Indiana is everything

Thesis: between Jeremiah Wright’s latest ramblings, Hillary Clinton’s continued domination of the media spin game, the high-profile AP/Ipsos poll showing Hillary doing significantly better than Obama in November, the numerical fudge factor provided by the Michigan and Florida wild cards, and the incredibly unfavorable geography of the upcoming calendar for Obama (West Virginia and Kentucky will, in consecutive weeks, provide Hillary with her biggest non-Arkansas margins of victory in the entire campaign, and Puerto Rico may not be much better), events are now conspiring against Barack Obama such that Hillary may actually have a chance — and Obama’s only real opportunity to reliably stop her from seizing that chance is to win in Indiana on Tuesday. If he loses, then heaven help us, she might just be the nominee.

Discuss.

I’m not sure whether I believe this "thesis," but I am worried about the possibility that it might be right. And I’m apparently not alone, judging by Hillary’s Intrade surge.

One key aspect of my thesis is a recognition of the fact that the media refuses to contextualize the primary calendar in any meaningful way. Hillary got waaaaaay too much credit for winning Pennsylvania, which was almost a can’t-lose state for her, just as Obama got waaaaaay too much credit for most of his post-Super Tuesday victories in February, which were generally in "gimme" states for him. So, given this history, I assume that Hillary will again get waaaaaay too much credit for her inevitable blowout wins in West Virginia and Kentucky. (It’s especially devastating for Obama that West Virginia has a whole week all to itself! And I suspect Kentucky will totally overshadow Oregon the following week, especially given what I assume will be her much larger margin there.)

Of course, Hillary knows all this, which is why I doubt she’ll drop out even after an Indiana loss. But at least an Obama victory in Indiana — coupled with a North Carolina win, of course — would stop the bleeding and reset the storyline heading into WV and KY. In addition, it might cause her fundraising to dry up. But if Hillary earns a "split" on May 6, the money will continue flowing, and the media storyline will continue to be completely in her favor… and Obama will have no opportunity for a "firewall" victory until, well, ever. (I don’t think anybody is going to care about Montana and South Dakota.) And then we’re all left scratching our heads and wondering if the superdelegates will buy the HRC/MSM line on electability, popular vote, working-class whites, etc., or if they’ll see through the smoke & mirrors and realize that, despite it all, Obama is still clearly the better choice for the party, all things considered.

I still think Obama wins, in the end, if only because of the superdelegates’ fear of repercussions in the black community if they deny him the nomination that he will be perceived (at least among blacks) as having earned. Hillary’s electability case would have to be completely overwhelming, to the point of being undeniably right, to overcome this hurdle, I think. As long as the electability question is debatable, I don’t see her wrenching this thing away from him. But making assumptions about the psychology of superdelegates is a risky business, and I can increasingly see a path to her at least having a plausible road to a floor fight at the convention over Michigan and Florida. Which would just about guarantee a McCain win in November.

Bottom line: Obama really, really, really needs to win Indiana.

P.S. When I say "the HRC/MSM line," I don’t mean to imply that the media wants Hillary to win. On the contrary. However, for a whole constellation of reasons that I don’t feel like getting into right now, the media environment is incredibly friendly to Hillary at the moment, despite most journalists’ general preference for Obama, and the environment is unlikely to change without an Obama win in Indiana.

UPDATE: In comments, eagleye
writes, "I don’t think the superdelegates will let this go to a floor
fight at the convention. There is going to be a lot of pressure on them
to act sooner than later." Ah, but this is a misunderstanding of the
process. The superdelegates do not have the power to prevent a floor
fight!
They have the power to get Obama to the "magic number" before
the convention, yes. But that doesn’t necessarily prevent a floor
fight. Only you can prevent forest fires, and only Hillary Clinton can prevent a floor fight.

If she doesn’t drop out, then the fight keeps going. The mere fact of Obama reaching the "magic number" in the media’s
delegate counts in June (which I assume he will, because I assume most of the superdelegates will heed Howard Dean’s call to announce their intentions) doesn’t necessarily
mean that Hillary won’t keep fighting all the way to the convention.

I explain why after the jump, and then I attempt to clarify my race-related comment above.

Firstly, all announced statements of delegate loyalty are by definition
non-binding, contingent on Obama not imploding once and for all. The
closer the tally is, the more significant this fact becomes. Even Hillary’s blathering about "flipping" pledged delegates might become relevant if it’s close enough.

Secondly,
and more crucially, remember the "fudge factor" I mentioned. When Hillary is asked why
she’s still fighting even though Obama has "clinched" the nomination, she can plausibly reply that he hasn’t "clinched" anything, because
Michigan and Florida are still unresolved! If Obama reaches 2,025, but
not 2,209 (the magic number if Michigan and Florida are included), then
Clinton has her opening to keep fighting all the way to the convention.

