Friday, February 29, 2008

Divisive Primaries: 2008 vs. The Past

Last night's divisive primaries post and subsequent comments on The Monkey Cage (TMC) got me thinking about divisive primaries a bit more. And I'm wondering if what we call divisive primaries within political science is a blanket term that we use to describe several different but interconnected concepts. There are several layers to this:

Could it be that it is not the divisive primaries at all but the ability/inability to overcome them in a reasonable amount of time that has an effect on general election vote shares? Well, what does "reasonable amount of time" mean? It's a moving target. In 1980, that meant before the convention was over. Reagan and Bush joined forces on one side after a competitive primary fight, while Carter and Kennedy hardly came across as buddies at the Democratic convention. The result: the GOP ticket moved into general election mode while the Democrats continued to put the pieces together internally. [Paul Gurian gets a tip of the cap for placing this notion in my head. He may even be able to bolster the anecdote a bit if he reads this. He's also done some work in this area.] In other words, divisiveness on the Democratic side gave the Republican party a head start. In 2008, the worry for the Democrats is that the Obama/Clinton battle will cause a real rift in the party that won't be able to be healed enough before the election. Which brings us to...

Time, time, time.
The timing is a lot different now than it was thirty years ago. The prolonged primary seasons of the past gave way, for all intents and purposes, to the Super Tuesday model of presidential nomination by 1988 for the Republicans and 1992 for the Democrats. The time between Iowa and Super Tuesday shrunk during that interim, preventing insurgencies from being mounted effectively. If a challenge cannot gain steam then the likelihood of a divisive series of primaries developing decreases. [What's this, a benefit of frontloading? The drawback, of course, is that voters do not have the opportunity to fully vet the frontrunner/nominee, leaving them to suffer from what has been dubbed "buyer's remorse."]

But there's a tipping point here that fits in with this timing issue. At what point does competitiveness morph into divisiveness? This where the 2008 example could (when the history book is written on it) prove illustrative. Jacob Sohlberg, in the comments section over at TMC, alludes to this:
"The fighting candidates and their party get most of the media attention while the real competitor (say McCain) gets little. This is under the (strong) assumption that all news are good news."
And that's the thing: as long as the news is good. At what point does the positive competitiveness of the race for delegates turn into the negative, party-splitting divisiveness? Should Clinton do well in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, then 2008 may have reached that point for the Democrats. But in the Super Tuesday era (1988/1992-2004), no challenger has been afforded such an opportunity. That era was marked by frontrunners who were able to snuff out insurgencies before competitiveness turned to divisiveness. [And just for the record, this is not an obituary for the Super Tuesday era, as I call it. 2008 may prove to be an anomaly and not a system changing election. Let's revisit this in four years and see.] Mondale quelled Gary Hart before a movement started (No, this isn't within the era I defined above but it is a good example.). George W. Bush kept McCain at bay. And Kerry silenced John Edwards. Competitiveness yielded to reality in all three cases before divisiveness took hold or could attempt to take hold.

What we see then is that the ability to stop competitiveness (My, doesn't that sound democratic. This is, of course, from the frontrunner's and national party's perspectives.) in its tracks is important. The GOP's unwritten strategy of going with an "heir apparent" as its nominee makes sense in this context. It helps avoid divisiveness. The onus is then on the Democratic party to steer clear of protracted nomination battles in their overall more competitive nomination process. Should competitiveness turn to divisiveness, then healing the divisions in a timely fashion (at least in relation to the opposing party) becomes the next obstacle.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Governors on 2008 Frontloading

I originally had this in with the morning post, but it grew into a post of its own.

With the nation's governors in Washington
this week for the National Governors Association meeting, got the some state executives to comment on the effects of moving their states delegate selection events (I know, it is weird for this blog to actually shift back to its stated purpose of covering frontloading, but still.). Most governors from states that moved forward seemed to be pleased with the results of moving. Tennessee governor, Phil Bredesen was the lone exception (at least among those cited in the article). He complained that Tennessee got lost in the shuffle on Super Tuesday. Of course he and the state legislature could have left well enough alone. In the lead up to 2004 the state moved to the second Tuesday in February. That would have been February 12 for the 2008 cycle; a far less crowded primary day with only the three Potomac contests being waged that day.

On the other hand, governors in later states came across as bitter
, wanting to scrap the whole system of presidential selection. Why blame the system for the inner-workings of the states standing the way of that primary movement? Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania fell into that category, but the Keystone state is one that has had a legislature divided, with one party controlling one chamber and the other party the other chamber, for years now. Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour, also favored looking at alternative methods of presidential nominee selection. Of course the Magnolia state has been mired in a court dispute over the requiring of photo IDs at polling places that has been split along party lines. Waiting on that decision and whether it would be applied to the presidential primary next month affected the state's ability to move its primary.

It is funny to me that caucus state governors are touting their state's moves so gleefully. First of all, caucuses are traditionally (outside of Iowa) the redheaded stepchildren of the delegate selection process. With Obama's success (And Romney's too. No one is really taking about that. He did do well in caucuses.) in caucuses, that form of delegate selection has gotten a lot more coverage during this cycle. However, caucuses are easier to move than primaries (...the majority primaries that are controlled by state legislatures at least. Even party-run primary strongholds like Utah and South Carolina have opened the door to the state funding of those contests during this cycle.).

Caucuses typically fall under the control of the individual state parties and those entities can hold their delegate selection events any time they want to within the rules of the national parties. That effectively removes the fetters of partisanship from the equation. From time to time there will be division within the state party on a primary/caucus move, but not often (The Michigan example from this cycle comes to mind.). It is all about getting those benefits of being early and a state party can pull that off much more easily than a state legislature can, especially if said legislature is divided in some way between parties (And keep in mind that we haven't introduced the complexity of a governor affecting this decision also.).

I'll have more on this in the coming weeks and months as my dissertation on the subject progresses. With the Western Political Science Association's annual meeting looming, my paper on who is making these frontloading decisions will definitely work its way into the discussions here (See, it already has.) among other things.

