Monday, June 2, 2008

Clinton's Popular Vote Strategy

A friend and I had the following exchange over the weekend about Clinton shifting her strategy from focusing on delegates to focusing on the popular vote. My friend, like many, started out torn between Obama and Clinton but has becoming increasingly frustrated with Clinton and impressed by Obama. I tried to answer all the questions but I wanted to see if anyone else had any thoughts about it.


I keep forgetting to ask your opinion about a particular primary issue, and would dearly love to ave it. How is it that nobody is "remembering" or talking about the fact that Hilary was all about delegates and super delegates being the deciding factor in the primary, way back at the beginning of the race, when there were fears that Obama's skyrocketing popularity might capture the vote? (Was there really a beginning, it sure seems endless.) Now it's all about her having the popular vote, forget about the delegates, as well as insisting that Florida and Michigan "count" when ALL including Hilary, had agreed that they didn't. (I won't even get into the
Clinton camp's ideas on the Michigan / Florida division of delegates)

Do they actually believe that we have that small of an attention span? It seems that there is no right or wrong here, just "How can I make the current situation work for me, no matter what I agreed to, or said before." THAT to me is what is wrong with politics. Integrity is only something that you talk about, but certainly don't have to

As a woman, I am so disappointed in Hilary. At the beginning of the race, I liked both candidates, but preferred Barack for reasons that we have discussed. Now I can barely look at Hilary on the news. Her behavior in the last many months has exhibited the ethics of convenience. Those are the politics unfortunately so prevalent in our system, the politics that made me an Independent for so many years, the politics that turn potential activist citizens away in disgust.

My response:

Thanks for your note - all good points....You're absolutely right - Clinton's message focused on delegates early in the campaign. And you're right that this was entirely because they were worried about Obama's popularity. This strategy, I think, was devised when it looked like Clinton would wrap up the nomination on Super Tuesday. The idea was that she would secure all the delegates she needed early, so the overall popular vote wouldn't matter. This strategy is also why Clinton neglected the caucus states (except for Iowa and Nevada) - she thought she wouldn't need them.

This strategy was completely turned on its head when Obama won Iowa and outperformed her on Super Tuesday going into his victory in Virginia, which, at least to the conventional wisdom, made him the presumptive nominee. After Virginia, and especially after North Carolina, it became clear that Clinton could not catch Obama in delegates. It was around this time that Clinton began shifting her message towards the popular vote - a shift that was complete by North Carolina.

To answer your question: Yes, the Clinton camp does believe your attention span is at short. And in a campaign where multiple stories are produced in a day, the media's attention span is that short, too. There is no question Clinton is acting like the typical politican here, and many believe all of her actions nowadays are part of a plan to sabotage Obama's chances - clearing the way for her in 2012.

There is also no question that Clinton feels as though the Democrat party owes her - or at least her family. And, in a very large sense, I think it does. It is important to remember that in 1991, many political experts were questioning whether the Democratic Party would ever have a successful presidential candidate again. Those experts thought the future of the Democrats would be only in Congress. And I think Kerry and Gore's failures - Gore for running away from Clinton and Kerry for pretty much everything in his campaign - have only reminded party loyalists how impressive Bill was. This is likely the reason why so many Democratic superdelegates haven't jumped to Obama. They are still afraid of crossing the Clintons.

None of this accounts for Hillary's integrity problem. And the rules and bylaws committee meeting yesterday was a disaster for the Democrats, but I don't think it is entirely fair to blame Harold Ickes and Clinton for it. The Democrats did this to themselves in many ways: First, they should have done more to keep Florida and Michigan from moving up their contests. Second, they should have NEVER opened up the possibility of seating any of the delegates in either state. I understand the arguments against Clinton here, but granting Obama delegates in Michigan to achieve some sort of satisfactory parity with its Florida ruling when his name wasn't on the ballot is absolutely ludicrous.

Anyway, I hope that provides some context and my thoughts on the issue. Simply put: Clinton shifted her message to one that was more political advantageous for her. That, unfortunately, is par for the course in politics. It is also worth noting that there are several problems with Clinton's popular vote argument. The most glaring is that in doesn't include the caucus states. There are many others - but that is for another

Any other thoughts? Did I miss anything?

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