Politically Savvy Friends

Saturday, April 26, 2008

PA Primary Retrospective

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

The other night, I finally got 6 hours of sleep for the first time in awhile. Three days in a row of double shifts (Monday through Wednesday) does take a toll on the body, but what an exciting time to be right in the middle of this never-ending presidential battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Despite the spin on both sides, which have tended to exaggerate or minimize the importance of the Pennsylvania win for Clinton, this primary has reenergized the Hillary folks. More importantly, in my view, the nature of the Clinton win has planted seeds of doubts about Obama’s ability to win a national race against Republican John McCain.

And then there’s the resurgence of race in this contest, aided and abetted by the reappearance of Jeremiah Wright, who is doing no favors for his parishioner.

As you know, I have been scrupulously neutral in this presidential contest, reporting the facts but unafraid to tell you exactly what I think even if my friends in all three campaigns enjoy taking issue with me. In this quick PSF, let me lay out some of my post-primary thoughts. As always, you can leave public comments on my occasional blog – www.delanosden.blogspot.com – or just email me your private, off-the-record views. I love hearing from you, and now I just might have a few more minutes to respond!


Just the Facts, Ma’am:

On Tuesday, nearly 55 percent of PA’s 4.2 million Democrats went to the polls, and Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama by 9.2 percent – 1,245,911 (54.6%) to 1,037,953 (45.4%). Correct mathematical “rounding” by the media reported this result as 55% to 45%, the so-called “double digit” lead, but the “truth” is that the win was closer to 9% than 10%. Details, perhaps, but let’s be accurate.

Clinton won 60 of the state’s 67 counties, winning 15 counties with 70 percent of the vote or more. Those included the Democrat-rich Lackawanna County (Scranton) which she won by 74% and the less populated southwestern PA county of Fayette County that delivered Clinton her best vote at 79%.

Obama carried the state’s largest county, Philadelphia, with 65% of the vote but lost two neighboring suburban counties, Montgomery County (the third largest Democratic county in the state after Allegheny) where Clinton won narrowly with 51% and Bucks County where she won with 63% of the vote.

Obama also won the city of Pittsburgh with 59% of the vote, but Clinton won the overall Allegheny County vote by 9%. Of the county’s 130 municipalities, including Pittsburgh, Obama won a couple dozen, but Clinton beat him in most communities, often by a two-to-one margin.

In the neighboring Pittsburgh area counties, Clinton easily won with double-digits, carrying Butler County by 27 points, Beaver County by 39, Westmoreland County by 39, and Washington County by 43 points over Obama.

The delegate sort is still on-going with 103 delegates elected in the 19 congressional districts and another 55 delegates allocated based on the final statewide percentage result. I have seen various reports that Clinton could pick up as many as 12 delegates over Obama to as few as 6. Nobody has the exact facts on this one yet. I’ll keep you posted as this gets figured out.

Clinton’s win was slightly bigger than the last two polls of the campaign which predicted a 6% win (Survey USA) and a 7% win (Quinnipiac) and considerably bigger than some of the late afternoon exit polls on Tuesday which suggested a narrower 4-point win for Clinton.

The Spin, For What It’s Worth:

The day after the election both campaigns went overboard in “analyzing” the Pennsylvania primary. No surprise. The Obama campaign down-played the result to nothing, while the Clintons made this sound like Hillary’s second coming.

The Obama spin was contained in an artfully written memo entitled, “A Fundamentally Unchanged Race.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Tonight, Hillary Clinton lost her last, best chance to make significant inroads in the pledged delegate count. . . .The only surprising result from Pennsylvania is that in a state considered tailor-made for Hillary Clinton that she was expected to win, Barack Obama was able to improve his standing among key voter groups since the Ohio primary. . . .As he has done in every state, Barack Obama campaigned hard to pick up as much support and as many delegates as possible and was able to stave off Clinton from achieving a significant pledged delegate gain from Pennsylvania. . . .The bottom line is that the Pennsylvania outcome does not change dynamic of this lengthy primary.”

The Clinton spin was delivered by the candidate herself in her cogent acceptance speech. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’m in this race to fight for you, to fight for everyone who has ever been counted out, for everyone fighting to pay the grocery bills or the medical bills, the credit card and mortgage payments, and the outrageous price of gas at the pump today. . . . The pundit's question whether Pennsylvanians would trust me with this charge and tonight you showed you do. . . .Today, here in Pennsylvania, you made your voices heard and because of you, the tide is turning. We were up against a formidable opponent who outspent us three to one. He broke every spending record in this state trying to knock us out of the race. Well, the people of Pennsylvania had other ideas tonight.”

In short, Obama says PA didn’t change a thing because his delegate lead is insurmountable, while Clinton says the tide has turned her way because Obama’s millions could not win him the support of middle class, working Democrats essential to victory.

Another Point of View:

Pennsylvania did matter, in my view, because it breathed important “life” into Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She has now won four of the last five primaries. Barack Obama could not deliver the knock-out punch in a critical “November” state. Moreover, Obama’s loss has raised questions about how he can win the general election when he lost some important Democratic constituencies who backed Clinton on Tuesday.

