Sunday, February 10, 2008

Clinton: The Guiliani Strategy?

Last night's landslide victories for Obama highlights the inherent problem with the Clinton strategy. The campaign argues that Clinton just needs to hold on until the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio, assuming those states will re-energize what I would characterize as a faltering campaign. The problem, and last night was the first wave, Obama will continue to rack up impressive victories, ensuring momentum, positive storylines, while Clinton absorbs defeats, essentially on the defensive.

On Tuesday, we have the "Potomac" Primaries, with a healthy share of delegates at stake. Clinton is competing hard in Virgina, but by all indications, she is staring at an Obama sweep. Some polling:
Virginia (101 delegates):

Survey USA (Feb 8)

Obama 59%
Clinton 39%

Insider Advantage (Feb 7)

Obama 52%
Clinton 37%

Rasmussen (Feb 7)

Obama 55%
Clinton 37%

Maryland (99 delegates):

Survey USA (Feb 8)

Obama 52%
Clinton 33%

No numbers for DC, but everyone assumes that Obama will easily take the District. Conclusion, a healthy amount of delegates available, with Obama poised to win considerably more.

It seems every outlet has differing delegate numbers, which makes it hard to get a good read on the situation. However, you can see a worrying trend for Clinton, Obama now leads with pledged delegates:

Obama pledged: 969
Clinton pledged: 910

With Super-delegates:

Clinton: 1121
Obama: 1106

Obama has already surpassed Clinton with pledged delegates, this gap will only grow before the March 4 primaries (Wisconsin and Hawaii Feb 19, both are assumed strong for Obama). Obama will also surpass Clinton with in the dubious super-delegates included, dubious because they can change their minds, not to mention the decided anti-democratic flare.

There is also another fact, which tends to go under the radar, but may become a powerful argument, as Democrats look to break the deadlock. Obama has now won 18 states, to Clinton's 11. By the time we reach the March 4 showdown, Obama may well have doubled Clinton's state total. Imagine the spectre of a convention, wherein super-delegates give the nod to Clinton, without her leading in pledged delegate, or with Obama having won the majority of states, speaking to breadth of support. Ugly.

Obama will ride a wave of momentum heading into the March 4 contests. Don't be surprised if the framing takes hold that these primaries represent the make or break for Clinton. As the prospects of a brokered convention begin to sober the party brass, I see an effort to end this battle prior. Obama surges ahead prior to March 4, then Clinton forms her Guiliani firewall in Texas and Ohio. If Obama somehow manages to draw, which is conceivable, then Obama is sitting pretty, having racked up victory after victory, while Clinton waited, only to be denied what she needed.


Anonymous said...

I think your analysis on how this plays out is correct.

The only caveat I would add is it isn't so much the Guiliani strategy as it just basic math for the upcoming states. In Guiliani's case, he didn't even try to compete in the earlier states, thinking he'd be able to take Florida with a divided set of competitors (probably thinking 2 conservatives to his moderate positions). In other words, a concious decision.

In Clinton's case, I think she'd very much like to compete - and is campaigning - in the upcoming states. She just doesn't have much of a chance of pulling them off, with the possible slim exception of Maine today.

So it all leads to Texas and Ohio on March 4 by default, not because she's decided to just camp in those states for the next 4 weeks.

In the end, though, I don't think it will be enough. Faced with the possible division, I think even Dems who support Clinton will be inclined to vote Obama to avoid a battle at the convention.

The only chance I foresaw that might prevent that scenario is if somehow Clinton manage to pull off a win in Virginia, but that doesn't look very likely at all at this point given the latest polls.

Anonymous said...

I suppose Guiliani made a conscious decision, as opposed to whatever I just said ; ).

Steve V said...


I admit the Guiliani analogy is tortured at best, I was just trying to reference the idea of focusing on later contests, without acknowledging the power of what happens in the meantime. Ohio and Texas may look a lot different by the end of the month.

IslandLiberal said...

That's my thoughts too; if Obama wins all the remaining February primaries, and it's looking like he will (the Maine caucuses today represents Hill's best hope, since it's New England, but even that's a slim one), he'll arrive in Ohio and Texas at the head of a freigth train of momentum through many news cycles, and with a huge cash advantage. And with the increased emphasis on finding the nominee quickly to beat McC, that ought to sway undecideds and waving Clintonites behind him.

The Latino population in Texas may be Hillary's best chance, but Obama's got loads of time to make inroads into that community.

Anonymous said...

Not enough money to run the air war is a problem for Hillary. Saturday was a perfect example. Where was her presence in New Orleans and Seattle. These races proved to be the tipping point for her. Obama proved that he is now winning in bellweather ridings most likely to switch from GOP to Dems in 2008 (LA and WA). Previously his wins were dependent on the grass roots in the red states. Virginia will continue this trend.

Miles Lunn said...

I generally agree with your analysis here. If Obama takes all the states up until March 4th, this will give him the sense of momentum and Clinton may have a tough time coming back. The only advantages Clinton has in Texas is it has a large Latino population, which she is quite strong amongst (in fact according to CNN, Obama won the white vote in California, but lost badly amongst Latinos and Asians), but even that is no guarantee. In the case of Ohio, much of the establishment is behind her, but I am not so sure that means much. It is hard to say on geography is none of the neighbouring states save Michigan (which Obama wasn't on the ballot) have held primaries and Ohio is roughly equal distance from New York and Illinois. Clinton's strength is definitely the Northeast and West Coast, although even there Obama won a few states, as well as the northern parts of the South (i.e. Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas). Obama's strength is the Midwest, Mountain West, as well as the Deep South (especially those states with large African-American populations).

Finally, I wonder, now with McCain almost being guaranteed the Republican nominee, if the fact that several polls show Obama has a better chance of beating him than Clinton will help him as well as most Democrats more than anything else want to win in November.

Steve V said...

"the fact that several polls show Obama has a better chance of beating him than Clinton"

That is part of Obama's stump speech now.