Commentary Magazine


Topic: North Carolina

And When Is the Pivot to Jobs Coming?

As we are looking for the hidden deals and minefields left in the wake of ObamaCare, it is worth remembering that unemployment – the issue voters care most about — remains at record levels. This report explains:

Unemployment increased in 27 U.S. states in February and dropped in seven, a sign the labor market needs to pick up across more regions to spur consumer spending and sustain the economic recovery.

Mississippi showed the biggest jump in joblessness with a 0.4 percentage point rise to 11.4 percent, according to figures issued today by the Labor Department in Washington. Nationally, unemployment held at 9.7 percent in February for a second month and employers cut fewer jobs than anticipated, figures from the Labor Department showed on March 5.

Today’s report indicates broad-based hiring is yet to develop following the loss of 8.4 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Florida, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina set record levels of joblessness last month.

“Until we see improvement in employment in a fair number of U.S. states, it’s not going to do a heck of a lot for the recovery,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “The worst seems to be over, but there’s a huge amount of work to be done to create jobs. It’s going to be a long, winding road.”

This, after all, was to be the focus of Obama’s term. After the Scott Brown upset, Obama again promised a pivot to jobs. But he’s never delivered. Instead, he has championed a stimulus plan that didn’t save or create millions of jobs and a health-care plan that is already sucking billions of dollars out of employers’ coffers. Will employers — with health-care costs now to swell up and tax hikes due in 2011 — really be expanding payrolls? Unlikely.

It’s not hard to see the campaigns this fall, asking why it was that Obama and the Democratic Congress were busy placing new mandates, taxes, and fines on business while the job picture was still bleak. It will be hard for incumbents to convince voters who have yet to see any benefit from Obama’s big-government liberal agenda and a good deal of pain (e.g., seniors facing Medicare cuts, small businesses looking at tax bites, unemployed workers) that what we need is more of the same.

As we are looking for the hidden deals and minefields left in the wake of ObamaCare, it is worth remembering that unemployment – the issue voters care most about — remains at record levels. This report explains:

Unemployment increased in 27 U.S. states in February and dropped in seven, a sign the labor market needs to pick up across more regions to spur consumer spending and sustain the economic recovery.

Mississippi showed the biggest jump in joblessness with a 0.4 percentage point rise to 11.4 percent, according to figures issued today by the Labor Department in Washington. Nationally, unemployment held at 9.7 percent in February for a second month and employers cut fewer jobs than anticipated, figures from the Labor Department showed on March 5.

Today’s report indicates broad-based hiring is yet to develop following the loss of 8.4 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Florida, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina set record levels of joblessness last month.

“Until we see improvement in employment in a fair number of U.S. states, it’s not going to do a heck of a lot for the recovery,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “The worst seems to be over, but there’s a huge amount of work to be done to create jobs. It’s going to be a long, winding road.”

This, after all, was to be the focus of Obama’s term. After the Scott Brown upset, Obama again promised a pivot to jobs. But he’s never delivered. Instead, he has championed a stimulus plan that didn’t save or create millions of jobs and a health-care plan that is already sucking billions of dollars out of employers’ coffers. Will employers — with health-care costs now to swell up and tax hikes due in 2011 — really be expanding payrolls? Unlikely.

It’s not hard to see the campaigns this fall, asking why it was that Obama and the Democratic Congress were busy placing new mandates, taxes, and fines on business while the job picture was still bleak. It will be hard for incumbents to convince voters who have yet to see any benefit from Obama’s big-government liberal agenda and a good deal of pain (e.g., seniors facing Medicare cuts, small businesses looking at tax bites, unemployed workers) that what we need is more of the same.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What does French President Nicolas Sarakozy really think of Obama? “Obama has been in power for a year, and he has already lost three special elections. Me, I have won two legislative elections and the EU election. What can one say I’ve lost?” And as relayed by an adviser, Sarko seems to think Obama is “a charmer, a conciliator, but I am not sure that he’s a strong leader.”

Jamie Fly reports that his Israeli cabbie similarly told him: “‘With him, everything is opposite’ of what it should be and scoffed about his Nobel Peace Prize (given that he had done nothing actually to achieve peace).”

On the jobs number: “The U.S. unemployment rate unexpectedly declined in January, but the economy continued to shed jobs and revisions painted a bleaker picture for 2009, casting doubt over the labor market’s strength.The unemployment rate, calculated using a household survey, fell to 9.7% last month from an unrevised 10% in December, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast the jobless rate would edge higher to 10.1%. Meantime, non-farm payrolls fell by 20,000 compared with a revised 150,000 decline in December.”

Here’s one way of looking at it: “‘Things are getting bad less rapidly,’ said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. ‘We’re sort of hitting bottom, but there is no evidence of a robust turnaround.’”

And when the 1.1 million of “discouraged job seekers” return to the workforce? “Many economists expect the jobless rate to creep higher in the months ahead as workers who had given up looking for a job out of frustration return to the labor force.” Bottom line: 15 million Americans are unemployed.

What’s the matter with Harry? “Harry Reid may soon have one more Republican opponent in Nevada’s race for the U.S. Senate, and his numbers remain in troublesome territory for an incumbent. Reid, like a number of Democratic Senate incumbents, appears to be suffering from voter unhappiness over the national health care plan and the continuing bad state of the economy.”

You can’t say Illinois politics isn’t colorful: “The Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias is trailing Republican Mark Kirk in opinion polls ahead of November’s election in which Republicans are aiming to erase Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. . . . Republicans are spotlighting the soured real estate portfolio at the Giannoulias family’s Broadway Bank, including loans to Michael ‘Jaws’ Giorango, a convicted prostitution ring operator. Broadway Bank was recently ordered by government regulators to raise additional capital — after Giannoulias received his share of $70 million in proceeds following his father’s death.”

What a difference a year makes: “There were seven states that Barack Obama won where his approval has slipped below 56%. Three of them are pretty darn predictable — North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio — all of which saw extremely close races in 2008. Another three of them though are Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada which Obama won by commanding margins of anywhere from 9-15 points. . . . The seventh state Obama won where he’s under 56% is New Hampshire, which may help to explain why Paul Hodes is having so much trouble.”

Speculation is starting already as to whether Obama will dump Joe Biden in 2012.

It seems as though “activists and liberal Mideast policy groups” don’t like the idea of Rep. Mark Kirk getting to the U.S. Senate, given his pro-Israel voting record.” You can understand that these groups wouldn’t want someone who was the “driving force behind a host of legislative efforts to sanction Iran (he’s the founder of of the Iran Working Group),” a vocal critic of the UN, and an opponent of Chas Freeman.

What does French President Nicolas Sarakozy really think of Obama? “Obama has been in power for a year, and he has already lost three special elections. Me, I have won two legislative elections and the EU election. What can one say I’ve lost?” And as relayed by an adviser, Sarko seems to think Obama is “a charmer, a conciliator, but I am not sure that he’s a strong leader.”