At the same time, Clinton did not get the delegate boost she needs, although everyone now knows Obama mathematically cannot win a majority of the pledged delegates either. In short, this race is now all about the 795 super delegates who will ultimately pick the nominee because the millions of Democrats who have been voting since January were unable to give either Obama or Clinton the magic 2,025 delegates needed for nomination.

That’s an important point. Pennsylvania and the remaining nine contests are really aimed at persuading the supers which candidate can win in November. And, in my view, that’s why the Pennsylvania primary has more significance than the Obama camp would wish, even if it’s not necessarily the “tide changer” Clinton believes.

How Clinton Won:

Hillary won on Tuesday because her prime constituency, women, stuck with her, while she was able to end the campaign with a majority of white men on her side. Exit polls found 68% of white women and 59% of women overall voted for Clinton. This is an important constituency when you consider that 58% of all Democratic voters in PA on Tuesday were women.

Men, who were fickle throughout most of this campaign going back and forth between Obama and Clinton, split evenly (49% to 51%). But white men, in the end, jumped back to Clinton, 57% to 43%, giving her the near double-digit lead she wanted.

Despite all the youth vote talk in this campaign, it was the older folks who turned out to vote. Some 22% of the Democratic electorate were 65 and over, while only 12% were under age 30. About six in 10 young voters backed Obama, while 63% of the larger older voting cohort supported Clinton. In short, age trumped youth.

On the religious front, Clinton beat Obama among Catholics, 70% to 30%, among Jews, 62% to 38%, and among white Protestants, 59% to 41%.

Obama did well among what some call the Democratic elites – well-educated, economically well-off liberals. In Allegheny County, for example, Obama won the Dems who live in Fox Chapel, Mt. Lebanon, Sewickley, and Pittsburgh’s 14th Ward, uniting them with the predominately African American communities of Braddock, Clairton, Duquesne, and Rankin. But for any Democrat, this is hardly a coalition for victory, especially in November. Clinton was the overwhelming favorite of the blue-collar, middle class working white, winning this vote 61% to 39%.

The stark political reality for Obama is that he cannot become president in November if he cannot win over these voters. As U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle commented this week, Obama “needs to demonstrate that he can connect with blue-collar, working class people.” Doyle is an uncommitted super delegate, whose district narrowly backed Obama. The Obama camp believes that in a race against the McCain economic issues, including rising gas prices, will keep Dems in the fold. I’m not so sure it will be that easy.

Revisiting the Role of Race:

Lots of folks are dancing around the subject of race, but when exit polls say that 16% of PA Democrats claim race played a factor in their decision, I suspect the real number is higher.

Now let’s be clear. I’m sure some African Americans voted for Obama solely because of his race, and I’m equally sure some whites voted for Clinton solely because of her race. About 90% of blacks voted for Obama. Did they all do so because of they thought he was the better candidate regardless of race? At the same time, 63% of whites voted for Clinton. Did they all do so because they thought she was the better candidate regardless of race?

Voting for or against anyone on the basis of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual preference, in my view, is an ignorant way of voting, but it’s as American as apple pie.

In Pennsylvania, Obama won one-third of the white vote and Clinton won 10% of the black vote. Clearly, these voters disregarded race. But what about the others? Again, let’s be clear. Just because a black voter votes for Obama or a white voter votes for Clinton does not automatically make them racists. That’s insulting to the vast majority of voters who have perfectly valid, non-racial reasons for backing their candidates.

But, politically, the role of race is important for Obama’s (and the Democratic Party’s) future success on Nov. 4, and here the concern is not black racists, who will vote for Obama no matter what. What concerns many in the Democratic Party, particularly some of its super delegates, is white racists who will never vote for a black.

The other day I caught this provocative diatribe on the internet from a Virginia blogger, who ascribes Clinton’s win in PA to racism:

“Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania because she pandered to the overt racism that exists among blue collar whites as well as the latent racism in too many others. She won because the bulk of her appeal comes from the less-educated, the less-tolerant and the less-intelligent among us. If you're a stupid, illiterate, gun-totin' white hick you probably voted for Hillary. And so did your ignorant, baby-popping, big-haired wife as well as that bleached-blond bar maid that you're seeing on the side. . . . Where I come from, the guys with the John Deere hats talk about how they voted for Hillary in the Virginia Democratic primary because ‘it will be a cold day in hell before I vote for the [N-word].’"

This portrayal of Clinton supporters in PA is both insulting – “a stupid, illiterate, gun-totin’ white hick” – and dead wrong. This hardly describes the majority voters of suburban Philadelphia in Montgomery and Bucks who backed Hillary over Barack, or suburban Pittsburgh for that matter. Nonetheless, there is a kernel of truth in the notion that some whites, in every state, will simply never vote for an African American.

Political analysts must be up-front about that reality. I wish it weren’t so, but race does matter to some.

Still, to call every blue-collar, middle class worker in PA a “racist hick” is precisely the elitism that threatens to separate Obama from the base of his party. To be fair to the Illinois senator, I don’t think he has ever done that, even if some of his supporters have. But Obama’s own words in San Francisco, linking the economic unhappiness of these folks to their religion and guns, clearly cost him on April 22. To many, he came across as out-of-touch. Some 59% of those who attend church regularly voted for Clinton, along with 62% of those Pennsylvanians who have guns in the family.

