2008 03 07
This is surely going to be a disappointing post, as I don’t have any confidence in my political analysis. I’m more of a policy guy. But here we go anyway.
For those of you who, like me, thinks that Hillary is not going away any time soon, what do you think her strategy/justification for staying in will be? I can think of three main planks to such a justification: momentum, toughness, and battleground states. Of course there are other possible planks: “experience,” military leadership, NAFTA, shady real estate deals, etc. But for some reason I think these will fade into the background. Maybe I think so because McCain is now the nominee, and so Hillary can run on claiming to be the best bet to go the long haul and beat him, and this will make policy arguments seem relatively immaterial by comparison. Plus, when it comes down to it, Hillary doesn’t really have military leadership experience, and Rezko-Gate just ain’t gonna cut it.
Anyway, assume that I’m right about the three I highlight. As long as Hillary wins Pennsylvania and doesn’t get totally swept in the other, smaller contests, she can claim that she’s got real momentum going into the Convention. She’ll point to this as the reason why it’d be crazy to bow out now. But of course, if Obama really cleans up in the remaining contests, even if he looses Pennsylvania, he’ll draw quite a bit of attention to his own momentum, and Hillary’s big Mo argument won’t be as strong.
So then we move to toughness. Hillary has gone negative, and is likely to stay there for the remainder of the contest. And I agree that it’s not clear how Obama will respond, or how the electorate will respond to his response. But I wouldn’t count Obama out here–not out for the count, nor out of the negativity business himself. Sure, the Clintons are very good at what they do, but we don’t yet know what Obama is capable of, and the last days leading up to this past Tuesday are not a good indication of how he will respond with so much time before Pennsylvania. My guess is that he doesn’t end up doing too badly on the toughness front throughout the remainder of the race.
This leaves us with the Battleground States. Hillary will claim, as she and her surrogates have been doing, that it is important to pick a nominee who “can win” the traditional Battleground states, like Ohio and Florida. Perhaps she’ll even decide not to push for a Florida recount, so that she doesn’t actually have to win there again in order to link it, if only by association, with her win in Ohio. Anyway, it is here that I expect her, in the coming weeks and months, to really stress her quote-unquote differences with Obama. I could be wrong, but I just don’t think she has much to hang her hat on as she goes forward trailing Obama in pledged delegates. And without the lead in pledged delegates, she needs to give superdelegates a reason to vote for her that will not make them look blatantly small-d un-democratic. This is another reason momentum alone won’t, I think, do it for Clinton. What is it momentum toward? Well, toward winning the primary, and thus the nomination. But the primary is about winning delegates, and Hillary will have arrived without having done that. And for those superdelegates who are trying to devise justifications for voting for Hillary, they will sound strange saying, “Well, she really has the momentum to carry her through to winning my vote!” That will look self-important, and, more importantly, it’ll be a blatant distraction from what the convention is all about: picking a nominee to win the general election. I just can’t see having momentum toward winning the nomination as having such momentous importance at the convention itself. (But maybe I’m wrong, or maybe the claim will be that she has momentum toward winning the general election.)
This is why I think the Battleground argument will be front and center among Hillary supporters and (potential) superdelegates. But now we come to the punch line: the battleground argument is absurd! It is a safe assumption that the vast majority of those who voted in the Democratic primary in any state will vote for the Democratic nominee in November, no matter who it is. And then the question becomes, Who can attract more Independents and Republicans? I think the answer to this is, clearly, Obama. At any rate, winning the primary in a battleground state is little indication that one’s rival will lose it in the general election. It just doesn’t work like that.
Of course, I’m probably wrong about all of this. Maybe NAFTA will come to dominate the arguments leading up to the convention. Or maybe superdelegates just won’t care to give good justifications for their choice of Hillary–it won’t be the first time that justification isn’t really an issue. Or maybe superdelegates will fall in line behind Obama–especially if he wins Pennsylvania–as they should. Who the hell knows. But the battleground argument is absurd, and I hope someone can shine a light on its absurdity before it ends up having any serious impact on the outcome of this by now McCain-aiding primary.
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