Jamie Fly reports that his Israeli cabbie similarly told him: “‘With him, everything is opposite’ of what it should be and scoffed about his Nobel Peace Prize (given that he had done nothing actually to achieve peace).”

On the jobs number: “The U.S. unemployment rate unexpectedly declined in January, but the economy continued to shed jobs and revisions painted a bleaker picture for 2009, casting doubt over the labor market’s strength.The unemployment rate, calculated using a household survey, fell to 9.7% last month from an unrevised 10% in December, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast the jobless rate would edge higher to 10.1%. Meantime, non-farm payrolls fell by 20,000 compared with a revised 150,000 decline in December.”

Here’s one way of looking at it: “‘Things are getting bad less rapidly,’ said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. ‘We’re sort of hitting bottom, but there is no evidence of a robust turnaround.’”

And when the 1.1 million of “discouraged job seekers” return to the workforce? “Many economists expect the jobless rate to creep higher in the months ahead as workers who had given up looking for a job out of frustration return to the labor force.” Bottom line: 15 million Americans are unemployed.

What’s the matter with Harry? “Harry Reid may soon have one more Republican opponent in Nevada’s race for the U.S. Senate, and his numbers remain in troublesome territory for an incumbent. Reid, like a number of Democratic Senate incumbents, appears to be suffering from voter unhappiness over the national health care plan and the continuing bad state of the economy.”

You can’t say Illinois politics isn’t colorful: “The Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias is trailing Republican Mark Kirk in opinion polls ahead of November’s election in which Republicans are aiming to erase Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. . . . Republicans are spotlighting the soured real estate portfolio at the Giannoulias family’s Broadway Bank, including loans to Michael ‘Jaws’ Giorango, a convicted prostitution ring operator. Broadway Bank was recently ordered by government regulators to raise additional capital — after Giannoulias received his share of $70 million in proceeds following his father’s death.”

What a difference a year makes: “There were seven states that Barack Obama won where his approval has slipped below 56%. Three of them are pretty darn predictable — North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio — all of which saw extremely close races in 2008. Another three of them though are Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada which Obama won by commanding margins of anywhere from 9-15 points. . . . The seventh state Obama won where he’s under 56% is New Hampshire, which may help to explain why Paul Hodes is having so much trouble.”

Speculation is starting already as to whether Obama will dump Joe Biden in 2012.

It seems as though “activists and liberal Mideast policy groups” don’t like the idea of Rep. Mark Kirk getting to the U.S. Senate, given his pro-Israel voting record.” You can understand that these groups wouldn’t want someone who was the “driving force behind a host of legislative efforts to sanction Iran (he’s the founder of of the Iran Working Group),” a vocal critic of the UN, and an opponent of Chas Freeman.

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? A Reasonable Compromise

I am hard-pressed to see why President Obama feels compelled to revisit the issue of gays in the military now. At the same time I am open to revising the policy — as are, I believe, many in service personnel, including some who supported the ban on gays when President Clinton first tried to lift it almost two decades ago. There are no good measurements of what service personnel are thinking but public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue. In 1993 only 43% favored lifting the ban on gays; now, according to Gallup, it’s 69% (including 58% of Republicans).

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates are taking a reasonable step by announcing “that the military will no longer aggressively pursue disciplinary action against gay service members whose orientation is revealed against their will by third parties.” How much further the gay-rights policy should go is unclear. The key issue is not simply a matter of gay rights but also of military efficiency. To what extent would the good order of our armed services be upset by allowing gays to serve more openly than they currently do? In most situations I don’t believe doing so would be disruptive. It is certainly silly to be discharging Arabic linguists sitting in some Washington office just because they happen to be gay.

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

I am hard-pressed to see why President Obama feels compelled to revisit the issue of gays in the military now. At the same time I am open to revising the policy — as are, I believe, many in service personnel, including some who supported the ban on gays when President Clinton first tried to lift it almost two decades ago. There are no good measurements of what service personnel are thinking but public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue. In 1993 only 43% favored lifting the ban on gays; now, according to Gallup, it’s 69% (including 58% of Republicans).

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates are taking a reasonable step by announcing “that the military will no longer aggressively pursue disciplinary action against gay service members whose orientation is revealed against their will by third parties.” How much further the gay-rights policy should go is unclear. The key issue is not simply a matter of gay rights but also of military efficiency. To what extent would the good order of our armed services be upset by allowing gays to serve more openly than they currently do? In most situations I don’t believe doing so would be disruptive. It is certainly silly to be discharging Arabic linguists sitting in some Washington office just because they happen to be gay.

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

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Where Do The Votes Come From?

John, one lingering question from tonight: how can Barack Obama redraw the map? If West Vriginia and Kentucky are out and Ohio and Pennsylvania look shaky, he is going to have to rely on other states to get to 270 electoral votes in November. My state of Virginia, which Obama won big eons ago (February it was, but it seems like the 1970′s), was supposed to be one state he could pick up. But now comes the Commonwealth Poll showing John McCain leading Obama by 8 points with these tidbits:

McCain holds a strong lead in the more rural areas of the state including the northwest and western areas and a 9‐point lead in the Tidewater area. In vote‐rich Northern Virginia, Obama has a slight edge over McCain (41% to 36%). Obama also leads by 43% to 39% for McCain in the south central area, a region which includes Richmond. . . McCain garners 44% to Obama’s 34% among independents who are registered to vote. Registered Republicans support McCain over Obama by a wide margin; 81% for McCain to just 6% for Obama. Older voters, ages 65 and older, also show strong support for McCain. Among registered voters under age 65, nearly equal portions side with each candidate. Registered Democrats strongly support Obama (71%) over McCain (14%) in the general election. As expected, Obama has the support of nearly all African‐Americans in the state.

Ah, but the South (south of Virginia, which is really not the South) – what about all those primary voters Obama turned out there? There frankly just aren’t enough Democrats. Remember North Carolina? McCain is leading comfortably there too.

So it may be too late for Hillary Clinton, but the electoral road is looking quite a bit rockier for Obama than it did two months ago. And I’m still searching for the state(s) which voted for George W. Bush in 2004 which Obama can flip to him.

John, one lingering question from tonight: how can Barack Obama redraw the map? If West Vriginia and Kentucky are out and Ohio and Pennsylvania look shaky, he is going to have to rely on other states to get to 270 electoral votes in November. My state of Virginia, which Obama won big eons ago (February it was, but it seems like the 1970′s), was supposed to be one state he could pick up. But now comes the Commonwealth Poll showing John McCain leading Obama by 8 points with these tidbits:

McCain holds a strong lead in the more rural areas of the state including the northwest and western areas and a 9‐point lead in the Tidewater area. In vote‐rich Northern Virginia, Obama has a slight edge over McCain (41% to 36%). Obama also leads by 43% to 39% for McCain in the south central area, a region which includes Richmond. . . McCain garners 44% to Obama’s 34% among independents who are registered to vote. Registered Republicans support McCain over Obama by a wide margin; 81% for McCain to just 6% for Obama. Older voters, ages 65 and older, also show strong support for McCain. Among registered voters under age 65, nearly equal portions side with each candidate. Registered Democrats strongly support Obama (71%) over McCain (14%) in the general election. As expected, Obama has the support of nearly all African‐Americans in the state.

