Friday, February 29, 2008

The Domestic Policy Gap

Since Tuesday night's Democratic debate, Senators Obama and McCain have sparred over each other's positions on the Iraq War and foreign policy. While the Iraq War is an important issue, and one in which the candidates clearly differ, most indicators are that domestic policy will play the dominant role in the upcoming general election. This can be confirmed by looking at the exit poll results from CNN's Election Center, which list which issues voters considered most important. I've summarized the results for 6 states below:

State Democratic Issues Republican Issues
Missouri Economy 55%, Health Care 22%, Iraq 19% Economy 44%, Iraq 20%, Illegal Immigration 18%, Terrorism 13%
Georgia Economy 54%, Health Care 21%, Iraq 21% Economy 42%, Illegal Immigration 22%, Iraq 18$, Terrorism 13%
California Economy 46%, Iraq 32%, Health Care 19% Economy 34%, Illegal Immigration 28%, Iraq 19%, Terrorism 15%
Virginia Economy 49%, Iraq 30%, Health Care 17% Economy 32%, Iraq 24%, Terrorism 21%, Illegal Immigration 19%
New York Economy 46%, Iraq 30%, Health Care 20% Economy 42%, Iraq 20%, Terrorism 18%, Illegal Immigration 17%
Tennessee Economy 52%, Iraq 23%, Health Care 22% Economy 37%, Illegal Immigration 25%, Iraq 17%, Terrorism 17%

The highest poll for military/foreign affairs was among Virginia Republicans where Iraq and Terrorism combined for 45%. For the other states, Republicans polled this combination in the mid 30s, while Democrats polled Iraq by itself between 17% and 30%. All the poll results show the economy as the top issue ranging from 32% for Virginia Republicans to 55% for Missouri Democrats. Democrats cited health care as an important issue (17%-22%) while Republicans looked at illegal immigration (17%-28%)

While these numbers are no surprise given the condition of our economy, they should cause concern for Senator McCain. If you look at his record of bills/amendments introduced and passed since 2003 (tab McCain Categorized on the Spreadsheet), you will notice that much of his effort is focused in the defense/foreign policy arena. Out of the 92 bills and amendments he proposed and passed over the last 5 years, 60 of them came in the areas of defense, foreign policy or native-american relations. Looking at just the last 3 years, that number is 36 out of 43 total. Additionally, many of the bills I have classified as "other" are homeland security related, hardly falling under the economy, health-care, illegal immigration umbrella.

It is clear that domestic policy has not been an area of great concentration for Senator McCain. He has admitted himself that he doesn't know as much as he should about the economy, as this video shows. While this is understandable given his extensive military background, Senator McCain's foreign policy expertise may not be enough to win this election, especially considering that many of his foreign policy positions have not been very popular. Senator McCain will have to work very hard to close the domestic policy gap if he is going to make a convincing case to the American people this fall.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lobbyists in the Washington Ecosystem

One of the stated goals of Senator Barack Obama's campaign for President is to reduce the power of special interests in Washington and return control of the government to the American people. Lobbyists are the conduit carrying special interest influence into government. According to, over 2 billion dollars has been spent on lobbying each year since 2003. Senator Obama's efforts in the Senate include modifying rules to prevent lobbyists from sending gifts to Representatives, and forcing them to disclose who they raise money for. I think it is important to fully understand the role lobbyists play in Washington so we can take further steps to reduce the control they have over the legislative process.

A good place to start is this anecdotal article by John Dickerson at Slate. Dickerson relates a conversation he had with a lobbyist friend who explains that he and his colleagues rarely, if ever, explicitly trade votes for money. Their sway comes from the information they provide to Capitol Hill staffers who either don't have the time, or as Dickerson suggests, motivation, to find themselves. The book, Tribes on the Hill: The United States Congress -- Rituals and Realities by J. McIver Weatherford, verifies this role of the lobbyist as the information broker:

They explain the details of bills, supply computer analyses of how an issue affects different parts of the constituency, and which groups oppose or support the issue with how much enthusiasm. As John Kennedy described them, "Lobbyist are in many cases expert technicians and capable of explaining complex and difficult subjects in a clear, understandable fashion." Among the specific tasks lobbyists perform, Kennedy listed preparing briefs and legislative analyses as well as writing legislation.

