Saturday, February 16, 2008

Will Hillary focus her campaign energy on the plight of the middle class and working class Americans?

One of the key factors that will determine whether Hillary does well in Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania is the degree to which her "message" is laser-focused on "the plight of the middle class" and "addressing the needs of working class Americans." The progressives can focus all they want on Iraq, changing Washington and reforming politics, hope, and change, but a very large chunk of voters are much more concerned with personal economic issues. The issue is not the overall economy or overall policies or radically reforming Washington or refashioning politics in general, but the aspects of government and impact of government that "touch" people in their daily lives.

If Hillary can stay disciplined and simply ignore Barack and stay absolutely laser-focused on "helping middle and working class Americans get back on their feet and stay on their feet", thenshe can do quite well.

In fact, if Hillary can avoid ever even using the words "hope" and "change" or "Iraq" or "Washington" or "politics" or even hinting that she has a Democratic opponent let alone naming him, then she can do quite well. Every speech should come across as a personal chat with the voters, filled with empathy and resolve and strength. People should feel that she is talking to them rather than about policies and plans. She needs to focus on 100% positive that listeners will associate with having her in the picture after the election. She needs to stay away from the negative and laser-focus on her resolve to be the leader for "overcoming challenges [and criticisms]" rather than feeling compelled to "respond" to every criticism hurled her way by her opponents. She really does have a "high road" that she can follow if she will only resolve to follow it.

In short, Hillary will be screwed unless she sincerely and impressively comes across as having sufficient empathy and resolve to be "the leader" most prepared to deal with the fact that:

  • The middle class needs to be "restored".
  • The needs of working class Americans need to be met.
  • Pathways and "bridges" out of poverty into mainstream America need to strengthened, rebuilt, renewed, and even created anew.

She most certainly has no need to be defensive or attempt to defend herself against "charges" that the work that she and Bill were focused on for eight is old or irrelevant or outdated or inappropriate. Rather, she should focus on the fact that she (and Bill) have already built a foundation upon which they can be expected to build even greater successes. The progressives can argue all they want that the Clinton foundation should be disdainfully tossed aside, but middle and working class Americans already deeply know that they want to see the past work continued and completed rather than to cavalierly trust vague "hope" and dubious "change" to successfully replace it.

-- Jack Krupansky

How to guarantee a Democratic presidential defeat in November

The presidential election is the Democrats' to lose. Nobody is taking the wobbly Republicans too seriously right now. But, it is still possible for the Democrats to sqaunder that advantage between now and November. How? By focusing attention on getting Al Gore to take sides in the Hillary/Barack batte.

By focusing so much attention on the importance of Mr. Gore, the Democrats would be inadvertently casting the election as a re-run of the 2000 election. Granted, the left-wing progressives really would prefer that impression, but the overall American electorate have already "seen that movie" and are unlikely to change their minds and now "vote" for Mr. Gore, notwithstanding eight years of President Bush. Remember, the American people reelected President Bush in 2004 despite the fact that Iraq was already going badly.

The too-ambitious progressives also need to cogitate on the fact that despite their labelling of Hillary as a "Bush-Democrat", middle of the road Americans are unlikely to mistake Hillary or even John McCain for President Bush. If anything, middle of the road Americans are more likely to think of Hillary as still a little bit too liberal rather than being right-leaning as the progressives suggest. That is why it is so urgent for Hillary to be more of a hard-core centrist and even be more than a little accommodating to moderate republicans.

Sure, Hillary is courting Gore's endorsement as well, but she does not need it (and certainly won't want it in the general election!) and simply seeks to keep a strong contender from getting it. The unfortunate truth is that as little as the left-wing progressives are needed to win the general election, they are still a force to reckon with during the primaries and going into the nominating convention. The real risk for Hillary is that any effort she makes to court the so-called progressives will cause a backlash and loss of popular appeal in the general election. Democrats everywhere need to think about that more carefully.

The ironic thing about this campaign is that the progressives are using the playbook of the neoconservatives with a take no prisoners, "we will ultimately win as long as we do not compromise!", scorched earth approach as opposed to a bipartison and nonpartisan appeal to all sides that is more characteristic of the centrism which reflects what the true majority of Americans really want. To be fair, Barack is not a true progressive, but he is close enough and has been too-willing to accept the support of progressives so that he becomes a de facto progressive. How strange... if he thinks that the progressive movement is so valid, why doesn't he stand up and proclaim that he is a progressive? Because he wants to win the general election.

In short, the progressives courting and touting of the public support of Al Gore would cause more damage to the Democratic prospects in November no matter how much short-term benefit it gives for winning the party nomination.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Barack's "sweep" of the Potomac

As expected by everyone, Barack won the primaries in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. I don't not think that was any surprise. His margins of victory were very solid and wide, but I am not sure one way or the other whether there is any new of different information there that will impact the upcoming battles.

As the media is now pointing out, Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvannia are "must wins" for Hillary. She does have a very good chance of capturing all three, but whether her margins of victory are sufficient to pull ahead of Barack on the non-super delegate count remains to be seen. It really could go one way or the other.