Maybe I want to believe better of people, but I really don’t think the vast majority of Pennsylvanians are racist. Instead, voters were willing to let Obama make his case to them and he failed. But whether it’s latent racism or not (and I hope it’s not), Obama cannot be elected president if he is unable to connect with “regular folks” who want a president who understands them, shares their pain, and articulates a way to help them cope with the economic squeeze they feel.

Enter Jeremiah Wright:

When he could least afford it politically, Obama now has to contend with the reappearance of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who seems intent on restoring his good name without regard to the consequences on his famous parishioner. I watched Bill Moyer’s interview with Wright on PBS on Friday night, and obviously saw a different Wright than the one we have seen in those ugly video clips. That, of course, is the whole point of Wright’s speaking out, to suggest that what we saw on TV was not the “real” pastor, but a highly distorted picture. On Sunday, Wright will speak to the NAACP in Detroit, and then he addresses the National Press Club in Washington on Monday.

I understand the minister’s desire to rehabilitate his image. Who wouldn’t do that? But there is no way this can be helpful to Barack Obama. It only resurrects the old murky images of a screaming preacher and, frankly, the issue of race. And that undermines the central message of Obama’s candidacy.

At the beginning of this campaign, Obama won all-white Iowa (and many other states, too) because he transcended race. A multi-racial American, he came across to many as neither white nor black but as this uniquely transformational figure who could bridge the racial divide. But the rants of his pastor, whether fair or unfair, upended that image, at least for some Americans. This man, whom Obama called his spiritual mentor, said things from the pulpit that were not just offensive but clearly racial. Wright conjured up images of all the worst black preachers, the ones who blame whites and America for all that is wrong.

And, all of sudden, Obama is no longer a racially unifying candidate, but a black candidate who cannot disown his pastor even as he rejects the preacher’s tirades, saying they are rooted in an earlier generation of black liberation theology. The Pennsylvania primary suggests that Obama’s eloquent speech in Philadelphia on race did not work, at least not politically, with the audience he needs to reach the most.

So just when he needs to develop a strategy that can resurrect the “unifying” Obama that so many white voters embraced before Wright’s image cast across the TV screen, Wright reappears. Now he tells us that Obama’s words distancing himself from his pastor were merely the words of a “politician,” implying that Obama only said what he said in Philly because that was the political thing to do.

“He's a politician, I'm a pastor,” Wright told Moyers . “We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. But they're two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do."

Obviously, the pastor has every right to speak out and correct the record, as he sees it. But, in my view, if Wright had really wanted to help his parishioner win the presidency, he would have enjoyed his retirement and kept his mouth shut until the day after November

Moving On:

Pennsylvania is over until November where, in my view, John McCain has a good shot at winning the state, regardless of the ultimate Democratic nominee. For Clinton and Obama, of course, the race goes on.

Next Saturday, May 3, Guam will elect eight delegates to the convention, followed by Indiana (72 delegates) and North Carolina (115 delegates) on Tuesday, May 6. With one-third of its Democratic voters African American, nobody really expects Hillary to win North Carolina, but her campaign would like to keep Obama’s lead under double-digits, not unlike what Obama did in Pennsylvania.

Indiana appears up for grabs, although Obama has a slight poll lead and an advantage since the Chicago media market (where Obama calls home) overlaps into part of Indiana. In my view, Indiana is another place where those working class, blue-collar workers could make the difference. For what it’s worth, a life-time ago, nearly 30% of the Dems in Indiana voted for segregationist George C. Wallace.

Once again, the remaining nine races are all about spin and super delegates. Perhaps if Obama won nine straight, Clinton might fold. But why should she? And does anyone expect Obama to call it quits if Clinton wins the next nine? No, of course not. This race is not over until it’s over. And that won’t happen until all the super delegates weigh in with their choices because neither Obama nor Clinton will have a majority of the delegates when the last pledged delegates are elected on June 3.

Okay, folks, that’s my take on the PA presidential primary. I would welcome your views. Next week, I will review the other races in Pennsylvania, including the congressional battles where both sides dream of pick-ups. In the meantime, Pennsylvanians will enjoy a politics-free week (sort of) as it finally feels like spring! Is that a lawn mower I hear calling?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Just Hours to Go

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

It all comes down to this. In just a few hours, the Democratic voters of Pennsylvania will "make or break" Hillary Clinton. A win by Barack Obama ends her campaign, virtually guaranteeing that Obama will become the Democratic nominee to face the putative Republican nominee, John McCain. But a win by Clinton of any size allows her to move forward to the remaining nine contests through June 3. And a "big" win in Pennsylvania by Clinton significantly improves her chance to be the Democratic nominee because of the message it sends to super delegates about her own electoral strengths and Obama's perceived weaknesses in an important general election state like Pennsylvania.

In this PSF, I'll share some last-minute thoughts about this presidential contest. Feel free to comment, and you can watch the news reports (scroll down on the right hand column of this blog) I have filed throughout this campaign.


