Monday, April 21, 2008

Pennsylvania and Beyond: Let Voters Decide


As democrats in Pennsylvania set to vote on Tuesday, April 22, many believe the prolonged nomination will undermine both candidates’ electability. Obama’s association with controversial Rev. Wright and his “bitter” comments have been an unwelcome distraction, and underscored his vulnerabilities; while Clinton’s “Bosnia” gaffes and revelation of new wealth ($109 income tax statements) increased her negative ratings (from 38% to 52% according to latest polls). Democrats worried John McCain, the Republican nominee, will be unchallenged for the next several months, and this may diminish the party’s chances of reclaiming the White House. As a result, various democratic politicians, the media and some political pundits forcefully pressured Clinton to withdraw from the race. Notwithstanding these strong challenges and being outspent by Obama (3 to 1), Clinton is poised to win Pennsylvania’s primary by 5-10% (according to recent polls).

These calls for Clinton’s withdraw proved premature for several reasons as both campaigns move forward to Indiana and North Carolina after Tuesday.

1) The Democratic Party has a history of contentious primary contests and not all proved fatal. In some cases, strong primary competitions became invaluable experiences, especially for new politicians because they helped strengthen the candidates’ policy positions, debating skills, and addressed potential land mines early in the process. For example, in 1960, John Kennedy faced formidable opponents such as Herbert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson. Strong competition forced Kennedy to address the Catholic question beforehand and as a result, it did not become Kennedy’s Achilles heel in the general election. Even Kennedy was short of delegates needed to secure the nomination when the party convention commenced in Los Angeles. Despite the tough nominating process, party faithfuls gravitated back to Kennedy and he went on to win the presidency.

2) Clinton and Obama’s history making candidacies to date generated enormous enthusiasm and money, expanding the democratic party’s political base such as Hispanics, “soccer moms”, and independents, key constituencies in the general election. The nail-biting contest between both candidates will continue to galvanize and attract new voters in the remaining primaries, and these voters may be crucial to winning key contests in November such senate races in Oregon and Kentucky.

3) Make every vote count. This year, many states moved their primaries early to jockey for influence and attention, and this resulted in a messy primary schedule with delegates from Michigan and Florida discounted for violating party rules. It is clear after the 2000 election, democrats want to make certain their votes count in every and all elections. Ending the contest prematurely by pressing a candidate to withdraw will not only disenfranchise voters, but also create the perception that only early voting states matter. It will only drive more states to move their primaries ahead, further exacerbating the already insane primary schedule.

After Pennsylvania, there are still nine remaining primaries with over 500 delegates at stake and millions of voters waiting to be heard. Their voices, concerns, aspirations, and votes are equally important. The calls should not be for a particular candidate to withdraw, but should be for a reformed primary process, one that allows all voters to decide, not the first 15, 30 or 40 states, and surely not the superdelegates.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It’s Not Over Until the Fat Lady Sings


Last Tuesday’s (Feb. 19) presidential debate demonstrated the strength of this year's democratic candidates. Clinton and Obama provided thoughtful policy analyses and solutions, and clearly laid out their visions for America. Post-debate consensus from political pundits and the media was that Clinton failed to deliver a “knock-out” punch to blunt Obama’s momentum. As Clinton’s leads in the polls have shrunk to statistical insignificance against Obama in Texas and Ohio, many now believe the democratic contest is over. Notwithstanding Ted Kennedy’s attempt, in his broken Spanish, to serenade the Obama crowd with a popular Mexican song in Laredo, TX last week (sounds like someone was choking a cat), the fat lady has yet to sing.

The Clintons have successfully weathered many storms in the past largely due to their political shrewdness, patience and flexibility in retooling their strategies and approaches. When friends and foes pronounced their deaths, they always managed to comeback and win. Moving forward to the March 4 battleground states – Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and VermontClinton’s strategy is two fold. First, her conciliatory tone at the first of two debates in Austin last week was to strategically lower expectations and signal to the media and Republicans the possibility of an Obama presidency is real. This will increase media scrutiny and Republican attack on Obama. Second, in the coming week and second debate, Clinton will sharpen and zero in on her criticisms of Obama on policy differences, mainly healthcare and economy. This will force Obama into a defensive posture and off message as Clinton portrays herself as a populist and fighter.