Ah, but the South (south of Virginia, which is really not the South) – what about all those primary voters Obama turned out there? There frankly just aren’t enough Democrats. Remember North Carolina? McCain is leading comfortably there too.

So it may be too late for Hillary Clinton, but the electoral road is looking quite a bit rockier for Obama than it did two months ago. And I’m still searching for the state(s) which voted for George W. Bush in 2004 which Obama can flip to him.

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The Times Gets the South Wrong

Could the key to a Democratic victory in November be found south of the Mason-Dixon line? The New York Times suggests so. Touting a surge in black turnout for Barack Obama, The Times points to Tuesday’s special election in Mississippi’s 1st District, where Democrat Travis Childers won a seat that had been held by Republicans since 1995, despite efforts to tie him to Obama. According to The Times, turnout in black precincts rose-in one case doubling-while voting dropped by nearly half in nearby white districts.

But blacks already represent a larger share of voters than their proportion of the population in some key states in the South, which has not helped Democrats much to date. In 2004, blacks in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina made up a bigger share of the electorate than they did the population eligible to vote, but those states went comfortably to George Bush.

The Times seems to miss the point that primary turnout isn’t a good predictor of what will happen in the fall. Democrats almost always hold an advantage in primary turnout over Republicans, but in only two of the last nine presidential elections where Democratic primary turnout exceeded that of Republicans did the Democrat actually win. As for the surge in black registration and turnout, we’ve been seeing a steady trend in this direction for years, but blacks still lag behind whites in voter turnout overall. A Black Southern Strategy won’t solve the Democrats’ major problem, which is their inability to attract enough white voters, especially working class white men, who have shown little affinity for Obama.

Could the key to a Democratic victory in November be found south of the Mason-Dixon line? The New York Times suggests so. Touting a surge in black turnout for Barack Obama, The Times points to Tuesday’s special election in Mississippi’s 1st District, where Democrat Travis Childers won a seat that had been held by Republicans since 1995, despite efforts to tie him to Obama. According to The Times, turnout in black precincts rose-in one case doubling-while voting dropped by nearly half in nearby white districts.

But blacks already represent a larger share of voters than their proportion of the population in some key states in the South, which has not helped Democrats much to date. In 2004, blacks in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina made up a bigger share of the electorate than they did the population eligible to vote, but those states went comfortably to George Bush.

The Times seems to miss the point that primary turnout isn’t a good predictor of what will happen in the fall. Democrats almost always hold an advantage in primary turnout over Republicans, but in only two of the last nine presidential elections where Democratic primary turnout exceeded that of Republicans did the Democrat actually win. As for the surge in black registration and turnout, we’ve been seeing a steady trend in this direction for years, but blacks still lag behind whites in voter turnout overall. A Black Southern Strategy won’t solve the Democrats’ major problem, which is their inability to attract enough white voters, especially working class white men, who have shown little affinity for Obama.

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Obama’s Map

I agree with Jennifer that if Obama cannot win Florida – and the high percentage of retired military there would seem to make his inability to win there a certainty – the electoral college map is much more difficult for him. To beat McCain without Florida, Obama needs to win the states that Bush won in 2004 by a margin of fewer than 5 points. Yet that turns out to be most of the places where Obama has had problems with his own party, like Ohio — or New Mexico, Nevada, and Missouri, where he essentially split the vote with Clinton. He also needs to worry about protecting those states that Kerry won in ’04 by small margins: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, or Michigan, which haven’t exactly been hothouses of Obamamania. True, Obama has pickup opportunities in Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, and Nevada. But all the math suggests this could be a close race that tosses out a lot of the old red/blue assumptions.

Whatever your conclusion, it should be clear to serious students of the electoral college that the presidential race is really focused on about ten battleground states. The fact that Obama had a huge win in North Carolina is essentially irrelevant in November, something that Newsweek, “Good Morning America,” et al. never seem to get.

I agree with Jennifer that if Obama cannot win Florida – and the high percentage of retired military there would seem to make his inability to win there a certainty – the electoral college map is much more difficult for him. To beat McCain without Florida, Obama needs to win the states that Bush won in 2004 by a margin of fewer than 5 points. Yet that turns out to be most of the places where Obama has had problems with his own party, like Ohio — or New Mexico, Nevada, and Missouri, where he essentially split the vote with Clinton. He also needs to worry about protecting those states that Kerry won in ’04 by small margins: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, or Michigan, which haven’t exactly been hothouses of Obamamania. True, Obama has pickup opportunities in Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, and Nevada. But all the math suggests this could be a close race that tosses out a lot of the old red/blue assumptions.

Whatever your conclusion, it should be clear to serious students of the electoral college that the presidential race is really focused on about ten battleground states. The fact that Obama had a huge win in North Carolina is essentially irrelevant in November, something that Newsweek, “Good Morning America,” et al. never seem to get.

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But It’s True!

Peggy Noonan joins the long list of horrified Democrats deploring Hillary Clinton’s comments that she has a base of support among white voters and Barack Obama does not. Yes, I agree it was surprising that she said it. But her saying it isn’t the problem. Indeed, Paul Krugman wrote the same thing:

There’s just one thing that should give Democrats pause — but it’s a big one: the fight for the nomination has divided the party along class and race lines in a way that I believe is unprecedented, at least in modern times.Ironically, much of Mr. Obama’s initial appeal was the hope that he could transcend these divisions. At first, voting patterns seemed consistent with this hope. In February, for example, he received the support of half of Virginia’s white voters as well as that of a huge majority of African-Americans. But this week, Mr. Obama, while continuing to win huge African-American majorities, lost North Carolina whites by 23 points, Indiana whites by 22 points. Mr. Obama’s white support continues to be concentrated among the highly educated; there was little in Tuesday’s results to suggest that his problems with working-class whites have significantly diminished.

Clinton’s comment is not quite like the 3 a.m. ad: John McCain can’t turn around and run ads saying “Even Hillary says white voters don’t support Obama.” She didn’t give the Republicans some rhetorical advantage. She was caught remarking on a very unpleasant and troubling question for Democrats. It’s the key question for the fall: what kind of coalition can Obama put together?

