Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pennsylvania Fallout and Looking Head

Last night Hillary Clinton predictably won the Pennsylvania Democratic primary by a predictable margin of nine percentage points (not the 10 or "double-digit" victory many media outlets have irresponsibly reported since last night). None of us Obama supporters should be upset that he lost, but I'm rather disappointed that he couldn't pull the margin within five to undercut whatever argument Clinton had going forward. Instead, the Clinton campaign has been re-energized and Hillary's public begging for money has apparently worked. The campaign has said the expect to have $10 million raised since last night by the end of tonight. If money was going to be the biggest problem going forward for Hillary, it sure won't be anymore.

I'm going to continue to allow the media to go insane about Obama's loss and ask ad nauseum "Why can't he close the deal? What's wrong with the guy?" Instead, what I'll do is take a reasonable approach to explaining why Pennsylvania was never good for Obama to begin with and why even getting it to nine or ten points was relatively impressive. Let's go bullet-points for this one:
  • The makeup of the state's demographics favored Clinton heavily. Basically everything about the state and particularly the white voters made a Clinton victory a foregone conclusion. There were factors at work here that wouldn't have made it possible for Abraham Lincoln to beat Clinton in this state, let alone the Land of Lincolner. Pennsylvania is the third-oldest state in the country (behind Florida and whatever state John McCain happen to be in), and Clinton has dominated the vote amongst seniors in virtually every contest thus far. Clinton also polls well amongst all women, Catholics, and the white working class, and the results in PA showed her strength there once again. For Obama, the higher-educated and younger voters he's needed to win never materialized in a state where we really couldn't expect them to appear. He cleaned up in Philadelphia and its suburbs but those were the only areas in the entire state that jibed with Obama's strengths.
  • This is something the media has almost entirely ignored in its analysis of this primary: yesterday's contest was a closed Democratic primary. People who wanted to vote in this primary needed to change their party affiliation to Democratic before a certain date last month, otherwise they'd be turned away at the polls. I am saying this because the primary rules shut out independents and disaffected Republicans from participating, and those have been key groups to Obama's success in several primaries to this point. So when the Clinton campaign and some conservatives go on the airwaves and say things like "If Obama can't beat Clinton and connect with the blue-collar voters in this primary, what does that say about his chances against McCain?" just remember this primary was NOT like the general election and Obama has been effective in courting voters needed for success in November. As David Axelrod told NPR today, white working-class voters have voted Republican in significant numbers the last two general elections anyway.
  • Clinton had the backing in Pennsylvania of Governor Ed Rendell and his vast Democratic political machine. It didn't take long once it was discovered that Pennsylvania would have a say in the process for a large majority of local Democratic politicians (including the mayors of both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) to come to Hillary's side in this race. Rendell is a larger-than-life figure in the Keystone state and his influence likely swayed these politicians to Clinton. By not having this organization advantage, Obama could not have hoped to win.
So I hope these three major factors tell you why Obama lost in Pennsylvania and never had a chance. Even though Obama outspent Clinton on advertising by a significant amount, the factors above could not have been avoided regardless of how much money Obama spent. He didn't spend that much to win, he spent that much to close the 20-point gap between himself and Clinton. In that respect, I believe Obama succeeded. He just didn't succeed enough to knock Clinton out. Still, Clinton will come out of Pennsylvania with only a 14-18 delegate-gain, which will still leave her roughly 150 behind Obama.

Now the candidates are going to be slogging it out for the next two weeks in North Carolina and Indiana. The race in North Carolina is not expected to be competitive; given the high number of blacks and the more upper-class makeup of the states Democratic voters, I'd say Obama should win by 15-20 points and personally I don't see the point in Clinton even bothering to campaign there at all. The true battleground becomes Indiana, the typically-Red home of Dick Lugar and many other prominent conservative politicians. There are advantages here for both Clinton and Obama. Indiana borders Illinois, and much of the TV outlets in the northern part of the state come out of Chicago, meaning they are already very familiar with Obama. The demographics do favor Clinton slightly and she has the support of the uber-popular Indiana moderate Senator Evan Bayh. This sets the stage for what will certainly be a hard-fought two-week battle, and if Obama can win both states and suck the Clinton campaign dry of money, this race may finally end.

But I'm not counting on it.

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