Why are staffers calling lobbyists for their information? Is John Dickerson right in that the staffers are just being lazy, or is it that they just don't have the time or resources necessary to do the job? The Washington, DC law firm Meyers and Associates offer this explanation:

In many cases, lobbyists serve as an "extension" of a congressional office staff. Given the hundreds of bills and amendments introduced during each legislative session, it's impossible for legislators to gauge the potential effects that each may have on affected groups or individuals. Lobbyists assist staff by communicating often complicated issues and by knowing how to break an issue down into relatively small and simple parts. The goal is to simplify the learning process of the Member and/or congressional staff person, yet provide them with accurate and timely information. In this regard, lobbyists perform a valuable service not only to their client but to the staff and Members of Congress as well.
While I could believe John Dickerson if he were pointing to a few Congressional staffers who were lazy, I doubt that this explanation applies to all of them. I think it is more likely that the volume of bills and amendments that pass through a Congressperson's office is too much for the staff to handle by themselves. Still, do we want industry supported lobbyists to be the resources used by Congressional offices to fill in the gaps?  I believe that the party organization is much better suited to fill this advisory role.  By hiring large numbers of policy professionals, the parties themselves can provide the information and policy development resources necessary to guide a legislative effort.  While lobbyists would still be important for organizing funds and interests, they would cease to be the information source of first resort, and that would allow legislators to better serve the whole of their constituency.

Such an undertaking would be expensive, according to the Washington post, top lobbyists can earn from a quarter to a half a million dollars a year. It would take hundreds of these professionals to create an institution that would have a meaningful impact. Still, the Obama campaign is collecting over a million dollars a day. Senator Obama has reminded his supporters that he will need their efforts to bring about change both before, during and after the Presidential election.  If we want to reduce the power of the special interests, we have to be prepared to fill in the void that this would create.  This means we will have to be active and supportive in the creation of our party institutions.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Superdelegate Roundup Update - Obama Gains

Senator Obama has been making strides with the superdelgates over the past week.  Since last Thursday, he has secured 11 endorsements, compared to only 1 for Senator Clinton.  Many of these endorsements have come from Washingtion, DC and Wisconsin, areas which have already voted for Senator Obama.  This has pushed his affirmer percentage up 2 percent, breaking the 1/3 mark for the first time.  The latest numbers are:

Clinton Area Superdelegates:  208
Clinton Affirmer:  104 (50%)
Clinton Defectors:  35 (16.8%)
Clinton Undeciders:  69 (33.2%)

Obama Area Superdelegates:  307
Obama Affirmers:  103 (33.6%)
Obama Defectors:  78 (25.4%)
Obama Undeciders:  126 (41%)

Pre-Vote Area Superdelegates:  204
Early Clinton Committers:  57 (27.9%)
Early Obama Committers: 41 (20.1%)
Early Undeciders:  106 (52%)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Knocking On Doors In Ohio

This past weekend I celebrated my 30th birthday by driving to Ohio and canvassing for the Barack Obama campaign.  Since I live in Nashville, Tennessee, the Cincinnati area was the most accessible to me.  Canvassing was just starting up there and my wife and I signed up for events in the suburbs of Milford and West Chester.  These areas are very hostile for any Democratic candidate; both counties (Clermont and Butler) voted 2-to-1 for President Bush in 2004.

The atmosphere indicated by the past election results was confirmed by many of our fellow volunteers.  Amy, the organizer of the canvassing event in Milford, told us that many people in her neighborhood just check the name with the "R" next to it without knowing anything about the candidates.  Still, Amy told us that she had success convincing a number of her co-workers to register and vote for Senator Obama.  We also had some success in our canvassing.  While fellow Democrats were few and far between, most were receptive to hearing about Senator Obama; and some had already decided to vote for him.  We also found a number of Republicans who were interested in learning more about the Senator and who were glad to learn that they could get a Democratic ballot for the primary.

Not everyone in the area is open to hearing a Democratic message.  While most of the Republicans we encountered were polite before telling us they weren't interested, a few were quite gruff and one made a couple sarcastic taunts before slamming his door in my face.  This was to be expected considering that I had knocked on over 100 doors.  A worse indicator, however, came during dinner when my wife and I overheard a conversation where a table of Republicans enthusiastically anticipated the swift-boating of Senator Obama.  One of the participants declared that she had early-voted for Senator Clinton because she felt she would be easier to beat in November, while another used racial epithets to describe Senator Obama.  This just shows that no matter how high-minded a conversation we try to have during the campaign, some people just don't want to work together.