Early Voting Analysis from Texas and the Events of February 27

With a couple of weeks between contests, the next round of primaries and caucuses are receiving the kind of scrutiny not seen since the pre-Iowa days (Remember those days...when we were still singing Christmas carols? This campaign has already been long and we aren't even out of February yet.). The rules in Texas and the playing field in Ohio have been examined within this space over the last several weeks. However, the broader political science community is starting to weigh in with some actual data from Texas. Now, while NPR will simply state, as they did this morning, that early voting had commenced in both the prized states of March 4, some have gone beyond that to look into what the early information (from the fifteen largest counties) released by the Texas secretary of state's office actually mean.

The folks at both Election Updates and The Monkey Cage have some interesting analysis and commentary on what is coming out of Texas. Former UT graduate student and current John Jay College professor, Brian Arbor has found that early voting turnout is up versus four years ago, and that the increase is in areas that have demographic characteristics similar to voters that have gone with Obama in other states. There are caveats to these findings, to be sure, but some of this information is backed up by Paul Gronke over at Election Updates, who has done a lot of research on the impact of early voting. He cites the Wall Street Journal article that discusses Hidalgo County having the highest proportion of early voting. However, it is also one of the counties in a state senate district that has the fewest delegates at stake; just two. So while Hidalgo is full of the Hispanic voters that Clinton has targeted and proportionally is voting early, it may not in the end help Clinton all that much.

Both points give Obama an edge and must be ominous signs to the Clinton camp in Texas

In other news, NPR has been discussing the presidential race
with noted conservatives this week. Grover Norquist's interview came up in the comments yesterday. This series of interviews has been fertile ground for one-liners. Norquist maintained that McCain played dead last summer (through no fault of his own) and ultimately benefited from the scrutiny his opponents underwent. Today, the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy chief, Richard Land, had a great comment about the Democratic race. He said that Clinton was "on a job interview" while Obama was "on a date." And that really is an interesting way to frame and a testament to the Obama momentum/movement within the Democratic party (and outside of it with independents).

John Lewis made it official yesterday
: he's switching over to Obama in a nod to the voices of the constituents within his Georgia congressional district. Now I'll have to see if that change has been reflected in the running tally at and on their GEarth layer. This story has already played its way out because of the New York Times story recently, but it still isn't a welcome sign with the Clinton campaign.

Finally, New York mayor (I bet you think I'm going to say Rudy Giuliani. Nope, but I have written that phrase a lot during this cycle, though a lot less lately.), Michael Bloomberg, ended the speculation that he would enter the presidential race as an independent today. And that officially brings to a close the discussions of an all New York race. Yes, it was as recently as late last summer that that was a talking point within the live discussion group here at UGA. And at the time it seemed conceivable that it could happen with Clinton the frontrunner on the Democratic side and Guiliani leading in the polls amongst the Republican candidates. C'est la vie, all New York presidential race.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's Official: Debates are No Substitute for Actual Contests

The consensus emerging today (and even last night as I came to the realization when MSNBC's online feed of the debate forced me to call it a night earlier than I had expected) is that last night's debate did little to change the course of the race for the Democratic nomination. Clinton did what folks who are not the frontrunner do: she attacked. Obama, on the other hand, filled the frontrunner role and played it safe, hovering above the attacks being levied against him. The movement toward Obama in the polls (via Real Clear Politics) in both Ohio and Texas back up that role assignment. In Texas the polls show a tie, if not a small Obama lead. Ohio's numbers show that what was once a double digit lead is now down to about six points. If that continues, then Tuesday night could provide some drama, especially after last night proved that a debate can only somewhat fill the void left by the absence of real contests. If only New Jersey has not switched primary dates a second time.

I'll keep it light for the rest of the post. There are some interesting links that have popped up recently that may be of some interest to the group.

1) If you have Google Earth installed on your PC, Mac or Linux box (Hey, the 1% of the population that uses Linux counts too!), be sure to check out the superdelegates layer that has been developed. Yes, the same thing is available on Google Maps, but you can't beat the animation that comes with Google Earth. Most of this can be linked to through (The .kml file that is necessary to run the script in GEarth there if you click on, "view the info on Google Maps and Google Earth" here or on that page.). The Monkey Cage (moderated by several of the faculty at George Washington University) has a link to the GMaps version.

2) It is a good day for The Monkey Cage here at FHQ. They also have a post linking to Thomas Holbrook's (of Do Campaigns Matter? fame) new Election08Data blog. There's some good stuff there already.

3) And while we're at it, and since they linked to my post on the Texas primary/caucus last week, here's the link to Election Updates, which lists Michael Alvarez, Paul Gronke, Thad Hall, Robert Krimmer and Melissa Slemin as contributors.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obama and the Red State Question: A Deeper Analysis

Recently, The Fix ran a post looking at the Obama campaign's contention that it, given primary and caucus performances thus far, has the ability to swing red states into the Democratic column in November. This post gets the ball rolling on several questions that may prove worthy of further examination within the realm of political science.

The first, as posed by University of Maryland-Baltimore County associate professor, Thomas Schaller, surrounds the observation that, over the last two presidential cycles, the higher the percentage of state's population that is African American, the better the GOP has done (in terms of vote share for the Republican candidate for president). Now, I've glanced through my trusty journal search engines of choice and have yet to find anything that directly addresses this hypothesis. Several confounding factors come to mind when thinking about this relationship though. The way I see it, swing state status and the number of majority-minority congressional districts may form an interactive relationship.

The states in the South are as solidly Republican now as they were Democratic in the 1960s and before. So while those states are the states with the highest percentages of African Americans, they are nonetheless solidly red. Solidly red means little attention from the Democratic candidates for president though. Voters then, that may be likely to swing one way or the other (and are outside of those majority minority districts), are swayed by what they are hearing (or aren't hearing) within their districts: a Republican message. In other words, if African Americans are packed into one or two districts in a state, while Republicans maintain majorities in the remaining districts, the inattention from both parties in those Republican districts leaves a void that is filled by the prevailing GOP message. The question then becomes, does any Democratic attention in those districts help sway enough independents (or even Republicans) to put the state in the toss up category when the general election rolls around. That is the very type of micro-targeting that the Bush team employed with great success in 2004; making some states more competitive than the conventional wisdom would have thought possible. Ultimately though, does this interaction "explain away" the relationship we've seen in the last two cycles between the percentage of African Americans within a state and the vote share captured by Republican presidential candidates? Well, that begs for further research.