And the superdelegates can’t stop her. They can pressure her, they can cajole her, they can curse her, but they can’t stop her.

I also want to clarify my above statement that Obama will win "if
only because of the superdelegates’ fear of repercussions in the
black community if they deny him the nomination that he will be
perceived (at least among blacks) as having earned." Marty
quoted this statement and asked, "So this whole thing IS about race?"
That’s not what I’m saying. I meant what I said when I used the term
"if only." There are all kinds of other, better reasons to give Obama
the nomination, aside from the "fear of repercussions in the
black community" argument (and, lest anyone misunderstand me, I mean
purely electoral
repercussions). However, that "fear" is the psychological "firewall,"
if you will, that will ultimately secure Obama’s victory, even if — and it’s a huge "if" — all the other, better arguments lose their force. So, I’m not saying he’ll win solely
because of the racial thing; I’m just saying the racial thing is the
one piece of the puzzle that Hillary has essentially zero chance of
overcoming, unless her electability argument somehow becomes so
obviously correct (rather than merely arguable) that the electoral
necessity of nominating her becomes undeniable.

Also in response to my comment about the racial thing, eagleye wrote, "If the superdelegates throw the nomination to HRC in spite of Obama’s
lead in pledged delegates, the African-American community isn’t going
to be the only segment of the electorate that is pissed off." I fully agree with that statement. I’ll be pissed off, and I’m a pasty white Irishman! But just as I meant "if only," I also meant "at least." There are lots
of people who will perceive Obama as having earned the nomination —
myself included — but blacks are one group that will, in the
aggregate, definitely perceive him that way, no matter what
happens from here on out, and no matter how effective the HRC/MSM
"popular vote" spin is. Come to think of it, another such group is the
netroots, so I really should have said "at least among blacks and the
netroots." Now, lots of others will probably perceive him as
the legitimate nominee, too, but there I can see scenarios where
Hillary’s arguments in that regard make a fair amount of headway in the
next six weeks. Only among blacks and the netroots am I totally
confident that Obama will remain perceived as the sole legitimate
choice. And that’s all I was saying — not that only blacks
(and, I now add, the netroots) will perceive him as having earned the
nomination, but that those are the groups I’m 100% confident will see
it that way, no matter what happens in the next six weeks.

26 Responses to “Indiana is everything”

  1. Marty West says:

    “I still think Obama wins, in the end, if only because of the superdelegates’ fear of repercussions in the black community if they deny him the nomination that he will be perceived (at least among blacks) as having earned.”

    So this whole thing IS about race? I also don’t think it will come down to whether or not the superdelegates want to piss off African American voters.

  2. CD says:

    Where on earth will the black people run to I ask? The Republicans??? Worst case scenario: they stay home. However, I don’t think the resent will last. People are constantly cognitively updating with new information and there is plenty of time to let wounds ride out one way or the other between now and November.

    I myself am so completely unhappy with the possibility of Barack Obama being the nominee and I have such strong feelings about the bulk of his hipster/retarded/blind/ignorant supporters that I am constantly on the verge of employing the “I’ll just vote for McCain” or “I hope the impotent Democratic party implodes because that is what it deserves” rhetoric. However, I highly suspect that my feelings will recede and some form of self-interested rationality will take over once the dust has settled.

  3. Marty West says:

    CD –

    The “hipster” croud of voters is the WORST. I disagree with the majority of your post…but I share your hatred for hipsters.

  4. eagleye says:

    If the superdelegates throw the nomination to HRC in spite of Obama’s lead in pledged delegates, the African-American community isn’t going to be the only segment of the electorate that is pissed off. A huge faction within the Democratic Party will be disillusioned and not likely to show up in November.

    I don’t think the superdelegates will let this go to a floor fight at the convention. There is going to be a lot of pressure on them to act sooner than later.

  5. Patrick says:

    I just hope Hillary prolongs the process even longer. I don’t care who gets the nomination anymore. Obama is starting to look as unelectable as Clinton. Keep talking Jeremiah …

  6. Context says:

    Speaking of Contextualizing the Primary Calendar, how about the fact that there is no way, no way, Obama would have won Iowa or, if winning Iowa, had sufficient forward momentum to sweep super tuesday if the Rev. Wright thing had exploded on December 1st.

    It may be irrelevant to people now, but it would have sunk Obama before the fact.

  7. CORNHUSKERS 94 95 & 97 says:

    My worst fears about this campaign are coming true and I was hoping that I would be proven wrong but I have been internalizing about the possibility that it would not be white america that keeps Barak from the nomination but some of his own people.