If it’s the McGovern-like grab bag of African Americans, ultra-liberals, and young voters, he’ll lose, and maybe even in some states Democrats have traditionally counted in the their column (e.g. Pennsylvania). If he inherits the blue-collar voters from Clinton, sprints to the center and successfully re-runs the 2006 election (“throw the bums out!”) he’ll win. But as disagreeable and annoying as Clinton may be to the Democratic establishment and mainstream media, this potential for electoral polarization and defeat is not Clinton’s doing. She just reminded them of their worst fears. How dare she.

Peggy Noonan joins the long list of horrified Democrats deploring Hillary Clinton’s comments that she has a base of support among white voters and Barack Obama does not. Yes, I agree it was surprising that she said it. But her saying it isn’t the problem. Indeed, Paul Krugman wrote the same thing:

There’s just one thing that should give Democrats pause — but it’s a big one: the fight for the nomination has divided the party along class and race lines in a way that I believe is unprecedented, at least in modern times.Ironically, much of Mr. Obama’s initial appeal was the hope that he could transcend these divisions. At first, voting patterns seemed consistent with this hope. In February, for example, he received the support of half of Virginia’s white voters as well as that of a huge majority of African-Americans. But this week, Mr. Obama, while continuing to win huge African-American majorities, lost North Carolina whites by 23 points, Indiana whites by 22 points. Mr. Obama’s white support continues to be concentrated among the highly educated; there was little in Tuesday’s results to suggest that his problems with working-class whites have significantly diminished.

Clinton’s comment is not quite like the 3 a.m. ad: John McCain can’t turn around and run ads saying “Even Hillary says white voters don’t support Obama.” She didn’t give the Republicans some rhetorical advantage. She was caught remarking on a very unpleasant and troubling question for Democrats. It’s the key question for the fall: what kind of coalition can Obama put together?

If it’s the McGovern-like grab bag of African Americans, ultra-liberals, and young voters, he’ll lose, and maybe even in some states Democrats have traditionally counted in the their column (e.g. Pennsylvania). If he inherits the blue-collar voters from Clinton, sprints to the center and successfully re-runs the 2006 election (“throw the bums out!”) he’ll win. But as disagreeable and annoying as Clinton may be to the Democratic establishment and mainstream media, this potential for electoral polarization and defeat is not Clinton’s doing. She just reminded them of their worst fears. How dare she.

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Shuler Misses

Congressman Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a former NFL quarterback, has just backed Hillary Clinton.  This means that Shuler is about as good at picking his endorsements as he was at finding his receivers.

Congressman Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a former NFL quarterback, has just backed Hillary Clinton.  This means that Shuler is about as good at picking his endorsements as he was at finding his receivers.

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Some Thoughts on Last Night

1. Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. That was clear before yesterday; absent a complete and unforeseen disaster, it’s a certainty now. Democratic superdelegates will soon begin to break in large numbers for Obama. They have been wanting to do so for some time now; what they needed was a plausible trigger to justify publicly supporting Obama. Last night they got it. Yesterday in the voting booths of North Carolina, the last dog died.

The Clintons have done a lot of damage to our politics over the years, something which Obama tapped into with great skill. They have destroyed a lot of folks who they viewed as obstacles to their power, and so it’s good, very good, that they will not be returning to the White House.

2. Whether Hillary Clinton withdraws or not is a far less important question than it was 48 hours ago. She may formally continue in the race, but as last night’s speeches made clear, the rhetorical swords will be sheathed. And there will be a lot of energy spent in the next several days negotiating a graceful exit for Hillary and Bill Clinton. That may not be easy. Many adjectives apply to the Clintons. Graceful is not one of them.

3. Democrats will begin to rally around Obama and, once Hillarydrops out of the race, he will take a large, perhaps even a commanding, lead over John McCain. In the last month there has been some talk among Republicans that Obama will be an exceptionally weak candidate, on the order of a Dukakis (loser of 40 states), Mondale (loser of 49 states), and McGovern (loser of 49 states). That won’t be the case. Obama is far
more talented and appealing than Dukakis, Mondale, or McGovern ever were.

He also has in place one of the finest political operation the Democrats have ever put together. And beyond that, this year — unlike 1972, 1984, and 1988 — virtually every metric favors Democrats, whether we’re talking about fundraising, party identification, the public’s views on an array of issues, and the energy and excitement among base voters. In addition, it’s hard for an incumbent party to win a third term, particularly in an environment in which voters are longing for change, where the President’s popularity is extremely low, and where 80 percent of the country believes the nation is on the wrong track.

A disturbing sign was that last weekend the GOP lost its second House seat in a special election in two months – this time in Louisiana, in a seat that had been Republican for 34 years and one which Bush carried by 20 points in 2004. It’s true that most congressional races are local rather than national in nature and Woody Jenkins was a particularly weak candidate. Nevertheless, the results in Louisiana could be an ominous sign, especially for down-ballot Republicans.

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1. Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. That was clear before yesterday; absent a complete and unforeseen disaster, it’s a certainty now. Democratic superdelegates will soon begin to break in large numbers for Obama. They have been wanting to do so for some time now; what they needed was a plausible trigger to justify publicly supporting Obama. Last night they got it. Yesterday in the voting booths of North Carolina, the last dog died.

The Clintons have done a lot of damage to our politics over the years, something which Obama tapped into with great skill. They have destroyed a lot of folks who they viewed as obstacles to their power, and so it’s good, very good, that they will not be returning to the White House.

2. Whether Hillary Clinton withdraws or not is a far less important question than it was 48 hours ago. She may formally continue in the race, but as last night’s speeches made clear, the rhetorical swords will be sheathed. And there will be a lot of energy spent in the next several days negotiating a graceful exit for Hillary and Bill Clinton. That may not be easy. Many adjectives apply to the Clintons. Graceful is not one of them.

3. Democrats will begin to rally around Obama and, once Hillarydrops out of the race, he will take a large, perhaps even a commanding, lead over John McCain. In the last month there has been some talk among Republicans that Obama will be an exceptionally weak candidate, on the order of a Dukakis (loser of 40 states), Mondale (loser of 49 states), and McGovern (loser of 49 states). That won’t be the case. Obama is far
more talented and appealing than Dukakis, Mondale, or McGovern ever were.

He also has in place one of the finest political operation the Democrats have ever put together. And beyond that, this year — unlike 1972, 1984, and 1988 — virtually every metric favors Democrats, whether we’re talking about fundraising, party identification, the public’s views on an array of issues, and the energy and excitement among base voters. In addition, it’s hard for an incumbent party to win a third term, particularly in an environment in which voters are longing for change, where the President’s popularity is extremely low, and where 80 percent of the country believes the nation is on the wrong track.

A disturbing sign was that last weekend the GOP lost its second House seat in a special election in two months – this time in Louisiana, in a seat that had been Republican for 34 years and one which Bush carried by 20 points in 2004. It’s true that most congressional races are local rather than national in nature and Woody Jenkins was a particularly weak candidate. Nevertheless, the results in Louisiana could be an ominous sign, especially for down-ballot Republicans.

