3.10.2008

Dems try to figure out how to deal with six-week break

The pace of campaign news has dropped significantly over in the days since March 4th, as candidates have come to realize that there will be no prompt resolution to this contest. Consider that that the two longest stretches without an election -- from NH to NV and from SC to Super Tuesday -- were only 11 days, and there were the two FL and MI rogue primaries in those periods, not to mention that how disputed the GOP primary was.

Once Mississippi votes on Tuesday, however, it will be six long weeks before the next ballots are cast -- in Pennsylvania, on April 22nd. The Keystone state is already being described as the new Iowa because of how much time the campaigns will have to organize the state, blanket it with advertisement, identify every voter and make sure they get to the polls. Such operations generally only happen in the beginning of January, not in late April.

One consequence of this in the fall will be that the Democratic candidate will be advantaged in Pennsylvania come November. For all the talk about John McCain having time to regroup and prepare for the general (the NYT has a new article detailing the McCain camp's opportunity), Obama and Clinton will have detailed list of supporters and networks when they have to gear up for the fall in the Keystone state. They will be criss-crossing the state for six weeks without any Republican response, and they will likely be very well covered by the media. In fact, I would be surprised if the Pennsylvania media covers the general election with that intensity until some time in October.

Pennsylvania has 21 electoral votes, and it is one of the swingiest of states, a must-win state for any Democratic candidate and at the top of any Republican's priority list -- both Gore and Kerry barely won the state. But I wouldn't be surprised if the Democratic candidate emerges out of April 22nd with a clear lead in the state's general election polls, unless, that is, the Democratic primary gets nasty (much more nasty than it has been up to now).

Another very interesting storyline to follow here is how well the two campaigns manage to set the spin of the upcoming states: Which states will come to have the most clout, and which will be portrayed as the most decisive? For example, Wisconsin's February 19th primary had come to be portrayed as much more decisive and important than Virginia's on the 12th, though the latter is a larger state. And it is Clinton's rout in Wisconsin that set her campaign's storyline of doom for the next two weeks. (By the way, speaking of clout, think about how much clout a medium-sized state like New Jersey or Arizona would have had had they moved to mid-March rather than Super Tuesday).

Hillary Clinton wants the Pennsylvania primary to be portrayed as the next great Super Tuesday. She has nothing to lose, in the sense that she is likely out anyway if she loses the state. But for now, she is generally considered to have a significant advantage. The latest ARG poll released yesterday has Clinton up 52% to 41% against Obama -- including a truly massive lead among women. And I have already detailed her demographic advantage in the state (not to mention that it will be a closed primary). Clinton is thus hoping to gain as much momentum as possible from Pennsylvania. If she wins big there as she did in Ohio, she will continue to press her argument that she is winning the big, significant states and she will head into May (I can't believe I'm writing this) with renewed strength.

Obama knows that he will hold on to his delegate lead unless something dramatically shifts -- and unless he weakens considerably across the remaining states. He does not really need to win Pennsylvania; even holding it at an Ohio-type level would be fine, as long as he can keep his advantage in places like North Carolina and perhaps Indiana (on May's Super Tuesday...). Therefore, Obama would like the campaign's storyline over the next 6 weeks to be the relative unimportance of Pennsylvania compared to other states that might be coming up after. That way, a Clinton win in Pennsylvania would not be covered as the momentum-changing victory that March 4th was but (hopefully for Obama) almost dismissed as an expected result.

This strategy could work (if Clinton continues to lead in polls, the media will be less interested in the contest) but the problem is that the Obama campaign will contest the state very strongly -- since it cannot afford losing the state by a large margin considering the number of delegates at play. And that will make it difficult for them to minimize the state's importance. Furthermore, there is a risk for Obama: He wants this campaign to be over ASAP, and even if he can't force Clinton out he wants to make it seem that she is out of the game, only clinging in to a race she cannot win (this would be particularly important in moving donors and superdeleagtes). But if he is talking about North Carolina and Indiana too much, it will emphasize that we are in for the long haul.

Overall, both campaigns are unsure of how to proceed, for the situation is new in so many ways: On the one hand, a candidate playing catch-up -- and no one really knows how realistic her chances are -- but facing no financial difficulty (anymore), whereas traditionally it is finances that get candidates out of the race. On the other, a front-runner who is unable to close this off, who realizes that even he can't win without the help of superdelegates and who is unsure of where the danger could come form (Michigan and Florida, anyone?)

Six weeks might be a long time, but it might be necessary to sort some of this out.

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5 Comments:

  • Good article. Although NC and Indiana vote 2 weeks after PA so it isn't that long of a period for him to talk about the upcoming states as important without this going on for ever. If he can win both of them (combined more EV's and delegates than PA) then he should be in good shape. If any delegate loss he suffers in PA is made up by NC and IN then he is in great shape because MS and WY will make up for his OH and TX (primary) losses. Whilst reducing the number of delegates left for her to compete in.

    To be strictly accurate it is possible to envisage a Democrat winning the GE without winning PA. The SUSA poll showed Obama doing this - win Virginia and Colorado and those two states make up for PA. There are several other states that Dems would like to win which make up for PA - such as IA, NM, NV. Just relying on large states (the Clinton campaign) is just replaying the last two elections for the Dems - they need to try and widen the field rather than relying on trying to win 2 out of the three (OH, FL, PA).

    By Anonymous Mike, At 10 March, 2008 12:36  

  • It would be good strategy for the Obama campaign to downplay PA since he has very little chance of winning it. It has a larger proportion of under/uneducated voters and older citizens than Ohio.

    He can downplay it for two reasons :
    1. Clinton downplayed lots of states including most of February's including Wisconsin, Maryland, Virginia and now Wyoming and Mississippi. If she can do that for multiple states he can be allowed to do it for one state. At least he has tried to campaign everywhere, unlike Clinton.
    2. The latest national SUSA results showed Obama winning the GE without PA. Obviously having PA for the Democrats would help, but it is not essential. Remember Maryland and Wisconsin equal PA in EV's.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 10 March, 2008 12:38  

  • I find it odd when the Clinton campaign (and then taken as gospel in all the media) say they have won 8 of the top 10 states. It is arbitary to say 10 - why not top 20 states for multiple reasons :

    1. NJ is in the top 10 (actually NC is the 10th largest and NJ is 11th) and has a whole 2 more EV's than Virginia.
    2. Clinton would not win some of the top 10 in the GE (such as TX and GA)
    3. You could not win a GE with just the top 10.
    4. If you want to be President of the USA then you should campaign and try to win more than just 20% of the states. Because those states provide 80% of the senators and the majority of the congressmen. Try getting healthcare through with just the top 10 states legistors!

    If you make the metric the top 20 then Obama is much closer to parity - with WI, WA, VA, MD, CT, NC, (expected) all included in his tally (all all by primaries).

    By Anonymous Guy, At 10 March, 2008 12:39  

  • "It's clear, this election they're having is not going to count for anything." -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, on New Hampshire Public Radio, dismissing the Jan. 15 Michigan presidential primary

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 10 March, 2008 13:36  

  • If the Clinton campaign steals this election from Obama in some dishonest or unethitical way, I will not vote in the presidential election for the first time in my life.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 10 March, 2008 20:06  

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