The Final Campaign Hours:

When you look at the schedule of the candidates over the last 48 hours, you know it takes a particularly driven individual to run for president of the United States. No reasonably thinking person would subject themselves to the brutal pace of criss-crossing a state like Pennsylvania at the pace of these candidates. As best as I can figure, from Sunday through Monday night, Hillary will hit Bethlehem, Johnstown, State College, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia. President Clinton will join Hillary at a Market Square rally in Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon, while both Bill & Chelsea will join Hillary at UPenn's Palestra in Philadelphia tomorrow night. Barack is no different, hitting Lebanon, Reading, Scranton, Philadelphia, McKeesport, and Pittsburgh. Two Obama rallies in the Pittsburgh area on Monday, McKeesport Penn State at dinner and Pitt's Petersen Event Center later that evening, culminate the PA campaign for the Illinois senator.

A couple months ago I blogged that Pennsylvanians like candidates to engage in retail politics. They want to courted, wooed, and praised. And they don't like to be taken for granted by anyone. This state is so big, however, and so different, depending on the mountain or valley you're visiting, that statewide campaigning in a few short weeks is a challenge. James Carville once described PA as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. It was a clever line but wrong. PA is really Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with 50 states in between, each jealous of its own identity and prerogatives.

Early on, Clinton was all over the state, and Obama was not. He has tried to make up for that in the last days of the campaign with a creative "whistle stop" tour through parts of the state. But the general impression lingers among some that Clinton wants Pennsylvania's vote more than Obama, at least if you judge by physical presence in the state. Others will say that Obama has been more visible because he has outspent Clinton 5 to 1, 4 to 1, 3 to 1 on television, depending on the week and the media market. My view is that there has been no shortage of the candidates and their surrogates, with most voters ready to cast a ballot and be left alone!

Where Are the Votes?

This contest has certainly attracted interest among voters, as much as some now wish it would just be over. The latest registration figures show 4.2 million Democrats to 3.186 million Republicans, a one million person registration advantage for Dems in the state. How many of those will switch back to the GOP the day after the election remains to be seen, but the Dems will still enjoy one of their strongest registration advantages in recent history. Both camps engaged in active voter registration drives, but the political spin is that most of these new voters are Obama recruits. We will see on Election Day.

Of the state's 67 counties, 11 counties now boast more than 100,000+ Democrats, including Philadelphia County with 799,663; Allegheny County (Greater Pittsburgh) with 567,420; Montgomery (suburban Philly) with 247,881; Bucks County (suburban Philly) with 185,407; Delaware County (suburban Philly) with 157,301; Westmoreland County (suburban Pittsburgh) with 134,122; Berks County (Reading & environs) with 114,304; Chester County (suburban Philly) with 113,315; Luzerne County (Wilkes-Barre, Hazelton & environs) with 106,816; York County (south central PA) with 104,816; and Lehigh County (Allentown & environs) with 101,763.

The next five counties with lots of Dems are just as courted by candidates, including Lackawanna County (Scranton & environs) with 98,992; Northampton County (Bethlehem & environs) with 97,002; Erie County (northwest PA) with 96,290; Lancaster County (south central PA) with 94,954; Washington County (suburban Pittsburgh) with 86,645; and Dauphin County (Harrisburg & environs) with 79,665. The remaining 51 counties have fewer than 50,000 Democrats, except for Beaver County (suburban Pittsburgh) with 68,644; Fayette County (southwest PA) with 61,935; and Cambria County (Johnstown & environs) with 55,876.

Add it all up, and one-third of the Democratic vote is in southeastern PA (Philadelphia & environs) and one-quarter of the vote is in southwestern PA (Pittsburgh & environs). That leaves a critical 40% of the vote spread across the state from Erie to Bethlehem, from Scranton to York -- Democrats that neither Clinton nor Obama can take for granted.

The Closing Arguments:

The last week is such a blur, that it's hard to know where to begin. The week began with Obama's unfortunate comments at a San Francisco fundraiser about "bitter" Pennsylvanians "clinging" to their guns, their religion, their anti-immigrant views, etc., and those words certainly gave Clinton the opening she needed to bring home her point that Obama is an "elitist" who does not "understand" working Pennsylvanians. She also sought to use the incident to validate her point that Obama is not really ready for prime-time presidential politics. Clinton rushed a commercial onto the air on the subject, driving home a not-so-subtle message that Obama had "offended" the very Democrats so needed to win both a primary and general election in this state.

My own take is that Obama is right that many Pennsylvanians are unhappy about the economy and the inability of Washington to make lives easier for average citizens. But to suggest that this is why people turn to guns and religion is nonsense. (He said later that this is not what he meant but that got lost in the political spin). Both religious faith and guns for hunting and sport are essential elements of life for many in western PA and, indeed, many areas outside the Philadelphia metro. Obama's comments clearly hurt him with some voters, but it's not clear to me that this did anything more than solidify some Clinton voters in their original view. In retrospect, it may be more of a campaign distraction that a vote-changer.

If Obama blew the guns and religion talisman of politics, he scored a coup on the holy grail of sports. In this region, the endorsement of Obama by Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was a clear positive for the senator, even as the Steelers "officially" assured their Clinton & McCain fans that the team does not "officially" endorse anyone. Still, Rooney is a beloved icon in this region, as are the Steelers, so his endorsement along with that of former Steelers Franco Harris, Dwight White, J.T. Thomas, Robin Cole, Edmund Nelson and Larry Brown made for nice headlines. Nonetheless, it probably won't change many votes.

