Jan 31, 2008

January 12, 2008: The Lizard Strikes, Obama Express Hits a Siding, Dark Night for the Sons of Brigham Young

All did not go well for the forces of reform or religious fundamentalism. Like Napoleon before Moscow the insurgents suffered serious reversals of fortune in the icy snows of New Hampshire. With the backing of Ms Democrat Jean Shaheen, former Democratic Governor and now candidate against Senator Sununu, the well-heeled Clinton Machine prevailed over the strong challenge of Barack Obama outpolling him by three percentage points. Such was the upset that the mainstream media altogether missed the central story: for the first time in the history of the republic a woman had won a presidential primary.

It was not supposed go this way. As noted earlier the latest polling had shown Barack with a commanding lead going into Election Day. These polling figures were confirmed by the internal polling done by the candidates themselves with the Clinton camp showing their candidate losing by 11 percentage points and Obama’s campaign reporting a 14 point lead. What brought about the 14-17 point last minute swing?

I suggest, in large measure, the Bradley factor. Back in the 80’s Tom Bradley, Democratic Mayor of Los Angeles, faced off against George Deukmejian, in the contest to become Governor of California. Late polling showed a commanding lead similar to Obama’s only to evaporate on polling day. The same was true of Harvey Gant’s South Carolina Senate race as he opposed Strom Thurmond’s re-election bid in the 90’s. Both candidates had commanding leads which evaporated on Election Day. The similarity: both were black men, and both ran up against the ‘race factor’---that 15% of the electorate who will not reveal their racial bias but will instead tell pollsters that they are supporting a certain black candidate and then, in the privacy of the voting booth, vote the other way. This is the Achilles heel that plagues the Obama campaign. Barack, should he gain the nomination, will begin the campaign with a 10-15 point handicap that is race in these United States. He must, by his very physical presence. confront a racial divide that is perhaps not the gaping chasm of yesteryear but is now showing itself to be clear and present.

The vote in New Hampshire also saw a “boomer” turnout, especially “boomer” women who supported Hillary in large numbers. Obama still captured the vote of those who yearn for ‘change’, but it was clear that the party regulars, now populated by ‘boomers’, had spoken. The lizard has struck and the Obama campaign now reels south hoping to regain its lost footing. Reinforcements began arriving almost immediately as Obama’s forces began to make a stand in South Carolina. Old warriors of the left—first John Kerry and then former Senator Gary Hart moved quickly to endorse Barack sidestepping Edwards, Kerry’s running-mate in 2004. This further solidifies Barack’s claim to represent the legacy of Bobby Kennedy as old Kennedy supporters join with a growing movement based on college campuses to fuel the insurgency against the party regulars. De Ja Vu all over again. A burgeoning children’s crusade against the Clinton “establishment”. Conceding Michigan to Clinton—all but Hillary had pledged not to campaign there because Michigan had violated party rules by moving it’s primary ahead of the allotted date—Obama faces Hillary in Nevada and South Carolina in a classic insurgency against the party regulars. Nevada favors Obama given the Caucus format for it does not give the voter the luxury of changing his or her mind in the privacy of the voting booth but instead requires that one publicly switch one’s vote for all to see—effectively neutralizing the “Bradley Effect”. Obama also has the support of the Culinary Workers Union forcing an interesting reversal of roles in which Hillary has taken to the streets campaigning door-to-door to appeal for ‘grass roots’ support in a last ditch effort to win the state.

In South Carolina the race pits the two largest voting blocks in the Democratic Party, women and minorities in this race for delegates. Hillary has stronger support among women, Barack among blacks with black women thrown into an interesting quandary. Edwards, who won the South Carolina primary in 2004, once again appears the odd-man-out, and looks to finish a distant third. Obama should win the South Carolina Primary and should he win Nevada will get a huge boost going into February. Hillary can claim Michigan and should she win in Nevada would begin to post her credentials as something more than a regional candidate. All this is mere prelude to the serious business that waits Super Tuesday in February.

Meanwhile John McCain was the big winner in New Hampshire with Mitt Romney finishing second. Mitt needed this one and lost it. New Hampshire is part of the Boston media market. The state gets its television and most of its radio programming from Boston and therefore Mitt, a veteran of two state-wide campaigns is, like Paul Tsongas and John Kerry before him, a household name in the state. Mitt must now repair to Michigan and as we speak is busy pulling ads from his South Carolina campaign to concentrate his efforts there. Mitt is now forced to tread the ground of his father, his home turf, to gather enough support to stay in the race. A loss in Michigan will finish Mitt Romney.

I know New Hampshire. I have trekked her trails, climbed her mountains, and explored her valleys. She is an independent voice in American politics, reveling in the prospect of grabbing the nation’s and, occasionally, the world’s attention by insisting on the first say in the quadrennial process of choosing the next ‘leader of the free world’. Of late some of that luster has been lost to Iowa so the good people of New Hampshire, ever a cantankerous lot, express themselves by throwing the occasional monkey wrench into the best oiled political machines. It is not good to hit the icy roads of New Hampshire with the throttle wide open, with your pedal to the metal. Just ask pappy Bush about the ‘big Mo’ Iowa gave him back in ’80 just before his presidential ambitions hit an ugly patch at Kinsman’s Notch. It took him 8 years to put that bus back together. In other words, whoever emerges from Iowa is likely to get a quick reality check as the good folks of New Hampshire go about bursting campaign balloons. And so Obama and Huckabee find themselves a bit further down in the standings as the granite state gives life not this time to the insurgents but to the established candidates. If one is to battle the established order, New Hampshire had always been favorable ground. McCarthy in ’68, McGovern in ’72, Carter in ’76, Kennedy in ’80, Hart in ’84….not so this time. It was not a good night for religious conviction, racial transformation or the sons of Brigham Young. The question goes begging: if not here…where, and if not now…when?

It’s on to Nevada where we await another roll of the dice.

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