Despite these difficulties, outreach efforts in red areas are very important for the Obama campaign.  The margin of victory in the popular vote in the general election will have more significance for Senator Obama than any other of the remaining candidates.  In order to implement the far-reaching changes he has proposed in Washington, he will need as big a mandate as possible.  This means that Obama supporters are going to have to find votes in enemy territory, like Cincinnati.    Based on the efforts of the volunteers I witnessed this weekend, I am confident that they will reduce that 2-to-1 Republican advantage by November.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Clinton - Obama Senate Votes Comparison

Using the Washington Post Congress Votes Database, I compiled a list of votes that Senators Clinton and Obama disagreed on since January of 2005 when they have both been in the Senate. Also included, is a second sheet containing all votes where both Senators Clinton and Obama voted, with Senator McCain's vote included and information on whether Senator McCain voted along with the Republican Party consensus.

Here is a link to the Google spreadsheet.

I wasn't able to find any broad trends in the votes where Senators Clinton and Obama disagreed. Out of over 900 total votes, they only disagreed on 52. Out of those, Senator Clinton voted against the Democratic party consensus 30 times, compared to 21 times for Senator Obama. Both Senators appeared to agree with Senator McCain at the same rate; on 23 of the split votes, Clinton agreed with McCain 23 times, compared to 22 for Senator Obama. Senator McCain did not vote the other 7 times Clinton and Obama were split.

I have not had time to go through each of the motions to determine the most noteworthy disagreements. The only controversial things that appear obvious to me are Senator Clinton's vote for cloture on reauthorizing the USA Patriot act (Vote 23, 2005) which went against her party. On the other hand, Senator Obama seemed slightly more willing then Senator Clinton to confirm President Bush's nominations. He voted to confirm 4 nominees which she rejected, and for 2 of those nominees Obama went against the Democratic consensus. Much of the rest of their disagreement appears to be on the issues of energy, government transparency, homeland security and immigration. I will try to discern any substantive differences in their positions by looking at the motions and votes in more detail.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Superdelegate Roundup Update

The Superdelegate Roundup Spreadsheet has been updated with the primary results from Wisconsin and Hawaii, as well as delegate pledges from Democratic Convention Watch.

Clinton Area Superdelegates: 208
Clinton Affirmers: 104 (50%)
Clinton Defectors: 34 (16.3%)
Clinton Undeciders: 70 (33.7%)

Obama Area Superdelegates: 303
Obama Affirmers: 95 (31.4%)
Obama Defectors: 77 (25.4%)
Obama Undeciders: 131 (43.2%)

Pre-Vote Area Superdelegates: 212
Early Clinton Committers: 58 (27.4%)
Early Obama Committers: 41 (19.3%)
Early Undeciders: 113 (53.3%)

The only noticeable change in the numbers is that the percentage of "undeciders" in the pre-vote areas has continued to decline, falling another 4.6% since Sunday. The number of committed superdelegates in pre-vote areas has remained the same since then, but the total number of superdelegates in pre-vote areas fell by 23 with the results from Wisconsin and Hawaii.

On the pledge update front, DNC superdelegates John Rednour from Illinois and Dana Redd from New Jersey switched their allegiance from Clinton to Obama. Rednour is now an affirmer while Redd is a defector.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Superdelegates and Campaign Donations

Last night, I found an article on Capital Eye which investigated the contributions made by Senator Clinton's and Senator Obama's PACs to the campaigns of various superdelegates since 2006.  The article finds that the donations made by the candidates to superdelegates provide a good indicator of who the superdelegate has committed to:

Yet the Center for Responsive Politics has found that campaign contributions have been a generally reliable predictor of whose side a superdelegate will take. In cases where superdelegates had received contributions from both Clinton and Obama, seven out of eight elected officials who received more money from Clinton have committed to her. The one exception: Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, whose endorsement of Obama was highly publicized, received more from Clinton than from the Illinois senator--$10,000 compared to $4,200. Thirty-four of the 43 superdelegates who received more money from Obama, or 79 percent, are backing him. In every case the Center found in which superdelegates received money from one candidate but not the other, the superdelegate is backing the candidate who gave them money.

I added the campaign contribution data to the Superdelegate Roundup Spreadsheet to see if the donations affected whether the superdelegates were following the will of the voters.  I also added contribution data for Hillary's PAC going back to 2002, which I found on  

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the donations do not seem to be having nearly as much impact as implied by the Capital Eye article. Out of the 105 total defectors identified by my spreadsheet, only 3 have defected to a candidate that gave them the most donations.  I have highlighted these superdelegates in red, 2 are pledged to Obama and 1 to Clinton.  Next, I looked at superdelegates from areas which have not yet voted.  Out of the 235 superdelegates from these areas, only 11 have pledged to the candidate who provided them with the most funds.  I have highlighted these in orange, 8 are pledged to Obama, 3 to Clinton.  Finally, I looked at the uncommitted superdelegates from areas where primaries or caucuses have already been held.  Out of the 189 of these "undeciders", only 9 received greater donations from the candidate who lost the election in the superdelegate's state or district.  These are highlighted in yellow, 6 are witholding support from Clinton, comapred to 3 witholding support from Obama.

