Saturday, February 16, 2008

Debates? and why Wisconsin 'matters'

The latest attack ads produced by Hillary's campaign against Obama have focused on his 'willingness' to debate. Obama has responded, not unreasonably, that he has debated 18 times with 2 more scheduled. So why would Hillary choose this line of attack? And why now, in Wisconsin?

On the debates question, I think the Hillary campaign sees debates as a very cost-effective means of reaching lots of voters. I think it is a given that she would reach a lot more voters in a joint appearance with Obama than she would in any other kind of campaign active of comparable time-length. Just looking at the differential in the crowds she attracts and those he attracts - a factor of 10 - demonstrates this.

To change the current dynamic Hillary needs to reach lots of voters quickly and somehow contrast herself positively against Obama. A debate is the quickest, most effective and cheapest way to do so. Yet given that Obama decided not to rescue Team Hillary from their own mistakes, they went for a series of attack ads that, while not shown that widely, did garner free media attention (as was intended)... which is why they were parceled out one by one. While she is not paying for them to play all that much, Hilary at least need to make a show of 'fighting,' since that is her own self-described forte. However, her campaign is not organized to effectively 'fight' with the level of resources she currently has on hand.

That latter point needs to be emphasized. A series of debates would be a lot more cost-effective and right now one of the major problems she is 'fighting' is not having enough resources to mount as an effective campaign as Obama (particularly since Hillary has not invested nearly as much in ground organization and, as Solis-Doyle said, they thought they'd be done campaigning on Feb 5th). In short, Hillary's team, through mistakes of their own, is comparatively unprepared and underfunded... which leads me to why Wisconsin 'matters.'

Of course, all states matter despite what Mark Penn, Hillary's campaign guru, insists. But Wisconsin may matter more than it's delegate count would suggest, due in part to it position in the primary calendar. It is the largest state in which Hillary has a good chance of defeating Obama before the large (and expensive) contests in Texas and Ohio on March 4th. Hillary needs money now to make a maximal effort in those two self-defined 'must-win' states.

But I imagine that contributors (those who have not already contibuted the limit) as well as 'bundlers' (those who solicit funds from others) are looking at this and wondering if it would be a case of simply throwing good money after bad. Hillary has already burned through over $100,000,000 and yet her campaign is in disarray and, unless the momentum changes, headed for defeat. So Wisconsin may well be the 'show me state' (apologies to Missouri) for her contributors... 'prove to us you are competitive before we go one more round in the hole for you.'

Which is why it is imperative for Obama's supporters to go all out in Wisconsin, since a victory there may do more than simply continue the current 'momentum' media narrative, it may cripple Hillary where it hurts, in the pocket book. She has not invested in a ground game, so cash is her campaign's lifeblood. And the greater the victory margin, the harder it will be for Hillary to make the argument to the money people that she is a good financial gamble.

Hillary is wounded, but she is far from down and out. Now is not the time to let up. The victories we win on Feb 19th could help us exponentially down the line. Pour it on at

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Meaning of 'Hope'

This article Inside the Clinton Shake-Up by Joshua Green is very interesting, particularly when he states:

Rather than punish Solis Doyle or raise questions about her fitness to lead, Clinton chose her to manage the presidential campaign for reasons that should now be obvious: above all, Clinton prizes loyalty and discipline, and Solis Doyle demonstrated both traits, if little else. This suggests to me that for all the emphasis Clinton has placed on executive leadership in this campaign, her own approach is a lot closer to the current president’s than her supporters might like to admit.

If nothing else the campaign that Hillary has waged has raised real questions about her executive ability and the value of her experience. Thsat is not to say she is lacking in either, but neither does she appear to be the 'experienced hand' that she has sought to portray herself.
Rewarding loyal mediocrity, ignoring campaign spending burn rates, choosing the old 'core states' strategy that has lost the Dems so many races over the past 30 years (rather than the 50 state strategy) - none of these inspire me with confidence in her leadership ability in a general election or in the day to day scrum of governing.

I admire her tenacity and spunk, but she and Bill seem to be fighting the last war using the DLC handbook.

We as Democrats have a chance at achieving victory in what could be a realigning election. Unfortunately, given what I have seen this campaign - the over-reliance on projected expectations of 'inevitablity' and the over-valuing of inside the beltway connections - I do not think Hillary would be able to wage the sort of campaign necessary to pull it off.