Finally, Clinton has strong ground operations in Texas and Ohio to match Obama’s, and as New Hampshire demonstrated, they matter in close contests. If I were Ted Kennedy, I probably would not attempt to sing again, at least not yet and hopefully, not in Spanish.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Obama’s Surge; Clinton’s Last Stand

Obama had a good week, winning eight additional primaries and caucuses in a row, some by a wide margin. He now leads Clinton by 67 delegates according to Washington Post’s RealClearPolitics. Obama surpasses Clinton in fundraising and is projected to win Wisconsin and Hawaii (his birth place) this Tuesday. Once an underdog and insurgent candidate, Obama is now the indisputable front-runner. Momentum may be on his side, but the nomination contest is far from over - the delegate ratio between Obama and Clinton is less than 1% and there are 16 remaining races with more than 800 delegates at stake. Moreover, as the front-runner, Obama is fighting a three-front war – not only against Clinton, but also countering McCain, the de-facto Republican nominee, and the media – that will potentially strain his resources. Obama’s momentum will bring increasing press scrutiny on his legislative records, speeches, and policy proposals and positions. The next few weeks will test the strength of Obama’s surge.

On the other hand, Clinton’s painful losses to Obama has threatened to derail her candidacy. Gone are her campaign manager and deputy manager, fundraising prowess, and front-runner status. As political pundits and commentators begin to write her political obituary – many are reminded that the Clintons have been down this road before, and time aftertime, they managed to comeback and beat their opponents with a stronger zeal. This is certain – battle lines have been drawn and for Clinton to be viable, her last stands are in Texas and Ohio. She is currently leading in the polls and if she wins these two states on March 4, Clinton will be competitive in the remaining races, especially in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Vermont, and West Virginia. Clinton may be down, but she is not out.

One thing is for sure, whoever emerges as the democratic nominee will be a stronger and formidable candidate against McCain.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Un-democratic Democratic Superdelegates

Recent discussions focused on who superdelegates will support at the party convention in June. Given the closeness of the race and disqualifications of more than 300 delegates from Michigan and Florida, it is unlikely that either Clinton or Obama will have the necessary 2025 delegates needed to win the nomination. Superdelegates make up about 20% or 800 of the total delegate counts, and are seen as the deciding factor in the democratic race.

It is perplexing and ironic that the eventual democratic nominee may be selected by a group of party insiders and some non-elected officials. The intent of proportionality of delegates (as opposed to winner takes all) was based on the principle of fairness and attempt to truly reflect the desire of voters in each congressional district. Superdelegates were meant to allow party leaders/insiders to play a key role in the nomination process – to perhaps influence candidates on specific policy issues or positions, but certainly not as kingmakers.

The increasingly diverse democratic constituency vis-à-vis the shrinking Republican Party tent will likely attract and excite certain demographic groups, and they will gravitate toward a particular candidate. The Clinton-Obama divide will not be the last, but the beginning struggle for party influence between Latinos and African Americans, elites/educated and working class, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Y, females and males, etc. The existence of superdelegates and the role they play in close contests will no doubt be viewed suspiciously by the losing candidate and their supporters. The Democratic Party should revamp the nomination process perhaps, first by jettisoning the superdelegates, and simply awarding the nomination to the candidate with the most votes. But again, politics is never simple.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Virginia's Clinton Nostalgia

The conventional thinking is that Obama will likely sweep DC, MD, VA next Tuesday when the democratic primary elections take place here in the Beltway states because of the large African American population, young and affluent democratic voters. Virginia again may prove to be a great upset since Jim Webb displaced George Allen in the 2006 senate race for several reasons.

First, the Old Dominion State’s African American population remains stagnant (http://www.coopercenter.org/) while other minority groups such Hispanics and Asians have grown exponentially since the last census was taken back in 2000. Hispanics and Asians formed a powerful coalition in delivering crucial big states of California, New York and New Jersey to Clinton on Super Tuesday. They have been reliable voting blocs and if this trend continues, they may come through again in Virginia for Clinton.

