Both Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi are now voicing the Clinton line that superdelegates should vote their conscience and not just rubber-stamp the pledged delegate outcome. Dean (accurately) states that this is precisely what party rules require. Pelosi previously sounded much more in tune with the Obama, insisting that superdelegates risk an angry uprising if they deviate from the pledged delegate vote.
Did the Clintons “get to” these two? It’s safe to say that neither one wants to step into the role of power broker or risk the wrath of either side. If the race were in the bag for Obama, as many in the media contend, I think you would see a different tone. But with Clinton leading in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, who’s to say that she can’t pull it off? Or that the superdelegates won’t want to consider whether Obama’s base of support has crumbled by June? And superdelegates will, I think, be very concerned if Clinton continues to poll better than Obama in key must win states. Michael Barone’s electoral analysis is rarely wrong. (Meanwhile, the New York Times discovers that Dean is not exactly a problem solver, having taken no active role in trying to resolve the Michigan and Florida delegate fights.)
Unlike Michigan, which is inching toward a resolution of its delegate quandary, Florida is in a bit of a (dare I say it) quagmire. A mail-in re-vote has proved to be a nonstarter, an in-person re-vote is said to be too costly, and Senator Bill Nelson’s backup plan to award half of Florida’s delegates in proportion to the votes cast in January( i.e. Hillary Clinton wins but picks up 19 rather than 38 delegates) has been rejected by the Clinton camp. It is obvious why the latter is unacceptable for Clinton, especially post-Wright controversy: Clinton needs not just delegates, but new victories to demonstrate Barack Obama’s support is melting down.
In the old days, a savvy party chairman would step in and knock heads, but Howard Dean is no Bob Strauss (a point Ruth Marcus made on This Week). Dean’s shown little interest in intervening. And his suggestion that this can all be worked out by the DNC credentials committee would mean the nomination might be left undecided until August, with a gigantic rules fight dominating the Democratic Convention and the summer news.
So for Clinton either a full re-vote (perhaps funded by donors favorable to her campaign) or a quagmire leaves her alive to fight another day. For now the latter seems more likely.
“and so is this campaign” says Hillary Clinton. She’s going “all the way” she says, reeling off a list of states with a little more restraint than Howard Dean. She looks better than she has in days because winning, let’s face it, does wonders for your appearance. She hits the experience drum. Sorry media Obama fans, but the coronation has been cancelled.
The McCain campaign just completed a media call with campaign manager Rick Davis, communications director Jill Hazelbaker, and general counsel Trevor Potter. The admitted purpose and main focus of the call? “Don’t buy that smoke Howard Dean is blowing around on our withdrawal from the matching funds system.” They want the focus and the media to turn its attention back to what they consider a problem for Barack Obama: his attempt to wriggle out of his commitment to take public financing and accept the limitations that go along with it for the general election.
They repeatedly pointed out that Dean did exactly the same thing he now attacks McCain for doing, i.e. applying for and then withdrawing from the matching funds program in the primaries before he received the funds. Potter reiterated that they had a right to withdraw even without a vote from the quorum-less FEC, that they received no funds, and that they never used the matching fund certificates as collateral for loans. As for gaining ballot access in several states based on their application for matching funds, Potter contends that this consideration is not relevant for FEC purposes.
Davis put this in political terms, arguing that “the Democrats panicked” when McCain took Obama up on his offer to accept public financing for the general election and therefore cooked up this issue regarding primary matching funds. Davis declared twice that the McCain camp would “be happy to debate all day” who has broken their word on public financing and whose record of commitment to reform is stronger. (He reviewed some highlights of McCain’s career, including the Abramoff and Boeing investigations and the passage of campaign finance reform laws–which he accomplished over objections from his party and to his political detriment.)
The bottom line: the McCain people recognize they are essentially entering the general election battle and want to prevent Obama (as he did with Hillary Clinton) from stealing the mantle of reformer/change agent. I would expect to hear far more of the McCain camp line that “there is only one candidate” who broke his promise regarding campaign funding.
The Democratic Party has wasted no time in making hay out of the John McCain non-scandal. Here’s an excerpt from Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s fund-raising email sent this morning:
Don’t let John McCain’s team of lobbyists, Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing noise machine, the RNC and their special-interest backers take advantage of John McCain’s most recent ethics scandal — it’s disgusting, and we can’t let them get ahead like this. They’re screaming as loud as they can, and you can send a message right back.
Is Howard Dean really in a position to complain about other people “screaming as loud as they can”? [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDwODbl3muE[/youtub[/youtube]
Republicans worry that Barack Obama will be a more formidable opponent than Hillary Clinton. The latest Fox poll suggests that is so, but that John McCain starts from a very competitive position him. The bad news for Clinton: she is the only one in negative territory on the favorable/unfavorable ratings (she is at 45-51% while Obama is at 54-33% and McCain is statistically no different at 52-33%). McCain would, according to the poll, beat Clinton by 3 points and lose to Obama by 3 points, but those numbers are all within the margin of error.