The great debate in Philadelphia attracted viewers all across the state, but not everyone. Here in this region, more people tuned in to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins win their first hockey playoff series - 175,000 households - than watched the presidential debate - 118,000 households, according to Neilsen. No surprise. We love our sports.

I was at the Wednesday night debate and found the crowd outside the National Constitution Center to be the best part of the occasion. Wonderfully passionate supporters of Clinton and Obama mixed with those hawking their goods, yielding a cacophony of loud yelling and shouting that Joe Torsella, the CEO of the Constitution Center told me was "the music of democracy."
Inside the Center, the yelling was a bit different.

I will not pile on ABC's Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulus for their first round of questions, first, because everyone else has already done so and, second, because I have asked lots of questions at candidate debates and appreciate the challenge of asking both relevant and entertaining questions. Candidates always get asked questions they don't like, and the sign of a good candidate is the ability to deflect the question. Both Obama and Clinton should have expected questions about Pastor Jeremiah Wright, sniper fire in Bosnia, and the "bitter in PA" comments. These were legitimate questions. The lapel pin question struck me as bizarre, although a question on the Flag Amendment might have been in order. Fundamentally, if I had been asking questions, I would have mixed up the serious policy questions about the economy, the war, and trade (nobody asked about that) with these other topics. Going 45 or 55 minutes into a two-hour debate without a "substantive" policy question made the debate appear rather petty.

After the debate, spin alley was full of surrogates spinning away. Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter, objected to the debate questions, saying essentially that PA voters were cheated of a debate on important issues to the state. U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, an Obama supporter, echoed Rendell's comments. In short, both camps seemed unhappy about the first questions, but, predictably, both thought their candidates out-performed the other. My own sense was that there were no knock-outs, Clinton was on her game, Obama seemed taken aback by the ABC assault, and nothing really changed.

In the waning days of this PA primary, both candidates have returned to their basic message, while attacking each other relentlessly. For Obama, it's all about change, while for Clinton, it's action not words. She stresses her life-time of experience and qualifications and her ability to get things done - while he focuses on changing the culture in Washington and a future that brings people together. Nothing new in these messages, but sometimes I think these themes have gotten lost in all the attacks each have inflicted on the other.

So Who Wins PA?

Predicting this election is like grabbing a handful of jello - it changes almost instantly. You can find a poll to suit your fancy. The common consensus is that Clinton is ahead by a few points, perhaps more, but nobody really knows. The Obama team has elevated lower expectations to an art form, suggesting privately that they expect a double digit loss and that if they come within 10 points of Hillary it will be a major upset. When I sat down a week ago with David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager, he strenuously avoided predicting any kind of victory in PA, but had no problem setting a very high "victory" threshold for Clinton. The Clinton team says a win is a win, but knows that an Ohio-style victory (a 10.4% margin) is what the New York senator needs to gain any kind of momentum for the remaining contests.

On election night, I will be looking at both ends of the state. If women in suburban Philadelphia vote gender, Hillary can hit double digits, assuming a strong performance elsewhere. If those same women identify with Obama (as many well-off, educated folks have been doing in other states), then this race will be close. Similarly, western PA has been Clinton country from the beginning of this campaign, but Obama is making a strong close here. I will watch to see if students and younger voters show up in greater numbers than normal around here, and will look to see if Obama takes some of the more affluent suburbs (North Hills and South Hills) away from Clinton.

The desire for change is real, and that is Obama's true strength. But some PA Dems are not convinced that he brings the same skills and experience to the top job as Clinton does. She has worked hard to make that argument, obviously, and I will watch to see if it's resonating, especially among the Dems who live outside our urban centers. Early on, Rendell opined that African Americans running statewide lose 7 points because of their race, citing his own battle against Lynn Swann. PA has its fair share of racists, of all races, who will vote for or against a candidate based on the color of his/her skin. While I have heard comments from white males that they could never vote for a black, I have also heard from other males who will never vote for a woman. In the privacy of the secret ballot, all prejudices are allowed even if we would never sanction them in public.

In the end, gender and race may make the difference. While African Americans are expected to vote for Obama, will Pennsylvania women do the same for Clinton? On the answer to that question rests this election.

Pennsylvania Won't Be the Decider:

Absent a victory by Obama over Clinton, something the Obama people are not predicting, this race goes on. Assuming Clinton wins PA, unless the race is a total blow-out, she is unlikely to end up with more than a 10 to 15 vote delegate advantage over Obama. The proportionality rule guarantees that Obama will get his percentage share of the 158 delegates determined on April 22. Greg Giroux and Jonathan Allen at Congressional Quarterly did an interesting analysis
of the delegate battle, and they predict of the 103 delegates elected in the 19 congressional districts Clinton will get 53 to Obama's 50. Of course, a double-digit landslaide by Clinton changes that. Another 55 delegates will be apportioned based on the statewide percentage the winner gets. If Clinton gets 55% of the statewide vote, for example, she would get 30 of those 55 delegates, leaving 25 for Obama. In short, whatever happens in the popular vote, the delegate contest is likely to remain close.

