Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Obama meant about his grandmother

Senator Obama's landmark speech on race relations has dominated the news cycle for the past couple of days. There have been many reactions, a good summary of them from Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post is here. I found it amazing how Senator Obama was able to so eloquently blend his own life story with the rest of the American racial experience in a way that both caused reflection and hope. This morning, however, Senator Obama made remarks during a Philadelphia radio interview that were much more controversial than anything he said during the speech. When asked about the comments he made about his grandmother during the speech, Obama said:

The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, but that she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know - there's a reaction in her that's been bred into our experiences that don't go away and sometimes come out in the wrong way and that's just the nature of race in our society. We have to break through it. What makes me optimistic is you see each generation feeling less like that. And that's pretty powerful stuff

The statement has already received bad press from different corners of the media, and deservedly so. No Caucasian likes being called a "typical white person."  This is the kind of unforced error that Senator Obama cannot afford to make as he closes in on the Democratic nomination.

As impolitic as the comment was, Senator Obama does have a point when it comes to the instantaneous reactions people have to African Americans. These reactions are illustrated by Harvard University's Implicit Association Test, which tries to compare how people associate Caucasians and African Americans with things that are good or bad.  You can take the test yourself by clicking on the link, selecting demonstrations and choosing the Race IAT.  Results from Harvard's study show that 88% of white people have a pro-white or anti-black implicit bias.  The influence of the image blacks that is bred into our society is so strong the even 48% of blacks showed the same pro-white or anti-black bias.

Senator Obama has an important role in discussing race in America.  Let's hope that in the future he chooses his words on the radio as carefully as he chose them during his March 18th speech.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Phil Bredesen's Superdelegate Solution

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen wrote an op-ed for the New York Times this morning suggesting a solution for the Democrats' superdelegate dilemma.  He proposes holding a "superdelegate primary" immediately after all the primaries are completed on June 3rd.  The superdelegates' votes would then be bound to the results of the primary, guaranteeing the nomination to one of the candidates before the convention in August.  This way, he hopes to allow the Democratic party to use the summer months to focus on the general election, rather than determining the nominee:

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could each still believe that the nomination could be his or hers at the national convention in Denver in August.

In that situation, we would then face a long summer of brutal and unnecessary warfare. We would face a summer of growing polarization. And we would face a summer of lost opportunities — lost opportunities to heal the wounds of the primaries, to fill the party’s coffers, to offer unified Democratic ideas for America’s challenges.
Governor Bredesen's proposal makes much sense.  As he points out, the superdelegates will have all the information they need to make their selection once the primaries are completed.  While some have suggested that the superdelegates should reserve their votes in case one of the candidates becomes unelectable between, I view this as a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy.  If making the other candidate unelectable is the only way Senators Clinton and Obama can obtain the nomination, they are certain to spend the summer months trying to make the other appear unelectable.  We have already seen the results of their in-fighting:  Senator McCain now leads them both in national polls.

The "superdelegate primary" would allow the superdelegates to be scrutinized as a group among themselves, outside of the politicking that will occur at the convention.  It will give the Democrats the time they desperately need to bring the party back together.  While I would prefer an agreement by the superdelegates to follow their local election results, I believe Governor Bredesen has proposed the next best solution.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Republican Veepstakes

With the Republican nomination well settled, I think it's an appropriate time to start guessing who John McCain may select as his running mate.  To help educate my guesses, I've tried to pull together data on which states are most likely to flip from the party they voted for in 2004.  Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post put together this list last week of states he thinks are most likely.  I've also used electoral maps from SurveyUSA which were constructed from poll data in each state.  Here is the map if Senator Obama is the Democratic nominee.  Senator Clinton's map is here.  The maps illustrate differences in the strengths and weaknesses between the Democratic candidates which should guide Senator McCain's Vice Presidential selection.

Senator Obama's strength is in the mid-west and south-west.  He has a much greater chance of flipping Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada than Senator Clinton does.  I also believe he has a realistic chance of flipping Virginia.  Senator Obama's weaker in some of the more moderate Democratic states; his nomination could put Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New Hampshire at risk for the Democrats.  I also believe he has a reduced chance of winning Ohio.  While Senator Clinton is strong in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida and Ohio, I believe her chances of flipping any other states are much less than Senator Obama's.  She is also at greater risk of losing Minnesota and Wisconsin, both of which voted for Senator Kerry very narrowly in 2004.  SurveyUSA also has her losing Michigan.

