The Right Way To Play The Lowered Expectations Game

Naom Scheiber asks if perhaps Obama should have put a little effort into the Kentucky primary; thereby stemming at least mitigating a portion of the blowout margin of victory that Clinton achieved.  To answer that question, one must first understand why he played so heavily in all of the states (sans West Virginia of course) up to this point.

Delegates, delegates, delegates.  This was the key to Obama’s strategy from the very beginning.  With most polls showing Hillary Clinton with an insurmountable lead, and the situation on the ground giving Clinton name recognition and party establishment advantages, the only way that Obama could hope to remain competative would be by using the party’s proportional allocation system to mitigate that advantage.

He couldn’t win every state, but he could remain close, and therefore minimize the significance of Clinton’s wins.

After all the goal post shifting, finger pointing, and navel gazing, this is the real reason why Clinton lost the Democratic primary battle (for all intents and purposes.  She may still be awarded the nomination, but at this point, awarded would be the exact term for it; “won” being a misleading term for someone who lost the race for pledged delegates).  Sexism, racism, negative campaigning, money, Clinton fatigue, rockstar mentality, and everything else played a factor.  But when it comes down to it, Obama’s entire strategy focused on doing the best he possibly could with the metric that actually decided the nominee; delegates.

Last night, the race for pledged delegates ended.  Indeed, going into last night, it became clear that based on polling alone, Obama didn’t really need to campaign in either state; coming out of last night with only about fifteen of the one hundred three delegates available was all that was really necessary to secure a majority of pledged delegates.

Now let’s look at what Clinton did up until March; lowered expectations.  Prior to Super Tuesday, the primaries are about symbolic victories, perception, and momentum.  Unfortunately, Clinton didn’t shift her strategy following Super Tuesday to reflect a race that is focuse more on the currency of delegates as opposed to the currency of psychological victories.

Hence, lowering the expectations.  As opposed to competing in the caucuses and small states, Clinton chose to make Texas and Ohio her firewalls, and assumed that lowering expectations in all of the post Super Tuesday states would be enough to prevent Obama from putting her nomination in serious threat.  This, of course, ignored the delegate math at hand.

Clinton was attempting to battle the psychological victories that Obama was winning, but was ignoring the hard currency delegate victories that he was racking up.

In other words, she was playing the game of lowered expectations the wrong way.

Lowering expectations is only truly effective when the only prizes are psychological.  You don’t go into a General Election and say, “Well, I didn’t even try in Texas,” because to do so would be silly; since all the states vote on the same day, there is no psychological benefit for explaining off how you knew you were going to lose in Texas because the only thing Texas had to offer were actual electoral votes.  No more, no less.

Up until West Virginia, Obama has not even bothered with the game of expectations.  There was a little bit of it in Pennsylvania, but for the most part, Team Obama went after every state with the intent of either winning it, or cutting down net delegate gains for Clinton.

But the game changed, specifically with last night’s primaries.  Pledged Delegates are no longer an issue for Obama given that he has achieved a majority of them.  Even if Clinton wins 100% of the vote from here on in, and Obama is awarded zero delegates, she still can’t attain as many delegates as him.

All he needed was the very gentle nudge over the top last night, which Oregon provided.

Thus, Kentucky went from being a contest that had two prizes; delegates and psychological benefit, to only the latter.

THAT is when you play the game of lowered expectations.

Obama could have played in Kentucky, but playing in Kentucky would have been risky.  He could have narrowed the gap, but he would have to bring the margin of victory under 20, something that, despite demographic analysis that might indicate such a feat would be possible, would be quite difficult.  On the other hand, if you are willing to cede that Clinton would have won by a large margin no matter what, the psychological victory could be mitigated by making it appear as though she ran unopposed.

For Clinton’s part, the more Obama contested the state, the more she would use such participation to validate and increase the significance of her win.  Look at West Virginia where the Obama campaign had plenty of offices and spent more money than Team Clinton.  She attempted to use this as though Obama heavily contested the state despite the fact that he only campaigned there for one day.

Thus, in Kentucky, you simply pull out.  Any delegate gains there would be essentially empty, and potentially not worth it given the psychological victory you hand your opponent.  At least this way, there is a question mark left as to how much Obama could have made up in that state.

For those susceptible to spin and poor reporting, ie. the general public, Kentucky still has the potential to severely damage Obama (though I doubt it.  The Media’s narrative has shifted to Obama being the presumptive nominee, and Clinton having a zero percent mathematical chance of upsetting that), but to a degree, the general public’s opinion matters little at this point regarding the nomination.

The real opinions that will decide the nomination are those of the Super Delegates.

For them, they may look at Kentucky’s exit polling, but Obama has Oregon’s exit polling to contradict it.  Also, Obama has the very reasonable excuse to play that he was too busy campaigning against McCain to go and try and pick up a few extra delegates in KY.

None of these are perfect arguments, but they don’t have to be good enough.  With far fewer Super Delegates required to push Obama over the finish line, all he really has to do is prevent Clinton from fomenting serious doubt as to his electability among a vast majority, bordering on unanimity, of the remaining undeclared Super Delegates.

Could he have played in Kentucky?  Yes.  Could he have narrowed the gap?  Sure.  Would it have been a good idea?  Not necessarily.


6 Responses to “The Right Way To Play The Lowered Expectations Game”

  1. Dawn says:

    If the Democratic party nominates Obama, they will lose again. I don’t know why they can’t pick a middle of the road candidate….they always pick someone too much to the left to get elected….

  2. Mark says:

    Put another way: resources are scarce. At this point there was no need to expend resources on Kentucky when those resources would be better reserved for the general election.

  3. *sigh*

    This is SPAM! It has nothing to do with the intent of this post. Next time I see a comment like this from you, it will be deleted.

    As I will be gracious once, I will address your point. Go ask a real liberal if Obama is a liberal. It’s a fool’s argument. Those on the right will always claim the Democrat is a liberal, while the dyed in the wool liberals will always say that the Democratic candidate is too much of a centrist sell out.

    If you are a Clinton supporter, I want you to do one thing for me, I want you to go and look at two websites. They provide an independent assessment of both candidate’s careers and stances on the issues, and if you scroll all the way to the bottom, you will notice something; they occupy the exact same spot on the political spectrum. Down to the damn letter.

    If, on the other hand, you are a Republican…

    I’ll let November be a surprise for you.

  4. Mark! Will you stop making my points in much shorter and easier to read sentences for me?!!?! I must bloviate or there is no point to my existence!

    Okay Good to see ya… must force myself to go to bed now.

  5. Debbie says:

    Spin this how ever you want…the truth is BO will come calling ONLY when he needs you. And if sometime between now and November he decides he doesn’t need Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida or any other state in between you’ll get MO – wow, what a prize!

    It still comes off as arrogant and egocentric.


  6. bostondreams says:


    You are being sexist in your comments about Michelle Obama. As to arrogant and egocentric, well, coming from a Clinton supporter, that means nothing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook