Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thoughts on the Pennsylvania primary and the race for the nomination

Senator Hillary Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary yesterday by a respectable margin. Based on the count as of this morning it appears she will have won by a margin of approximately 9-to-10 percent. That’s a solid win although, as the New York Times points out she won by taking the low road by not engaging Senator Obama on the issues but constantly attacking with negative campaigning. As the Times’ editorial put it, “The Pennsylvania campaign, which produced yet another inconclusive result on Tuesday, was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.”

What does this Clinton win in Pennsylvania mean? It proves negative campaigning works and we are guaranteed to see more of it as she takes on the role of the Republican attack dog. It means more resources will be squandered and more political bridges will be burned in order to maintain an unsatisfactory status quo. It means in two weeks we will have two more inconclusive primaries with more inconclusive primaries after that.

Due to the proportional allocation of delegates both statewide and by congressional district, Senator Clinton will gain only a handful of delegates once the Pennsylvania count is official. Because of the delegate allocation rule, whoever wins the upcoming primaries will gain only a handful of delegates per race. Senator Obama does not have the number of delegates needed yet to clinch the nomination but does have an insurmountable lead in elected delegates. According to Marc Ambinder, “If Obama keeps his pledged delegate lead to around 150, Clinton needs to win 70% of them on May 6 -- and if not, 80% of them after May 6. That's more than next to impossible….Obama's still won twice as many contests as Hillary, won more of the popular vote, has a nearly insurmountable lead in delegates and has outraised her by some $40 million or so.”

Senator Clinton lost the race for elected delegates a couple of months ago. Unlike the other candidates in the crowded (at that time) Democratic field she lacks the courage to accept the inevitable and the common decency to set aside her personal ambitions in favor of what is best for the party and the country. Her only hope is to damage Senator Obama to the point he no longer is a desirable candidate. Senator Clinton cannot win with elected delegates so her hopes rest on the so-called super delegates to overrule the voters and the plurality of elected delegates in her favor.

The party’s so-call super delegates will eventually determine the winner. These are delegates given automatic delegate status by the Democratic National Committee. It includes sitting Democratic Senators, Representatives and Governors. The reasoning is these are the officials who will run on the same ticket as the Democratic nominee and will work with the newly elected Democratic President. These super delegates are well known to the public, the public elected them and they will remain accountable to the public. The designation of super delegate status to these elected representatives makes all the sense in the world. As of this writing they are roughly evenly split in their support with 98 backing Senator Clinton, 103 for Senator Obama and 97 undecided.

The other large group of supers is members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The reasoning for their special status is a little murky. They achieved membership as members of the DNC, the ultimate party insiders, by election from other party insiders. They are essentially unknown to the public and are not accountable to the public. They are responsible for devising and approving the nomination system we have all been suffering through. Perhaps they felt they deserved a reward for devising such an efficient and fair nominating process or maybe they felt they were too important to have to become an elected delegate to the national convention the way other Democrats have to. The bottom line is since they were writing the rules they were in a position to give themselves a plum and did so. Thus they are super delegates and this year may be the group that is responsible for who the candidate will be. Being party insiders they tend to favor the establishment candidate. It is among this group that Senator Clinton hopes will rally to her. So far she leads with commitments from 143 DNC supers while 115 are backing Senator Obama and 139 remain uncommitted.

So there we have it…a very unsatisfactory and inconclusive election day with more unsatisfactory and inconclusive election days to come.

1 comment:

Rick Hoyt-McDaniels said...

you write, "What does this Clinton win in Pennsylvania mean? It proves negative campaigning works and we are guaranteed to see more of it as she takes on the role of the Republican attack dog."

I think this result actually proves that negative campaigning doesn't work - or at least doesn't work as effectively as it once did. Remember that Clinton was ahead in Pennsylvania by more than 20 points prior to campaigning and yet won by less than 10.

Unfortunately the remainder of your sentence I quoted is undoubtedly true. "We are guaranteed to see more of it" even as the negative campaigning hurts both candidates and more tragically hurts a country desperate to get out of the Bush-Rove politics of hate and fear.