So the bottom line: Clinton has higher negatives, but McCain is competitive against both. Moreover, McCain gets a higher percentage of his party’s voters than either of his opponents get of their voters, so perhaps the GOP is more enthusiastic about their near-nominee, even before a nudge from the New York Times (or a ham-handed attack from Howard Dean), than the media coverage might suggest.
And a final thought on the New York Times story today: Who says McCain’s coziness with the media didn’t pay off? Aside from the fact he literally is raising money on the Times, the vast majority of the mainstream media, not to mention both liberal and conservative bloggers, took his side or at least were highly critical of the Times. Isn’t that the opposite of what the talk show hosts are saying (i.e. it never pays to cultivate the media)? I doubt any other Republican would have been as effective or adept at beating back a potentially very damaging story in less than 24 hours. (The news cycle pace still stuns me.) One of the other GOP contenders — you know, the mayor — certainly was not.
Dan Gerstein, a former political adviser to Senator Joe Lieberman, had an illuminating column over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal about the demise of John Edwards’s presidential campaign. He described the former North Carolina Senator as “the angry spear carrier of the hard-line left, running on a dark, conspiratorial form of populism,” one of the best characterizations of Edwards I’ve read. Gerstein’s thesis is that the failure of Edwards’s campaign sounds the death knell for the liberal netroots’ influence on our national discussion. It is the end, as he puts it, of the “politics of Kos.”
Would that it were so. While it’s no doubt true that the implosion of the second Edwards presidential candidacy spelled a stunning defeat for the netleft, (which had invested hopes in Edwards from the start and whose rhetoric most matched their own), the netroots have faced seemingly more significant defeats in the past and still overcome them. Howard Dean, whom Gerstein neglects to mention, was the candidate of this constituency. Yet his failure to win the nomination did not prevent his ascension to Democratic National Committee Chairman. Nor did it temper the attitude of the angry left or the emergence of an angry left candidate the next time around. As Charles Krauthammer brilliantly documented last week, Edwards’s campaign was the apotheosis of shamelessness, as the man reversed himself on nearly every significant political issue in order to appeal to the resentful wing of the Democratic Party. “He is angry,” Krauthammer wrote, “embodying the familiar zeal of the convert, ready to immolate anyone who benightedly holds to any revelation other than the zealot’s very latest.” The same could be said of the Kos crowd.
Gerstein trumpets the simultaneous rise of Barack Obama, with his emphasis on reconciliation and unity, as further indication of the death of the angry left. It’s true that Obama never had a warm relationship with the netroots, as my colleague Brad Plumer reports in the current New Republic. This was a wise tactical decision on Obama’s part. But while Obama has certainly appealed to some conservatives with his message of “hope,” he is still a political neophyte whom it’s too early to assume won’t prove Gerstein wrong: last week, he welcomed the endorsement of MoveOn.org (just as much a part of the angry left blogosphere as the Daily Kos). The end of John Edwards’s presidential campaign represents a temporary defeat for the angry left. But it’s premature to conclude that this political temperament has expired.
Fred, it was surely inevitable that Hillary Clinton would have a bad week or two — all candidates do, and she didn’t have even a bad day before her debate appearance two weeks ago, not even with the fundraising scandal swirling around her campaign’s relationship to Norman Hsu. But how bad were these weeks, really?
In one respect, she was weirdly lucky. Her refusal to say that illegal aliens should not receive drivers’ licenses could have had an extraordinarily deleterious impact on her campaign — if she had said it nine or ten months from now at a point at which she would already be the Democratic nominee for president. A Republican challenger could have taken the remark and used it against her in a hundred different ways, none of them good for her. But since she said it in October 2007 and to a very small audience, it won’t have anywhere near the same effectiveness as a weapon against her. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but that can’t be said of negative campaigning.
She may also have been weirdly lucky in that she got into trouble now rather than in December or January. She didn’t get this bad press in the same month as the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, which is what happened with Howard Dean’s meltdown. The media have taken the tale of her woes and used it as a crowbar to pry open the Democratic race to Barack Obama (and, to a lesser extent, John Edwards) with tiny bits of data to bolster the case (a few polls in Iowa showing a three-way tie, which is actually nothing new, and a tightening in New Hampshire down to a dozen points, which still gives her blowout numbers).
But really, the race is still entirely about Hillary and Hillary alone — it’s not about Obama and Edwards in any way except as counterweights to her. Should that persist, she will still win the nomination going away because she will remain the focal point of the election and will seem like a larger and more formidable figure than her rivals because of it.
And the media are fickle. If Mrs. Clinton turns in a good performance in the upcoming candidate debate on Thursday night, the storyline will inevitably change to “Hillary’s Comeback.” Even though she never really left.