AND OBAMA
The battle of Hillary is largely over. She has survived her storm of fire and overcame it with a win in New Hampshire. Now the battle of Obama has started. On a par with Hillary for the first time as a co-front runner, Obama now will face every negative the Clinton machine can throw at him.
As noted, race will play a key role. The essential Clinton argument will be that Obama cannot win. They will leave voters to conclude that it is his race that makes his victory less likely.
But they will throw at Obama every other negative they can find. They will scour his comments as a constitutional law professor and a community organizer. They will get friendly media outlets to renew questions about his father’s and step-father’s Muslim affiliation. They will get journalists to question the timing of his cocaine use. These articles will ask whether he used or dealt the drug.
All of these negatives will serve a double purpose: They will, of course, discourage people from backing Obama, but they will reinforce the idea that he can’t win making even more defect.
For his part, Obama needs to open up important substantive disagreements with Hillary to weather this firestorm.
The most likely is over Iraq. Her recent statements that she will withdraw from Iraq as soon as is “reasonably” possible opens her up to the charge that she will continue combat missions there. Her comments to the NY Times in March of 2007 suggest that she contemplates keeping troops there to provide logistical, air, training and intelligence support to the Iraqi Army, to keep Iranians out, and to hunt down al Qaeda. These missions will call for a large commitment of manpower. The New York Times cited estimates of 75,000 soldiers. And the presence of a large troop commitment will impel the need to add more to protect them.
Obama needs to pin Hillary down on this issue and set up a clear distinction between them.
Obama should overtly press Edwards to withdraw and endorse him. He should use the North Carolinian’s emphasis on their joint identification with change against the status quo to call on him to consolidate the forces of change behind Obama.
It is might even be a good idea to embrace Edwards as a VP candidate, again!, as part of his withdrawal from the race.
Obama needs to end the division of the anti-Hillary vote in order to stand a chance to prevail. Edwards, who has now fallen far behind in the national polls, can’t be raising much money and may find it necessary to pull out before he becomes a trivial afterthought. The CNN poll of January 9th has Hillary ahead 46-35-15. At 15% of the vote, Edwards is way too far back to score impressively. Even in next door South Carolina, he is only at 15% with Obama in first place at 42% and Hillary at 30%. He needs to pull out.
SO WHO WILL WIN THE DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION?
Too soon to tell. My bet is still Hillary, unfortunately, but Obama could put it together. The key question is: Will Edwards stay in?
RUDY’S MISCALCULATION = MCCAIN SURGE
Rudy Giuliani believed that he could avoid the early primaries and cash in on his star power, jump directly into the Florida primary, and surge to the top of the field. Wrong. He didn’t count on McCain seizing center stage and replacing him in the affection of moderate Republicans and Independents.
The latest www.realclearpolitics.com average in the national polls is: McCain 25%, Huckabee 22%, Giuliani 16%, Romney 14%, Thompson 10%. So Giuiliani’s boycott of the Iowa and New Hampshire contests has led him to swap places with John McCain and totally erase the lead he had built over the Arizonian in 2007. The latest poll is a national sample by Scott Rasmussen, one of the best of the pollsters, which has Rudy even further down the tank: McCain 24%, Huckabee 19%, Romney 16%, Thompson 13%, and Rudy at 9% just above Ron Paul!
And Florida? The numbers there aren’t much better for Giuliani. SurveyUSA, polling on Jan 9-11 (after New Hampshire) has McCain leading with 27% followed by Giuliani with 19%, Huckabee and Romney with 17% each, and Thompson at 8%.
If McCain wins in Michigan, as he did in 2000, his lead over Giuliani could become almost insurmountable.
Why did Giuliani let this state of affairs develop? He correctly judged that his reputation was strong enough so he didn’t have to compete in the tiny states that hold the first contests. But he didn’t realize the extent to which McCain would replace the need for Rudy.
McCain satisfies Republicans who believe national security is the top national priority and who are concerned about nominating a candidate – like Romney, Huckabee, or even Thompson – who has only limited experience with foreign affairs. He also has a broad record embracing campaign finance reform, opposition to tobacco, corporate governance reform, energy independence, curbing earmarks, and fighting global warming.
So the question everyone is asking is: Can Rudy come back? But that’s the wrong question. The right one is: Will McCain stumble? The semi-final contest between Rudy and McCain for the moderate GOP nomination is now in the control of the Arizona Senator. It is now his to lose. Unless he makes a major misstep or betrays his age in one of the debates or has renewed health problems, it is unlikely that Giuliani can come back.
McCain is hard to attack. His POW background arouses instant sympathy if anyone hits him. His identification with the surge in Iraq, and with its success, makes him immune on the issue. A right winger could hit him on his partnership with Kennedy on immigration reform or with Feingold on campaign finance or with Lieberman on global warming, but Rudy would have a hard time mounting such an attack since he holds similar positions on these issues.
Besides, there is evidence that Rudy has spent so much money treading water that, even though he did not fight in New Hampshire, Michigan, or Iowa, he is short of funds. He is laying off some of his staff and not paying others to scrape together enough money to compete in Florida.
Can Rudy surge ahead? He could, but don’t count on it.
AND ON THE GOP RIGHT?
Huckabee’s surge is animated by much more than his base on the Christian right. He is tapping into the votes of Reagan Democrats who value his downscale, populist focus. His tag line in his Michigan ads is classic: “I think voters want a president who reminds them of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off.”
If Huckabee is attracting the social conservatives and Reagan Democrats, Romney (the guy who laid you off) is appealing to the economic conservatives – the Fortune 500, Wall Street traditional base of the Republican Party.
Not since Goldwater faced Rockefeller has there been so dramatic a split in the Party between its upscale and downscale wings. Just as the 1968 divisions between the left and right of the Democratic Party cracked the FDR coalition, the Reagan coalition of tax cutters and social conservatives is fracturing this year.
With Giuliani and McCain winning the votes of those who prioritize national security issues, the Romney v Huckabee division is a battle for the Party’s soul between the bi-coastals and those who live in “fly over country.”
Romney, of course, has the advantage of an unlimited checkbook and, therefore, will never drop out of the race. But he faces a bit of a tag team match in Huckabee and McCain. Huckabee beat Romney in Iowa. McCain beat him in New Hampshire and appears likely to do so in Michigan. Huckabee probably will prevail in South Carolina.
Blocked from victory by the Bobsey Twins, Romney may falter in Florida and on Super Tuesday.
Can McCain satisfy the Wall Street types? Can his brand of conservatism attract enough support from upscale voters to make Romney unnecessary? If McCain succeeds in combining the economic and national security conservatives under his banner, he will win the nomination.
Fred Thompson, at death’s door, made a spirited comeback in
Thursday’s GOP debate in South Carolina. He showed a bounce in the national polls as a result, but he is still nowhere in Michigan or South Carolina, so he faces yet another anemic showing and will probably be forced out of the race unless he can pull off an upset in South Carolina.
SO WHO WILL WIN THE REPUBLICAN NOMINATION?
At this point, it looks like John McCain. Acceptable to social conservatives and economic Republicans and the enthusiastic candidate of national security voters, he is the likely winner.
But, at 71, he is scarcely the candidate to run during the youth revolution that is happening in American politics. Against Hillary, he could get traction, trumping her experience and only a decade older than she is, but against Obama, the generational factor would likely dominate.