Mar 9, 2008

March 8, 2008: Texas Two-Step, Vote Early and Vote Often, Moving the Goalposts

Having lost 11 consecutive caucuses and primaries the Clinton campaign was at wits end as the primary ballots were cast last Tuesday in Vermont, Rhode Island, Texas and Ohio. Already there was whining and complaining from the Clinton camp about the rules. They had expected this race to be over and had not acquainted themselves with the peculiarities of Texas politics. Now confronted with the labyrinthine process that only Texas politics can invent, the Clintons cried ‘foul’ telegraphing yet another challenge had their fortunes continued to go sour.

They should not have worried. Buoyed by the Spanish vote in South Texas along the Rio Grande, Hillary was able to eke out a narrow victory over Barack in the primary election. However Texas is Texas and nothing is at it appears to be. Instead of awarding delegates in accordance with the percentage of the popular vote, Texas awards delegates by Congressional district and weighs those districts that vote Democratic more heavily. These favored Obama, since the districts in and around Houston and Dallas, more heavily black, were awarded more delegates. Additionally there was another step. In Texas, unique in America, the Democratic Party also held caucuses and so the Texas delegation is further divided between those chosen at general election and those chosen at caucuses. Participants were asked to vote and then go to caucus and vote again. As Bill Clinton complained, “Texas is the only state where you can vote more than once and not go to jail”. So it is. Like they used to say in Chicago, “Vote early and vote often…but vote”.

The result is that Hillary narrowly won the general election but lost the caucuses and was defeated by Obama in the number of delegates awarded out of Texas. The Clinton campaign, having taken victory for granted, was simply not prepared and was out-organized and out-hustled by the forces of the young Jedi.

Not so Ohio. Ohio was a blowout, with Hillary handily defeating Barack as women and white males rallied to her defense. Here the Jedi lost some of the gains he had made in Wisconsin and Maryland among lower income and white populations as the blue-collar segment of the electorate rallied to the familiar party standard. The Obama campaign was not helped when it was revealed over the weekend that Obama’s chief economic advisor Austan Goolsbee had told officials at the Canadian consulate in Chicago that Obama’s attacks on NAFTA were, in effect, political posturing aimed at the electorate in Ohio. Goolsbee later said it was a mischaracterization but the damage was done. Later in the week an assistant to the Canadian Prime Minister told the American press that the Clinton Campaign had made these reassurances and that no record could be found of the Obama campaign having made such remarks.

Then there was that speech last weekend in which Barack, sensing that expectations were soaring into the stratosphere, said that we shouldn’t expect too much. Clearly, for whatever reason, the late shift in the vote went the Clinton’s way. Much has been made of the gaffes, but I suspect that what we saw here was a return to traditional politics.

The election is getting close, buyers remorse (or Fornicator’s remorse if you will—see previous post), sets in. Remember the upsets in the later primaries by Jerry Brown and Gary Hart as the party was about to close the deal with Jimmy Carter and later Walter Mondale. Ohio, in this context, is also instructive for it was in Ohio late in the 1972 campaign that Hubert Humphrey claimed his only—albeit tainted—primary victory of his entire career as a Presidential candidate. That night, in 1972, the classic tug-of-war between the industrial liberal north and the conservative rural south played out in which both sides held back election returns waiting for the other to announce so it would be known how many votes would have to be manufactured. And if manufacturing votes seems out of the question remember Ohio in 2004. Similar tactics, one may recall from the 1960 race, happen in other states—like Illinois. So let’s give this one to the party regulars who won, as they did so long ago in 1972.

Let’s also put another one down to the ‘Bradley’ effect (see previous post). Again late polls showed him in a statistical dead heat only to find when the ballots are counted a greater than 10% disparity emerged due to the ‘race’ factor.

It hardly matters, whatever the reason. The Clintons have not only been challenging the rules but have strained themselves moving the goalposts back with each defeat. First, after Iowa, they said that New Hampshire would decide then, when they lost in South Carolina, Super Tuesday would decide. Then after the Jedi fought them to a draw on Super Tuesday and ran the table in 11 straight contests, the Clintons announced that the March 4th contests would decide. Bill openly declared that victory was necessary in both contests. Hillary won both, but lost the delegate contest in Texas. This left only Ohio and Rhode Island netting her about 8 or 9 delegates total for the night, hardly a dent in the Jedi’s delegate lead. No matter. Now the goalpost has been moved to Pennsylvania where the retreating forces of the Old Guard will make yet another stand, and fight another day.

Last Tuesday night was a wash. Hillary picked up a relative handful of delegates. The Clinton campaign is about the country chirping about her having won the big states, but the chances are much better than even that the Democracy, no matter who its nominee, will carry neither Texas nor Ohio in November. These are empty victories bought by the use of savage campaign tactics in which the Clintons, following tactics revealed by the leak of an internal campaign memo, threw everything at the young Jedi—including not only the kitchen sink but the garbage disposal.

The Clintons will not go quietly. They will have to be dragged kicking and screaming from the national stage. As defeat leads to defeat they will continually move back the goalposts until either their backs give out or they reach at last the stadium wall.

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