The other question concerns whether Obama (if he becomes the Democratic nominee) can shift the pool of competitive, general election states; pulling in some formerly solidly red states. This one I'll tackle less scientifically. It is very early and we don't yet know exactly who the nominees will be for each party (Fine, McCain is the guy for the GOP, but not officially until he crosses the 1191 delegate threshold.), but there are head-to-head polls that are being conducted on the state level. Again, this is less than scientific, but looking at these polls does give us a glimpse into the potential power of an Obama candidacy in the general election. Here are the states that have had head-to-head polls (conducted and) reported over the last week (Clicking on Clinton or Obama gives you a link to their head-to-head against McCain in these states via Real Clear Politics. Emphasis will be given to polls conducted around or since Super Tuesday.).

Swing States:
Iowa: (Obama, Clinton): Iowa has been a swing state in the last two cycles; going for Gore in 2000 and Bush in 2004. It was one of the few states that actually switched from 2000 to 2004. These early head-to-head polls offer a stark contrast though; a twenty point swing depending on who the Democratic nominee is. Obama leads McCain by ten points, while Clinton trails McCain by the same margin. That's the definition of swing, though not in the terms we're used to in presidential elections. Here's an example of a 2004 red state, that could be comfortably with the Democrats or out of reach based on who the nominee is. Numbers like these don't hurt the electability argument Obama has been pushing.

: (Obama, Clinton): Obama has an eight point lead over McCain while Clinton is tied. The latter roughly reflects the distribution of votes in the 2004 Bush-Kerry match up in the state. Is there potential for Obama to make Michigan solidly Democratic? Well, we'll have to ask those Michigan delegates who may not be seated in late August.

New Mexico: (Obama, Clinton): New Mexico, like several other states in the following analysis, has been a swing state in the last few general election cycles. It is one of the few states that switched support, moving from Democratic in 2000 to Republican in 2004. Early on it looks like Obama has a decided advantage over McCain in a state that neighbors McCain's own, Arizona. Against Clinton however, McCain is knotted in a dead heat.

Pennsylvania: (Obama, Clinton): In four polls since Super Tuesday, Pennsylvania looks to be shaping up as a swing state again in 2008. In averaging those polls, both Clinton and Obama hold about a percentage point lead over McCain. Gov. Ed Rendell could prove useful as a running mate for either Democrat in that scenario and former Sen. Rick Santorum fits the profile of the a possible McCain running mate (Well, if age was the only balancing consideration.).

: (Obama, Clinton): If you focus just on the polls from February 2008, then the results are a wash. Clinton would have a two point advantage while Obama and McCain are tied. Ohio is a swing state, regardless of which Democratic candidate emerges.

Oregon: (Obama, Clinton): Like Pennsylvania, Oregon is a state where McCain being the GOP nominee may actually benefit the Republicans. Oregon has been with the Democrats in general elections since 1988. Of course, that only holds if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. McCain has a five point edge over her in Oregon but trails Obama by eight points; a margin twice what Kerry's was over Bush in 2004.

The tally: In the six swing states represented, four give Obama an advantage over Clinton and the two others are virtual ties between the two and McCain.

Blue States:
California: (Obama, Clinton): There really isn't a need to dwell on California for too long. It is a blue state and these poll numbers show that. Ironically, Obama has a larger margin against McCain than Clinton does in the Golden state despite losing the state's primary to her on February 5.

New Jersey: (Obama, Clinton): Both Democrats lead McCain by about the same margin that Kerry beat Bush in the state in 2004. This is a Democratic state unless the leading indicators point to a Republican lean in any given cycle. 2008 is not that cycle for the Republicans (though the Bush folks focused some on New Jersey down the stretch in 2004).

New York: (Obama, Clinton): The surprise here is that Obama does better in Clinton's "home state" than she does against McCain. Across the two post-Super Tuesday polls, his lead is fourteen points to her nine over McCain. In the end New York will be in the Democratic column.

The tally: These three states are part of the Democratic electoral bedrock, and none give either candidate a significant advantage. The Democratic nominee will be in good shape in November no matter which candidate is settled upon.

Red States:
: (Obama, Clinton): Alabama was a red state and given these numbers will likely stay red. Whether the Democratic nominee is Obama or Clinton doesn't seem to have an effect. One note to make is that Alabama is the one state on this list that falls into the heavily African American hypothesis discussed above. It seems to drive home that perception.

Kansas: (Obama, Clinton): Kansas is a red state where Obama could make a push. Both Democrats trail McCain in these early polls, but the margin between Obama and McCain is much smaller than the one between Clinton and McCain. One of the hot names on the speculative VP list for Obama is Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius. With Obama's Kansas roots (or his mother's) and her on the ticket, that six point margin could quickly dissipate. Do the state's six electoral votes really net the Democrats anything though? I suppose that depends on how close the election is.

Virginia: (Obama, Clinton): Like Kansas, Virginia is a solidly red state (at least on the presidential level), where Obama could make some waves. He and McCain are neck and neck while McCain leads Clinton comfortably. The VP choice could be key to hypothetically putting an Obama-led Democratic party over the top in a state like Virginia. This is why we hear Gov. Tim Kaine's and Sen. Jim Webb's names mentioned in relation to Obama. And with thirteen electoral votes at stake, that could prove a real steal for the Democrats.

The tally: Here's the real question: Does Obama potentially bring red states into the electoral equation for Democrats in the fall. In this rather unscientific analysis, he does seem to bring something to the table in two of the three states represented. Virginia has been circled by Democrats since Tim Kaine's gubernatorial win there in 2005 and Jim Webb's ousting of George Allen in the 2006 midterms. Kansas, on the other hand, is intriguing. The margin is enough that a Kansan on the ticket could mean something. The reason Sebelius is governor is because the Republican party in Kansas is split between moderate and conservative factions. Can those conservatives "hold their noses" and vote for McCain? That is the question and why Kansas is a state the Dems could pick off.

Overall, what do we see from this? Obama is helpful in swing states and may be able to pick some spots in red states that could swing some of those into the Democratic column in November. In blue states however, it really doesn't matter. "Give me a Democrat and I'll vote for them" could almost be the mantra.

