Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday Post-Mortem

Last night went about how I expected it would.

McCain kicked some conservative ass and David Frum seems conflicted about the whole thing. The GOP establishment is slowly waking up to the fact that the majority of their voters are tired of extremist views -- they want a centrist.

Having said that, Mike Huckabee surprised a lot of people with his strong showing in the South:

But Huckabee stormed back into the race yesterday with wins not just in his home state of Arkansas but also in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and West Virginia, complicating the race for the Republican nomination all over again.

The downside of Huckabee's strong showing among the most conservative GOP voters is that the nominee will likely have to pander to that base in the general election to get them out to the polls -- that can only hurt McCain even more than his past pandering has in the minds of independents.

Meanwhile, the Dems are still pretty much undecided. Obama won more states, but Clinton won more delegates, including the big prize of California.

Here's the breakdown from the LA Times:

At stake were 1,681 pledged delegates, or nearly three-quarters of the total needed to secure the Democratic nomination. Clinton won 471 delegates Tuesday to Obama's 437 in incomplete results, according to the Associated Press, giving her 732 delegates to Obama's 639.

The vote Tuesday showed Obama broadening his coalition while Clinton continued to show strength among Latinos and among voters worried about the economy.

He received the support of more than 4 in 10 women and about the same number of whites, according to exit polls conducted in 16 states for television networks and the Associated Press. That was a marked improvement from earlier contests. Obama also ran strong among voters younger than 44 and won the backing of about 8 in 10 African Americans, matching his earlier performance.

Clinton won support from about 6 in 10 Latinos and also led among voters most concerned about the economy, who made up half of the Democrats voting Tuesday. Obama led among those most concerned about Iraq, who made up about 3 in 10 voters surveyed.

About half of Democrats polled across the country said they wanted a candidate who would change things, and Obama won about 7 in 10 of their votes. About a quarter preferred experience, and Clinton won overwhelmingly among those voters, as she has throughout the campaign.

As Mother Jones hints this morning, last night shows that the tide has shifted quite a bit for the Dems -- Obama is now pretty even with Clinton, but he has the momentum after being way back just a few weeks ago.

But it's important to keep Super Tuesday in context. In today's lightning-fast media cycle, it's easy to forget how far back Obama was just six or seven weeks ago. But he has made huge gains since mid-December. He is raising money faster and gaining supporters quicker than Clinton is. So a standard frontrunner speech—attacking the other party and laying off the same-party snipes—wasn't going to cut it last night. This speech was an opportunity to cut Obama off at the pass.

Hillary needed to seize the moment. Her supporters knew that, even if her speechwriters didn't. There were plenty of applause lines in Clinton's speech. She thanked her mother, "Who was born before women could vote and is watching her daughter on this stage tonight." She attacked Republicans: "Let me be clear—I won't let anyone swift boat this country's future." She quoted Emma Lazarus's poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. But it was her two most well-worn attacks on Obama—his failure to embrace health care mandates and his alleged inexperience, compared with what she says is her ability "to serve on day one"—that drew the wildest cheers. Criticizing her opponent was a good move. But many voters have already heard these critiques repeatedly, and they are obviously not resonating. Clinton needed something new. She didn't deliver.

Obama, in contrast, pressed the attack last night. He hit Clinton hard—criticizing her on everything from her Iraq vote to her lobbyist support to her supposed waffling on torture. He was careful to reference his recent gains, calling his campaign a "movement" and "a chorus that cannot be ignored." It has certainly become clear that Obama does better the more people know him. He has proven he can raise more money faster than Clinton can, and he certainly seems to have the momentum going forward from Super Tuesday.

Still, it's important not to get too caught up in Obamamentum. Hillary Clinton will still be the frontrunner—but just barely—tomorrow morning. He'll have the money and the momentum, but she'll have more delegates and superdelegates—and delegates are what counts in the end. The big question going forward is one of time. There are about 450 pledged delegates at stake in the remaining February primaries, and just short of 500 up for grabs in March. Can Obama take advantage of his momentum and his cash to catch up in the delegate count before the calendar runs out?

It's a toss up right now. I hope that Obama can continue to build on last night's strong showing. But Clinton is tough and more experienced as this, so who the hell knows?

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