Politically Savvy Friends

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!

1 comment:

pmichael said...

Hi Jon,
Long, long, long time no communication. Scanning the news at this late hour for some stats on attendance at the Obama rally Monday night.

While searching news, I saw a reference to you on http://www.nj.com/columns/ledger/farmer/index.ssf?/base/columns-0/1208838911176980.xml&coll=1&thispage=2

Good points. good analysis.

As a former wanna be W. PA pol, here's my analysis of 21 Apr.

what shall not inspire and/or motivate PA voters are appeals to fear.
HC's final shot was an ad (sure to get more play on the nightly news than in actual buys) showing Bin Laden.

While you have to watch closely to catch the SOB, Bin Laden, in the Ad, the news folks will be sure to catch it and point it out.
WRONG move for HC.

The appeal to fear did not work in PA in '04, and is much more likely to backfire now.
While the "3 am" phone call ad may have been the right call in TX, it is exactly the wrong note to close on in PA.
You see, Pennsylvanians equate the 9-11 crash of United Flight 93 in PA as something they had a hand in. And the hand was not using 'experienced' govt. leaders/rules.
It is perceived as a PA example of standing up for yourself.

Her last Ad will lead the 11 o'clock evening news and morning shows. It'll cut her base and tip undecideds the wrong direction in Western, NE and Central PA.

The correct last minute fallacious ad in PA would have been an appeal to sympathy (e.g. NH Tears).
She could have effectively appealed to the voters of Central and NE PA for "support from the people of my roots", and they would have bought it hook, line and sinker.

HC has proven to have a tin ear. :-(

Amazingly, Obama outdrew HC and her more popular husband in W. PA today.

On this final day, Clinton is playing in her home base, and drawing less than Obama.
Obama is playing away, and out drawing.
Advantage - Obama.

Personal contacts in Pittsburgh and Philly tell me she has no ground game, while Obama has an extensive GOTV org.

Final Answer?
54% Obama
46% Clinton

Undecideds shall not break for HC this time, simply because their only shot at "history" is to NOT continue the status quo. They know it. And the trend is palpable.