Here's something most people don't know. Not every congressional district elects the same number of delegates, since delegates are awarded based on Democratic registration and Democratic performance. One district -- the 2nd (Philadelphia) -- gets 9 delegates. Five districts get 7 delegates - the 1st (Philadelphia), the 7th (Delaware County), the 8th (Bucks County), the 13th (Northeast Philly), and the 14th (Pittsburgh). One district - the 6th (Southeast PA) - gets 6 delegates. Six districts get 5 delegates - the 3rd (Northwest PA), the 4th (Pittsburgh suburbs), the 11th (Northeast PA), the 12th (Southwest PA), the 15th (Allentown/Bethlehem), and the 18th (Pittsburgh suburbs). The remaining congressional districts get just four delegates each.

After all is said and done, this race moves on to Guam on May 3, Indiana and North Carolina on May 6, West Virginia on May 13, Kentucky and Oregon on May 20, Puerto Rico on June 1, and Montana and South Dakota on June 3.

When it's all over on June 3, neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton will have a majority of pledged delegates to get the nomination. Until all the uncommitted super delegates make up their minds - and local super delegates think that will happen before the Fourth of July - the Democratic Party will not have a presidential nominee.

Just some quick thoughts on a Sunday night. As you know, I welcome yours. Have a Happy Election Day!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Two Weeks to Go

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

Two weeks from tomorrow, some 4 million+ Pennsylvania Democrats will have the chance to choose a nominee for president. The polls are showing an expected tightening of the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. No surprise there. Nobody, including the Clinton campaign, ever believed that Pennsylvania would roll over easily for any candidate. We are too ornery, too diverse, too independent, too smart to be taken for granted.

In this edition of my PSF, I examine the current state of the presidential race, along with some other PA races that will be on the April 22 ballot. As always, I welcome your comments and off-the-record tips.

But, first, a personal comment. I have very good friends on both sides of this Democratic battle, and several of them have taken me to task for not adopting their view of political events. That’s fine. I can take it. One of my friends deeply involved with one of the campaigns jokingly opined the other day: “The problem with you, Jon Delano, is that you’re too fair and even-handed.” He meant it as a criticism, but I’ll take it as a compliment. I am scrupulously neutral in political races, but I’m not afraid to tell you exactly what I think. So now, sit back and read on, my politically savvy friends.


Obama Steps Up His Campaign:

In my last PSF email (March 23), I opined that, despite double digit leads in all the polls at the time for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama could still win the state. (I think I was among the very few PA analysts at the time to say that). But I injected a very big IF – he could only win if he started to take the state seriously and campaign, full-time, on a retail level all across the commonwealth. A few days later, the Obama campaign announced their “Six Day” bus tour through Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvanians want their candidates to care about them, and the challenge is that this is a very big state with different politics depending on which valley, mountain top, or rolling plain you happen to visit. The Clintons know that, and the Clinton campaign has been going non-stop, back and forth, across Pennsylvania, picking up endorsements from countless local elected officials. On the ground, they are running a perfectly solid campaign.

But without the local political connections enjoyed by the Clintons, the Obama campaign seemed to struggle to get started, depending much more on volunteers and with some early campaign missteps, like “dissing” the state in a memorandum and a candidate who seemed to prefer being in other states. All that seems to have changed, and the poll numbers reflect it.

In polls conducted last week, SurveyUSA found the Clinton lead down to 12 points, Quinnipiac puts her lead at 9 points, and Rasmussen gives Clinton a 5 point lead. One poll, Public Policy Polling, calls it a dead heat with Obama ahead of Clinton by 2 points.

Now I’ve been through this polling nonsense for decades, and there are times when I would just toss all polls out the window. I usually suggest averaging all the polls for a better result, and then treating even that number with lots of grains of salt. In this case, the only conclusion is the obvious one: the race for Pennsylvania is not a done deal for anyone.

Clinton Fights Back:

The odds still favor Clinton for whom PA is a must-win state. As I noted in March, if Obama beats her in Pennsylvania, her campaign is over. Dead. Clinton knows that, and she is working this state hard, just like she won over skeptical New York state voters in 2000 when she ran for the U.S. Senate in her adopted state. She never stops. Hardly a day goes by that Hillary, Bill, or Chelsea aren’t stumping for votes here. With the political expertise of Gov. Ed Rendell and much of his political team, she doesn’t seem to miss a beat.

Her “economic summit” in Pittsburgh last Wednesday was classic, a mix of academia, labor, and business leaders exchanging views with her around a table, allowing Clinton to use her obvious intelligence to spin each comment into an observation about government failure in Washington and how her proposals would ameliorate the problem. The more you see Hillary in action, the more you appreciate how sharp this woman really is.

She does seem to have a cash problem, judging by the overwhelming Obama television ads now on the air. It’s not scientific, but I bet I see three or four of his ads to every one of hers. The Obama ads are very good, focusing on his bio, the American dream, and high gasoline prices. The latest Clinton ad is a take-off on her 3 am phone call ad, but this one focuses on the economy. All polls suggest the economy is the number one issue for Pennsylvanians, and it is a strong suit for her, as people think she is better qualified to turn the economy around, no doubt aided by memories of the good economic times presided over by her husband in the 1990s. But unless Clinton gets up on TV in some sort of visible way, she will be drowned out by the classy Obama commercials. That could make a difference.

