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Sunday, December 23, 2007
Why Hilary Clinton is Not Out of the Race Yet

Since October 30th's debate, Democratic front-runner Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-NY) has been (depicted as) sliding to parity with Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in the crucial early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. After a very poorly performing summer, Obama seems back in his element, and, in combination with clever attacks by former Sen. and Vice-President nominee John Edwards (D-NC), the once inevitable Clinton machine, who had, in September seemed to have all but wrapped up the race, is vulnerable and poised for a defeat.

Supporters of Sen. Clinton for president, however, need not be worried for three reasons. One, the best part of the Clinton machine, and one of the reasons that she would make such a wonderful and effective executive, is its attention to detail and voter turnout. For those with longer political memories, you will recall the flap, earlier in 2007 (around May), then Sen. Clinton's campaign staff was thinking about skipping Iowa entirely and focusing its efforts on New Hampshire and South Carolina. Her main advisers knew that campaigning in the state was going to be a time and money suck, with little likelihood of a first place finish (particularly given Edwards has been living in the state since the end of the Kerry coalition). In fact, in May 2007, Sen. Clinton estimated support was 21% compared with 23% and 29% for Senators Obama and Edwards, respectively.

What did Sen. Clinton do in the face of such odds? Answer: enlist the support of former governor Tom Vilsack and Democratic legendary organizer Teresa Vilmain. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Ms. Vilmain first organized in Iowa in 1988, at age 29, working for eventual Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. This time, Democrats' turnout in the state that kicks off the presidential race is expected to set a record, given excitement about the seven-candidate presidential field and the prospect of taking back the White House. More than at any time since the caucuses gained prominence 32 years ago, organizers such as Ms. Vilmain are searching for ways to draw voters who have never participated in a caucus." Vilmain and Vilsack, who together engineered a two-term victory for the Democratic governor, have built a formidable political network of enthused Clinton caucus goers.

They're hard work has paid off: in October, at the height of Clinton enthusiasm, Sen. Clinton had 29%, compared to 22% and 23% for Senators Obama and Edwards, respectively. (The month of November in the wake of the October 30th debate, however, was tough and now Clinton has sunk to 25%, with 28% and 23% for Obama and Edwards, respectively.) What's crucial to note is that at the time her campaign staff--the Clinton machine--made choices about investment strategies, Edwards and not Obama, and the prospects of an Edwards-Obama two-way race, were the greatest dangers for Clinton. Clinton's actions, and the experience of her team, made what should have been a cakewalk for Edwards and an easily media opportunity for Obama, into a competitive three-way race that for a long time she dominated.

The Clinton strategy has always relied on New Hampshire as its firewall, a lead that has been eroding since Obama found some holiday momentum. Rather than conceding, or sticking to the same strategy that she had been using, Clinton dispatched another Democratic legendary organizer, Michael Whouley, to New Hampshire.

Mr. Whouley is a wizard of turnout victories. Marc Ambinder summarizes the modern magician this way: "In 1992, Whouley served as national field director for the Clinton-Gore ticket. In 2000, Whouley is credited with forcing Gore to engage in more retail policking, a decision that helped to save his campaign in New Hampshire against Bill Bradley. In 2004, he helped John Kerry turn around his fortunes in Iowa. He was Kerry's anointed field czar in the general election, and, horrors, actually found himself conducting telephonic phone briefings with the press." Moreover, Whouley's proteges David Barnhardt and Karen Hicks have been in New Hampshire for months and designed the Clinton campaign's sophisticated turnout program, he as caucus director and she as the planner.

Second, Bill Clinton is big asset to her candidacy and campaign. His constant gaffes and screw ups are a bit annoying, but he still does have star power, and is one of the best centrist Democrat strategists whose actually run for the party's nomination. Unfortunately, former President Bill Clinton sucessfully came out of no where to win the nomination, and thus, by existing, give some of his legacy to Sen. Obama as well.

Third, the Democratic Coalition will probably pull through for Hilary in ways that it cannot for Obama or Edwards. Sadly, there is some decent statistical indicators that voting Latinos tend not to vote for black candidates and have negative perceptions of American blacks in general. I'm afraid that not only with the Latino vote tend toward Hilary in the Southwest, but might also defect to Republicans in the general election. (Now of course we have that whole immigration discourse to deal with, but we'll see.) Oddly, though, it's hard to know how much Latino support for Clinton will be off set by white support for Obama, precisely because he is black.

Moreover, significant portions of the black vote loves the Clintons and trust them, and centrist Democrats in general, to fight for middle and working class black issues. Senator Clinton has played her cards right in highlighting the gendered dimension of race, particularly with respect to AIDS and HIV, giving voice to discourses that many black politicians overlook when talking about the "community." The gender issue also plays well with working class women who tend to see the glass ceiling as something real and right above them. This sense of Senator Clinton putting in her time and working hard plays to their sympathies as well as attracts union support.

Lastly, gay and lesbians, particularly after the Donnie McClurklin flap, wonder what an Edwards or Obama Democratic party would look like for them. Even after the dreadful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" compromise that resulted from Bill Clinton polarizing the issue of gays in the military before he was willing to spend political capital, gay leaders seem to trust the Clinton's more (no surprises) that the more conservative Edwards and the more symbolically tied to black social conservatism Obama.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Predictions for Iowa and New Hampshire

As everyone disappears for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, I wanted to get my predictions for the first two contests, Iowa and New Hampshire, out there.