Second, the most dramatic shift in demographics is in Northern Virginia (NoVA). Recent governor and senate races were won largely in this area. Arlington and Fairfax, the two largest counties in NoVA, are rich in young and upper-class professionals, general profiles of Obama supporters. However, considerable number of these professionals are either civilian government workers, military employees, or have some connections to government work. They have seen presidents come and go, and understand the intricacies and dynamics of Washington bureaucracies and politics, thus may not easily be dazzled by Obama’s message of hope and change.

Finally, the Clinton nostalgia still exists. Many democrats who came to Washington with Bill Clinton in the early 1990s have established homes and families in Virginia. They attribute much of NoVA economic success to the Clinton years of fiscal responsibility and growth. Virginia democrats continue to have great admiration for the Clintons.

Clinton won Virginia in the 1992 and 1996 primaries, and Clinton may win again in 2008.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Emergence of a new Clinton Coalition

The results of Super Tuesday primaries left the democratic race where it started – a near even split of delegates for Obama and Clinton. As expected, Obama received strong support from African American, male and young (18-30) voters while Clinton solidified her standings with women, Hispanic and older (45 and above) voters.

Most interestingly, Super Tuesday witnessed the emergence of the Asian American voting bloc. While receiving little attention, Asian Americans were monumental in delivering the all important, delegate rich state – California – to Clinton. The U.S. Census Bureau shows Asian Americans make up about 14% of the population, the second largest minority group in California. Exit polls showed Clinton was able to blunt Obama’s African American support with strong Hispanic showings. However, it was the overwhelming Asian American votes Clinton carried by 3 to 1, that propelled her to a 52% victory.

Moving forward, Asian Americans and Hispanics will be a formidable firewall and perhaps a winning coalition that will give Clinton an edge in crucial states like Virginia, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Hawaii, and Texas. In addition to potentially having the first African American or woman president, we may have the first "Hispanic Asian" president in November.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wedge Issue in 2008

Gay men and lesbians who survived the 2004 presidential election against republicans who successfully used same-sex marriage as a wedge issue in 11 states are relieved not having to fight this battle again. If polls are correct, this will be a democratic year and the gay community seems satisfied with either Clinton or Obama as president. In stark contrast to the republican race, this year will be a watershed year for the Democratic Party with potentially the first woman or African American party nominee/president, and the first gay-sponsored debate back in August, among others. Gays are an important voting bloc in states like New York, comprising between 5-13% of democratic voters. As the race tightens, Clinton and Obama are aggressively courting gay voters.

It is easy to forget past struggles when tides are turning in the gay community’s favor such as more and more states are granting civil unions, in one state particular, Massachusetts permits same-sex marriage, and recent passage of federal anti-discrimination laws to include sexual-orientation. While polls showing greater public tolerance and gay issues becoming non-issues, another group is increasingly being marginalized. This year’s wedge issue will be immigration, and intrusive anti-immigration laws at the state and local level have torn families apart, and driven a myriad of Hispanics from their communities. Gays (and other minorities) must wage in the debate and cannot be complacent because of recent successes. At minimum, we are bound by one belief - the fundamental principle of human rights and dignity applies to all human beings regardless of citizenship status.

As pastor Martin Niem√∂ller famously said during the Holocaust, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” The time to speak up is now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The (Mis)Education of John Edwards

John Edward’s consecutive primary losses ended his five year bid for president. His “two America” campaign theme and populist approach did not resonate well with democratic voters. After seven years of gross mismanagement and disastrous neo-con policies, democrats hunger for change, competency and unity. While Obama represents freshness and change, Clinton’s experience and policy prowess reassures weary working class voters. Democrats seemed to move beyond the "have and have-not" argument in this election. Pressing challenges such as the Iraq war, home foreclosures, rising healthcare and educational costs, and economic downturn unite people. When facing a real or potential crisis, there is only one America.

Edwards’ campaign should have focused on unity – the need to bridge the gaps between the rich and poor, the old and young, the educated and less educated, women and men, straights and gays, and blacks, whites and browns. Democrats probably would have responded positively given the divisive racial and gender rhetoric in the early primaries. Edwards’ two America message was equally divisive and thus, failed to be a credible alternative to Obama and Clinton. Edwards, 53, is a young and promising leader. Perhaps he should return to his roots in NC, run for governor, and return in 2012 or 2016.

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