Against Senator Clinton, McCain would probably view Pennsylvania and New Jersey as lost causes.  He would also face a greater risk of losing Ohio and Florida.  Furthermore, I don't believe he'd feel as much pressure to select a social conservative for VP, as facing Senator Clinton would automatically energize southern social conservatives.  Therefore, I believe he would try to make up for the potential losses Ohio and Florida by selecting Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as his running mate.  Pawlenty would almost certainly deliver Minnesota for the Republicans (his approval is 59% there), and he may help in western Wisconsin enough to flip that state as well.  Together, those two states would probably be enough to seal victory for the Republicans.

Senator Obama would pose a different challenge for McCain.  He has done well in red state primaries and conservatives don't have the same distaste for him that they have for Senator Clinton.  He also did very well in the Wisconsin primary, making it less likely that McCain could win there, even with Governor Pawlenty on the ticket.  I believe the most effective running mate for Senator McCain against Senator Obama would be, as much as I don't like the guy, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.  While Santorum probably wouldn't be able to deliver Pennsylvania against Senator Clinton, I believe he could do so against Senator Obama.  He would energize the social conservative base of the party in a way that few swing state Republicans could.  In addition to carrying Pennsylvania, I think Santorum could help McCain hold Virginia and Ohio.  Santorum would hurt McCain in New Jersey and California, but I don't think he would end up winning those states anyway.

So those are my best guesses, I'm not going to dignify them by using the term "predictions."  If you have any other ideas or want to remark on my reasoning, hit the comment button below.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Let's be Fair to Tucker

Next week Tucker Carlson's nightly show on MSNBC will be replaced by a show hosted by David Gregory.  I've encountered several stories both on television and print announcing the cancellation of the "bow-tied" host, often with glee.  All of them either mentioned the "bow-tie" in the first sentence, or pictured him with it, even though he stopped wearing the bow-tie over a year ago.  Here is a sample: (the website of his own network!)
Washington Post
The Colbert Report

I have no problem deriding what Tucker was, his bow-tied attire caused me to chuckle almost nightly when he was on Crossfire.  Jon Stewart had this great television moment when he pointed out how ridiculous Tucker's role on that show was.  However, we should recognize people when they improve themselves.  Carlson's show on MSNBC was much less strident than his appearances on CNN.  While he still provided a conservative slant to the news, he did so in a less divisive setting.  Whether he was interviewing Democrats, Republicans or talking with a balanced panel, he asked insightful questions and allowed all views to be aired.  Tucker should be congratulated for showing us how journalists can reinvent themselves in a good way.  Hopefully, he will be given another outlet so he can continue to do so.

Mississippi Republican Votes

I've been puzzled by the Mississippi exit polls which indicate that Republicans made up 13% of all the votes in the Democratic primary there, and 76% of them voted for Senator Clinton.  This is a sharp reversal from most previous states, where Senator Obama captured the majority of Republican voters.  

Andrew Romano at Newsweek made this post trying to explain the vote.  It shows that the Republican voters who voted for Senator Clinton tended to like her less then they liked Senator McCain - but they disliked Senator Obama even more.  Of all Clinton Republican voters in Mississippi 94% said Obama did not inspire them, 89% said they would be dissatisfied if he were the nominee and 86% said that Obama was not trustworthy.   The same numbers for Senator Clinton are 61%, 41% and 72% respectively.

It appears that Republicans who are voting for Clinton are not doing so just because Rush Limbaugh tells them too.  They are doing so because they have a genuine dislike of Senator Obama that outweighs their dislike for Senator Clinton.  It would be interesting to see the numbers for those Republicans who voted for Senator Obama, to see if they voted because they like him, or because they dislike Senator Clinton more.  This would give us a better indication of whether or not Senator Obama can pull any Republican voters away during the general election.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Superdelegate Roundup Update - Mississippi Results

The Superdelegate Roundup Spreadsheet has been updated with the Mississippi election results and other endorsement updates.  Most of the numbers remain unchanged, although Senator Clinton's affirmer percentage has slipped a little bit more due to the resignation of Governor Spitzer in New York.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Democratic Divide