Public sentiment may now be on Barack's side, but the simple truth in politics is that in the privacy of the voting booth voter's are not necessarily guided 100% by public sentiment.

Some people make a big deal about Barack now "gaining momentum", but in politics it is never, ever so simple. Momentum in politics can change at a moment's notice. Barack may be turning Hillary into an underdog, but if the Clinton's have proved one thing over the past several decades, it is that underdog status is what incentivizes them to learn and change and dedouble their efforts. Underdog status gives them a second wind.

So, Barack's "Potomac surge" does put him in the lead for now and maybe the next three weeks, but by putting Hillary in an underdog position he needs to get ready for the consequences of Hillary and Bill's reaction to being dubbed "underdog."

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hillary as a commodity provider vs. Barack as an experience provider

An op-ed piece in The New York Times by David Brooks entitled "Questions for Dr. Retail" helps to explain some of the differences in appeal between Hillary and Barack. As Brooks puts it:

Hillary Clinton is a classic commodity provider. She caters to the less-educated, less-pretentious consumer. As Ron Brownstein of The National Journal pointed out on Wednesday, she won the non-college-educated voters by 22 points in California, 32 points in Massachusetts and 54 points in Arkansas. She offers voters no frills, just commodities: tax credits, federal subsidies and scholarships. She's got good programs at good prices.

Barack Obama is an experience provider. He attracts the educated consumer. In the last Pew Research national survey, he led among people with college degrees by 22 points. Educated people get all emotional when they shop and vote. They want an uplifting experience so they can persuade themselves that they're not engaging in a grubby self-interested transaction. They fall for all that zero-carbon footprint, locally grown, community-enhancing Third Place hype. They want cultural signifiers that enrich their lives with meaning.

Sure that is oversimplified, but it seems to fit the profiles of both candidates remarkably well.

Then Brooks highlights the educational "class" divide between Hillary's target demographic and Barack's:

Did you hear the message of Clinton's speech Tuesday night? It's a rotten world out there. Regular folks are getting the shaft. They need someone who'll fight tougher, work harder and put loyalty over independence.

Then did you see the Hopemeister's speech? His schtick makes sense if you've got a basic level of security in your life, if you're looking up, not down. Meanwhile, Obama's people are so taken with their messiah that soon they'll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings. There's a "Yes We Can" video floating around YouTube in which a bunch of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and the guy from the Black Eyed Peas are singing the words to an Obama speech in escalating states of righteousness and ecstasy. If that video doesn't creep out normal working-class voters, then nothing will.

Brooks says we can use that same educational demographic lens to forecast the results in upcoming Democratic primaries:

The next states on the primary calendar have tons of college-educated Obamaphile voters. Maryland is 5th among the 50 states, Virginia is 6th. But later on, we get the Hillary-friendly states. Ohio is 40th in college education. Pennsylvania is 32nd.

But it'll still be tied after all that. The superdelegates will pick the nominee — the party honchos, the deal-makers, the donors, the machine. Swinging those people takes a level of cynicism even Dr. Retail can't pretend to understand. That's Tammany Hall. That's the court at Versailles under Louis XIV.

He didn't mention Texas, but a 2005 list from the U.S. Census Bureau had Texas down at 28, which nominally is a positive for Hillary, but could also be a bit of a toss-up.

-- Jack Krupansky

Is Hillary doomed?

Right now, the Intrade Prediction Market indicates that Hillary has only a 30.5% chance of capturing the Democratic nomination while Barack has a 69.0% chance. That certainly looks gloomy for Hillary and very bright for Barack, but sentiment can change at a moment's notice.

Barack claimed the lion's share of votes and delegates this weekend, but it was expected that he would be the winner and that he will win in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. It was not expected that he would win by such wide margins. Since the Democratic primary rules allot delegates proportionally to votes, Hillary doesn't come out totally at a loss.

Certainly "momentum" is now in Barack's favor, but that can also change at a moment's notice. We all saw what happened going from Iowa to New Hampshire

The good news is that the pressure of being an underdog will push Hillary to carefully rethink her campaign strategy and style and refocus on what it takes to win. What such a re-shape of strategy might take remains to be seen. And whether such a re-shape of strategy can succeed remains to be seen.

If I were advising Hillary, I would advise her to campaign very heavily and publicly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas, skip the other states in between other than minor rallies with surrogates, go very light on ad spending, and rely on the heavy media coverage she will get by focusing on big rallies in the big states with plenty of criticism of Bush/McCain policies and the "impracticality" of Barack's hope/change-based campaign. Voters may even thank her for doing less advertising. She should focus almost 100% on middle class "woes" and health care issues, "taking care of the American people" and "restoring the middle class" that has been "gutted by the policies of Bush/McCain." As far as her "attitude" towards Barack, she should be moderately generous but modestly condescending: "He means well and is filled with youthful energy and charm and wit, but he just doesn't understand..." Every "Yes we can!" should be answered with "Well, maybe, but he hasn't convinced us that he has what it takes to go the distance in the real world..."

