Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Clinton versus Obama: Beyond Pennsylvania

Given what we now know, when the Democratic primaries and caucuses end, neither Senator Clinton nor Senator Obama will have a sufficient number of pledged delegates to win the presidential nomination. So they must make their cases to the “Super Delegates,” who hold the balance of power. How should they sell themselves to the “Super Delegates”?

The Case for Senator Clinton

Senator Clinton’s political strength rests principally upon two factors, (1) Electoral College assets and (2) knowledge of issues. In competing against Senator Obama, she has beaten him in head-to-head contests in the states with the largest number of Electoral College votes, and she has demonstrated excellent knowledge of the issues.

Electoral College Assets. The 11 most populous states control 271 Electoral College votes, one more than the magic number of 270. In head-to-head primary contests in these states, Senator Clinton has beaten Senator Obama in all but Illinois, Senator Obama’s home state. These 11 states, which have seven factors in common, constitute an excellent cross-section or microcosm of the whole of America. They have:

1. Competitive two party systems,
2. Substantial minority group populations,
3. Significant industrial complexes,
4. Big labor unions,
5. Major agricultural interests,
6. Sizable suburban areas, and
7. Large cities and small towns.

In short, in these 11 states, which are the most representative of the whole of America, Senator Clinton can justifiably claim that she rather than Senator Obama would have the best chance to beat Senator McCain. The “Big 11” states and their Electoral College votes are California (55), Texas (34), New York (31), Florida (27), Illinois (21), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), Michigan (17), New Jersey (15), Georgia (15), and North Carolina (15).

Knowledge of Issues. In the last debate before the Pennsylvania Primary, Senator Clinton demonstrated great confidence and knowledge with regard to the issues, while Senator Obama looked like a deer staring into the headlights. His supporters criticized ABC-TV for the questions asked, but whether they liked or disliked the questions is beside the point. Senator Obama did not answer the questions well. He appeared to wilt in the heat of battle.

Barring a miracle, Senator Clinton will end the race for delegates behind Senator Obama, so she must mount an intensive and largely behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign to woo the “Super Delegates.” Her case will succeed only if she can persuade them that compared to Senator Obama her potential superior Electoral College strength and better debating skill will enable her to beat Senator McCain.

The Case for Senator Obama

Senator Obama’s political strength rests principally on four factors, (1) breadth of support, (2) lower negative ratings, (3) fund-raising appeal, and (4) stump-speaking ability.

Breadth of Support. While Senator Clinton demonstrates greater strength than Senator Obama in the “Big 11” Electoral College states, he has greater nationwide strength throughout the heartland of America, especially in smaller and medium-sized states.

Significantly, Senator Obama’s range of support spans from better educated and wealthy white Americans to African-Americans, and of special significance is Senator Obama’s appeal to a large number of new voters, especially young people. By encouraging so many people to get involved in American politics he has made a great contribution to American democracy.

Lower Negative Ratings. Until recently Senator Obama had significantly lower negative ratings than Senator Clinton, but despite several recent miscues, which have combined to increase his negative ratings, he continues to enjoy an advantage over Senator Clinton in this all-important consideration. In politics the higher a candidate’s negative ratings, the more difficult it is for a candidate to win. Assuming that Senator Obama’s negative ratings do not rise to the level of Senator Clinton’s, he can make the case to the “Super Delegates” that this will enable him to have a better opportunity of beating Senator McCain.

Fund-Raising Appeal. While Senator Clinton has had to rely on contributions from major donors and interest groups, Senator Obama has raised enormous sums from ordinary Americans. His fund-raising machinery far excels those of Senator Clinton or Senator McCain. As the old saying goes, “money is the mother’s milk of politics,” and Senator Obama’s milk can is filled to overflowing. In fact, he may go down in history as the best presidential fund raiser, especially among rank-and-file Americans.

Stump-Speaking Ability. As a speaker before large and small audiences, whether in person or on television, few excel Senator Obama. Were it not for his weakness as a debater he would be a tailor-made candidate. He connects well with his audiences and speaks well on television and the Internet.

On the stump, he has effectively used the theme of change to develop his following. If Senator Obama succeeds in winning the Democratic nomination and the presidency, the slogan of “Change You Can Believe In” could go down in history with the greatest presidential campaign slogans, such as New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier, and Great Society.

The “Super Delegates” Dilemma

How can the “Super Delegates” say “no” to either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama? They appear to be in a “lose-lose” situation. If they decide for Senator Clinton, they will alienate African-Americans and many new voters, but if they decide for Senator Obama, they will alienate female voters.

Democrats need a modern miracle to keep their Party from splitting apart. Democrats had such a miracle in 1960 after the blood-letting between John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. In 2008 Democrats will need an even greater miracle.


Andrew Cross said...

I think the Democratic Party really needs to rethink their methods en route to choosing a nominee after this year. Florida and Michigan aside, the whole notion of "Super Delegates" is entirely undemocratic. While I believe the party will ultimately rally around either candidate before November, I am sure voters will direct some animosity toward the Democratic Party simply because of the process of selecting a nominee.

Michael said...

Dr. Dunn,
As usual, I find your blog both insightful and concise--not unlike the admonitions you gave me in graduate school about writing in general.
A few comments: I was appalled at hearing Obama's dismal debate performance. I would think his preppers would have really prepared him to meet Clinton, as this was the chance he had to really cut into her lead in Pennsylvania and keep the margin single digits, perhaps forcing her from the race. I do not understand why he doesn't hit back harder on Clinton's NAFTA past, her outright lies in Ohio's primary, and the Bosnia incident highlighting her lack of credibility. He will need to toughen up a bit to knock her out. Heaven knows, the longer he drags this out, the more likely it is that Clintonites will demand the second spot on the ticket--and he certainly doesn't want to go there. Another scenario is that the Clintons win, and offer the second spot to Obama; again, not something I would advise him to do (see, Al Gore).
Finally, while many conservative commentators are hoping that Hillary wins, I, for one, do not. I believe that if Hillary wins the nomination, she wins the White House. I have that much respect for the power of gutter-style politics, lies and innuendos of the Clintons. I would hope conservatives would remember what happened when the Democrats in 1980 desired to run against "an actor" deeming him the most likely to lose, only to lose themselves in a landslide against Ronald Reagan. Hillary said it best, "Be careful what you wish for."