Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Upshot

I don't think anyone could have foreseen that the Democratic race would remain this close after Super Tuesday. Even with MSNBC calling California for Clinton (with only 15% counted -- did we not learn something from Missouri?), it's difficult to say that anyone truly "won" the day.

Clinton, to be sure, won some big-ticket blue states tonight: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and probably California, plus Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. But even though it looks like he'll fall short of the grand prize of the Golden State, Obama appears likely to win the majority of states today: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Utah, and probably Missouri and Alaska as well. Hardly a shabby haul.

For most the race, I argued that no movement was good movement for the front-runner Clinton. So long as the race dynamics didn't change, she comes out ahead. But tonight, that's been reversed, and my instinct is that Obama merely needed to keep steady in order to be well positioned down the line. After all, everyone agreed that the winds were changing in Obama's favor -- the only question was whether it was happening fast enough. If the race ended on Super Tuesday, it would end for Clinton. But it didn't end today, and now we need to look at what's next on the Democratic schedule these coming days.

Democrats have seven more primaries and caucuses in the immediate future (from February 9th - 12th), in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, Maine, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. From what we've seen today, I would strongly favor Obama in two: Nebraska and D.C.. Obama has thus far been dominant in the upper plains states, and D.C.'s overwhelmingly Black electorate should carry Obama there.

But what should be more disconcerting for Clinton is that none of the upcoming states match the profile of areas where she's run strongest. Her bread-and-butter tonight was old-school, Northeastern liberal locales (NY, NJ, MA). None of the states coming up meet that profile. Maryland might be the closest, and superficially shares a lot in common with Massachusetts, where Clinton did quite well. But analysts are saying that Clinton won Massachusetts due to a mix of old-fashion machine politics and the support of blue collar factory workers. Neither is a major player in Maryland, which both has a far more influential Black vote and whose White populace tends to be more along the lines of Obama favoring "Latte liberals" than gruff union men. Clinton does have the backing of many of the state's high profile Democrats -- but ask Obama how well that turned out for him in (you guessed it) Massachusetts.

Louisiana I'd favor Clinton in, although Obama's overall strength in the south gives me pause. But with Katrina still dispersing the state's African-American population to the four corners of the nation, and the fact that Louisiana seems to have kept more than the usual amount of conservative "bubba" Democrats inside the fold (who would likely favor Clinton), I think she stands a very good chance to win there.

I think Maine favors Obama, though I admit my only grounds for this are that a) it's a caucus, which Obama seems to do better in, and b) in terms of political outlook, the state seems most akin to Minnesota of the Super Tuesday states (it also bears an obvious resemblance to New Hampshire -- but they don't caucus). That wouldn't normally be enough for me to render a prediction, except that I think Obama blew everyone in this state away with his crushing victory in Paul Wellstone's old state. The flip-side of this is Washington state, where I favor Clinton for no stronger reason than Washington seems to be a nothing-special, comfortably blue state, and Clinton seems to do well in those environments where there isn't some sort of latent movement politics going on.

Which leaves Virginia. Even a few years ago, I'd have put Virginia as Clinton territory in the primaries, no question. A significant chunk of Virginia Democrats seem to be precisely her cup of tea. But Virginia Democrats are energized right now. And they are energized because they can feel their state changing. They've won the governor's mansion, twice in a row. They're about to take control of both U.S. Senate seats. They've done precisely through the type of progressive but cross-over friendly campaign tactics that have exemplified the Obama campaign. In short, Obama reminds Virginians of what they've been doing already in their own state. Popular governor Tim Kaine is firmly behind Obama, and he to many is a symbol of the new Democratic energy in Virginia. That could give him the edge.

So, if we are to take my predictions as anything more than what you paid for them (which you shouldn't), that would give Obama a five to two state edge in the next set of primaries (D.C., Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, and Virginia versus Louisiana and Washington). That would definitely shift the momentum firmly in his favor. And with the wind at his back, Obama may just sail to the nomination.

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