About Last Night and The McCain Effect

There have been better nights for Obama supporters than last night; the knockout punch the Democratic frontrunner was looking for never came.  The Clinton campaign which had established Texas and Ohio as firewalls would therefore seem to have paid off on the surface, and for at least the next day or so that is looking to be the driving story.

Hillary Clinton got her groove back.

This is the end result of a fanciful press corps eager to latch onto sexy narratives, however.  The facts on the ground have been largely ignored in favor of the Clinton comeback meme.  It is true that after twelve consecutive wins Hillary Clinton finally put an end to what was an awesome winning streak, but this was not an accomplishment of victory, it was an accomplishment of necessity–of survival.

There are some psychological aspects to her wins in the Texas popular vote as well as in Ohio (her lead there shrank to within expectations at ten points), and Rhode Island (which really did exceed expectations).  But even these psychological implications of momentum are built upon a false sense of comeback in three states that were heavily in Clinton’s favor from the beginning.  With the exception of Rhode Island, Clinton’s wins last night were far smaller in magnitude than polling would have predicted two weeks ago.

While Hillary Clinton is nationally fighting an uphill battle, Obama has had to wage uphill struggles in both Ohio and Texas, and at least in Texas he came within spitting distance and may yet still end up with more delegates than Hillary once the caucus results are reported in full (not likely to happen before the weekend).

This all to say that Clinton rightfully earned herself a little momentum last night, but I find it unlikely that this momentum is as significant as perhaps winning 12 contests in a row and definitely not powerful enough to actually change the course of the primaries as they continue on.

As Josh Marshall points out, what continues to be the primary focus here is the delegate count, everything else is “just spin”.  As Mark Halperin further illuminates, the political calculus continues to favor Barack Obama’s path to the nomination as the deficit that Hillary Clinton is plagued with will become increasingly more difficult to overcome.

That delegate math has been indellibly printed on the brains of most Democratic political junkies for days now.  She needed 57% of the delegates in all remaining contests to pull ahead with pledged delegates, last night required a 52 delegate net gain on Clinton’s behalf just to keep that already difficult percentage from increasing.  Extrapolating CNN’s numbers for a rough estimate, Clinton’s net gain would be about half what was required.  Using Slate’s delegate calculator produces similar results.  In the one area where Clinton absolutely had to succeed, she didn’t come close.

Indeed, there is no viable calculations that give Clinton the nomination without having Super Delegates override a pledged delegate lead on Obama’s behalf.  This would be why the Clinton campaign has been vigorously working over her own Super Delegates to prevent from defections.  Beneath all that momentum-y goodness and narrative-y awesomeness for the Clinton campaign, it’s still crisis time.

Last night was not a resounding comeback victory; it was dodging a bullet.

Nor should one expect this momentum to last particularly long.  The next primary will be held in Wyoming on Saturday which is predicted to go to Obama, as is the Tuesday primary in Mississippi.  With well over a month between Hillary’s firewalls and her next firewall of Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton will get to enjoy a grand total of three maybe four days of momentum before headlines start reporting on more Obama victories.

But something else happened last night that should not be forgotten.  John McCain won his party’s nomination.  After a four state sweep, McCain won the number of delegates and clinched the nomination.  Huckabee, whom many could not understand his motivations for staying in so long, bowed out of the race and today McCain will be lunching with the President where Bush will give his endorsement.

Now, we’ve known McCain was going to be the nominee for some time, but there is a metaphysical difference between knowing something is going to happen, and having it actually happen.  It is an almost metaphysical disparity of tangibility and yet it signifies one very real and very significant thing.

For the Republicans, the General Election begins today.

I think McCain’s clincher last night will have an effect on the Democratic race.  Not on the front pages and among the general voters, but it will most assuredly affect the lens through which those behind the curtains view the Democratic race.  It’s going to emphasize and embolden everything that happens from here on in against a backdrop of Republicans who are unified and waiting.

And this hurts Hillary in more ways than one.

On one level, now that the Republicans have their nominee, Democrats are going to increasingly feel pressure to unify behind a single candidate as well–especially once the salvos from the GOP start hitting in earnest.  While some have theorized that a prolonged primary is good for the Democrats in that it transfers to increased media time, that increased media time is going to come with some stark negatives that will undoubtedly bloody up whichever candidate becomes the nominee.

On top of this, we have to start looking at the damage the party is doing to itself on a grassroots level.  Every day this primary continues on is a day in which the two entrenched camps supporting either candidate become more embittered and antagonistic.  Further, I think the longer this draws out, the less likely it will be that the Democratic party can heal rifts that have been forming throughout the primary season.

But the item that perhaps requires the most attention is the only real lesson that Hillary Clinton learned; that attacking Obama can work.

This would be all well and good if we could erase some of the victories for Obama in February, or somehow have a much closer delegate race, but as the race stands now, the formula in place is not a particularly pleasing one.

Yes, Hillary’s attacks can slow down Obama’s electoral charges, but the first thing to consider is that last night didn’t show them to be effective enough to deliver the kind of blowouts necessary to change the scope of the race in Hillary’s favor.  That’s to say that attacking Obama did not provide the net gain of 52 delegates that Hillary needed in order put a dent in Obama’s pledged delegate lead.

If attacking Obama could put Hillary over the top, that would be one thing, but right now there is simply no indication that that is likely to happen and so instead of Hillary’s attacks being viewed among party insiders as a fighter fighting for her prize, against the backdrop of Republican unity behind McCain it is more likely to be viewed as an underdog unnecessarily hamstringing the likely Democratic nominee.

As McCain’s fortunes rise, I think you’re going to see the Super Delegates become increasingly displeased with what Hillary Clinton has to do just to have a glimmer of hope at winning this race.  That is the big effect that McCain’s clinching of the nomination will have; it will throw into stark contrast the negative occurences of the Democratic race.

Much will depend on how the next month and a half plays out.  There’s an eternity of time with few primaries on the agenda between now and Pennsylvania during which anything can happen.  But one thing everyone should take into consideration is that if Hillary’s continued existence in this primary puts Obama’s chances of beating McCain in November in serious jeopardy, you’re going to see a big swing in Super Delegates in Obama’s favor, and a win in PA will not save Hillary from the establishment pushing her off the stage.

One thing is certainly clear, though.  Hillary won three states last night, and that’s about it.  The Obama candidacy is far from over, and one of the benefits of how the media is going to spin last night is that at least for a little while Obama gets to campaign as the underdog again, even if he isn’t.

That I don’t mind so much.

8 Responses to “About Last Night and The McCain Effect”

  1. Kelly Pierce says:

    She is counting on the fatigue of the electorate not to want to go the distance in an all out fight – but she has sowed too many seeds that Obama is “not ready” – that it is dangerous for him to be picking up that phone and be entrusted with our economic concerns – so much so that according to Pew 20% of Democrats will not vote for him – she wants that number to increase and will do anything accomplish it.
    But she (and her supporters) will say it’s not because she is “mean” but because she is our tough more experienced sainted Mother who wants to protect us. This is why she MUST fight on – all the way to the convention and why and a Obama/Clinton ticket is not acceptable.
    Rather, she will put forth (and has on all the morning shows today) that the only way out of this mess is a Clinton/Obama ticket -It solves all our problems, addresses all our concerns (that she has created/brought to light) – she then is the Party uniter and if Obama refuses – that shows he is really a divider.
    Trust me, this is the subtext of everything going forward. Meanwhile she will do everything to freeze the superdelegates and whittle down Obama’s lead – including revotes – while she brings everyone to the same consensus.

  2. Pat says:

    Overconfidence, overexposure and arrogance killed the Obama effect in these major states. People took a closer look at Obama. They voted with their brains and not with their emotions. You may think that these wins for Clinton mean nothing. On the contrary…

    I will miss Huckabee. He was a breath of fresh air, a real candidate.

  3. Interesting.

    I just got done watching an interview where Clinton has said it’s possible for them to share a ticket it’s just a matter of who will be on top.

    I think you may have a point here–essentially that she’s now running to be on the ticket one way or another. By ripping the party apart to head it up, or at least put Obama in a situation where he will lose the general election if he doesn’t have her on the ticket with him.

    It’s an interesting way to run for Vice President, but Clinton’s comments today are noticeably different from what they were maybe just a week or so ago when both candidates were saying, “let’s settle this race first”.

    Thanks for the insight… I’ll probably put up a post about that later on today.

  4. I woke up this morning to see a fellow Highbrid Nation writer reporting that Hillary has won the Ohio and Texas primaries and how this is getting bad. And like him I feel like this battle between Obama and Hillary has went on too long and now they are in danger of hurting the party by allowing McCain to take shots at them while they are dealing with each other. Howard Dean should step in and say “Look, Obama is going to be the canidate and Hillary you can be his running mate if you choose”…I know I know that would never happen but a guy can dream right?

  5. mlhm5 says:

    After the Clinton wins last night, there is no doubt there will have to be a do-over in both MI and FLA, which if carried again by Clinton, Obama will have a tough time convincing the super-delegates he can win in November.

    If not then the Republican party will simply say that Democrats don’t care about voters in FLA and MI and may carry both states in November.

    As far as the general election, once again, “it’s the economy stupid” and the chances of a Republican winning in a Republican caused recession are nil.

  6. Bostondreams says:

    And of course conservatives want Hillary to win. Check out Dave Wiegel’s column on the numbers in Texas. But will the Clintonites admit this?

    http://reason.com/blog/show/125327.html

  7. Dynamic says:

    She won two states.

    Texas’ primary and caucus may be seperated out as two different contests, but they are both functions of the same primary process and they are both held in the same state. Why is the media splitting them up into two seperate contests? So they can keep saying Hillary “won” Texas, even if she only won part of it?

    Obama secured more delegates and more votes in Vermont and Texas. Hillary secured more delegates and more votes in Ohio and Rhode Island. Just because some of the votes in question were votes at a caucus doesn’t make them count for less.

    CNN and the rest just can’t seem to figure this out.

  8. Where can I get a freezer that a human body will fit into? Becuase I want to be frozen at -10 farenhight for all time. But theres a Law in the U.S.A that says all frozen human corpses have to have a docter on call every day.

    Where can I get a kids helium party balloon made ready that is 1 inch bigger when its inflated so it goes higher in the sky when released. I believe there are invisible alien flying suacers that will take the balloon after I cut the string and slice my nuckle with a disposable shaving razor so I can dab drops of blood onto the balloon. The Aliens up there will see my baloon when I release it. I want a baloon that has 2 glow in the dark X symbols on it that will shine at night. If I had been in Pheonix Arizona when there was that UFO sighting at night around April 22 2008 I would of wanted a miniture can of helium that is portable so I can be ready to send up my baloon with my blood on it. I might be cloned by the space aliens.

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