Iowa Margins

January 1, 2008

Adam Nagourney asks, what if Iowa settles nothing?

What if at the end of Thursday, the three leading Democrats — former Senator John Edwards and Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama — are separated by a percentage point or two, leaving no one with the clear right of delivering a victory speech (or the burden of conceding)? A number of polls going into the final days have suggested that after all of this, the Democratic caucus on Thursday night could end up more or less a tie.

Good questions. The answer is that the dominant media narrative is the key. We’ll see if a one-point or two-point spread can give off enough of a shine to the “winner” to carry forward into New Hampshire and onward, whereas a five- or six-point win will certainly be huge if one of the candidates can claim victory by that margin. John Kerry won by six percent over John Edwards in 2004, 38 percent to 32 percent, and that catapulted him to a series of primary wins and ultimately the Democractic nomination. Edwards never won a single primary and had to settle for the VP slot.

It’s also worth noting that yesterday’s Des Moines Register poll puts Obama up on Clinton and Edwards by a seven-point margin, 32-25-24. Big Tent Democrat explains, “the DMR Poll nailed the order of the 2004 Iowa Caucus and is easily the most respected Iowa poll. Obama will now be the odds on favorite to win the Iowa Caucuses.”

Basically, a few hundred Iowans could change their minds in the next few days and have a decisive influence on who the nominee will be, thus altering the course of history. For the moment, though, Obama appears the favorite.


A News Update from Barack Obama

May 9, 2007

The senator and presidential candidate has a breaking news story to share:

“In case you missed it, this week, there was a tragedy in Kansas. Ten thousand people died — an entire town destroyed,” the Democratic presidential candidate said Tuesday in a speech to 500 people packed into a sweltering Richmond art studio for a fundraiser.

Actually 12 people died. Clearly Obama made a mistake, as will happen now and then. Even so, this was a rather bizarre mistake to make.


Hillary v. Obama Smackdown Video

May 8, 2007

I hope that the fact that a parody video like this one has already been made will prevent the actual level of bitterness in this campaign from reaching such a depth.

It would have been better if the third guy at the end had been Edwards instead of Giuliani, I think.

While I’m linking videos, Raw Story has video of Fred Thompson’s racist role that the LA Times reported on a few days ago.


Friedman Forgets Clinton’s Popularity Abroad

April 18, 2007

Tom Friedman’s Wednesday column says an advantage of Obama as president is that people in Kenya really like him.

Yes, Mr. Obama’s father was Kenyan, but nevertheless, that poster and those pictures got me thinking: when was the last time you saw a U.S. president or politician being held up as a role model abroad? It’s been awhile. And that got me thinking about Mr. Obama. It seems to me that the strongest case one could make for an Obama presidency right now is rarely articulated: it is his potential to repair the broken relationship between America and the world.

To Friedman’s “when was the last time?” query, here is my answer.

Clinton Africa poster

I don’t know if he was held up as a “role model” exactly, but Bill Clinton was pretty popular overseas. Here’s an account of one of the stops during Clinton’s 1998 Africa trip:

President Clinton began a six-nation tour of Africa on Monday with a brief stop in Ghana, speaking to a wildly enthusiastic crowd on the benefits of democracy, trade and justice — and taking a side-swipe at military rule in Nigeria.

On his way to Independence Square, Clinton was cheered in the muggy streets of the capital by scores of school children wearing orange and brown school uniforms and waving American and Ghanaian flags. Ten of thousands of citizens crowded the route.

Accra was festooned with cheerful banners reading, “Akwaaba, Bill Clinton,” welcoming the president. Billboards showed painted photographs of Clinton and Rawlings shaking hands.

The foreign affection for Clinton persists in his post-presidency as well. In 2005 the Washington Post reported that Clinton dreams of being the UN Secretary-General some day, and Europeans sounded supportive of the idea.

In the United States, the debate over Bush’s approach to the world and Clinton’s — between force and persuasion — remains unsettled. But it seems apparent which approach is more winning abroad. While Bush has generated deep suspicion, especially in Western Europe, Clinton is highly popular, European commentators said.

Europeans who chafe at Bush respond to Clinton’s “inclusive, soft-toned way of communicating with the world, and especially with Europeans,” said Arnout Brouwers, a prominent Dutch editor who has studied American politics in Washington with the German Marshall Fund. “His personal history, his charms, even his personal failings, helped people identify with him as ‘one of us.’ ”

Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, a friend of Clinton’s, agreed. “The reason Bill Clinton is popular in Europe is very simple: He just is. He is a man of great charisma,” Kohl said in a brief interview after a meeting with Bush in Washington.

Asked about Clinton’s dream of heading the United Nations, Kohl said: “I do not know if Bill wishes to go to the United Nations. If he wants, I would support him.”

This is all to say that holding up Barack Obama — whom I generally like — as some sort of aberration in this regard seems wrong to me. Whether Hillary could get the benefit of the doubt from foreign leaders on account of residual good will from her husband’s presidency might be a more interesting question.


Obama Has Bigger Fish to Fry

April 11, 2007

The fact that Don Imus hurt the Rutgers basketball team’s feelings isn’t exactly at the top of the agenda for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and some blacks are upset about that, the Boston Globe reports.

The episode is the first test of how Obama — who is of mixed-race background — is handling the contentious issue of race in his presidential campaign. Even as polls have shown other Democrats attracting a large share of the black vote, Obama has steered clear of the kind of activism symbolized by Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who were both highly visible in the Imus episode but whose aggressiveness on race issues has alienated some white voters in the past.