We are well into the Democratic primary race and the results are looking eerily similar to those predicted by a leaked Obama campaign memo from early February.  The memo outlines which states the Obama campaign expects to win and which ones it expects to lose.  The fact that the predictions have been so accurate implies that voters are making decisions based on factors that are easy to identify and hard to change.  During election night coverage, the pundits pour over exit-poll data to find which are voting for which candidates.  The voter profiles you hear over and over again on the networks are:

  • Women vote for Clinton, men vote for Obama
  • African-Americans vote for Obama, Latinos vote for Clinton
  • People with college degrees vote for Obama, those without them vote for Clinton
  • Young voters vote for Obama, older voters vote for Clinton
I decided to take a closer look at it myself.  I dumped the exit poll data from CNN's Election Center into a Google spreadsheet and checked each state for each profile.  Places where a profile is broken are highlighted in red.

The only states where all of the profiles held were Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Texas.  The most rigid profiles are the racial ones.  Senator Clinton has not won the African-American vote anywhere, not even in her home state of New York.  Senator Obama has only one the Latino vote in his home state of Illinois, and Virginia, both by slim margins.

Out of 27 states for which I have exit poll data, Senator Clinton has lost the female vote 12 times, while she has won the male vote 5 times.  Senator Obama lost the college educated vote six times, while he won the non-college educated vote 7 times.  Finally, Senator Clinton won voters under 60 9 times, while she lost voters over 60 5 times.

Where the profiles have been broken, they have been definitive.  Senator Obama won every state where won the female, over 60, non-college educated or Latino vote.  Similarly, Senator Clinton won every state where she won the male, under 60 or college educated vote.

So the voter profiles have been powerful in this election, but they are not all-powerful.  Each candidate has shown an ability to reach into the other's bases to get the voters they need for critical wins.  They will have to continue to do so if one of them is going to break the delegate deadlock before the Democratic National Convention.

Superdelegate Roundup Update - Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont

I've plugged in the complete results from the March 4th primaries, plus the latest updates from Democratic Convention Watch.  The numbers now stand as follows:

Clinton Area Superdeleages:  263
Clinton Affirmers:  125 (47.5%)
Clinton Defectors:  46 (17.5%)
Clinton Undeciders:  92 (35%)

Obama Area Superdelegates:  321
Obama Affirmers:  123 (38.3%)
Obama Defectors:  82 (25.6%)
Obama Undeciders:  116 (36.1%)

Pre-Vote Area Superdelegates:  136
Early Clinton Committers:  34 (25%)
Early Obama Committers:  26 (19.1%)
Early Undeciders:  76 (55.9%)

The only percentage that has seen a drastic change from a week ago is Obama's affirmer percentage, which has increased 4.7%.  This reflects both Senator Obama's good week in recruiting superdelegates from areas he'd already won (like Georgia and Alabama) as well as his victory in Vermont, where most of the superdelegates had already decided to support him.  Senator Clinton's affirmer percentage went down 2.5%, mostly because many superdelegates in Texas and Ohio, which she won, have not yet decided who to support.  I expect her affirmer percentage to bounce back once superdelegates from these states contemplate her victories.

Monday, March 3, 2008

You know it's time to vote when....

The candidates debate healthcare for 16 minutes and don't cover any new ground.

Saturday Night Live has already run out of funny sketches about the debates.

You get really upset when 15 minutes go by and there's no update from Slate Trailhead, MSNBC First Read or even Washington Post's The Fix.

No one says anything new during 2 whole hours of Tim Russert Sunday programming.

You realize that you watched 2 whole hours of Tim Russert programming hoping that someone would say something new.

There have been so many campaign commercials, the candidates have to use the same film in their attack and response ads.

Even Jack Nicholson is recycling his old movies.

No one thinks of the Texas Two Step as a dance anymore.

You volunteer to call a hundred people in Ohio for the Obama campaign.  Half the numbers have either been disconnected, or have new owners.

Those voters you do reach think the "kitchen sink strategy" means that they get to throw their  kitchen sink at YOU.

Even election officials are hinting at results before Election Day. (Are we still going to have to wait for voting to close before we hear the exit polls?)

Six months before the Democratic National Convention, some superdelegates are already wishing they weren't superdelegates.  (Here, here, here and here)

You actually watch a clip of the Canadian Parliament to see how they feel about the whole NAFTA memo leak.  (Who cares how they feel???? - Fareed Zakaria apparently...)
Good luck to voters in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont - We're all waiting to hear from you.