If we view a "normal" superdelegate vote as being one that conforms to primary or caucus results for the superdelegate's state or congressional district, then the campaign donations from the candidates to the superdelegates (as has been uncovered so far by public records) can only be said to cause 23 "deviations" from this norm, out of 768 superdelegates (3%).  Out of these 23 "deviations", 16 are in favor of Obama and 7 are in favor of Clinton.  I will continue to monitor these numbers to see if the impact of contributions increases or decreases as election results and delegate pledges are reported.  

Monday, February 18, 2008

Capital Gang on Campaign Finance

The Capital Gang, a group of journalists that used to have a show on CNN, visited Tim Russert on Meet the Press yesterday.  In this web exclusive, Russert asked the gang if Obama should accept public funds for the general election (question is at the 10:25 mark).  Mark Shields, Al Hunt and Margaret Carlson said he should.  Bob Novak said he shouldn't and Kate O'Beirne said it didn't matter because voters don't pay attention to campaign finance issues. 

Shield's main case for refusing the funds was that Obama made a pledge to do so and would be hurt by McCain if he recanted now.  Hunt also said that refusing the funds wouldn't hinder Obama's campaign that much because the Democratic Party and 527 organizations will be able to raise money for the general election and buy the commercial time that Obama would have bought himself.  Carlson felt that he had to refuse the funds to stay true to himself and consistent with the image he has put fourth for the entire campaign.

Novak believes that public campaign financing has been a disaster and thinks those who want Obama to accept public funds also want the Treasury Department to fund all elections, which he is against.  I don't think this argument is very credible; every major party presidential nominee since 1976 has accepted the general election grant, and yet there has not been a large-scale expansion of public campaign financing.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Superdelegate Roundup Update, Pre-Vote Areas Committing

I've put the latest superdelegate pledge updates from Democratic Convention Watch into the Superdelegate Roundup Spreadsheet.  Both the Clinton and Obama area numbers held steady, but the pre-vote areas saw another 4.2% of their superdelegates commit to a candidate (2.5% for Clinton, 1.6% for Obama).  To see how the week went, I've compared each percentage from those in Monday's (2/11) update.  

Clinton Area Superdelegates: 208
Clinton Affirmers: 104 (50%) (vs 48.5% on 2/11)
Clinton Defectors: 32 (15.4%) (vs 12.1% on 2/11)
Clinton Undeciders: 72 (34.6%) (vs 39.4% on 2/11)

Obama Area Superdelegates: 279
Obama Affirmers: 89 (31.9%) (vs 33% on 2/11)
Obama Defectors: 74 (26.5%) (vs 22.9% on 2/11)
Obama Undeciders: 116 (41.6%) (vs 44% on 2/11)

Pre-Vote Area Superdelegates: 235
Early Clinton Commiters: 59 (25.1%) (vs 25.4% on 2/11)
Early Obama Commiters: 40 (17%) (vs 13.2% on 2/11)
Early Undeciders: 136 (57.9%) (vs 61.4% on 2/11)

For the entire week, Senator Obama had a net increase of 25 superdelegates, compared to only 14 for Senator Clinton.  Interestingly, defector rates for both candidates are up, and Obama's affirmer percentage actually went down.  It seems that Senator Obama will have to work harder to convince superdelegates from areas that voted for him to affirm the will of the voters if he is going to close the superdelegate gap with Senator Clinton.

* Another note, some superdelegates are having trouble sticking with their commitments.  After reports got out that he had switched his pledge from Clinton to Obama, Rep. John Lewis's office denied the reports.  Democratic Convention Watch has moved him back into the uncommitted column until they can firmly determine his pledge.  DNC member Sarah Swisher from Iowa switched her support to Obama after he received the endorsement of her union, the SEIU.  Swisher had originally supported Senator Edwards, so she has now supported all three candidates.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

General Election Financing

Senator McCain called Senator Obama out yesterday for refusing to stand by a pledge to accept public financing for the general election.  A year ago, when asked in a questionnaire by the Midwest Democracy Network if he would accept public financing for the general election, Obama wrote "Yes. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."  Now, Senator McCain is saying that he will indeed accept public financing, and he expects Senator Obama to do the same.  Obama's campaign has vascillated, his press secretary Mark Burton said “We will address that issue in the general election, when we’re the nominee."