    What I was afraid of was the civil rights leaders would fear that they are going to lose that ‘white man behind the curtain keeping black people down’ trump card and its happening more and more as we draw closer to the end of this. It’s hard to preach this when the person sitting in the big chair at 1600 Penn is a black man.

    Wright was not on my radar but I did expect Sharpton and Jackson to to say something like, “Barak might not be black enough for their taste” and how he might not understand the struggle. and eventhough Al chimed in yesterday about Obama and the Sean Bell verdict I suspect there is more to come unless Barak puts an end to this in a forceful way and I am not sure he has that in him.

  8. CORNHUSKERS 94 95 & 97 says:

    My worst fears about this campaign are coming true and I was hoping that I would be proven wrong but I have been internalizing about the possibility that it would not be white america that keeps Barak from the nomination but some of his own people.

    What I was afraid of was the civil rights leaders would fear that they are going to lose that ‘white man behind the curtain keeping black people down’ trump card and its happening more and more as we draw closer to the end of this. It’s hard to preach this when the person sitting in the big chair at 1600 Penn is a black man.

    Wright was not on my radar but I did expect Sharpton and Jackson to to say something like, “Barak might not be black enough for their taste” and how he might not understand the struggle. and eventhough Al chimed in yesterday about Obama and the Sean Bell verdict I suspect there is more to come unless Barak puts an end to this in a forceful way and I am not sure he has that in him.

  9. Braylon says:

    Rev Wright will be Obama’s downfall. Instead of just sitting down and shutting up for a while, he has to go spouting off again. You can’t blame Fox News this time.

  10. Joe Loy says:

    Obama has just renounced, denounced, and Divorced :> Rev. Wright at a press conference called for the purpose (& carried live by the Cablenewsies). With obvious anger, he said (among many other things) that Wright’s recent performance at the National Press Club expressed a worldview in full opposition to everything Obama has believed and worked for throughout his public life.

  11. Joe Loy says:

    PS: It’s now expected that Wright ~ who evidently is Jealous of Obama, else why did he go on this Moyers/NAACP/Press Club Publicity Tour which quite obviously would Screw Barack ~ will come back and further Diss the apostate. / This will be Good. Instead of Hillary & McCain running for President against Jeremiah Wright, Wright will be perceived as running against Obama. Excellent. :}

  12. Marty West says:

    Joe –

    Don’t you feel like he is making these statements because of the pressure the MSM is putting on him? Do you really think that if the MSM didn’t go gunning for Obama over what Wright said that O would renounce these comments?

  13. Duck says:

    I thought the MSM was on Obama’s side. Wasn’t that what all the SNL business was about ?

    JoeL: Don’t be surprised if a large number of Obama’s supporters defect back to Wright. There were, after all, many cheers and applauding in his audience.

  14. copndor says:

    “Don’t be surprised if a large number of Obama’s supporters defect back to Wright.”

    I know sometimes it seems otherwise, but I’m pretty sure Wright isn’t running for president.

  15. Brendan says:

    Argh. Duck, I addressed that point already:

    When I say “the HRC/MSM line,” I don’t mean to imply that the media wants Hillary to win. On the contrary. However, for a whole constellation of reasons that I don’t feel like getting into right now, the media environment is incredibly friendly to Hillary at the moment, despite most journalists’ general preference for Obama, and the environment is unlikely to change without an Obama win in Indiana.

  16. anon says:

    We’re all aware of the droves of black voters alienated in 1988, for instance, when the Democrats snubbed the one-time frontrunner and second-place finisher Jesse Jackson, who demanded he receive the vice presidency and instead was quickly and utterly ignored. Precisely as feared, blacks fled the Democratic Party in droves that general election, and, composing a mere 10% of voters that election, giving Dukakis a mere 86% of their vote and handing Bush a whopping 12%, clearly embittered that year but recovering in ’92 to give Clinton an overwhelming 82% of their vote, proving that “fear of repercussions in the black community” should always be a primary concern among delegates.

    Typical bang-up, unresearched, wildly speculative analysis oft evident on faux-political blogs. I look forward to the next installment.

  17. Brendan says:

    Anon, the situation is qualitatively different, for myriad obvious reasons. You may be right in the end, but your dismissive tone is entirely uncalled-for, because I may be right in the end, too. Neither of us know, because it’s never happened before. There has never been a situation where the (predominantly white) Democratic Party establishment is perceived as stealing the presidential nomination from a mainstream black candidate who appeared to have the nomination wrapped up and who, according to most polls, stands at least a 50-50 chance of winning the November election.

  18. anon says:

    Obviously, one can qualify the present in so many irrelevant ways that it apepars to make historical research trivial (and, in your case, attempts to excuse an utter lack of historical research). But given that you italicized a single portion of the et ceteras, “perceived as stealing the presidential nomination,” once again, a bare examination of research would reveal parallel concerns in 1988. To cite just one article, from the New York Times, April 5, 1988 (and merely a relevant excerpt):

    Henry Smith, a retired postal worker, is very proud of Jesse Jackson’s race for President. But he is also sure the powers that be are prepared to steal the nomination from him.

