The Democratic race, post-Nevada: Clinton win should limit the probable pain of South Carolina

More than a day after Clinton was declared the winner of the Nevada caucuses, the two campaigns keep throwing mud at each other about what happened in Vegas. The first controversy, of course, was whether it mattered that Barack Obama is getting one more delegate to the national convention than Hillary Clinton is. The Nevada Democratic Party did try to put an end to the debate by pointing out that no actual delegates were being attributed yesterday, and that this first process consisted in the selection of delegates to the April state convention at which the national delegates will be selected. Yes, this is very confusing, but the point is that the contest yesterday was not about delegates; if we are going to have a brokered convention, it is the margin in February 5th states that will matter, not whether Obama or Clinton got one more representative out of Nevada. The bottom line is that Clinton won by 6% -- and she probably had a wider margin of supporters going in, since Edwards backers appear to have moved more towards Obama than towards Clinton.

The second controversy has been picking up today, as the two camps are accusing each other of perpetrating fraud and vote suppression. The Obama campaign is accusing the Clintonites of having closed the door of the caucuses early at 11:30am. That, they claim, prevented Obama backers to trickle in until noon, as they were supposed to be allowed to. There was indeed anecdotal evidence that doors close too early at a handful of precincts, and the Obama campaign is pointing to a Clinton manual that says: "11:30: Caucus chair closes door."

The two responses to these allegations are obvious. First, the Clinton camp did not run the caucuses, the caucus chairs did and they had their own manual -- so how would the Clintonites have closed doors at 11:30am? Second, even if there were indeed mistakes, there is no evidence that Obama supporters were more likely to come in closer to noon and Clinton backers closer to 11:30am. And the Clinton campaign is responding by throwing its own allegations of voter intimidation to the Obama campaign, focusing in particular on the Culinary's efforts to get out voters -- but the Nevada newspapers that looked into this found no evidence that intimidation tactics were used.

Overall, the storyline is clear: The election were disorganized and the state's lack of experience dealing with large-scaled caucuses was evident. But there is no indication whatsoever that one candidate or another was favored by this disorganization, and the fight over who got the most delegates is meaningless to the question of who won Nevada. Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in Nevada -- and the media is covering it like that, which means most voters nationally will be reading that headline. Clinton did much better than expected among union members -- especially in the Strip where the Culinary failed to organize its members to go out for Obama. To put it simply, the union endorsed Barack much too late, and the Clinton campaign had already done too much outreach in Vegas for the endorsement to change that much.

Going forward, then, how does Nevada affect the coming contests? With a week to go to South Carolina, yesterday's caucuses should not affect the results there dramatically. If anything, Obama's win there is even more likely now given how badly Clinton was crushed among black voters. If that pattern holds -- and it is conform to what we saw in Michigan on Tuesday -- there is no way Clinton can get that close in South Carolina, which is why she is likely to spend much of the coming week reaching out to African-American voters. She at least needs to keep it close in next week's primary to avoid Obama getting too big a momentum out of that state and into Florida. At the same time, Clinton will drive up expectations for Obama; at this point, no one really expects Hillary to pull it off next Saturday and the campaign will milk the expectations game as much as it can.

There is no question that the Nevada win is crucial for the Clinton campaign -- but it was much more important to avoid possible damages than to get any real momentum. Clinton would not have been in good shape if she had gone 0-2 following New Hampshire and heading in the big-states. A lot of the pressure was on Hillary yesterday, and she had much more to lose than Obama. She performed the way she needed to and she can now prepare for Florida and February 5th on a roughly equal playing field. Her campaign also has got to be happy that she handily won the Hispanic vote in Nevada. I suggested the other day that Clinton's reliance on the latino vote could prove her undoing, but it carried her through yesterday. If this pattern holds in Florida, I could be ready to retract that comment and admit that Clinton has a huge advantage in states like California if she holds on to the Latino vote like that.

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  • absolutely it is not a mistake for clinton to cultivate the latino vote. it would be a mistake to be divisive about it, or to act like she is turning her back on african-americans, but she is absolutely going in the right direction. why? the history of what african-americans have been through in this country is such that quite understandably, even black folks who love hill&bill are more than likely to find a credible african-american candidate irresisible, and sen. obama is very credible. i don't think he is as good a potential president as hillary clinton, but he is a credible candidate. and once that bar is reached, anybody with a heart should be able to understand that pull of that for african-american voters. hillary's job is to campaign with black folks with her head up and let them know she'd be honored to be their president---and then go and cultivate every other constituency she can get!

    By Anonymous ceemonster, At 21 January, 2008 01:06  

  • It's quite likely that Clinton will lose pivotal South Carolina which will throw her back on the ropes. She's doing something that few of us thought possible for the Clintons: getting blacks to hate them.

    By Anonymous Steve, At 21 January, 2008 10:47  

  • Steve, I first caught on to this blog after the SC debate and was actually rather teed off with the Clintons after the debate. And I wrote a comment there about that. Seeing your comment here I have to agree with you about the Clinton's dangerous strategy. I am a independent black voter who is just the sort that go for the Clintons (I voted for Hillary in 2000 for the Senate when I lived in NY). But, their tactics have gotten rough. And, honestly, I question both Hillary and Bill's integrity. It's interesting because I don't question John Edwards or Obama's integrity. But, there is something about how they have started going after Obama that makes my skin crawl as someone who is sick of the politics of people instead of issues. Isn't it Hillary who invented the term "The Politics of Personal Destruction?"

    It seems she is using those same tactics to try and destroy Obama's reputation now. The slumlord comment was the one that caught my attention because it was so spurious. It was like she had this spurious, surprise fact in her head and was just waiting for the right opportunity to spring it so as to distract Obama and get him in the defensive instead of talking about the fact that this economy is going into a major recession.

    That comment woke me up. It said to me that Sen. Clinton might do "whatever it takes" (a-la Bush on McCain in SC in 2000 or George HW's Willie Horton stuff in 88) to get the nomination now that she has a real opponent.

    It makes McCain look much more presidential to an independent like me. These are very risky tactics, IMO.

    By Anonymous Ed, At 22 January, 2008 03:45  

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