The reasons for Senator Obama's change in stance are clear; his fundraising operation is now pulling in over a million dollars a day and will far outstrip anything Senator McCain could achieve.  By refusing to use public funds, Obama could greatly outspend McCain, who would be limited to $85 million if he accepts the funds.  Senator Obama's opponent for the Democratic nomination, Senator Clinton, has also not pledged to use public funds.  If he were to make such a pledge before she did, she could use that as a reason for why she would make a better general election candidate. Her campaign, despite its previous financial difficulties, has seen a recent uptick in fundraising, and could conceivably outspend McCain by refusing public financing.

While I can understand the issues Obama is grappling with, I believe he needs to step forward and confirm his pledge with McCain.  Obama's disavowal of PAC money and focus on small donations from individuals are a big step in fighting the special interests in Washington, but the public funds are the only ones that are 100% special interest proof.  Senator Obama would not necessarily be giving up all of his fundraising advantage by accepting the public funds.  The $85 million limit only applies to spending after the convention, which for the Democrats ends on August 28th.  With the last primary taking place on June 7th in Puerto Rico, Obama, if he is the presumptive nominee by that point, would have two and a half months to use his privately raised funds to launch a defining campaign against Senator McCain.  Senator Obama can have the best of both worlds, maintaining the high ground on campaign finance while heavily outspending his opponent at the same time.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Superdelegate Roundup Update - New Mexico Called

Senator Clinton has reached the 50% affirmer plateau, fueled by the calling of New Mexico in her favor. Most of the superdelegates in New Mexico had already pledged their support to Clinton. While most of the numbers remained stable, there were a few notable updates from Democratic Convention Watch. Three superdelegates who had until recently supported Senator Clinton, switched their allegiance to Senator Obama. Christine "Roz" Samuels, a former Clinton affirmer from New Jersey, became a defector. David Scott and John Lewis, former Obama defectors from Georgia, became affirmers.

Clinton Area Superdelegates: 208
Clinton Affirmers: 104 (50%)
Clinton Defectors: 31 (14.9%)
Clinton Undeciders: (35.1%)

Obama Area Superdelegates: 278
Obama Affirmers: 86 (30.9%)
Obama Defectors: 75 (27%)
Obama Undeciders: 117 (42.1%)

Pre-Vote Area Superdelegates: 234
Early Clinton Committers: 53 (22.6%)
Early Obama Committers: 36 (15.4%)
Early Undeciders: 145 (62%)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

All Sizzle, No Steak?

Both Senators McCain and Clinton have made statements in recent days implying that the main appeal for Senator Obama stems from his rhetorical flourishes, and that he lacks the substance to make real change.

To put this claim to the test, I decided to examine the legislative records of all three Senators.  Using the Congressional Records database available from the Library of Congress, I compared the bills and amendments introduced by each Senator since all 3 have been in the Senate together, starting in January of 2005.   I've placed the short descriptions of the items each Senator introduced and passed in this Google spreadsheet.

I realize that this does not provide the whole story.  I haven't given much weight to the items the Senators introduced and didn't pass, and I haven't looked at what they cosponsored.  There are also many important Senatorial activities that do not appear on the Congressional Record.  However, I think looking at the items each Senator proposed and successfully guided through the Senate is a significant and equitable means of comparison.

Over the term, the base numbers look like:
Senator Obama:  265 items proposed, 39 items passed
Senator Clinton:  327 items proposed, 37 items passed
Senator McCain:  180 items proposed, 43 items passed

If you look at the spreadsheet, you'll see that each Senator has passed a number of bills or amendments which I would classify as "fluff", but I think they balance each other out in that respect.  Senator Clinton has made more proposals than either of her opponents, but her end results in bills/amendments passed is the same.

Senator Obama's signature items appear to be ethics reform, global-warming and veterans support.  His key achievement was his amendment requiring lobbyists to report which politicans and PACs they collect money for.  On the environment, he passed amendments providing money to study carbon sequestration and the development of Flexible Fuel Vehicle refueling stations.  He has sponsored numerous programs to help returning veterans cope with injuries and reintegrate with society. 

While arguments can be made in regards to experience, it appears to me that during the years they have all served together, Senator Obama's legislative effort has been of the same magnitude as both of his opponents.  He should have plenty of answers when they ask him "Where's the beef?"

More Superdelegate Roundup Updates

Some more pledge data has come in from Democratic Convention Watch and has been added to the Superdelegate Roundup Spreadsheet. Numbers from Senator Obama's areas are steady, but some superdelegates from Senator Clinton's strongholds are committing, and both her affirmer and defector numbers are up. Superdelegtes from the pre-vote areas are also committing, and there Senator Obama saw an increase of 1.9%, vs only .6% for Senator Clinton.