4. What Senator McCain has working in his favor is that he has the greatest potential of any Republican on the national stage to reach beyond his base. That’s especially important in a year when voters are down on the GOP. The challenge for McCain remains his capacity to energize the Republican base while appealing beyond it. That is always the task of a nominee; this year, given McCain’s history with conservatives, it will be harder than most.

Also working in McCain’s favor is that Obama is a completely orthodox liberal in a nation that remains, for the most part, center-right. And Obama’s associations with Reverend Wright, William Ayers, and Tony Rezko have raised questions about his judgment and character. It remains to be seen if, in a general election, these concerns metastasize. One more troubling revelation about Obama’s associations, it could be quite
damaging to him. Hairline fractures can easily turn into complete breaks. And of course if Jeremiah Wright decides to re-emerge and hold forth on the virtues of “black liberation theology” and the vices of America, it could have a shattering effect on the Obama campaign.

5. The other thing McCain has working in his favor is that Obama has shown a limited appeal among rural and blue-collar voters, seniors, Catholics, and Latinos. Hillary Clinton has also done much better than Obama among conservative white Democrats. These demographic groups, and hence states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, are ones McCain has a chance to win. And a state like Florida is one where Hillary Clinton would have been a far more formidable opponent than Obama.

Obama’s strength has been with African Americans; in North Carolina, for example, he won more than 90 percent of the black vote amidst record turnout. He also runs extremely strong among young voters (18-29 years old), highly educated voters, in urban areas, and among elites — voters with high incomes and graduate degrees. Obama also has a realistic chance to carry Rocky Mountain States like Colorado and Nevada.

David Brooks has said that “demography is king” in this election. That has proven mostly true, and when it comes to the general election Obama has shown some worrisome (for Democrats) signs. That doesn’t mean he can’t surmount them, especially in a year that ought to favor Democrats. But it does mean that he is not without vulnerabilities.

6. Obama’s speech last night was a revealing roadmap to what he perceives as his own weaknesses. He ridiculed the notion of using “labels” to describe himself; it is, he has insisted in the past, part of the “old politics” that Obama alone can transcend. But let’s be specific: the label Obama has in mind is “liberal,” and in this instance it fits quite nicely. As I’ve argued elsewhere, Obama is an utterly conventional liberal – arguably the most liberal person running for president since McGovern. Obama has shown no willingness to challenge liberal orthodoxy. What he does not understand, or what he will not admit, is that a person’s political ideology reveals important things not only about his stance on individual issues, but also about his worldview, his assumptions and the beliefs that animate his political activism. In the past, the “liberal” label has been politically lethal for those running for President. Obama understands this – and since he can’t alter his record, he is going to do everything he can to smash the categories.

The man who last October proudly declared that he decided he wouldn’t wear an American flag pin shortly after 9/11 because it “became a substitute for I think true patriotism” last night spoke movingly about the “flag draped over my grandfather’s coffin” and what that flag stands for.

The man whose pastor, close friend and confidant referred to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” and whose wife declared our country to be “downright mean” and who has for the first time in her adult life found reason to be proud of America spoke glowingly about “the America I know.” Obama added this: “That’s why I’m in this race. I love this country too much to see it divided and distracted at this moment in history. I believe in our ability to perfect this union because it’s the only reason I’m standing here today. And I know the promise of America because I have lived it.”

The man who in San Francisco talked about the bitterness of small-town Americans who “cling” to their religion and guns and xenophobia, told us about the “simple truth I learned all those years ago when I worked in the shadows of a shuttered steel mill on the South Side of Chicago.”

The man who believes the Iraq war is irredeemably lost and wants to withdraw all major combat troops within 16 months — which would lead to a devastating American defeat, mass death and possibly genocide, a resurgent al Qaeda and a strengthened Iran – said, “I trust the American people to recognize that it’s not surrender to end the war in Iraq so that we can rebuild our military and go after al Qaeda’s leaders.”

The man who in the first year of his presidency wants to meet individually and without preconditions with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea declared last night, “I trust the American people to understand that it’s not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but our enemies – like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did.” (The notion that Obama is in the same foreign policy tradition as FDR, JFK, and Truman is not a serious one; he is far closer to McGovern’s appeal to “Come Home, America.”)

Obama’s speech, then, was an effort to pivot to the general election and reposition himself as a post-partisan, post-ideological, mainstream, and unifying figure. That effort was fairly effective for a while. But the Obama magic is fading fast. As he showed last night, he remains an appealing figure. He is still able to make high-minded (if largely empty) appeals. Yet many of us, having watched him closely over the last few months, hear him differently than we once did. The words are largely the same; it’s the man delivering them who somehow seems different.

Barack Obama is still the favorite to be the next President. But he’s a good deal weaker than he was, and a long and withering campaign lies ahead.

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Clinton Team Conference Call

In a media call today, Clinton advisors Howard Wolfson and Geoff Garin tried to make the case that it’s full steam ahead for HRC. Wolfson said bluntly: “No discussions about not going forward.” Garin’s spin about last night’s result? Hillary Clinton came from far behind in their internal polls (which had her down eight points in Indiana).

What about North Carolina? Their best argument was that she improved dramatically among white voters, going from a tie to a 24-point margin. What do they have to do going forward? They placed great emphasis on West Virginia, pledged to seat Michigan and Florida (if all are seated they claim they will pick up 58 votes, bringing them within 100 delegates), and promised to make the case to superdelegates that she matches up better against John McCain. Are they concerned about the pundits writing them off? “The punditocracy does not control this process.”

But perhaps the most telling exchange was a moment of hesitation when Garin was asked whether he saw any problem in the Democratic Party selecting someone who led in neither the popular or delegate vote. After a pause he said “Well. . . it will be close.” So for now Hillary is not giving up. Were the questioners skeptical, verging on incredulous? A bit. When asked whether the campaign was concerned about “burning the village [i.e. the Democratic party] to save it” Wolfson, in impassioned tones, explained that Hillary has devoted her entire adult life to the Democratic party, that it’s “what gets her up” in the morning. She’s just not ready to let go.

In a media call today, Clinton advisors Howard Wolfson and Geoff Garin tried to make the case that it’s full steam ahead for HRC. Wolfson said bluntly: “No discussions about not going forward.” Garin’s spin about last night’s result? Hillary Clinton came from far behind in their internal polls (which had her down eight points in Indiana).

What about North Carolina? Their best argument was that she improved dramatically among white voters, going from a tie to a 24-point margin. What do they have to do going forward? They placed great emphasis on West Virginia, pledged to seat Michigan and Florida (if all are seated they claim they will pick up 58 votes, bringing them within 100 delegates), and promised to make the case to superdelegates that she matches up better against John McCain. Are they concerned about the pundits writing them off? “The punditocracy does not control this process.”