What Could Have Been: New Jersey

February 26 wasn't always this lonely. It wasn't always about Cleveland debates and looking forward to primaries in Texas and Ohio. No, for a couple of years (between 2005 and 2007), New Jersey's presidential primary was situated on this, the fourth Tuesday in February. Traditionally one of the states to bring up the rear in early June, New Jersey's legislature opted to position the state's presidential primary three weeks behind Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, then the only three states scheduled for February 5. Once the momentum began to build behind the February 5 Super Tuesday in late 2006 and into 2007 though, the New Jersey legislature moved forward again, joining what even then in April 2007 was shaping up as a logjam in early February.

The intent of the move was to give New Jersey voters an opportunity to weigh in on who the two parties' nominees were to be for the 2008 cycle. And you can't blame the legislature for assuming that the Super Tuesday model would hold for this cycle as it has since basically the 1992 phase. To move and still not be consequential would have looked bad. But the nominations were not wrapped up on Super Tuesday, and that assumption and subsequent gamble may not have paid off as it could have if New Jersey had remained on February 26. Yes, the intent of the move was fulfilled, but residents of the Garden state (at least the Democratic and independent ones) could have been far more important to the Democratic nomination had the brakes been put on the second move.

Just for the heck of it, let's play out this bit of counterfactual history. If New Jersey had kept its presidential primary on February 26, it would have been the only event on that date; the only game in town. Typically that means a ton of media coverage and candidate attention. In 2008 though, that attention would have grown exponentially. Let's call it New Hampshire, part II. In addition, think about the current race for the Democratic nomination. Obama has rolled off eleven straight victories since Super Tuesday (Yes, the Virgin Islands and Democrats Abroad count. They do provide delegates after all.). Clinton may have still faced those same eleven defeats if New Jersey had been on February 26, but at least a contest in some naturally hospitable territory would have been on the horizon. In addition, it could have served as a nice springboard into the contests of next week; possibly throwing the outcome of the nomination into further doubt (Clinton wins next week could still do that, but with a New Jersey win, it would have been easier.). Now sure, a Clinton win in a February 26 New Jersey primary could have been spun by the media as a contest she should have won, thereby shifting the focus to the margin of victory and delegate totals. However, you can't underestimate how important potentially breaking Obama's winning streak ahead of March 4 could have been to the Clinton camp. It could have fundamentally altered the course of the race.

Finally, and most importantly, a February 26 New Jersey primary would have meant that political junkies wouldn't have to sit idly by waiting two weeks for the next round of contests.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And on the Seventh Day, the Blogger Rested

Fine, a slowdown in the campaign, at least in terms of contests, equals a slowdown in blog output. Well, it's either that or fatigue. To quote Grandpa Simpson (see below), "a little from column A, a little from column B." Regardless, there has been some action worth noting on the trail and beyond over the last couple of days.

McCain continues to battle the FEC over the issue of the loan he took out last fall to keep his campaign afloat. The kicker is that now the DNC is involved; writing letters to the FEC calling for action. Good luck to the DNC on that one. Aren't Senate Democrats holding up those FEC commissioners' confirmations in a standoff with the White House? The "all bark and no bite" FEC is even more toothless now that it is stuck in limbo, biding its time until a full slate of commissioners can actually do the work of upholding the very law John McCain helped to create. Funny business, this politics.

In other McCain news, he's old, but not any older than Bob Dole would have been had the former Senate majority leader won in 1996. [Of course McCain is trying to avoid bottoming out financially during the summer months like Dole did. Repeating the summer of 2007 would be bad enough for the presumptive Republican nominee.] The age issue is working its way into the VP discussions surrounding McCain though. Regional balance has been a longstanding consideration in the running mate calculus, but age balance is an altogether different factor. Dole's choice of Kemp in 1996 is an obvious example and Bush's decision to go with Quayle in 1988 is similar in some ways. One could potentially argue that Eisenhower choosing a younger Richard Nixon fits this category as well.

The reverse scenario, where a relatively young candidate choses someone with more experience, has also popped up historically. Kennedy tapping Johnson in 1960 comes to mind. Age though wasn't the main consideration there. The Austin to Boston axis, usually a balance among the Democratic leadership in Congress during the period, was at play with this tandem as well. The two also finished one-two in the primaries (non-binding) and in the convention brokering that year. So age may not have been the top concern in 1960. George W. Bush selecting Dick Cheney could also fit into this category. A failed run for Congress and a long period outside of the public sector followed by six years as Texas governor, left the younger Bush vulnerable to the inexperience label. Cheney's time in Congress as well as his stints in the Ford and (first)Bush administrations helped Bush shed that label. And of course, if Obama is to become the Democratic nominee then age may again be a factor.

Speaking of VP speculation, here's the latest from The Fix. And here's the view from a political science perspective.

On the Democratic side, the race is still on and getting somewhat petty/nasty in the lead up to the Ohio-Rhode Island-Texas-Vermont round of contests on March 4. The Clinton folks are fighting Obama's momentum and the perception that it's over (Of course, that's the media killing Clinton and lauding Obama or so goes the charge.). Tightening poll numbers in the largest of those states (Texas and Ohio) are not helping that effort. The head-to-head match ups against McCain aren't either (Clinton and Obama). The Clinton anger has turned to sarcasm has turned to negative photos of Obama in a whirling dervish of ploys for votes in the two March 4 prizes (Sorry Rhode Island and Vermont. Bigger is better. Just ask North Dakota how Super Tuesday went with California hogging the late night spotlight.). All this before tomorrow night's debate in Cleveland. That should make for an interesting last tussle before the contests next week.

Meanwhile, Ralph Nader has thrown his hat in the presidential ring once more
. His appearance on the Meet the Press was an interesting one. He shrugged off worries that he would siphon off votes from the Democrats in November countering the 2000 election argument by citing research by Solon Simmons (see citation below). [The main finding there is that Nader forced Gore to take more progressive stands, actually gaining votes in Florida as a result.] Nader also mentioned that if the Democrats can't landslide this cycle, then they should pack it up as party. That sentiment has made the rounds and there is a grain of truth to it. One thing I'd like to add is that with enthusiasm so high on the Democratic side, is Nader's potential impact not muted anyway. [Here's the transcript of that MTP interview.]