Clinton Area Superdelegates: 199
Clinton Affirmers: 99 (49.7% - a 1.5% increase from yesterday morning)
Clinton Defectors: 29 (14.5% - a 1.4% increase from yesterday morning)
Clinton Undeciders: 71 (35.7% - a 3% drop from yesterday morning)

Obama Area Superdelegates: 278
Obama Affirmers: 85 (30.6%)
Obama Defectors: 76 (27.3%)
Obama Undeciders: 117 (42.1%)

Pre-Vote Area Superdelegates: 243
Early Clinton Committers: 57 (23.4% - a .6% increase from yesterday morning)
Early Obama Committers: 36 (14.8% - a 1.9% percent increase from yesterday morning)
Early Undeciders: 150 (61.7% - a 2.6% drop from yesterday morning)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Superdelegate Roundup Update

State and district level results from Virginia, Maryland and DC are in and have been added to the spreadsheet.  I also added district level results from Maine and all but one district in Washington State.  While statewide results for New Mexico are still undetermined, I was able to get results for district 3 where Tom Udall is a superdelegate.  These, along with updates from Democratic Convetion Watch, have been added to the Superdelegate Roundup Spreadsheet.

Our Affirmer/Defector/Undecider Totals are now:

Clinton Area Superdelegates:  199
Clinton Affirmers:  96 (48.2%)
Clinton Defectors: 26 (13.1%)
Clinton Undeciders:  77 (38.7%)

Obama Area Superdelegates:  279
Obama Affirmers:  85 (30.5%)
Obama Defectors:  76 (27.2%)
Obama Undeciders:  118 (42.3%)

Pre-Vote Area Superdelegates:  241
Early Clinton Commiters:  55 (22.8%)
Early Obama Committers:  31 (12.9%)
Early Undeciders:  155 (64.3%)

Despite Senator Obama's victories over the weekend and last night, he appears to be losing ground with superdelegates as his Affirmer percentage dropped from 33% to 30.5% and his defector percentage increased from 22.9% to 27.2%.  I believe this is explained by the inclusion of DC, Virginia and Maryland as Obama areas.  Many political operatives live in these states (Harold Ickes, Terry McAuliffe, for example) who are part of the Clinton machine and who are contributing to the increased number of Obama defectors.  It will be interesting if the numbers change over the coming days as the impact of last night's primaries is felt nationwide.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Talking Health Care

I've been trying to pull together some resources for comparing Senator Obama's and Senator Clinton's health care reform plans.  First, here are the links to the plans themselves:

All analyses I've read say the key differetiator between the plans is the mandate Senator Clinton places on all individuals to get health insurance; Senator Obama only mandates that children be insured.  Everyone agrees that Senator Clinton's plan will insure more people and cost more than Senator Obama's, though there is little agreement on how many more people or how much more money.  Paul Krugman of the New York Times thinks that Senator Clinton's plan is well worth the added expense; he figures that it will cover many more people at only a slightly higher cost.  Timothy Noah from Slate thinks Hillary's mandate will make her plan unsalable to voters.  The Wall Street Journal agrees with Noah, although I don't expect them to support any health care reform package when it is brought before Congress. has a point-by-point comparison of the plans, which verifies that the mandate is the key differentiator.

With the two plans being so similar, we also have to consider the people who are proposing the reforms and the arguments they will use to achieve their aims.  Senator Obama says that his bipartisan approach will allow him to make changes that that Senator Clinton can't.  While I agree that Obama personally will be more able to reach across the aisle and engage Republicans, I believe that Senator Clinton is the one who is better framing the need for health care reform.  On her website, she emphasizes that her health care plan is good for small business.  I think this will be key to selling any proposals to Congress.  While the need to help the uninsured and underinsured in this country is undeniable, having that be the sole argument for change only allows reforms to be attacked with the "big-government entitlement" label.  Health care reform should be pursued as an economic and global competitiveness issue, for both small and big businesses.  We are losing jobs to overseas employeers, because health care costs here are too expensive.  GM now builds more cars in Ontario, where the unions are much stronger, than in Michigan, because Canada has national health care which makes labor there cheaper.  By enlisting the business community's help to lobby for lower health care costs, either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton could put together a broad coalition to fix our health care system.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Superdelegate Roundup Update

I have updated the Superdelegate Roundup Spreadheet with statewide results from Maine (district level results are not yet available), and pledge updates from Democratic Convention Watch.