Gender Gap Growing in PA:

What I have found striking thus far in the PA presidential primary is the growing gender gap between men and women. When Hillary was leading Barack by double-digits, she was winning both males and females. As the race tightens, it is largely because men are switching from Clinton to Obama. In the SurveyUSA poll, Clinton’s 5-point lead among men three weeks ago became a 7-point lead for Obama this week.

But what has kept the New York senator in the overall lead is women voters. The same poll showed a whopping 28-point lead for Clinton among women. Indeed, Clinton’s 62 percent of women voters was unchanged, while Obama just moved two points from 32 percent to 34 percent. In a state where women outvote men, Obama cannot win Pennsylvania unless he convinces more women to back his candidacy.

When I had the chance to interview Michelle Obama last week, I asked her about this gender problem. Her response was that it’s really just a question of women getting to know Barack better. She emphasized that Obama grew up among strong women, like his mother, his grandmother, and (of course) his wife and is comfortable among strong women and very cognizant of women’s needs. To be honest, I was impressed with Michelle and think the Obama campaign could make better use of her obvious talents to address the gender gap. So far, she has campaigned just once in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

In the end, identity politics may be hard to overcome. Just as African Americans have rallied to Obama, despite Clinton’s strong civil rights record, so also women may be inclined to support Clinton, the first woman with a real shot at the White House, no matter how good Obama’s record on women’s issues.

Casey Shows a Risky Side:

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is the last person one imagines to take a political risk, so his endorsement of Obama last Friday was a bit of a political shocker. In early March, Pennsylvania’s soft-spoken, laid-back, conservative Democratic senator was insistent in both private and public conversations with me that he would not endorse either candidate until after the April 22 primary. So what changed?

Bottom line is pretty simple. Shortly before Easter, while on a family vacation, Casey reached the personal conclusion that he would vote for Obama on April 22. He says he was very impressed by Obama’s race speech in Philadelphia, and he acknowledges that his three daughters are strong Obama fans. But the question of going public with his decision to vote for Obama was a deeply personal one, made without consulting his political supporters.

Casey made the decision on Easter Sunday, called Obama and Clinton, and went public last Friday in Pittsburgh, surprising many in the political community. Will it make a difference for Obama? Hard to tell. Clinton has strong family ties to Northeast PA where Casey lives, and it may not change a lot there. One interesting impact, however, could be among Pennsylvania’s many pro-life Democrats for whom the Casey name is iconic. Now there’s no difference at all between Clinton and Obama on the abortion issue – both are pro-choice – but Casey’s support for Obama could be enough to convince pro-lifers that, if forced to choose between the two, Obama is preferable.

The SurveyUSA poll may offer some substantiation of my theory. Four weeks ago, pro-life Democrats backed Clinton, 53 to 36 percent. After the Casey endorsement, Obama picked up eight points here with Clinton ahead only 50 to 44. Now abortion is hardly an issue in this Democratic primary, but in a close election pro-life Dems could make the difference. This is especially important because Catholic Dems are critical in PA, and the Clintons have always done well among this constituency.

After Pennsylvania, What Happens?

Assuming Clinton wins PA, unless the race is a total blow-out, she is unlikely to end up with more than a 10 to 20 vote delegate advantage over Obama. The proportionality rule guarantees that Obama will get his percentage share of the 158 delegates determined on April 22. The race then moves on to Guam on May 3, Indiana and North Carolina on May 6, West Virginia on May 13, Kentucky and Oregon on May 20, Puerto Rico on June 1, and Montana and South Dakota on June 3.

When it’s all over on June 3, neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton will have a majority of pledged delegates to get the nomination.

Now some Obama supporters and their media allies are spinning that it’s all over and Clinton should drop out now. That’s preposterous. Why should she drop out when he hasn’t won it yet? It’s not over until all the votes are counted, and besides the states listed above the Democratic Party has to resolve the Michigan and Florida issue, at least if they want every vote to count.

Right now, before PA and the nine others vote, Obama leads among the delegates chosen in primaries and caucuses, 1414 to 1252. Not counting Michigan and Florida, there are 793 super-delegates. Some 221 of them have “endorsed” Obama and 251 have “endorsed” Clinton, giving Obama 1635 to Clinton’s 1503, a lead of just 132 delegates. It now takes 2,024 delegates to win the nomination. More delegates will be chosen in the remaining contests, and there are 331 super-delegates still uncommitted, including most of the PA Democratic members of Congress. Everybody expects these super-delegates to make the final decision, unless Clinton or Obama drop out, and nobody expects that. With the race so close, the appropriate time to call for people to “drop out” is after we know who has won! In the end, neither Obama nor Clinton can become the party nominee without super-delegates!

Pennsylvania will not be the “decider” unless Obama goes all out and defeats Clinton here. Looks like he returns to the state on Thursday (Philadelphia), while Clinton is back here on Wednesday (Pittsburgh), but these schedules could change. And next week, John McCain is planning a PA trip, just to prove he’s not forgotten. (By the way, both Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee are still on the PA Republican primary ballot). Most polls suggest in November, this state is up for grabs with McCain a strong contender against either Clinton or Obama. In short, this presidential campaign is hardly over.


Does Anyone Care about PA Treasurer?

