Monday, January 14, 2008

Obama’s endorsements

Political endorsements do not carry the clout they used to prior to the 1970’s. Back then the nod from a prominent politician or labor leader meant a whole political machine was going to work for the lucky candidate. Nowadays, with the decline of political organizations and the rise of direct appeal by candidates to voters via television, endorsements don’t count for what they used to. However, endorsements are not meaningless.

Of particular interest are the string of endorsements Senator Barack Obama received last week. What was particularly interesting about these endorsements was the timing. They followed the victory of Senator Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire’s primary. Usually the bandwagon effect benefits the victor.

Josh Marshall has this observation:
Endorsements don't usually count for much. But if they're big enough and come at critical moments they can count for a lot. And this string of endorsements Obama has picked up since his narrow defeat in New Hampshire four days ago is, I believe, a major story that has not gotten the attention it deserves.

Since losing the New Hampshire primary four days ago, Obama has been endorsed by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ). Additionally, he's also been endorsed by Rep. Miller (D-CA), Sen. Kerry (D-MA) and Ned Lamont. But they're in a slightly different category and it's the first four I want to discuss.

The first of these came from Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) who put out word he'd be endorsing Obama the day after New Hampshire. Johnson is a protege of former Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). And Daschle has close ties to Obama -- a lot of operatives in the Daschle world went to Obama after 2004. So when I saw word of the endorsement I figured this was something Daschle or his former staffers had helped put together to help stabilize Obama's fortunes after the New Hampshire loss.

But now you have three others -- Nelson, Napolitano and McCaskill. Nelson and Johnson are from very red states while Napolitano and McCaskill are from swing states.

Now, there are a bunch of things you can draw from this spate of endorsements. One is that these folks don't seem worried about themselves running or having their supporters run with Obama at the top of the ticket. And these are people from either very conservative or somewhat conservative states. Despite the fact that Obama is running in some ways to the right of Clinton (at least tonally, as the candidate of unity and bipartisan reconcilation), there are still a lot of questions inevitably being asked about whether the country is 'ready' for Obama, whether that's his race, his name, his background in community organizing, his youth, etc. So these folks think America's ready; in fact, more ready than they are for Hillary.

But that isn't the biggest significance. The key is timing. You don't hit a big time politician like Hillary Clinton when she's down unless you're really against her and you're fairly confident she's not getting back up. After winning in New Hampshire, albeit narrowly and after the clobbering in Iowa, there's been a sense that Clinton may be back on track to consolidating her frontrunner status and perhaps following a modified version of the standard script in which the anointed frontrunner gets a scare in the early states before mopping up the competition as the race goes national. But these four clearly don't want that to happen. In fact, they're sticking their necks pretty far out to help make it not happen. And their endorsements, coming right now, tell me they have some confidence it won't.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

Having been out of power for so many years and desirous of winning the White House, these candidates have conceded that Hillary Clinton as a candidate in November would likely result in another exceptionally close election, with as much of a shot of losing as winning.