But perhaps the most telling exchange was a moment of hesitation when Garin was asked whether he saw any problem in the Democratic Party selecting someone who led in neither the popular or delegate vote. After a pause he said “Well. . . it will be close.” So for now Hillary is not giving up. Were the questioners skeptical, verging on incredulous? A bit. When asked whether the campaign was concerned about “burning the village [i.e. the Democratic party] to save it” Wolfson, in impassioned tones, explained that Hillary has devoted her entire adult life to the Democratic party, that it’s “what gets her up” in the morning. She’s just not ready to let go.

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Here’s The Rub

Barack Obama can fix his rhetoric (as he did last night). But can he fix his demographics? He won big in North Carolina and nearly bumped Hillary Clinton off in Indiana. He won the expectations game in a big away. Still, some perspective is in order:

[H]is victory in North Carolina depended heavily on his overwhelming (91%) share of the black vote, which made up about a third of the primary electorate. Mrs. Clinton won 61% of white Democrats in North Carolina, according to the exit polls, and 65% of white Democrats in Indiana. Mrs. Clinton also broke even among independents. Clearly Mr. Obama’s early promise of a transracial, postpartisan coalition has dimmed as the campaign has progressed and voters have learned more about him.

The question remains whether the McCain campaign is determined and nimble enough to snatch those Hillary Clinton voters away and keep Obama boxed in with a narrow base of African Americans, young people, and ultra-liberal voters. What we know is that, given running room, Obama will sprint to the center and expand his appeal to the very voters whom he let slip through his grasp in Ohio and Pennsylvania. And he will do an effective job of arguing that McCain will represent a third Bush term.

McCain’s challenge is both to define his opponent as outside the political mainstream and to avoid being defined as a Bush clone. It will take a clear and concerted effort by the McCain team–more than biography and an appeal to “experience.” Neither got Hillary Clinton very far.

Barack Obama can fix his rhetoric (as he did last night). But can he fix his demographics? He won big in North Carolina and nearly bumped Hillary Clinton off in Indiana. He won the expectations game in a big away. Still, some perspective is in order:

[H]is victory in North Carolina depended heavily on his overwhelming (91%) share of the black vote, which made up about a third of the primary electorate. Mrs. Clinton won 61% of white Democrats in North Carolina, according to the exit polls, and 65% of white Democrats in Indiana. Mrs. Clinton also broke even among independents. Clearly Mr. Obama’s early promise of a transracial, postpartisan coalition has dimmed as the campaign has progressed and voters have learned more about him.

The question remains whether the McCain campaign is determined and nimble enough to snatch those Hillary Clinton voters away and keep Obama boxed in with a narrow base of African Americans, young people, and ultra-liberal voters. What we know is that, given running room, Obama will sprint to the center and expand his appeal to the very voters whom he let slip through his grasp in Ohio and Pennsylvania. And he will do an effective job of arguing that McCain will represent a third Bush term.

McCain’s challenge is both to define his opponent as outside the political mainstream and to avoid being defined as a Bush clone. It will take a clear and concerted effort by the McCain team–more than biography and an appeal to “experience.” Neither got Hillary Clinton very far.

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Wright: The Perfect Storm

It may be that particularly in North Carolina, and particularly among very liberal and African American voters, Reverend Wright helped Barack Obama seal the deal. The problem is that this and related controversies may have seriously unraveled the Democratic coalition he will need in the fall. But it is a long way to November and Obama will have plenty of new patriotic rhetoric to throw out, as he did tonight, to try to repaint his portrait.

It may be that particularly in North Carolina, and particularly among very liberal and African American voters, Reverend Wright helped Barack Obama seal the deal. The problem is that this and related controversies may have seriously unraveled the Democratic coalition he will need in the fall. But it is a long way to November and Obama will have plenty of new patriotic rhetoric to throw out, as he did tonight, to try to repaint his portrait.

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CBS News Calls Indiana For Hillary

CBS gives the nod to Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama managed to lose a state next to Illinois and lose among the familiar list of demographic groups – working class, women, seniors, etc. – that once seemed potential members of an impressive coalition. How big will she win and can it “balance” his win in North Carolina? Unclear, but she is unlikely to get the praise of the pundit class. The media and many Democrats will soon forget this was a “jump ball” state, discount her victory and inform her that the race is “over.” And the Democrats can ponder just how impressive a general election candidate Obama will be.

CBS gives the nod to Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama managed to lose a state next to Illinois and lose among the familiar list of demographic groups – working class, women, seniors, etc. – that once seemed potential members of an impressive coalition. How big will she win and can it “balance” his win in North Carolina? Unclear, but she is unlikely to get the praise of the pundit class. The media and many Democrats will soon forget this was a “jump ball” state, discount her victory and inform her that the race is “over.” And the Democrats can ponder just how impressive a general election candidate Obama will be.

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If Every State Were North Carolina . . .

Barack Obama would have wrapped up the nomination weeks ago. He took over 90% of African American voters who make up a third of the electorate in securing his apparently comfortable win. In Indiana Hillary Clinton is leading by a healthy margin, but the race is not yet called. Did Obama make progress with whites, women, seniors, rural voters – any one not in his core group of African Americans and young voters? No, accordingly to available exits (which are reweighted as real votes come in.)

So do superdelegates feel comfortable with a candidate who continues to maintain his delegate lead but is unattractive to key groups and is losing appeal with Republicans and independents? If they don’t they aren’t saying, and there is little they can do about it, absent further wins or new troubling information about Obama. The Democrats may have their nominee soon, but he may not be what they hoped for when the bulk of those votes were cast months ago.

Barack Obama would have wrapped up the nomination weeks ago. He took over 90% of African American voters who make up a third of the electorate in securing his apparently comfortable win. In Indiana Hillary Clinton is leading by a healthy margin, but the race is not yet called. Did Obama make progress with whites, women, seniors, rural voters – any one not in his core group of African Americans and young voters? No, accordingly to available exits (which are reweighted as real votes come in.)

So do superdelegates feel comfortable with a candidate who continues to maintain his delegate lead but is unattractive to key groups and is losing appeal with Republicans and independents? If they don’t they aren’t saying, and there is little they can do about it, absent further wins or new troubling information about Obama. The Democrats may have their nominee soon, but he may not be what they hoped for when the bulk of those votes were cast months ago.

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Obama’s Night

It may prove decisive that he has won North Carolina — may, as I indicated below, mean he’s effectively crossed the finish line. But if the Indiana results hold up, and Hillary wins by 10 to 15 points, it will indicate nothing has changed in the dynamic of the Democratic race. He will, once again, have won a state because of a large black vote and a large student vote. She will have won a large, industrial Midwestern state dominated by lower-middle-class white Democratic voters. So the weakness she has exposed in his candidacy will remain.

It may prove decisive that he has won North Carolina — may, as I indicated below, mean he’s effectively crossed the finish line. But if the Indiana results hold up, and Hillary wins by 10 to 15 points, it will indicate nothing has changed in the dynamic of the Democratic race. He will, once again, have won a state because of a large black vote and a large student vote. She will have won a large, industrial Midwestern state dominated by lower-middle-class white Democratic voters. So the weakness she has exposed in his candidacy will remain.