Simmons, Solon. 2004. “One Man in Ten Thousand: Ralph Nader takes on the Presidency.” Wisconsin Political Scientist, Vol.10, No.2

Saturday, February 23, 2008

On Debates and Lobbyists

During the last two days the Democratic debate from Texas and the McCain-Iseman New York Times story have been the dominant news items within the [American] political world. FHQ made the decision to take the "take a step back and reflect" approach to both before jumping to bloggy, insta-reactions (not that anyone does that). And the question that pops into my head applies to both items: Did either event fundamentally change the outlook of the race for the White House?

The McCain campaign seems to have shifted the scrutiny back to the New York Times (the timing of the story, why it was sent to press with the information they had, etc) instead of inviting further scrutiny upon the relationship between McCain and lobbyist, Vicki Iseman. And the Times has never been a friend to the Right; conservatives actually came to McCain's defense on this one. So McCain seems to have avoided the firestorm on this one. While it may come back to haunt him later, the campaign's attention may be better spend on the financial situation it finds itself in vis-a-vis the FEC. That he may have to take matching funds during the primary period, hamstringing the campaign in the waning months of primary season, may potentially be the more damaging than the "scandal." Bob Dole's 1996 presidential bid comes to mind. His campaign's inability to compete during the summer months (because it had accepted matching funds and was out of money) put the former Kansas senator at a decided disadvantage as the race transitioned into general election mode.

On the Democratic side, Thursday's debate did little to alter the course of the race, despite how the candidates tried to spin it afterwards. Clinton and company still continue to be perplexed by Obama's ability to ward off nearly every attack as "the politics of the past." The message of change (one that focuses on changing the divisive politics of the past) is one that has taken root among a majority of Democratic primary/caucus voters so far and it is one that makes Obama almost impervious to attack. He will always have that Reaganesque, "There you go again," statement to fall back on. "That's just the politics of the past." That message resonates with voters or at least has so far. And given the how the debate went, has that changed? What we are left with is the wait and see game. Wait until March 4 and watch as the poll margins in both Texas and Ohio close between the two remaining Democratic contenders. Here's the latest from Real Clear Politics:


Friday, February 22, 2008

The Specter of 2004 Still Haunts Ohio

There has been plenty of talk about the rules in the Texas primary on March 4, but the other big one for the Democrats that day is in Ohio. And the Buckeye state has its own issues as the voters there enter the presidential nomination fray. A lot of these issues have to deal with the voting irregularities witnessed in the 2004 presidential election; as Ohio became the Florida of that election.

In this morning's Early Word post on The Caucus, there was but a blurb about the story that ran in the Wall Street Journal today about the potential for real problems in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland area) specifically. The sudden change from touchscreen voting machines (What did Ohio-based Diebold rename itself?) to optical scan counting machines opens the door to problems as does trucking those ballots away from the individual precincts to be counted in a central location. The Wall Street Journal piece is but the tip of the iceberg though. These issues have received some attention in other circles as well. Joe Hall (via Election Updates) discusses the possibility of midday shut downs of polling places and cites Ohio State law professor, Ed Foley's, detailed account of the administrative challenges facing the Ohio presidential primary on March 4.

Dan Tokaji's (another OSU law professor) words from the Wall Street Journal article cited above ring true: "If the margin is large enough, nobody may care but [in a close election] mistakes are magnified." And with the polls for the Democratic race drawing closer to even than they have been in the state, that could spell real trouble for someone trying to win a decisive victory to get back in to the nomination race. It is interesting that all the warts in the system become noticeable when the races are so close. No one cares in a landslide.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kentucky and Minnesota Eye 2012

Not content to wait until next year, as one member of the Indiana legislature is, both state legislatures in Kentucky and Minnesota are at various stages of considering presidential primary moves for 2012.

The situation in Kentucky is the much further along. HB 18 began as a bill to alter the state's runoff election provisions. After having passed the House though, amendments were added in the Senate to split the state's presidential and state and local primaries; moving the former to the first Tuesday in February and the later to the first Tuesday after the third Monday in August. During the post-reform era, Kentucky has typically held both sets of primaries simultaneously in late May of presidential election years. And as I've shown in my own research (An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2007 Southern Political Science Association Conference in New Orleans, LA.), those states with split primaries are significantly more likely to be able to frontload their presidential primaries than those states which hold those contests simultaneously with state and local contests. Kentucky has fallen into the latter category up until now. What Kentucky is faced with is basically the cost of holding an all new election in early February (often enough to prevent state legislatures from pulling the trigger on these moves). Having said that, the bill has passed the Senate (see here and here) and has now returned to the House for review. The 23-13 vote in the Senate broke along partisan lines with the Republican majority in the chamber supporting the measure in tandem with the one independent. Thirteen of the fifteen Democrats voted against while the remaining two abstained. Here though is the kicker: Kentucky's legislature is divided. The Senate is controlled by Republicans and the House by Democrats. The amendment concerning the presidential primary was penned by GOP senator, David Williams and with that Senate vote passing along party lines, it is unlikely the Democratic-controlled House will give the bill (with the amendment) much attention; much less pass it. Even if it did manage to pass the House, the bill would then go to the newly elected, Democratic governor, Steve Beshear. These states that have to change multiple laws to move their presidential primaries have a tough row to hoe. The more laws that have to be altered, the more likely partisan conflicts are to arise.

Minnesota offers a completely different set of circumstances (Imagine that, variation from state to state.). The frontloading discussion there only began after the chaotic Super Tuesday caucuses in the North Star state (see this link for more). The discussion may be in its infancy, but a bill has already been introduced to, first of all, establish a presidential primary and to then position it on the first Tuesday in February. That bill, SF2760 (House companion bill HF3045), was introduced in and referred to committee in both chambers on February 18 (this past Monday). In the Senate the bill was introduced by the president of the Senate, James Metzen, a Democrat. On the House side the bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of four (three Democrats and one Republican). Both chambers are controlled by the Democrats. So similar to Kentucky, Minnesota faces the issue of creating an entirely new election. That comes at a cost to taxpayers. Contrary to the Kentucky situation though, the fact that there appears to be some degree of bipartisan support for the bill bodes well. Should either of those bills make it through the Democratic-controlled legislature though, it would face the hurdle of getting past a Republican governor's veto.