Iowa, as we know, has attracted a lot of attention this election cycle because a crowded field on both sides, as well as several major names being in play, makes the state's caucuses a must-win for some of the lesser known candidates, and a headache for candidates with higher numbers. One of the most important things to note for Iowa is the vote-switching that takes place as the some caucus-goers settle on their second choices whereas other try to create momentum for their primary (no-pun intended) choices. The pressures begin as soon as the caucus-attendees arrive in the parking lot to witness which delegates seem enthusiastic about their candidates and which delegates will probably have to defect to other groups once their candidate's "support" is revealed.

Due to the voting effects of these literal lateral social and networking pressures, as well as the immense importance attributed to the first and second place winners, two strategies will collide head to head that night, neither of which is mutually: the politics of charisma and the politics of mobilization. The politics of charisma shores up the enthusiasm of the delegates for a particular candidate and provides ample social capital to tip support toward a particular candidate. The politics of mobilization turns out a sympathetic demographic and prays that initial support is strong enough to prevent massive defection to another candidate.

On the Democratic side, Edwards and Obama have mastered charisma, and poured a lot of resources into mobilization. Clinton, while less charismatic, has designed a buddy-system turnout method, which should withstand early pressures for defection, and enlisted several popular locals: Magic Johnson, Bill Clinton, and former Governor Tom Vilsack.

On the Republic side, former Governor Huckabee has a lock on the politics of charisma--though monetary constraints have prevented him from investing into organized mobilization strategies--and former Governor Mitt Romney, through investment, has created a mobilization effect. Rudy Giuliani has only half-committed to the state. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has focused mostly on New Hampshire, but has received crucial endorsement nods as well as a lot of press from the surge.

As such, I predict (in this order) for Democrats: Edwards, Clinton, Obama, and for Republicans, Huckabee, Romney, and McCain.

I think that caucus trading between the enthusiasm of Edwards supporters and Obama supporters will weaken them both, and that, more importantly, Clinton, through the buddy system has inoculated many of her supporters from defection through the buddy-system (a source of mobilization as well as monitoring). Moreover, Edwards supporters are pissed that their candidate has been ignored in the press and will be prepared to court and collect any soft support. The nod from the Des Moines Register will improve Clinton's image for long enough after Christmas to have her fold in at least Gov. Bill Richardson's support and potentially Sen. Joe Biden's as well. (Generally, people support those candidates for experience and wonkishness rather than charisma.) I think that Dodd's and Kuchinich's appeal is more left-leaning and will disperse, roughly evenly, to Obama and Edwards.

As for the Republicans, I think that Romney machine has created a floor beyond which he cannot fall, and that enthusiasm for Huckabee is at an all-time high. Moreover, Huckabee can count on religious networks to mobilize communities for him, and to prevent defection by having them pre-organized along social ties of monitoring and enforcement. Giuliani's lackluster campaigning will force his supporters into the arms of a candidate is tough on security, John McCain, who also recently received the nod of the Des Moines Register as well. McCain will probably absorb a lot of other support, particularly from Thompson, as a candidate who can stop both Huckabee and Romney from becoming the nominee of the Republican party.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, the battle is for independents. However, without Iowa sending them a strong signal about which race is more dynamic, the Independents will probably divide their support among Republican and Democratic candidates, hurting those candidates who have most courted the Independent vote, Senators Obama and McCain, to overcome any weakness they have within their own parties. Moreover, the Clinton machine is furiously organizing the people of the New Hampshire, even the Obama's performance has his numerical support rising.

Without the independents voting mostly for Obama, or seeing a renewed interest in McCain in the wake of a good Iowa finish, I predict the following results for New Hampshire. For the Democrats, Clinton (narrow), Obama, and Edwards. (This is really going to put South Carolina in play.) For the Republicans, John McCain, Ron Paul, and a Mitt Romney/Huckabee tie.

McCain is very popular among New Hampshire Republicans now, a good showing in Iowa, as well as the recent endorsements of the New Hampshire papers and his team's focus on New Hampshire will probably swing the state for him. (Moreover, a resurgent McCain will reabsorb the Thompson off-shoot that emerged when the McCain team ran out of money and the Giuliani security hawks.) Ron Paul's money and the libertarian diaspora within New Hampshire's Republicans will create a solid finish for Ron Paul, giving him some much needed media space. Ron Paul's grassroots campaign is the most sophisticated of all the Republicans, and will greatly appeal to the small-government types who live in New Hampshire. Mitt Romney, again, due to money and time, will probably have a floor that will not evaporate, but Huckabee is going to have a run of the press for at least seven days after his Iowa victory, and growing numbers in South Carolina that will improve his image of electability.

Clinton will scoop out a narrow turn-out victory and descend on South Carolina as the friend of blacks and a the Democratic-comeback kid. (She will emphasize that she was the front-runner, whether the attacks, and campaign equally hard to win the affects of South Carolina. Most of her generals, however, will go to the Southwest and California as she wins the non-primary primaries in Florida.) Obama-mania will not have subsided in the wake of a non-Iowa victory, and, more importantly, Edwards will have to step up attacks on him, giving him more press time. Edwards, unfortunately, will not be able out maneuver either the Obama or Clinton grassroots campaigns, and, sadly, is not the fascination of the press (who like the idea of a Clinton-Obama fight). Edwards, too, will have to run to South Carolina and effectively cede the Southwest to Clinton.

The following people will have to leave after New Hampshire and Iowa: Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani. Fred will probably endorse McCain as will Rudy to stop Romney and Hucakbee. Bill Richardson won't leave until Clinton has dusted off his campaign in the Southwest. I'm not sure when Dennis Kucinich will drop out.