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You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

The fact that Barack Obama apparently won North Carolina so easily — the race was called the minute the polls closed — ensures that Hillary Clinton will come under the most withering personal assault of her career should she fail to drop out of the race tomorrow. It will be far worse than the Republican “attack machine” because it is going to come from her fellow party members, her peers, and even a great many of her supposed friends. This is the kind of heat she has never had to feel. Ever. She may be tough enough to withstand it, but in what way could she possibly benefit from doing so?

The fact that Barack Obama apparently won North Carolina so easily — the race was called the minute the polls closed — ensures that Hillary Clinton will come under the most withering personal assault of her career should she fail to drop out of the race tomorrow. It will be far worse than the Republican “attack machine” because it is going to come from her fellow party members, her peers, and even a great many of her supposed friends. This is the kind of heat she has never had to feel. Ever. She may be tough enough to withstand it, but in what way could she possibly benefit from doing so?

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Expectations

It used to be the winner in a primary contest was the winner and the loser the loser. Then the media bought into the notion that certain states somehow didn’t count, or were not fair fights (because they were next to home states), or were in the bag (because of demographics). So candidates were forced to explain, spin, and exceed near-mythic expectations.

So, who has to do what in to win Indiana and North Carolina? It is fair to say that a win really is a win in Indiana. The pundits all told us it was a jump ball–close to Illinois (thus pro-Obama), but with lots of economic distress and the presence of Evan Bayh (thus pro-Clinton). And a win by a lot is . . . well, a win by a lot. If the polls are correct, this could be good news for Hillary Clinton. (The bigger the win, of course, the better the news.)

What about North Carolina? This is supposed to be the big win for Barack Obama, with 35-40% of the electorate African American and lots of upscale university town voters. Now it’s supposedly gotten closer. If it winds up really close then, again, it’s good news for Clinton. If he wins handily, he stops the bleeding and the panic in the ranks.

And if she wins Indiana and comes close in North Carolina what happens? He says “nothing”–he’s ahead in delegates. She says “game-changer.” And on we go to West Virginia next week and Kentucky and Oregon the week after that. Just in case you thought anything would be decided today, it won’t. Unless–my God!–the polls are wrong! (Could one of them win both contests ?) Nah, never happens.

It used to be the winner in a primary contest was the winner and the loser the loser. Then the media bought into the notion that certain states somehow didn’t count, or were not fair fights (because they were next to home states), or were in the bag (because of demographics). So candidates were forced to explain, spin, and exceed near-mythic expectations.

So, who has to do what in to win Indiana and North Carolina? It is fair to say that a win really is a win in Indiana. The pundits all told us it was a jump ball–close to Illinois (thus pro-Obama), but with lots of economic distress and the presence of Evan Bayh (thus pro-Clinton). And a win by a lot is . . . well, a win by a lot. If the polls are correct, this could be good news for Hillary Clinton. (The bigger the win, of course, the better the news.)

What about North Carolina? This is supposed to be the big win for Barack Obama, with 35-40% of the electorate African American and lots of upscale university town voters. Now it’s supposedly gotten closer. If it winds up really close then, again, it’s good news for Clinton. If he wins handily, he stops the bleeding and the panic in the ranks.

And if she wins Indiana and comes close in North Carolina what happens? He says “nothing”–he’s ahead in delegates. She says “game-changer.” And on we go to West Virginia next week and Kentucky and Oregon the week after that. Just in case you thought anything would be decided today, it won’t. Unless–my God!–the polls are wrong! (Could one of them win both contests ?) Nah, never happens.

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Tour Mania

John McCain does a lot of “tours.” There was the Bio Tour, the tour to forgotten places (where Republicans rarely win), and the health care tour. This week is the tour for the GOP base. He’s giving them a week of talks on judges, abortion, pornography, and other topics which many social conservatives contend McCain has essentially ignored. This may help him. But the McCain team seems to be missing some more fundamental concerns of conservatives, social and otherwise.

Some are tactical. Why is McCain spending so much time crabbing about media coverage? This simply reinforces the sense among conservative establishment figures that McCain is too thin-skinned. They do have a point: it seems a bizarre waste of energy to grouse when mainstream media coverage of him, as in the “100 day” fight, generally has been quite fair. And if he and his team expect perfect accuracy from the New York Times, they are living in a political fantasyland.

Also high on the list of conservative grievances is McCain’s criticism of conservatives. His slamming of the North Carolina state GOP for its ad tying Democratic gubernatorial candidates to Barack Obama is a case in point. This perpetuates the nagging feeling among many movement Conservatives that McCain would rather jab his allies than attack his real foes.

On a broader level, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, McCain is still lacking an overarching theme or message for his domestic policy. So finding and articulating a consistent message might be a better strategy than three or four days of speeches on a select list of issues.

Now, it’s true that the vast majority of the Republican base (according to polls) has “come home” and is satisfied with McCain as the nominee. And it is likewise true that the election will be decided primarily by independents and those famous Reagan Democrats. Nevertheless, it would certainly help McCain to make sure he has his base secured–but to do it in a way that is meaningful and constructive. It’s not clear that he’s figured out yet how to do that.

John McCain does a lot of “tours.” There was the Bio Tour, the tour to forgotten places (where Republicans rarely win), and the health care tour. This week is the tour for the GOP base. He’s giving them a week of talks on judges, abortion, pornography, and other topics which many social conservatives contend McCain has essentially ignored. This may help him. But the McCain team seems to be missing some more fundamental concerns of conservatives, social and otherwise.

Some are tactical. Why is McCain spending so much time crabbing about media coverage? This simply reinforces the sense among conservative establishment figures that McCain is too thin-skinned. They do have a point: it seems a bizarre waste of energy to grouse when mainstream media coverage of him, as in the “100 day” fight, generally has been quite fair. And if he and his team expect perfect accuracy from the New York Times, they are living in a political fantasyland.

Also high on the list of conservative grievances is McCain’s criticism of conservatives. His slamming of the North Carolina state GOP for its ad tying Democratic gubernatorial candidates to Barack Obama is a case in point. This perpetuates the nagging feeling among many movement Conservatives that McCain would rather jab his allies than attack his real foes.

On a broader level, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, McCain is still lacking an overarching theme or message for his domestic policy. So finding and articulating a consistent message might be a better strategy than three or four days of speeches on a select list of issues.

Now, it’s true that the vast majority of the Republican base (according to polls) has “come home” and is satisfied with McCain as the nominee. And it is likewise true that the election will be decided primarily by independents and those famous Reagan Democrats. Nevertheless, it would certainly help McCain to make sure he has his base secured–but to do it in a way that is meaningful and constructive. It’s not clear that he’s figured out yet how to do that.