What can we take from these situations in Kentucky and Minnesota? Party matters. If one party is opposed to the movement (or establishment) of a presidential primary, the task of moving that primary becomes that much more difficult. Split primaries matter. States that hold their presidential nominating contests in conjunction with their nominating contests for state and local offices have an extra hurdle to overcome; a hurdle that could inflame partisan divisions within the legislature for whatever reason. Those states that don't face the fetters of simultaneous contests have an easier go of it when it comes to frontloading.

The actions in Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota mark an early start to preparations for the next presidential nominating cycle. By comparison, Arkansas was the first to move their presidential primary (splitting their nominating contests) in anticipation of the 2008 primary season; making their move in 2005. So to look forward to the next round when the current round is still ongoing is a bit of a departure from what we've witnessed in the past.

Florida and Michigan Redux

The idea of Florida and Michigan holding caucuses to come in line with Democratic National Committee rules has come up in the past on this blog--in an earlier post and in the comments last night. But outside of speculation do we have a sense of what is going on here? We do have some pieces to the puzzle that begin to help us construct a picture of the environment. It just may not be a very clear picture.

Here's what we know:
1) The DNC is pressuring both states to hold caucuses as a means of resolving the issue of seating delegates at the convention in Denver this summer. Obama would like that. Clinton wouldn't.

2) This caucus idea keeps coming up. See the links above as well as this one from CNN's Political Ticker blog from yesterday (Rob, you get the assist on this one.). The issue isn't going to go away until it gets resolved.

3) Looking at the state parties' web sites reveals little. But here's what I did find out:
a) Florida has congressional district caucuses planned for March 1 already. Huh? These caucuses were planned in advance so this isn't a new development. They are in place to confirm the results of the January 29 primary and elect the actual delegates that will (hopefully, in their view) attend the national convention. My question is, if this caucus is already in place, why not go ahead and hold a do-over election instead of wasting time with confirming a series of delegates that run the risk of not being seated anyway?

b) Michigan has fewer possibilities (or more possibilities simple because less is known). The issue does keep popping up in the local news there with Michigan Democratic party chair, Mark Brewer, outside of the caucus movement. Things have progressed somewhat far though. T-shirts with "Do Over!" emblazoned across the chest are in production and on sale online. [I'm on the verge of getting one just to commemorate how fun the ride leading up to and into the 2008 cycle has been. Ah, memories. And it's still only February.] All humor aside though, the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee does convene this weekend in Flint, MI. It is hard to imagine this caucus idea not coming up at all during that meeting. In other words, we may know something about the fate of a possible Michigan Democratic caucus after the weekend. It may not even be remotely likely, but again, this is a topic that one would assume would make its way into the discussion of such a group.

The dust will have to settle on the 2008 election before the question of how these two states were ultimately counted can be accurately answered much less analyzed. I'm sure I'll be around to do some of that work though.

Pretty Links in Comments

There has been an issue over links that are being cut and pasted into the comments. There may come a time when I tire of dealing with those sorts of links, but this blog is still in its infancy and it really doesn't present a problem now. More information is good, right? When traffic increases (hopefully) folks may begin to append links that are not of the quality that moderators at FHQ (me) deem acceptable.

So here are the ground rules for avoiding those pesky truncated links. Use html code.
Here's that code:
where 1) resumepage.html is the actual address you want to include, and
2) my resume is the text that will be live (clickable) within the comment.

Make sure you put the web address in quotation marks.

That should clear up the issue. Thanks.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's Your Turn Badger State

My apologies to the good folks in Washington and Hawaii, but even at the level of political addiction that I'm at now won't keep up me up to see results that I know I can find out in the morning. The focus tonight will be on the dual contests in Wisconsin. Here are the particulars:
1) Both parties have open primaries. Independents, independents, independents. Which way will they break? McCain or Obama? The GOP race may appear less consequential to those independents and they may move over to the Obama camp.
2) Same day registration is in effect. New people to the process have been going for Obama since Iowa, so that could be a real boon for him.

9:55pm: I'll be back in the morning with a wrap up on Wisconsin and a discussion of Washington and Hawaii.

9:46pm: This has been a fairly shallow post from an analysis standpoint. However, I'll leave with this one note: Clinton's speech tonight in Ohio is an attempt to cast the Democratic battle as the difference between someone who is more substance than style. As part of that equation, she discusses readiness to be commander-in-chief; that she is the best qualified. Funny then (as The Caucus points out--see their 9:30 post) that Wisconsin exit polls seem to indicate that Badger state voters lean toward Obama on that issue. Clinton has an uphill climb, but the debates renew on Thursday in Ohio for what could be an interesting event.

9:30pm: The counties are lighting up now over at the NYT Election Guide for Wisconsin. The results so far (1% reporting):
Obama 54.3%
Clinton 44.7

McCain 58.7%
Huckabee 33.9

9:26pm: CNN has called Wisconsin for Obama. 2008 is different but this is starting to look like 2000 when Gore and Bush were running up victories in the contests that year. Obama and McCain have had all the fun since last Tuesday.

9:18pm: The AP (via The Drudge Report) has Obama jumping out to a lead against a "fading" Hillary Clinton. Sure, Obama has led in the polls in Wisconsin, but to hit Clinton with fading at the outset hurts. Then again, Obama's ability to cut into Clinton's support among women these last two weeks will do that.

9:07pm: As the McCain link below also indicates, Obama is leading Clinton early on. I'm still waiting on the first counties to be colored in on NYT's Election Guide for Wisconsin.

9:02pm: Ha! Well, McCain is the GOP winner according to ABC. Sp much for that "huge, unexpected" victory for Huckabee.

9:00pm: What? No winners projected?

8:55pm: Here's more analysis of the exit polls from The Caucus.

8:50pm: We are ten minutes away from polls closing in Wisconsin. The exit polls are suggesting that "change" was on the mind of Wisconsin voters. On its face that sounds like advantage Obama. But most of the Democratic voters in Wisconsin were women and/or seniors. There were some cracks in those typical Clinton groups last week in the Potomac primaries, but will Wisconsin follow that lead?