I have also introduced new terminology: a superdelegate who votes along with the popular vote of his/her state or district is an "affirmer", a superdelegate who votes against the popular vote of his/her state or district is a "defector". A superdelegate who has not committed to vote for a candidate is an "undecider".

The spreadsheet update yields the following results:

Clinton Area Superdelegates: 198
Clinton Affirmers: 96 (48.5%)
Clinton Defectors: 24 (12.1%)
Clinton Undeciders: 78 (39.4%)

Obama Area Superdelegates: 218
Obama Affirmers: 72 (33%)
Obama Defectors: 50 (22.9%)
Obama Undeciders: 96 (44%)

Pre-Vote Area Superdelegates: 303
Early Clinton Commiters: 77 (25.4%)
Early Obama Commiters: 40 (13.2%)
Early Undeciders: 186 (61.4%)

Meet Maggie Williams

Yesterday, Senator Hillary Clinton appointed longtime aid, Maggie Williams, as her new campaign manager.  During President Clinton's administration, Maggie Williams served both as advisor to President Clinton and as Chief of Staff to the First Lady.  I found a video (real player, streaming) where Maggie Williams introduces a course she taught at the Harvard Institute of Politics in 2005.     

I don't want to read too much into this, but I found the topic of the course amusing.  Of all the lessons learned during her years in the Clinton administration, Maggie Williams found it most important to teach students how to fight partisan investigations.  Now that she is Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, her job is to get the voters' focus away from those uglier aspects of the Clinton era.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Superdelegate Roundup

I've created a spreadsheet to keep track of how superdelegates have pledged themselves coupled with the popular vote in their state or Congressional District. I hope this will help to gauge the impact that superdelegates have on the nomination. If superdelegates voted along with the general population, we would expect them to be evenly split between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. However, the current estimates indicate that Senator Clinton has between 80 and 95 more superdelegates than Senator Obama.

I took my list of superdelegates from Democratic Convention Watch. This site lists all the superdelegates and keeps track of which ones have publicly committed to vote for one of the candidates. For each delegate, I indicated how their state voted, if their state has held a caucus or primary. For superdelegates who are US Representatives, I indicated how their Congressional District voted, if such data was available.

I took my state level results from the New York Times. Most of the Congressional District results came from USA Today, although my data for Nevada came from here, while my data for New Jersey came from here. I was unable to get data for Washington Congressional Districts because they are not done counting yet. I also do not have data for Maine, and statewide results in New Mexico are still undetermined. These states and others will be added as data becomes available. I did not include superdelegates from Florida and Michigan in my totals since these delegates are not currently allowed to vote for a nominee.

Here are the totals:

There are a total of 198 superdelegates in states or Congressional Districts which voted for Senator Clinton. Of these 97 (49%) have committed to voting for Senator Clinton, 23 (11.6%) have committed to voting for Senator Obama and 78 (39.4%) are uncommitted.

There are a total of 211 superdelegates in states or Congressional Districts which voted for Senator Obama. Of these, 71 (33.6%) have committed to voting for Senator Obama, 47 (22.3%) have committed to voting for Senator Clinton and 93 (44.1%) are uncommitted.

There are a total of 312 superdelegates in states which have not yet held a caucus or primary, or whose caucus or primary has not yet provided results. Of these, 78 (25%) have committed to voting to Senator Clinton, 37 (11.9%) have committed to voting for Senator Obama and 197 (63.1%) are uncommitted.

It appears that Senator Clinton is achieving her superdelegate edge in all possible places; she has convinced a greater percentage of delegates in her areas to commit to her rather than remain uncommitted, she has convinced a greater percentage of delegates in Senator Obama's areas to commit to her rather than follow the will of the voters, and she has convinced a greater percentage of superdelegates from areas which have not held votes to commit to her. It will be interesting to see how these numbers change as we get closer to the convention.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Tom Delay's Day

Yesterday Senator McCain spoke to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the first of what will be many attempts to mend fences with his party's conservatives.  While some conservatives appreciated his efforts, others used the event to further annunciate their objects to the Arizona Senator.   Most conspicuous among the latter group was Tom Delay, the former representative from Texas.  In an interview with Chris Matthews, Delay highlighted his differences with McCain on issues including gun control, immigration, global warming and campaign finance reform.  When Matthews tried to pin him down and asked him, if faced with the prospect of a Hillary Clinton Presidency, would he continue to withhold his support from Senator McCain, Delay equivocated, saying the he didn't know who would be a more dangerous President