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Rallies Are So February

Barack Obama is apparently giving up on the mass rallies that impressed the pundits and gave endless copy to reporters about swooning girls, packed gyms, and record-breaking crowds. His campaign says the rally scenes have become a “monotonous backdrop.”

I think this means several things. First, the media finally noticed that he was giving the same speech over and over again. Second, young people fill mass rallies in crowded gyms, but not the people he needs to expand his base– working class voters and seniors, for example.

In some ways this is indicative of his entire campaign. The tactics that got him primary wins and adulation in January and February (big crowds, high-flying rhetoric) are now outmoded and insufficient. Some previously enthusiastic pundits have gone so far as to say:

This is a campaign that hasn’t won anything in some eight weeks; it’s a candidacy and message that seems tired . . . Obama looked almost like a victim. That’s not where an American presidential candidate wants to be.

The question remains whether Obama’s retail political talents, policy positions (does opposing gas tax relief win primaries?), and press interview skills are sufficient to match Hillary Clinton’s. That’s one of many questions the Indiana and North Carolina results will answer on Tuesday night.

Barack Obama is apparently giving up on the mass rallies that impressed the pundits and gave endless copy to reporters about swooning girls, packed gyms, and record-breaking crowds. His campaign says the rally scenes have become a “monotonous backdrop.”

I think this means several things. First, the media finally noticed that he was giving the same speech over and over again. Second, young people fill mass rallies in crowded gyms, but not the people he needs to expand his base– working class voters and seniors, for example.

In some ways this is indicative of his entire campaign. The tactics that got him primary wins and adulation in January and February (big crowds, high-flying rhetoric) are now outmoded and insufficient. Some previously enthusiastic pundits have gone so far as to say:

This is a campaign that hasn’t won anything in some eight weeks; it’s a candidacy and message that seems tired . . . Obama looked almost like a victim. That’s not where an American presidential candidate wants to be.

The question remains whether Obama’s retail political talents, policy positions (does opposing gas tax relief win primaries?), and press interview skills are sufficient to match Hillary Clinton’s. That’s one of many questions the Indiana and North Carolina results will answer on Tuesday night.

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North Carolina Democratic Faceoff

Both Democratic candidates addressed a large crowd Friday night at North Carolina’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Hillary Clinton’s theme was two-fold: she’s going to tie George Bush around John McCain’s neck and she’s the doer/fighter. Her funniest line: “If you listen closely, you can almost hear in the distance the sound . . . of a moving van pulling away from the White House.”

As for her current race, she offered up extra helpings of praise for John and Elizabeth Edwards, but focused on her core message. “I am no shrinking violet.” She is going to fight, fight, fight (did she mention she’s going to fight?) for the middle class against big business, rich people, gas companies, and . . . well, the list goes on. There’s nothing terribly lofty. She’s selling “real and immediate solutions.” (Conservatives might scoff at the notion that any of her proposals are really “solutions,” but she has lots of them and they are immediate.) She does, however, project optimism about America and a gritty determination that America will solve its problems.

Barack Obama came later in the evening. He entered to raucous cheers but seemed tired, almost subdued. He too gave a nod to the Edwards duo, but in the perfunctory list of thank-yous at the top of his speech. Remarkably, this was largely the same speech we have heard for over and over again: the “fierce urgency of now,” babies born when he began to run who now talk and walk, the pettiness of politics, his cousin Dick Cheney won’t be on the ballot, the end of Scooter Libby justice, change we can believe in, etc. (One wonders if he has anything else in his arsenal of rhetorical weapons.) The only differences are the local touches–now it’s an Indiana group of workers being thrown into unemployment–but his dreary and bleak view of a land bereft of hope and opportunity remains. One note: his position on gas tax must be causing problems, since he defensively added a line about Clinton’s false, McCain-like solution for a gas tax holiday.

He did, at the close of his speech, mention the concerns about him. He argued that his opponents were only successful when they talked about him rather than “the issues.” (Apparently the character and judgment of the potential President is not an “issue” in his book.) He reeled off a bit of biography about his relatives’ humble beginnings. It was a laundry list of meager circumstances, suggesting a growing irritation and defensiveness about his elitist image. He even noted that his story would not have been possible except in the United States. Perhaps if he had talked about this before his campaign took a nosedive it would have come across as more sincere.

Will Obama win in North Carolina? Almost certainly. (Although Clinton may try to claim a moral victory if she continues to narrow the race to mid-single digits.) But it seems unlikely he picked up many new votes by sleepwalking through the umpteenth recitation of his standard stump speech.

Both Democratic candidates addressed a large crowd Friday night at North Carolina’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Hillary Clinton’s theme was two-fold: she’s going to tie George Bush around John McCain’s neck and she’s the doer/fighter. Her funniest line: “If you listen closely, you can almost hear in the distance the sound . . . of a moving van pulling away from the White House.”

As for her current race, she offered up extra helpings of praise for John and Elizabeth Edwards, but focused on her core message. “I am no shrinking violet.” She is going to fight, fight, fight (did she mention she’s going to fight?) for the middle class against big business, rich people, gas companies, and . . . well, the list goes on. There’s nothing terribly lofty. She’s selling “real and immediate solutions.” (Conservatives might scoff at the notion that any of her proposals are really “solutions,” but she has lots of them and they are immediate.) She does, however, project optimism about America and a gritty determination that America will solve its problems.

Barack Obama came later in the evening. He entered to raucous cheers but seemed tired, almost subdued. He too gave a nod to the Edwards duo, but in the perfunctory list of thank-yous at the top of his speech. Remarkably, this was largely the same speech we have heard for over and over again: the “fierce urgency of now,” babies born when he began to run who now talk and walk, the pettiness of politics, his cousin Dick Cheney won’t be on the ballot, the end of Scooter Libby justice, change we can believe in, etc. (One wonders if he has anything else in his arsenal of rhetorical weapons.) The only differences are the local touches–now it’s an Indiana group of workers being thrown into unemployment–but his dreary and bleak view of a land bereft of hope and opportunity remains. One note: his position on gas tax must be causing problems, since he defensively added a line about Clinton’s false, McCain-like solution for a gas tax holiday.

He did, at the close of his speech, mention the concerns about him. He argued that his opponents were only successful when they talked about him rather than “the issues.” (Apparently the character and judgment of the potential President is not an “issue” in his book.) He reeled off a bit of biography about his relatives’ humble beginnings. It was a laundry list of meager circumstances, suggesting a growing irritation and defensiveness about his elitist image. He even noted that his story would not have been possible except in the United States. Perhaps if he had talked about this before his campaign took a nosedive it would have come across as more sincere.

Will Obama win in North Carolina? Almost certainly. (Although Clinton may try to claim a moral victory if she continues to narrow the race to mid-single digits.) But it seems unlikely he picked up many new votes by sleepwalking through the umpteenth recitation of his standard stump speech.

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