Thursday, February 14, 2008

Howard Dean beats Mark Penn

Yesterday I talked a little bit about Hillary Clinton's big state strategy, whereby she's ceded lots of small states to Obama to focus primarily on the "big" prizes and hoping that they put her over the top. Today we're seeing this strategy bleed over into the rhetorical side of the campaign, which you generally don't want to happen.

Allow me to illustrate. This morning MSNBC let us in on this gem from Clinton's unionbusting campaign architect Mark Penn:
“Could we possibly have a nominee who hasn't won any of the significant states -- outside of Illinois?”

Wow, thanks Mark! Myself and the other tens of millions of people living between Nevada and Virginia will just file that away with all those coastal elitist jokes about "flyover country!"

Other campaign spokespeople have been dismissing many of Obama's wins because they were in caucuses. From the Boston Globe:
But Clinton will not concede the race to Obama if he wins a greater number of pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, and will count on the 796 elected officials and party bigwigs to put her over the top, if necessary, said Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson.

"I want to be clear about the fact that neither campaign is in a position to win this nomination without the support of the votes of the superdelegates,'' Wolfson told reporters in a conference call.

"We don't make distinctions between delegates chosen by million of voters in a primary and those chosen between tens of thousands in caucuses,'' Wolfson said. "And we don't make distinctions when it comes to elected officials'' who vote as superdelegates at the convention. [emphasis mine]

Of course, it's primarily small, western states that hold caucuses, and Obama has swept all but one at this point. Interestingly, it's also small western states that have seen the most drift toward the Democratic party in the last 8 years. Montana elected a Dem governor, a Dem Senator, and turned over one of their statehouses. Colorado has done the same, and is likely to flip the second senator this year. Idaho nearly flipped one of its two House seats in '06, and Wyoming came within a handful of votes of doing the same thing with its one lonely seat. New Mexico, a caucus state that will probably go for Clinton, has a Hispanic Dem governor, voted for Bill and for Al and also has a red Senate seat that's likely to flip blue. Iowa and Missouri went for Bill as well (Missouri is considered especially important in presidential races), and Missouri has flipped a senate seat and may flip their governor this year. Even Arizona, John McCain's homestate, flipped a House seat or two and has a governor who's not only a Democrat but a woman, Janet Napolitano (there's also a woman Democratic governor in Kansas).

Needless to say, small western states have proven themselves to be plenty "significant" in the makeup of Congress and even in presidential elections, even the ones with caucuses. Moreover, candidates up and down the ticket are connected to each other and to the party as a whole; when a presidential candidate shows up in a congressional district, it generally boosts the party's congressional/Senate/local candidate, too, and a solidly built and funded party office will help elect Democrats to the school board and the presidency alike. Nevertheless, the penny wise, pound foolish strategy of ceding entire regions of the country to the other side has been a staple of Democratic groupthink for decades. Remember how crazy Howard Dean was for advocating a "50 state strategy?" In May '05 on CNN, for instance, Paul Begala said about Dean's strategy of, ya know, actually contesting elections in red states:
He has raised $74 million and spent $64 million. He says it's a long-term strategy. But what he has spent it on, apparently, is just hiring a bunch of staff people to wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their nose. That's not how you build a party. You win elections. That's how you build a party.

In the next election, Democrats gained 31 House seats and 6 Senate seats, including House seats in North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, and Nevada, plus 3 of Indiana's 9 House seats and Senate seats in Montana, Virginia, Missouri, and Ohio.

The Clinton strategy is a perfect representation of so many previous Democratic candidates' strategies, and perfectly illustrates how they managed to lose elections they should have won. How can a Democrat win almost every big state, California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, and Michigan, and still lose, Mark Penn asks? Hell, just ask Al Gore and John Kerry.

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