But with Obama battling other Democrats — most notably Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — for the support of black voters, the candidate’s reticence on the Imus issue set off alarms yesterday among some black activists who are anxious to see him more forcefully push for racial justice.

The Globe’s analysis sees this approach as a conscious choice by Obama to be different from Sharpton and Jackson, but I would suggest that it might just be that there are more important things happening in the world and in his campaign — for instance, the spat with John McCain over Iraq this morning.


We’re Not in the MSM Any More

April 11, 2007

The MoveOn Virtual Town Hall on Iraq included member questions that took a different tack form the queries you usually find on the Sunday morning shows or at White House press briefings. For example, here’s the question for John Edwards:

What are you going to do about prosecuting war profiteering in Iraq?”
C. Davey Utter, Retired NBC Broadcaster, Venice, CA

Surprisingly, the questioner used to work for NBC. I doubt the networks would do much reporting on “war profiteering in Iraq” these days, at least not in those words. Here’s another question that went to Joe Biden:

“What is your position on the permanent army bases and the huge embassy building being built in Iraq in view of the administration’s constant assertion that the U.S. is not planning to stay in Iraq permanently?”
—Jerome Zornesky, Professor, Ridgewood, NJ

To Bill Richardson:

It appears that stopping the funding for the war is the only way to stop the war. Are you for or against stopping the funding and why?
—Dave Conlon, Landlord, Carrollton, VA

To Chris Dodd:

The Bush administration is quietly pushing the Iraqi government to install a legally binding proposition that the major oil companies, for example ExxonMobil, British Petroleum and others, be granted the rights to approximately 70% of all oil and natural gas existing underground in Iraq. Where do you stand on who should own Iraqi oil, its production and refinement, and how do you think this administration’s position is affecting its stay-the-course stance on the Iraq war?
—Oscar R Michael, Retired Salesperson, Prichard, WV

To Barack Obama:

The Bush administration’s obstinate refusal to diplomatically engage parties such as Syria and Iran has clearly done nothing but harm the United States’ interests in the Middle East. How would you include these countries in the effort toward establishing a stable, responsible, and non-hostile government in Iraq?
—Alex Landry, Reference Librarian, Alexandria, VA

Hillary also got a pretty tough questioning grilling her for more specifics regarding her previous statements about keeping some US troops in Iraq. All in all, I enjoyed the MoveOn forum very much, and I encourage you to click through to read or listen to the candidates’ responses.

Beyond anything the candidates said, though, I was struck by the novelty of hearing such unapologetically blunt anti-war questions asked of those running for the White House. I also wonder if MoveOn included the hometowns and professions of the questioners to try to show them to be regular folks and not members of the radical fringe group that MoveOn is sometimes caricatured to be. These strident antiwar views are, after all, shared by a solid majority of Americans these days.


Hope Is a Four-Letter Word to Edwards

April 4, 2007

John Dickerson’s observations on a day of the Edwards campaign in New Hampshire include this nugget:

“I hope you will put a really rigorous test to [the presidential candidates]. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the rhetoric. It’s not enough to talk about ‘hope‘ and ‘we’re all going to feel good.’ We’re past that. This is a very serious time in American history. It’s time for anybody running for president to treat this seriously. I have talked about hope and inspiration in the past, and they’re wonderful things, but you have to translate them into action.” The only way it could have been clearer that he was talking about Obama would have been for him to hold up the Illinois senator’s book jacket and point to it.

This could also be seen as a jab of Hillary’s husband, Bill “I still believe in a place called Hope” Clinton, and it fits nicely into the media’s pre-framed storyline of Obama “lacking substance.”

Dickerson sees Edwards positioning himself as the candidate with the detailed policy plans, and that’s all well and good, but isn’t there plenty of time for the others to reveal their own agendas more specifically in the coming months? How soon after announcing your candidacy for president do you need to lay out your precise governing agenda?

Glenn Greenwald also had a good recent post on this issue of substance in campaigns:

All of the candidates, including Obama, are going to issue a detailed health care plan soon enough. But the political system in which those health care plans — and every other specific legislative proposal — are going to be assessed, debated and processed is profoundly corrupt and broken.

Thus, any candidate who does not address those systemic political diseases is not actually being “substantive” at all, no matter how many thick white papers they issue chock full of think-tank-developed “plans.” Between (a) a candidate who understands our fundamental political problems but who has yet to issue a detailed health care plan and (b) a candidate who has all sorts of detailed, wonky legislative policies developed by aides but who has no real critique of our political culture and will do nothing but feed off of it and perpetuate it, candidate (a) is clearly the more “substantive” candidate in the way that matters.

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire polls are tightening. The guts of the poll reveal that the attention Edwards received over his wife’s cancer announcement improved his favorability ratings.

The latest poll was conducted after Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, announced her cancer had returned. When likely Democratic voters were asked what effect that announcement had on their view of Edwards, 85 percent said it had no effect, while the rest were almost evenly split over whether it made them view him more or less favorably.

However, when likely Democratic voters in New Hampshire were asked whether they viewed Edwards favorably or unfavorably, the poll found a roughly 10-point shift in his favor since February.

Interesting that no one says it’s the cancer announcement itself that shifted their support toward Edwards. As he said on 60 Minutes, he doesn’t want sympathy votes. Rather, voters seem to like how he has handled the situation.