Three statewide offices are on the ballot this year, but two of them won’t really be the focus of this April 22 primary. Two incumbents, Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican, and Auditor General Jack Wagner, a Democrat, face no opposition until the fall when Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli takes on Corbett and Lancaster County businessman Chet Beiler takes on Wagner. Primary voters have no choices here.

But the Democratic race for state treasurer has prompted four Dems to compete for the job once held by Bob Casey. In ballot order, Dems choose among John Cordisco, Rob McCord, Dennis Morrison-Wesley, and Jennifer Mann. McCord, a wealthy venture capitalist from Montgomery County, is the most visible candidate so far, running TV ads with the help of $1 million he pumped into his own campaign. Cordisco is a former legislator from Bucks County and an attorney, while Mann is a state legislator from Lehigh County who is vice chair of the House Finance Committee. Morrison-Wesley is an investment advisor from Harrisburg who most recently worked for Comcast.

All four claim qualifications to manage the investment of the state’s $12 billion in revenues, and all four come from “back east” as far as western PA is concerned. Mann is the only woman on the ballot, while Morrison-Wesley is the only African-American. How much this will count, I suppose, depends on how much Clinton and Obama voters engage in identity politics. The Democratic winner will face bond attorney and former Montgomery County commissioner Tom Ellis, a Republican.

Congressional Battles Hard to Find this Spring:

Pennsylvania elects 19 members to the U.S. House of Representatives, but most of the real battles are on November 4. Indeed, two candidates are unopposed even then (U.S. Reps. Jack Murtha of Johnstown and Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh) unless a write-in surfaces on April 22.

Only four of the 19 congressional districts have primary battles and none are against an incumbent. In the 3rd District in northwestern PA (Erie south to Butler County), U.S. Rep. Phil English, a Republican, has no party opposition, but four Dems would like to have at him in November. They include Lake Erie Arboretum director Kathy Dahlkemper, Erie County councilman Kyle Foust, Erie attorney Tom Myers, and Erie lay minister Mike Waltner. Foust is the only candidate with an electoral base, but Dahlkemper has more money (largely her own). Dems have coveted this district for years, but English, who occasionally casts votes against his own party, is a visible and hard-working incumbent. He will be tough to defeat no matter who the Dems nominate.

In the state’s largest geographic congressional district in northwest and north central PA (the 5th District), three Dems and nine Republicans want to take the seat of retiring incumbent, U.S. Rep. John Peterson, a Republican. One candidate, 28-year old Matt Shaner has attracted media attention because he has spent more personal money on this race than any other candidate running for the House in America -- $1.22 million so far. Shaner heads up Shaner Investments in State College (Centre County). His opponents naturally accuse him of trying to “buy” the GOP nomination. Other Republicans include former Centre County commissioner Chris Exarchos, former Pine Creek Township (Clinton) supervisor John Krupa, Elk County coroner Lou Radkowski, Clarion Baptist pastor Keith Richardson, Woodward Township (Lycoming) supervisor Jeff Stroehman, Clarion mayor John Stroup, Centre County Republican chairman Glenn Thompson, and Bigler (Clearfield) financial consultant Derek Walker. Hard to figure out what’s going to happen in this race.

On the Democratic side, the candidates include Centre County native, Iraqi War veteran and former news correspondent Bill Cahir, Clearfield County commissioner Mark McCracken, and Lock Haven Mayor Rick Vilello. This district is solidly Republican, but the Dems think a blood bath on the GOP side gives them an opportunity, particularly if the state trends Democratic this fall.

Besides the 5th District, two Republicans are battling to take on U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, a Democrat, in the 10th District in north central and northeast PA, near Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Carney represents one of those districts nobody thought would go Democratic in 2006 but did, largely because of marital indiscretions of the GOP incumbent. Now the Republicans want it back, and Chris Hackett and Dan Meuser are battling for the privilege of beating Carney. Both are businessmen and both say they are conservatives. Hackett got some press when he had to fire an illegal immigrant who did housekeeping for his family, while the company Meuser owns is under attack for having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for such things as software piracy. In short, both candidates are bruising up each other, which could have benefits for Carney later this year.

The only other congressional primary battle is in the 18th District in suburban Pittsburgh, where U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican, is always thought to be vulnerable until he wins big. This year three Dems are vying to take him on: Steve O’Donnell of Monroeville, Beth Hafer of Mt. Lebanon, and Brien Wall of Upper St. Clair. For residents in the district (yes, I’m one of them), the contest has been largely invisible, although O’Donnell, the party endorsed Dem, has pumped out a mailing or two. Hafer, the daughter of former state treasurer Barbara Hafer, arguably has the greatest name recognition, while Wall says he has the best relationship with selected labor unions. At this stage, the race is probably a toss-up in the primary, although Murphy is clearly favored in the fall unless the ongoing FBI and Ethics Committee investigation into his use of staff for political purposes in 2006 turns up something before Nov. 4.

I’m going to stop here, reserving some comments about a few contested state Senate and state House races until later. As always, I welcome your comments. If you’re thinking ahead to the 2010 governor’s race, I recommend a piece I wrote for the April edition of Pittsburgh Magazine on Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato. It’s mostly biographical about the politician many think is the heir-apparent to Ed Rendell. Check it out. Spring seems to have finally hit western PA, so take a break from politics and enjoy the good weather!