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 ( 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.