Saturday, January 26, 2008

Out of Carolina

Off-the-cuff thoughts on the night of the South Carolina Democratic primary

Racial Poll Responses
After New Hampshire, there was much hand-wringing that white Americans were lying to pollsters and saying that they were voting for Obama even as they cast ballots for Clinton because they didn't want to admit that they didn't want to vote for a black candidate. In South Carolina, pegged Obama at 43% and the Real Clear Politics average had him at 38%. In case you didn't catch the news, Obama won 55% of the vote in tonight's Democratic primary.

By the way, before we break out the new storyline of anti-female bias (and how do you explain away New Hampshire?) or anti-white male bias, let's observe that Clinton and Edwards both performed within a couple of points of the pre-primary prediction by both and Real Clear Politics. The undecided voters--black and white--swung hard to Obama who "routed" his two opponents according to the AP.

More thoughts after the jump

Campaign Tactics Shifting?
As the Wall Street Journal reported a few days ago, the Clinton campaign relied on a more traditional strategy of endorsements from well-known church leaders and politicians, including paying $135,000 in consulting fees to state Sen. Darrell Jackson who is also the pastor of an 11,000 member church in Columbia. In contrast, Obama's campaign--which originally offered Sen. Jackson a consulting contract of $5000 per month--relied on an untested strategy of building his own political organization, a page taken directly out of his own history as a community organizer. (See the very end of this story in the Washington Post as well).

More Hillary, Less Bill
Hillary won New Hampshire as appeared more human and more sympathetic as the fighting underdog. People forgot she was the establishment candidate and saw her as someone who was smart and hardworking. She answered tough debate questions with in-depth knowledge and aplomb. So why did the campaign dump that strategy and unleash attack-dog Bill? Put the candidate back front and center where she belongs. Which leads to my:

Worst Play of the Evening
The first major "candidate" speech after the primary was by Bill Clinton who spoke rather endlessly--it reminded me of his State of the Union addresses--early in the evening. It reinforced the impression that the Clinton campaign has forgotten which Clinton is the candidate--a theme media pundits were glad to bring home to the audience in their commentary.

Racial Politics Doesn't Pay--Especially among Young Democrats
Amazingly, the "first black president" was booed by Democrats at Obama's rally tonight in the wake of a campaign criticized as focusing too much on race as Bloomberg reports:

The former president also drew fire today by comparing Obama's South Carolina victory to that of another black politician who won the state's Democratic presidential primaries in 1984 and 1988. ``Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice,'' Clinton said, according to the New York Times.

The comment ``just compounds'' the negative attacks on Obama that turned off South Carolina voters, said Merle Black, an expert on Southern politics at Emory University in Atlanta. ``The implicit comparison is that Jackson won but he didn't win the nomination,'' Black said. ``That is just another round of trying to devalue what Obama has achieved.''

In South Carolina, thousands of supporters waiting for Obama to speak began booing when a video popped up of the former president speaking in Independence, Missouri.
Some may write this off as simply a pro-Obama crowd but this is a stunning reversal for President Clinton. Indeed, the Clinton campaign turned off both black and white voters. According to MSNBC, Obama pulled 78% of black voters and 24% of white voters. In contrast, Clinton received just 36% of the white vote and 19% of the black vote. Note that Obama received more white votes than Clinton did black votes.

Clinton fared especially poorly among young whites. She won just 27% of non-black 18-29 year olds compared to 52% for Clinton. One little reported fact is that native-son John Edwards won a higher share of the white vote than Hillary Clinton (40% to 36%). Clinton still owes South Carolina African Americans--without her 19% of the black vote she would have been relegated to third place as in Iowa.

The 24-News Media Despises the Clintons
I couldn't help but be struck by how unrelentingly negative the coverage on both CNN and MSNBC was of the Clinton campaign. One exception was Donna Brazile on CNN who rightly noted the inherent strengths of the Clinton campaign as the challenges faced by the Obama campaign as Super Tuesday approaches even as she gave Obama his due for his strong victory in South Carolina.

The Edwards Factor
Edwards finished a strong third and above the 15% threshold for receiving delegates. One pundit (me) says he still just might play king or queen-maker at the Convention. As someone on CNN put it, he got a ticket out of South Carolina to Super Tuesday. It may not be a first-class ticket but he has one.

Whether he hurts Clinton or Obama more, I don't know. Does he split the anti-Clinton vote? Or does he appeal to more moderate whites who would otherwise vote for Clinton. Despite his populist rhetoric, Edwards did best in South Carolina among moderate and somewhat conservative whites. On the other hand, Edwards received almost no black votes in South Carolina.