Such an election would require a greater organizational talent and the ability to motivate not only confirmed Democrats but also to attract others who have never really thought of themselves as Democrats. We as Democrats win when we grow as a party and that is the best way to break the current deadlock in the electoral college, Congress and the nation at large.

Obama's ability to organize in state after state and mobilize Democrat old and new speak to the potential to achieve such a victory. He is winning not because of a 'cult of hope,' but rather because he is able to articulate the vision of a political realignment to ordinary people and convince them that they have the power to make it happen. That is what truly excites me about Obama - his combination of organizational skill, strategic vision and they way he marries them together with inspiring but also very accessible language. He just doesn't ask you to 'hope' - he provides a very visible and effective organization within which you can easily volunteer and work to realize your 'hope.' When he say "yes WE can," he means it in a way that the Hillary campaign simply does not match organizationally.

As a political scientist, I can say that he is the first politician I have know who is able to both organize and communicate effectively around the idea of a realigning election. It is fascinating to watch but also very inspiring. Here's hoping that those who mistake the Obama 'phenomenon' as a fad or salesman's schtick take a deeper look at the hard work and thought that has actually gone into creating this opportunity for us all.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Caucus Craziness

The caucuses held out here in Colorado's front range were woefully unprepared for the number of attendees who showed up. Our caucus had to be moved from a classroom to a school gym to accomodate the great numbers of people who came. Of course, it was as about as organized as a spelling bee organized by illiterates. It took the caucus chief (or whatever he was) over half an hour to figure out that several hundred people were not going to fit in an average sized schoolroom. He also seems to have never used a megaphone before - whispering several inches behind the mouthpiece as he recited the rules - which served only to create annoying feedback that drowned most of what was said.

The huge numbers were overwhelmingly in favor of Barack Obama. My precinct had 63 for Obama to 17 for Hillary. Unfortunately since we only had three delegates to the state convention they were split 2 for Obama and 1 for Hillary (I was chosen as an alternate for Obama). The differences between the supporters was stunning as well. The Obama folks were a cross-section, young, old, male, female, professionals, students, mothers with small children, retirees. And while the Obama folks were celebratory, the Hillary supporters for the most part has an expression that said 'I think I just bit into a rotten egg.' The Hillary folks did nothing to dispel the image that she is the favored candidate of what seemed to be primarily over forty women with a politico or two sprinkled in. Now I know that is not the case, but got no hint of it with the sample that was on display.

Well as frustrating as it was at times (and believe me there is no reason in the world why every caucus should be replaced with a primary), it was also exhilarating to gather together with so many people who came together for the same political purpose, much like the feeling I have had attended some political rallies. It is also exciting to be taking part in what could well be the creation of a new Democratic majority. You could practically here the tectonic plates shifting as in state after state without a lock-down dominant Democratic political establishment (and even in a few with one), Obama's supporters swept aside the old party guard: Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, Kansas, Alabama, Alaska and Utah.

That is the promise Obama brings to so many people - the ability to capitalize on John Dean's 50 state strategy by challenging Republicans everywhere because he is the right person to present the core Democratic positions in a way that does not polarize but rather speaks to our common concerns. Hillary, whether you judge it to be her fault or not, simply has (a) too much baggage and (b) has too often allowed political calculations to trump what should be decisions of conscience and principle - not only in the health care debacle in 1994 but as recent as the vote to go to war in Iraq and her votes to in essence authorize war with Iran (by declaring a part of the Iranian military a 'terrorist organization' therefore subject to military action).

Obama has always opposed the war, both when such a position was unpopular and now when it is the majority view. But the larger point is not that Obama is uniquely virtuous, the point is that like other great Americans like FDR, MLK or the dead Kennedys, he can reach people and get them to rethink their allegiances by appealling to their better natures. None of these people were saints, but they were able to channel and facilitate a movement of people coming together for the common good, and not simply fighting to retain the larger half. The Democratic Party has to grow if it is going to accomplish any of the goals it has set for itself. I don't see that growth happening under Hillary, instead there will likely only be score-settling on both sides.

Obama is the messenger who can help us transform the Democratic party into the majority party for the next half century by once again making the government the servant of the people, a people energized and aware of the strength they have when they come together and do not settle for the tit-for-tat of establishment politics.