Most people will conclude that Delay was just speaking hyperbolically, he really sees that McCain is closer to his positions than Clinton and he is just speaking this way to get more concessions from McCain before he gives his endorsement.  I feel that it may go deeper than that.  For years, Delay's bread and butter was the the politics of division that tries to pit 51% against the other 49% in all-or-nothing propositions.  It was for this reason that Delay was such an asset to Karl Rove in getting the Bush agenda through Congress.  The election of John McCain would mark a setback for that way of thinking.  John McCain has reached across the isle to build consensus on many issues and has rarely engaged in the type of sectarian debate favored by Delay and his friends.  Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, would serve as a lightning rod for the type of invective Delay has been hurling for years.  With her in the White House, Delay will continue to play his old game, with the hopes of making a great comeback.  So, I believe Tom Delay when he says he doesn't know which candidate is most dangerous to him.

I don't think Delay's view will be shared by rank-and-file conservatives - of any persuasion.  I am not a cultural conservative, but I know many of them, and the one thing I've taken away from my conversations with them is that the issue of abortion overrides all others.  By just about everyone's count, the Supreme Court is one vote away from overturning Roe V. Wade.  While some conservatives point out that McCain has made remarks indicating that he may not nominate someone like Justice Samuel Alito, this shouldn't cause much concern because Alito would not make it through a Democratic Senate anyway.  Only a John Roberts type conservative could get confirmed, and McCain has consistently said that he would put forward nominees like Roberts.  With their long sought after goal so tantalizingly close, I doubt cultural conservatives will turn their backs on McCain.

Meanwhile, I expect that fiscal conservatives will vote with their wallets.  They know that Clinton will raise taxes on them more than McCain ever would, and so they will give their support to McCain.  The only Republicans who really benefit from rebelling against McCain are those who have made partisanship and the heightened anxiety of the "culture war" their calling card.  That is why Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham have been so loud in recent weeks.  While John McCain may not represent the best aspirations of all segments of the Republican Party, he will have an easier time unifying those segments than Tom Delay would have us believe.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Political Fundraising

A topic in the current presidential election that I don't believe has received enough attention is the shift we're seeing in how the candidates raise funds.  Over the past few decades,  most political funds have come from the so-called "masters of the Rolodex" who use their social networks to put on elaborate, $2000 a person, fundraising events.  Additional funds come from PACs, Unions and businesses.

The 2004 Presidential race saw the beginning of the online fundraising phenomenon.  Howard Dean led the fundraising pace early, driven by small contributions from individuals online.  Dean's candidacy died with the famous scream in Iowa, but online fundraising persevered.  Today, it has been taken to new heights by Senator Barack Obama who raised $32 million dollars from hundreds of thousands of online donors during the month of January.  Reports indicate that only 3% of his donors have maxed out the $2,300 annual limit, compared to 70% for Senator Clinton, who raised $14 million in January.  Senator Clinton has recently got into the act, however.  After stories got out that she had to loan her campaign $5 million and her staffers had to go without pay for a month, Senator Clinton raised $3 million online in one day.   It now appears that online donors will play a key role in keeping Senator Clinton's campaign going through the coming months.

The obvious question is, what does this shift mean?  If money translates into influence, then you would expect the power of PACs and those well heeled few with vast social networks (not to mention those wealthy enough to plunk down $2,300) to go down.  Indeed, fighting back against the "status quo" of special interests is a key theme of the Obama campaign.  (Disclosure:  I support Senator Obama)  If the special interest influence is declining, you would think that something would fill the void.  Senator Obama would say that the online donations will give him the freedom from special interests to seek out the best solutions to our problems, which I believe to a degree.

However, I must also believe that Senator Obama's views will be shaped in part by those who give to his campaign.  Exit polls indicate that Senator Obama is the favorite of the "liberal-elite" (Chris Matthews calls them "white wine sipping urbanites"), whereas Senator Clinton is chosen by blue collar workers.  This doesn't surprise me as you would think that wealthy individuals would be more likely to make political donations of any kind, let alone online.  Polls also indicate that of all democratic primary voters, 55%-60% are college graduates, versus only 21% in 2004 and 27% in the general population.  Again, college graduates would have the discretionary income necessary to make more political donations.

Could Senator Obama's online donors be fundamentally changing the demographics of the primary electorate?  Are we trading one set of elites for another, albeit broader, set?  How is this going to shape policy?  While Senator Obama does put fighting for equality at the center of his campaign, as any Democrat should, he also includes many abstract themes like changing the mode of discourse and ethics reform.  These, along with a focus on the environment and green energy as a top issue all seem to appeal to his demographic.

Kinda makes me wonder how Al Gore would have done if he had had online fundraising.  It should have been a no-brainer for him, he did invent the Internet after all.