Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Democratic primary fight like no other (New York Times)

Actually, the Democratic nomination fight isn't quite over yet, but that moment is approaching. And whatever else one might think about it, it has certainly been a hell of a drama. (And we're still 5 months away from the general election in November!)

John Harwood lays out the overall picture in Monday's New York Times. Some highlights:
The first black and first woman with solid chances to win the White House have nearly split the Democratic Party, with his coalition of young voters, affluent liberals and blacks against her coalition of women, older voters, Hispanics and working-class whites. Mr. Obama appears on track to a narrow nomination victory if he can win over just a small fraction of the roughly 200 superdelegates who remain undecided.

But that numbing familiarity cannot obscure what makes this nomination fight singular. In its cost, duration, competitiveness and breadth of citizen involvement, it stands alone in the history of American presidential politics.

“We’ve had higher rates of participation, not just by voting but by volunteering and giving, than any other,” said Michael J. Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute and a onetime Congressional aide to Dick Cheney when he was a congressman. “And there’s nothing that’s remotely close.” [....]

Shattering records, the two leading Democrats raised nearly $500 million through April to finance their rival armies. [....]

Moreover, each top Democrat has proven resilient enough to defy the normal laws of political gravity. In nominating fights over the last two decades, such formidable challengers as Bob Dole, Richard A. Gephardt, John McCain, Bill Bradley and Howard Dean have faded after early defeats the way John Edwards, Mitt Romney and Rudolph W. Giuliani did this year.

But Mrs. Clinton has finished robustly despite a costly string of February losses. Even after this weekend’s disappointment of failing to gain all the Michigan and Florida delegates she had sought before the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic Party, Mrs. Clinton commands 45 percent of convention delegates to Mr. Obama’s 49 percent.

Just as remarkable, the intensity of competition has been inversely proportional to the ideological stakes. [....] Above all, their contest has pitted different styles of leadership toward highly similar policy ends.
Democratic turnout has been massive and, again, unprecedented.
The more than 17 million popular votes Mr. Obama has received exceed the total for Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Carter combined in 1980.
We have been hearing, and will continue to hear, angry arguments about the right way to calculate overall popular-vote totals for this year's Democratic contest. (The Democratic nominating system is such a complicated mess that there is no straightforward or definitive answer.) Here are some alternative calculations, using different criteria, from Real Clear Politics. Some put Obama ahead, some put Clinton ahead--but note that all of them put the difference between the two candidates at less than 1% of the total. The basic reality is that, in the end, Obama and Clinton fought each other pretty much to a draw.
By counting the disputed primary results from Michigan and Florida, Mrs. Clinton insists she has collected even more popular votes. In her against-the-odds attempt to win over enough superdelegates for the nomination, she cites victories over Mr. Obama in significant states like California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

Even if that argument gives pragmatic Democrats pause, here is where they can find consolation and Republicans angst. In each of those states, Mr. Obama received more votes in losing the Democratic primary than Mr. McCain did in winning the Republican contest.
And it's not (quite) over yet.

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
New York Times
June 2, 2008
THE CAUCUS
Democratic Primary Fight Is Like No Other, Ever
By John Harwood

The 2008 Democratic primary battle between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, which concludes Tuesday with contests in Montana and South Dakota, has developed such a reliable story line that pundits can recite it in their sleep.

The first black and first woman with solid chances to win the White House have nearly split the Democratic Party, with his coalition of young voters, affluent liberals and blacks against her coalition of women, older voters, Hispanics and working-class whites. Mr. Obama appears on track to a narrow nomination victory if he can win over just a small fraction of the roughly 200 superdelegates who remain undecided.

But that numbing familiarity cannot obscure what makes this nomination fight singular. In its cost, duration, competitiveness and breadth of citizen involvement, it stands alone in the history of American presidential politics.

“We’ve had higher rates of participation, not just by voting but by volunteering and giving, than any other,” said Michael J. Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute and a onetime Congressional aide to Dick Cheney when he was a congressman. “And there’s nothing that’s remotely close.”

Voters Play a Big Role

A springtime gantlet of primaries became part of the presidential nominating process a century ago as Progressive Era reformers sought to give voters, rather than party bosses, a greater voice. That voice was initially muted; even as recently as 1968, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey won the Democratic nomination without entering any of that year’s 15 primaries.

But in the Obama-Clinton contest, voters have shouted louder and longer than ever, beginning with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. The primary calendar is two months longer than in 1968.

Shattering records, the two leading Democrats raised nearly $500 million through April to finance their rival armies. Mrs. Clinton’s $214 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, exceeds money raised by all candidates in both parties in the hard-fought 1988 contests that nominated George Bush and Michael S. Dukakis. Mr. Obama raised $50 million more than Mrs. Clinton did, relying heavily on the Internet and creating a new model for financial supremacy.

“The scale of this thing is just extraordinary,” said Tony Corrado, a professor at Colby College and a leading authority on campaign fund-raising. What makes their performance all the more striking, he said, is one argument used in the past to explain the dominance of white male candidates. Women and minority politicians, skeptics once asserted, “didn’t have the sort of social-business networks” needed to compete.

Moreover, each top Democrat has proven resilient enough to defy the normal laws of political gravity. In nominating fights over the last two decades, such formidable challengers as Bob Dole, Richard A. Gephardt, John McCain, Bill Bradley and Howard Dean have faded after early defeats the way John Edwards, Mitt Romney and Rudolph W. Giuliani did this year.

No Wilting Flower, She

But Mrs. Clinton has finished robustly despite a costly string of February losses. Even after this weekend’s disappointment of failing to gain all the Michigan and Florida delegates she had sought before the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic Party, Mrs. Clinton commands 45 percent of convention delegates to Mr. Obama’s 49 percent.

Just as remarkable, the intensity of competition has been inversely proportional to the ideological stakes. In the feisty Democratic battle of 1968, Eugene J. McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy challenged Mr. Humphrey and Lyndon B. Johnson over the Vietnam War; in 1976, Ronald Reagan carried the banner of ascendant Republican conservatism against incumbent President Gerald R. Ford; in 1980, Edward M. Kennedy fought the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, in defense of traditional liberalism.

This year, Mr. Obama assailed Mrs. Clinton for her vote in 2002 to authorize the Iraq war. But both now vow to end the war. Above all, their contest has pitted different styles of leadership toward highly similar policy ends.

The more than 17 million popular votes Mr. Obama has received exceed the total for Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Carter combined in 1980.

By counting the disputed primary results from Michigan and Florida, Mrs. Clinton insists she has collected even more popular votes. In her against-the-odds attempt to win over enough superdelegates for the nomination, she cites victories over Mr. Obama in significant states like California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

Even if that argument gives pragmatic Democrats pause, here is where they can find consolation and Republicans angst. In each of those states, Mr. Obama received more votes in losing the Democratic primary than Mr. McCain did in winning the Republican contest.

The Democratic Race in Historical Context

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