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?

1 comment:

yellow dog dem said...

These are some interesting comments. However I do not agree with the importance placed on the issue of race. Anyone who would not vote for Obama because he is black would never vote for him anyway because they would consider him far too liberal.