    “I think they’re working to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Mr. Smith said yesterday over lunch at the Allen A.M.E. Senior Housing Complex in Queens. “They’ll push Cuomo in to offset giving him the nomination. It would be more racism showing it’s ugly head again. That’s what it would amount to.”

    Mr. Smith was giving voice to a sentiment widely held by his neighbors in the Springfield Gardens and St. Albans neighborhoods, parts of a broad section of southern Queens that is probably the largest middle-class black community in the country.

    And the consensus at the time? From the L.A. Times, July 18, 1988:

    Pre-convention telephone interviews by the Times poll with 1,763 registered voters, conducted July 5-10, showed there are roughly the same proportion of Reagan Democrats as there are blacks in the electorate, roughly 10% to 11%. But the reality confronting Dukakis, as this survey showed, is that the Reagan Democrats are much more likely to vote for Republican George Bush than are blacks.

    “Dukakis gets a double bonus from every Reagan Democrat who votes for him,” Times political analyst William Schneider noted. “Not only does he get their vote, but he takes a vote away from Bush. Reagan Democrats are swing voters. They could go either way. Blacks are not swing voters. They are the Democratic Party’s base, the people who vote Democratic when no one else does. Or they don’t vote.”

  19. Brendan says:

    I’m not saying that nobody thought the nomination was stolen from Jackson. I’m saying the sentiment wasn’t nearly as widespread — or justifiable — as it would be this time.

    That was a brush fire compared to the civil war that this would be.

  20. Brendan says:

    P.S. Feel free to modify “perceived as stealing the presidential nomination” as “widely perceived the presidential nomination.” I thought that modifier was implicit, but if you’re going to dig up random counterexamples where Jane Doe on the street said “OMG THEY’RE STEALING THE ELECTION” then I guess I need to make it explicit.

    Also, some historical research for you: Dukakis received 9,898,750 votes, or 42.47% of the total. Jackson received 6,788,991, or 29.13% of the total. That’s more than a 3,000,000-vote deficit. I presume I don’t need to make explicit the contrast between those numbers and this year’s numbers. (Or do you still think I’m “qualifying the present in so many irrelevant ways.” Because, you know, the difference between winning and losing is so “irrelevant.”)

    It’s true that Jackson complained about his delegate share being disproportionately low compared to his vote totals. It’s true that some of his supporters conspiratorially feared that the nomination would have been stolen from him, even if he had earned it. But the truth is that he didn’t earn it. In no reasonable version of reality was Jesse Jackson the legitimate winner of that nomination battle. He just didn’t get enough votes in enough places.

    Obama’s situation is, quite obviously, entirely different, in various “relevant” ways.

  21. CD says:

    I ask again… where the hell do you think they are going to go… this ‘black people’ monolith that you are speculating about over and over and over again?? Blue collar white Dems on the other hand… they have a warm place to flee. Its name is McCain.

  22. DaveJ says:

    I’m a white, middle aged Republican who’s contributed the max $2300 to Obama. I’ll tell you where my vote and contributions will go if Hillary gets the nomination: John McCain.

    Obama will be good for the country. McCain will be good for me personally (tax-wise). Hillary will be good for the big donors who funded her campaign and Bill’s library. As David Geffen said, “Everybody in politics lies, but they (the Clintons) do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

  23. rikyrah says:

    Latest Rasmussen Poll:

    Hillary Clinton gets 59% support in the Black community.

    59% for a Democratic candidate from the BASE of the Democratic Party.

    That is her CEILING.

    What do you think it would be if she STOLE this from Obama?

  24. Andrew says:

    Obama’s speech is probably enough to stanch the bleeding of white working-class Democratic voters, but it’s not nearly enough to give independents and Republicans warm and fuzzies about him. I suspect that, for Obama to make enough inroads with non-black voters to attain 50%+1 of the vote, he’ll need to cross the black political leadership to an incredibly high degree so as to earn their vehement anger while simultaneously relegating the issue of race to a small sub-narrative of the general election. I don’t think he can do both.

  25. Alasdair says:

    Elder Loy – “With obvious anger, he said (among many other things) that Wright’s recent performance at the National Press Club expressed a worldview in full opposition to everything Obama has believed and worked for throughout his public life.

    – while Senator Obama used some nicely pious platitudes, it’s way less convincing when Senator Obama rested from his efforts on behalf of “everything Obama has believed and worked for throughout his public life” on the Sabbath, in Wright’s church …

    For some reason, Senator Obama’s Sergeant Schultz imitations just aren’t convincing …