Curiouser and Curiouser: The Fight for...Pledged Delegates?

With each passing day, something new enters the fray in the Democratic nomination race. First it was the race going past Super Tuesday without a presumptive nominee. Then the talk of a brokered convention grew to a fevered pitch (Sure the idea had been out there, but before the Super Tuesday split, no one quite wanted to take it seriously.). The protracted race for each and every delegate then ushered superdelegates into the view as the potentially decisive group. With that came questions of the fairness of having party elites possibly swing the nomination against what the will of the people was in the delegate selection events.

Now though, comes the big kahuna (Yes, Hawaii Democrats are holding their caucuses today, so I thought I'd give them a nod.). Politico is reporting that the Clinton camp has a strategy in place to go after Obama's PLEDGED delegates if she needs them to secure the Democratic nomination (There's no doubt that the Obama camp would follow suit.). Now of all the doomsday scenarios that have surfaced on the Democratic side, this chaotic free-for-all would take the cake. All four thousand plus delegates at stake in a grander scale version of what we witnessed in the televised Iowa caucuses on January 3. Yeah, remember the one woman backing Richardson in the CSPAN-covered Democratic caucus who made you want to vote for anyone else, even if it meant Mike Gravel. Well, that was in a room with around three hundred people. What we're talking about here is four thousand people plus the Clinton and Obama campaigns trying to decipher who the nominee for the party will be. That type of event may actually bring back wall-to-wall coverage of the convention this August in Denver.

I honestly thought that the campaigns may actually campaign in states where second round caucuses were being held before a drastic measure like this was considered.

Well, I've rattled enough cages with this one. I'll be back shortly to discuss what's on the line tonight in Wisconsin, Washington and Hawaii. If last week was convenient with a set of east coast contests, this week is far less hospitable. The action in Hawaii kicks off at midnight in the east and given how difficult the count in the GOP caucus was in Washington on February 9 (They're still stuck on 99.99% of precincts reporting ten days later.), I'm not optimistic that those numbers will surface very soon after polls close there.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Texas: The Ground Rules

As I described in the live discussion group last week, Texas has a quirky set of delegate selection events on the Democratic side. [You can find the rundown of how the delegates are selected at The Green Papers. [I'll repeat them here shortly and then go a bit more in depth as to their potential impact.] The news has been slow to pick up on the intricacies of the Texas system, but as the Democratic primary/caucus approaches on March 4, scrutiny of the Lone Star state's contest increases. The Washington Post had a great article up this morning detailing the ins and outs of the upcoming primary/caucus (the real gem was the inclusion of the Texas Democratic party's delegate selection plan) and Will Lutz at the Dallas Blog seeks to set the record straight with a how-to from a Texan.

Here's the question though: How will these rules affect the race? First the primary. Of the 228 delegates at stake in Texas on the Democratic side, 126 will be allocated in the primary. As both the Post and The Green Papers describe, each of Texas' 31 state senate districts (Here's the map of those districts and here's the Senate's seating chart with partisan breakdown--20R to 11D.) have anywhere from 2 to 7 delegates each based on the number of votes the district provided the Democratic candidate for governor in 2006 and president in 2004 (4 delegates is the mode.). More support equals more delegates. On the upper end, the 13th district is an urban Houston district that is the lone district to receive 7 delegates. The 14th, which encompasses Austin gets 6 delegates as does the Dallas area's 23rd. As we've discussed, Obama tends to do well in population centers (and college towns), so these high end districts seem to be his territory.

The four districts with 5 delegates each is where things get interesting. Now we begin to introduce areas with high populations of Latinos like the 20th and 21st districts in south Texas. The other two 5 delegate districts, the 10th and the 26th represent urban areas; Dallas and San Antonio respectively. Clinton has won the states with the highest Hispanic populations (Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico) thus far, so to surmise that she'd do well in those south Texas districts isn't too much of a stretch (She did campaign there last week immediately following the Potomac primaries.). However, with Obama recently securing the endorsements of the SEIU and UFCW, unions with a large number of Hispanic members, he may see increased support among that demographic group. A couple of questions emerge from that:
1) How often do union members fall in line with the endorsements their unions make? Anecdotally, it seems that the timing of the endorsement has an effect (from The Caucus):
"The service employees’ chapters in Nevada and California endorsed Mr. Obama shortly before contests in those states. Nonetheless, Mrs. Clinton won both those states, with the union’s leaders saying that if they had made that endorsement several weeks, rather than several days, before those contests, that might have given them time to mount a campaign that made a big difference."
And that notion is backed up in the political science literature. Dark (1996) finds that the earlier the group endorsement and mobilization efforts are begun, the more successful those groups are in getting their rank-in-file members to coalesce behind the group's choice. Earlier, Rapoport, Stone and Abramowitz (1991) found that labor endorsements in particular had a significant effect upon union members' vote choices in three of the 1984 Democratic caucuses.

2) Are we beginning to see any differences between different generations of Hispanic voters? What I mean is, are there any differences between those Hispanic who are recently new to the US and those who represent the second or third generation of their family in the country (The difference could also be cast as one between those who are foreign born and those born in the US.)? As Barreto (2005) points out, the literature is rife with examinations of these differences. Further, he notes that those foreign born Hispanic are also poorer and less likely to turnout anyway. This question is a tough one to get at because there are so many cross-cutting issues that are involved in this race. Are these folks more likely to turnout since turnout has set records across the nation during these contests? Do young Latinos lean more towards Obama as they do in other racial groups? Do the US born Hispanics behave as the rest of Democratic voters have (evenly split between the two candidates)?

Back to the primary: The real battle here will be waged in the 17 districts that have four delegates apiece. The potential is there for Obama to again do well in population centers while Clinton does better in the more rural areas (or I suppose less populous areas).

Now what about the caucus? Texas has had this primary/caucus system in place since 1980 when the state held a non-binding primary in conjunction with the customary caucus. Typically Texas has not been in the spotlight (read consequential to the nomination), so the vote more often than not reflects the choice the previous contests had made. In 1988 however, there was a split between these two contests with Dukakis winning the primary and Jesse Jackson taking the caucus (*Note: I need to get a scan of the CQ map that shows this result. I also need to check to see if Jackson just won the first step of the caucus because it seems unlikely that when the Texas state convention was held later--after the nomination had been decided--that it would have gone against Dukakis.). Of course Dukakis got all the press coming out of the primary on that Super Tuesday.

What however, are the rules that govern this contest that is held virtually immediately following the close of polls in the state? The article from the Washington Post linked above is again instructive:

"The caucuses have also given rise to a separate concern, according to several top Texas Democrats interviewed last week. Because the state's Democratic Party has been out of power for years, leaders have struggled to find precinct chairs to oversee all of the 8,000 locations where caucuses will be held.

If it is time for the caucus and there is no precinct chair, party officials decided, the task of overseeing the vote will fall to the first person who collects the packet of materials used to run the caucus.

'The first person in the door picks it up and controls it,' said state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, a Clinton supporter who represents the El Paso area. "So the rules are designed to create a race to the packet. You can imagine what that might look like."

Party officials said most of the duties involved in running the events are routine and are clearly spelled out in the rules provided. But there are instances in which the person chairing the event can influence the outcome, party officials said. For instance, the rules say that only people who vote March 4 can attend that evening's caucus events. If a caucusgoer says he voted but does not show up on the rolls, the organizer has the authority to include or dismiss him."

Obama's supporters have shown time and again this cycle that they are extremely disciplined caucus participants. Does that give him and his supporters in the Lone Star state the advantage? Yes and no. One would assume that that caucus success would continue, but on the other hand, the Clinton camp appears to be aware of the rules. As these things tend to do, it will come down to money and organization. Who the 67 delegates from these caucuses are won't be completely settled until the state convention on June 6-7 (by which time there may be another battle in Texas).

[UPDATE: See post on the implications of a Voting Rights Act-based challenges to the Texas delegate selection system.]

The Weekend Wrap Up--The Presidents' Day Edition

Well, this post won't break any new ground, but is simply a selfish attempt to catalog the events of the last several days for my own personal use (Hey, someone else may want to look at it too!). So what has happened to change the landscape? Let's look at the events for each party:

--Romney endorses McCain: This move doesn't affect McCain as much as it affects Huckabee. McCain will get the nod (eventually), but Huckabee's time in the race is dependent upon the time it takes McCain to get to the 1191 delegates necessary to secure the GOP nomination. CNN is giving all of Romney's delegates in this story; getting McCain to within 78 delegates of the threshold. There must have been some movement in the unpledged delegate area because those numbers don't jibe well with the cable network's current delegate tally. By the current count (and remember, these things vary) McCain would be within 75 delegates of 1191. Handing all those Romney delegates over though is misguided. Their release is dependent upon the rules in each of the states in which Romney was able to capture delegates. That's seventeen states:








B (2nd ballot)




B (1st ballot)








B (1st ballot)




B (2nd ballot)




B (2nd ballot)




B (1st ballot)
















B (1st ballot)








B (1st ballot)



























Not Bound

But how many of those delegates can be released to McCain within the rules in each of these states? This may be a less than scientific approach, but applying the rules of the 2004 GOP delegate selection (concerning which states' delegates were bound), 133 of those 286 Romney delegates are not bound. Returning to CNN's delegate count, that would move McCain up to 963, but would keep him 228 away from the mark that would knock Huckabee out. [One thing I should note is that only Utah's delegate binding rules are known of the 17 states above. The language in the bylaws of the other state parties was less than forthcoming.]

UPDATE: The first President Bush has endorsed McCain now. Now if the McCain folks could figure out how to use the current President Bush in their campaign. They face a similar quandary to the one faced by Al Gore during the 2000 election. That balance will go a long way toward determining how successful McCain will be in the general election.

--Huckabee takes a vacation: Here's all you need to know (from The Caucus this morning):

"Meanwhile, as the Democrats were dealing with the snowstorm, Mike Huckabee’s greatest immediate problem was perhaps his reddened face, scorched by the intense Cayman Islands sun, writes Katharine Q. Seelye of The Times. Mr. Huckabee, the G.O.P. candidate, spent the weekend on the resort island while he addressed a crowd and collected a speaker’s fee.

Mr. Huckabee turned the occasion into an opportunity to point out that his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination, John McCain of Arizona, and the two Democrats seeking their party’s nomination are senators and that unlike them, he did not receive a taxpayer-financed salary while campaigning.

'No taxpayers pay for me to have health insurance, to pay my mortgage, to pay my bills,” Mr. Huckabee said. “And so to me, it’s not just absurd, it’s beyond absurd — it’s insulting — to think that there’s something nefarious about my being here when nobody has raised the question about sitting U.S. senators taking their full paycheck and enjoying all the magnificent perks they get from the U.S. taxpayers.'"

I liked this story and especially Huckabee's response to questions of his means of acquiring necessary campaign funds. One of his marks on this race will not only be how his performance questioned McCain's standing among the very conservative within the party, but his campaign's wit. He's been consistently good at delivering clever one-liners for a while now.

--Clinton wins New Mexico: Since this decision came to light after the Super Tuesday vote, some have speculated that this win breaks Obama's streak of recent victories. Possibly. However, what it does do is give the Clinton campaign a break in the slew of negative stories that have hit her campaign of late (personal loan to campaign, losing campaign and deputy campaign managers, losing eight contests in a row). The polls continue to look favorable in Wisconsin and good in both Ohio and Texas.

--SEIU endorses Obama: On the heels of the endorsement of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the SEIU endorsement further bolsters Obama's support among the unions. As the UFCW link on The Caucus points out, there are many Hispanics among the ranks of both unions and that could help Obama in Texas on March 4.

--Wisconsin turns "ugly": It really remains to be seen whether this will help or hurt Clinton in Wisconsin. One thing's for sure, we'll be able to start putting together an answer to that question when tomorrow's results start coming in. Obama has been up to the task thus far though; dispatching Wisconsin governor, Jim Doyle, to counter Clinton's claims. The Obama camp has been very disciplined in responding to attacks.

--The Lewis flip-flop: This has already been discussed in the comments section, but like the Romney delegates' release, it has real ramifications during this cycle.