Supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) privately admit that the race for the Democratic presidential nomination could end for her-in defeat-before the June windup of primary elections. At least one poll shows her losing the Indiana primary May 6 that she has been expected to win, and a loss there probably would be curtains for her.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) appears to be weathering the furor over his radical pastor and his remarks about bitter small town residents as far as the race with Clinton is concerned, but the general election will be a different story. Independent Republican attacks will return to those items repeatedly.
Democrats will be equally relentless in identifying McCain as “Bush III”-the third term of President George W. Bush. The theme will be that the “old” McCain of 2000-independent and anti-Bush-has been replaced by a Bush clone. McCain’s reversal of his opposition to the Bush tax cuts–just what has made him palatable to conservative–will be turned against him repeatedly.
While McCain’s newly revealed economic program is assailed as “Bush Lite,” it contains many departures including the plan to give taxpayers the option of staying with the present system or supporting a flat tax (the plan pushed in Congress by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), ranking member of the House Budget Committee).
Another non-Bush position was this week’s unexpected endorsement by McCain of a journalist shield law protecting them from giving up sources. It is strongly opposed by Bush.
McCain is a long way from picking a vice president, but it can be safely said that two widely mentioned prospects are very unlikely to be selected at this point: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Obama: Obama made a serious misstep with his remark that small-town voters in Pennsylvania “cling” to guns, protectionism, bigotry, and religion “as a way to explain their frustrations.”
The comment damages Obama because it so perfectly fits the Obama stereotype. Obama is a Harvard-educated liberal with a mostly wealthy liberal base. The candidate of Jackson Hole, Boulder, Fairfax, and Connecticut, he has struggled to connect with working-class voters. The venue– a fundraiser in San Francisco–is icing on the cake.
Clinton’s attack on this line has been fair on the point that this perpetuates the perception of Democrats as anti-gun, anti-religion, wealthy elites. The loss of the God and guns vote explains the GOP takeover of the South in the past decade.
His inclusion of immigration and trade in the comments are also telling. Elites in both parties have long favored open borders and free trade (globalization), while popular sentiment tends to favor immigration and trade restrictions (protectionism). Obama and Clinton have both been trying to walk fine lines on these issues, and Obama’s comments stir the pot.
Obama’s comments, while reflecting condescension and poor political sense, also reflect some truth. NAFTA and Mexican immigrants are the culprits of first resort for laid-off Midwest workers, who also tend to be negative about the economy. Tying their gun-ownership and faith to this “bitterness” and “frustration” is simply ignorant and offensive.
Hillary’s aggressive exploitation of this comment contrasts her passive response to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright videos, letting Republicans and the news media do the attacking for her. The Wright flap damaged Obama, but he seemed to recover, as far as the race for President is concerned. This time, she is attacking, airing television ads in Pennsylvania about the comments.
The more acute question is whether this could help swing the nomination to Clinton. It could. The comments hurt Obama in Pennsylvania, and could pad Clinton’s margin of victory there.
The incident, by contrast, brings to light how skilled a politician Obama is. To get to this point–the brink of the nomination–he has had to walk a very fine line. Obama has appealed to hard-core liberals without sounding the bitter tones of the anti-war, anti-Bush protestors, and (until now) not showing disdain for middle-Americans.
Clinton: Clinton is still the underdog, but she shows no signs of giving up. As long as she has a small chance of winning the nomination, she will keep fighting.
Her strongest chance is to win the nation-wide popular vote–a difficult feat that requires a big victory in Pennsylvania next week. If she gets more votes nationwide than Obama, she has as strong an argument to super-delegates as Obama does.
On the score of persuading super-delegates, Clinton has some serious advantages over Obama. First, being a former first-lady and professional dealer in patronage, she will be stronger at offering sweet deals and making believable threats. Second, the Wright and “bitter” flaps have strengthened her case that Obama is less electable than she.
Her “firing” of strategist Mark Penn was no such thing, it appears. The campaign has spread word that pollster Geoff Garin, renowned among Democrats as an ethical operator, is now the chief strategist. Garin’s role may certainly be overemphasized as a mask for Penn’s continued involvement, which the campaign wants to downplay after his active involvement in the Colombia Free Trade Agreement was revealed.
Central to this situation is the huge debts her campaign owes Penn’s polling firm. One close source posits she owes the firm $10 million. If the debt is not repaid, is this an illegal campaign contribution? Because the firm is ultimately owned by a British company, is this an illegal foreign contribution? March campaign reports show that she owes nearly 2.5 million to Penn’s company.
In the Gallup tracking poll, Clinton hit her all-time low Tuesday, posting 40% support to Obama’s 51%. This is a national poll, and so it has little direct bearing on the nomination battle, but it makes a Clinton comeback looks still not difficult.
The talk of an Obama comeback in Pennsylvania is premature. The only poll showing the race close (Bloomberg/LA Times) is of registered voters. The likely voter polls show 9-to-14 point leads for Hillary.
It’s a similar story in Indiana: Clinton leads by double digits in a poll of 571 likely voters, while Obama leads in the Bloomberg/LA Times of registered voters. Clinton is still the heavy favorite in both of these states.
McCain’s Economic Plan: McCain unfurled his economic plan this week, throwing bones to conservative activists, but certainly not sounding a pure free-market tone.
His speech Tuesday night hit a variety of different themes, but the overriding tone was one of compassion and almost populism: he argued for an economics interested in more than “simply running the numbers,” blamed “the excesses of traders and speculators” for the current troubles, and excoriated the “extravagant salaries and severance deals of CEOs.”
He focused some fire on the Democratic presidential contenders, too. He hit Obama and Clinton as tax-hiking, protectionist, class-warfare-inciting, fiscally irresponsible, porkers.
His third target was the broad culture of corruption in Washington, including his own party, and to a lesser extent his own President. He criticized the “poor planning of politicians,” and attacked Congress for “squandering” money on pork. McCain criticized the GOP for becoming “indistinguishable from the big-spending Democrats they used to oppose.” He also implicitly criticized Bush for not vetoing wasteful spending.
On the policy front, his platform was a similarly mixed bag, with proposals ranging from new welfare programs to flat-taxes and subsidy-abolition. On the whole, it resembled Bush economics: generally free-market, but certainly not libertarian.
His housing-crisis proposal was far more modest than any from the Democrats, but it is a government bailout nonetheless.
McCain’s boldest free-market proposal was his suggestion that subsidies be abolished for ethanol and sugar. He was a hard-line free-trader, throughout, attacking Obama and Clinton for their protectionist stances.
His proposals, on the whole, were not terribly bold or realistically attainable in a Democrat-controlled Congress. Politically, the most appealing ideas were a summer moratorium on the gasoline tax and a plan to reduce Medicare premiums.
He repeatedly and forcefully hit government spending. This is the issue that gives him the sharpest contrast with Hillary and with Washington broadly. It is also his strong point with conservatives and one of his strong points with the media. Expect him to hammer away at this theme until November.
Evans-Novak Political Report®