That said, I have to disclose that I do not have a dog in this fight. Even though there was a Democratic caucus here in Washington state yesterday, I am an independent, so I did not participate. I usually vote the Democratic party line, but if Barack wins the nomination and doesn't do a better job of speaking to me about his centrist credentials I may reluctantly be forced to consider McCain. I think that Barack could be a legitimate centrist, but his campaign rhetoric does not convince me.

It will be interesting to see what happens a month from now. Until the March 4th primaries in Texas and Ohio, Barack will own the nominal "lead" and Hillary will experience the underdog's pressure to outperform.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Barack's surge on Super Tuesday?

Huh... I thought Barack was supposed to "surge" in Massachusetts and California and even New York, but the results do not show that. Sure, he did okay in all three of those states, but he neither won nor blew Hillary away. So, what happened to the "surge"? Why did it peter out?

One answer may be that the economy, or rather weakness in the economy, has "surged" as a dominant issue for voters and even more so for those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. And, it just so happens that Hillary has a lot of strength among those "less fortunate." Meanwhile, as The Washington Post quotes former-Edwards adviser Joe Trippi as putting it, Barack's "appeal has always been to upscale, better educated Democrats." That sounds about right and does explain the failure of the Barack "surge" to carry the day. Barack may have accumulated a lot of "star power" with Hollywood and the Kennedys lavishing him with praise and "young people" oozing a passion for "hope" and radical "change", but all those working-class and poor and otherwise down and out "stiffs" entering the polling booths are simply not motivated by all of the hype and are simply looking for someone committed to offering them a helping hand.

This also explains why Hillary probably picked up a a good number of former Edwards supporters: John Edwards was the champion of the poor and downtrodden.

Here is an open question: Is Iraq (and Iran) and foreign policy in general now a non-issue as far as choosing the Democratic nominee? In other words, is it finally true that Hillary's fate is no longer tied to her now-infamous "Iraq" vote? It seems as if that might be the case. If so, Barack will increasingly lose traction with a campaign strategy that The Post describes as:

In his remarks last night in Chicago, Obama signaled he would try even more aggressively to draw a contrast with Clinton over who is the true agent for change.

"If I am your nominee," he said, "my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq, because I didn't. Or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, because I haven't. Or that I support the Bush-Cheney doctrine of not talking to leaders we don't like, because I profoundly disagree with that approach."

Sure, all Democrats want "change", but trying to cast Hillary as a villian opposed to change is a non-starter. Most Democrats are not advocating radical change, but change that helps them in their lives and communities. Last night a lot of voters indicated that they are not completely buying Barack's "true agent for change" argument and reaffirmed that Hillary offers them enough of the kind of change they are seeking.

It will be truely interesting to see how the rest of the campaign unfolds. The voters have their own minds. They are not necessarily up for a "change" of their core beliefs that they had before Barack "surged" onto the scene.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Progessives and centrists vie for the soul of the Democratic Party

With so many Kennedys endorsing Barack, it raises the question of the nature of the Democratic ideology.

Back in the 1960's, clearly the Democrats represented "liberalism." Carter and Clinton challenged that status quo and ushered in a more centrist ideology that did not abandon liberalism, but noted a need to give a nod to the center of American ideology.

Now, the progressives have have brought back liberalism under a new name. It was only natural for the Kennedys to associate with this ideology.

The current Democratic primary camapign is less about the personalities or their gender or their race, but has everything to do with centrist versus liberal/progressive ideology.

Personally, I would not cast Hillary as a truly diehard centrist, but as more or a pragmatic liberal. In fact, Barack is a bit of a pragmatic liberal as well, but somewhat light on the pragmatic, while Hillary is solid on core liberal but solid on pragmatic as well.

It is rather misleading to cast Hillary or centrists in general as "Bush Democrats", but that is life in politics where labels are free and easy and usually innacurate. Nonetheless, the progressives do in fact see hard-core pragmatism and centrism as "the enemy" and just as much an enemy as Bush, Cheney, and the Neo-conservatives.

Democratic voters will have to decide for themselves whether they want to go light on pragmatism or heavier on centrism. It is a close call which way they will lean.

I think that Americans overall are pragmatists, but I don't know what fraction of American voters in general or of pragmatists in particular register as Democrats.

Maybe Super Tuesday will tell us.

-- Jack Krupansky

Super Tuesday

Good luck to all of the presidential candidates on Super Tuesday.

It will be interesting to see what happens in California as far as a surge for Barack. Right now, the Intrade Prediction Market indicates a 40% chance for Hillary and a 42.1% chance for Barack, but the current range is 46.9% to 60.1% for Hillary and 42.1% to 44.2% for Barack. In summary, nobody has any great confidence. Barack could stage another surge, or Haillary could stage another bounceback.

Overall, Intrade indicates Hillary has a 61.1% chance of capturing the Democratic nomination and Barack a 43% chance.

McCain has really bounced back. Intrade indicates him as having an 87.1% chance of capturing the Republican nomination, with Romney at a skimpy 8.8% chance.

For the general election, Intrade indicates Hillary having a 37.5% chance, McCain a 35.7 chance, and Barack a 24.1% chance. Romney is way back at a 3% chance.

It will be truly interesting to see how these numbers hold up after Tuesday.

-- Jack Krupansky