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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Beldar re-thinks his handicapping of the Democratic presidential primary

My own intensely negative reaction to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) makes me doubt my objectivity in trying to handicap the Democratic presidential race. But that can't stop me from trying. My working assumption is that Clinton has no political soul, and that she will say or endorse anything that she and her advisers (and their polls and focus groups) tell them will attract a plurality of Democratic primary voters; then she'll shed that skin, and say or endorse whatever's necessary to attract a plurality of general election voters. My certainty in this regard is based on close observation of her husband's political life going back to the early 1980s. It worked for him, and she rightly regards herself, I think, as a more disciplined candidate, so it ought (she believes) to work for her too.

Hillary and Bill ClintonMy working assumption has also been, however, and to some extent continues to be, that when we get past the excruciatingly long run-up of pre-primary debates and rallies, when Democratic voters actually cast their votes in the primary, some very significant segment of them who would indeed be satisfied by all of Hillary's policy positions will vote against her. Some will do so out of generalized populist anti-dynastic concerns. Some will do so out of sexism — for yes, even among Democratic primary voters, there are still some people (of both sexes) who in the privacy of the polling booth will show themselves still unready to vote for any female presidential candidate. (That's going to be an enormously smaller segment than it would have been in 1968 or 1988, but it's a non-zero number — my wild guess is 3%.) Some will do so because even though Hillary's policies smell good to them, even delicious (for they've been lab-crafted to that purpose), those voters can't help sniffing out the corruption and insincerity and viciousness that wafts from the Clintons like the smell of rotting carrion cuts through even a continuous mist of Glade air freshener. All of which is to say, my working assumption has been, and continues to be, that Hillary is vulnerable because of her combination of "high negatives."

That led me to conclude sometime during the past spring that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) would beat her in the Democratic primaries.

Obama, I knew, was inexperienced on the national scene, but if there's a tough training and proving ground for producing sharp-elbowed, canny politicians, it's Cook County, Illinois and the Illinois legislature. He's smart, hungry, charismatic, and above all, new. He is an ideal candidate to exploit fully the residual guilt that many white voters (not just liberals) carry, or to describe the flip-side of that coin, their hunger to prove that a black man can be elected president despite our national history with racism. (There's a corresponding guilt/hunger to see a woman president among most of those same voters, but I don't think Hillary exploits it well, precisely because she's been First Lady for eight years and, in the eyes of many, already a co-president.) So my working assumption was that most of the voters who'd refuse to vote for Hillary in the Democratic primaries would turn to Obama, rather than to the transparently shallow and callow (and comparatively slow-witted) John Edwards. In a sentence: I've thought that Barack Obama would become 2008's John F. Kennedy, edging out more experienced and accomplished rivals (including the "Master of the Senate," Lyndon B. Johnson, among many others).

I'm beginning to think, though, that I failed to take into sufficient account the effect of the long, long run-up to the primaries. There's not yet been anything remotely like a permanent, fatal error, but the Obama campaign continues to pop out small- to middle-sized unforced errors just about every week. Here's the latest:

Inundated by dozens of invitations, Sen. Barack Obama will turn down requests to join future debates and forums this fall, his Democratic presidential campaign announced Saturday.

Strategically, the decision itself is a sound one. But they could have simply made that decision at the top, and stopped accepting invitations without ever revealing that it was pursuant to a new policy. It's not like he's short of individualized excuses. If the pattern of refusals began to look suspicious, he could accept one or two in particularly low-risk situations and favorable venues. But what incredible moron decided to announce this decision to the world? And if it wasn't his own decision to make the announcement, how could Obama have failed to detect, and override, that moronic decision?

Barack Obama The Obama campaign might as well have taken out an advertisement on the front page of every major newspaper in the country that reads: "OBAMA CAMPAIGN RUNNING SCARED, SEEKS TO LIMIT FURTHER FREQUENT DEBATE GAFFES."

I'm not yet convinced that Hillary has the nomination sewn up. I genuinely don't believe that the polling numbers are meaningful, which is to say, I believe her negatives are higher than the polls reflect because many people don't want to admit, even to themselves, that they're affected by those negatives. But Obama has already shot off several of his own toes. I'm not sure if he can remain standing — i.e., if he will still be a credible candidate — when Hillary's negatives finally kick in at the primary polls. Her campaign is professional, and his, so far, has been amateurish — and the long campaign season is grinding away the charisma veneer from his campaign that might otherwise have largely concealed that.

Posted by Beldar at 07:58 PM in 2008 Election, Politics (2007) | Permalink

TrackBacks

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» http://newmarksdoor.typepad.com/mainblog/2007/08/cmon-beldar-tel.html from Newmark's Door

Tracked on Aug 21, 2007 4:18:50 AM

Comments

(1) Jinnmabe made the following comment | Aug 19, 2007 12:42:14 AM | Permalink

Interesting comparison to Kennedy. How long did Kennedy have to actively campaign? I'm guessing that it wasn't for 2 years, or even longer than one year. Anyone got any stats on that?

It seems to me that the law of averages says that the longer you have to be on display, the more chances your inner buffoon has to come out and play.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 19, 2007 1:34:44 AM | Permalink

Kennedy announced his campaign on January 2, 1960. That reflected the unwritten rule of the day that campaigns ought not begin before the beginning of the year of the general election — although of course there had been much unofficial ground preparation during 1959.

(3) Ted made the following comment | Aug 19, 2007 8:34:12 PM | Permalink

I disagree. If Obama is going to decide to limit debate participation, I think announcing upfront the strategy is the only way he could have done it. Now it's a non-story in a week, whereas if he just dodged debates one by one, it becomes a growing story needing an explanation. Plus, it encourages tacit collusion: if Clinton or Edwards follows suit, then the problem ceases to be a problem because noone cares about the debates any more.

(4) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 20, 2007 12:25:26 AM | Permalink

"Her campaign is professional, and his, so far, has been amateurish — and the long campaign season is grinding away the charisma veneer from his campaign that might otherwise have largely concealed that."

I think this is spot on. Plus Hillary has the support of many Bill Clinton-era fans who give her a comfortable base during the primary. Finally, her negatives will hurt her more in the general election than in the primary, where people who don't like Hillary either will not vote or will vote GOP.

(5) Jake made the following comment | Aug 20, 2007 4:04:09 PM | Permalink

My initial and still held opinion is that Hillary will be the Dem candidate for President. Certainly, if you are a Republican Party registered voter you would prefer an Obama candidacy. He was never going to be elected in 2008. He has a 'gravitas' problem that Beldar is coming around to.

I think an item in the news today may be a fulcrum issue in the 2008 election: the deportation of the woman who has used church sanctuary to (1) stay in the country and (2) to advocate for her right to do so.

Is is my opinion that a defining, separating and pivotal candidate question will be: Was the U.S. Government correct in deporting Arellano? Yes or no, and explain your basis for your answer?

Right now Iraq is the major and differentiating issue. There is a reasonable chance that might not be the case in November 2008 (for a variety of reasons). But because Congress punted on immigration reform, if Iraq direction is somewhat settled, then immigration will be the top voter concern.

As I see it, the Republican candidate will be clear and definitive. Hillary is going to have equivocate and dissemble on her answer.

IMHO!

(6) Adam Herman made the following comment | Aug 24, 2007 9:39:47 AM | Permalink

Kennedy also made some rather weird foreign policy statements, but it didn't hurt him much.

Young candidates are less likely to be hurt by gaffes than older ones, because voters already feel they are inexperienced but want something new. So there's a greater tolerance for gaffes than there would be with an incumbent or a more experienced challenger.

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