Evans-Novak Political Report

ENPR: McCain Not Taking Advantage of Obama Stumbles

Outlook

  1. Prospects have brightened a little for Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) against Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) for the Democratic presidential nomination. Following her big win in Pennsylvania, she benefited from an unexpected endorsement by Democratic North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, the renewed Jeremiah Wright affair and moving slightly ahead of Obama in the national AP poll.
  2. Since Clinton seems to have no chance of winning in North Carolina next Tuesday, an Indiana victory the same day is necessary if she is to stay in the game. She cannot overtake Obama in elected delegates, and so her chances of getting enough super-delegates to be nominated depend on whether polls show her to be clearly a stronger opponent against the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
  3. It should be remembered that Democrats fear the consequences if the vital African-American vote sees the party depriving Obama of the nomination. For Clinton to win, there must be a visible Obama decline — as reflected in the polls. That is why the Jeremiah Wright affair is so dangerous for Obama, who has not handled the issue well.
  4. The cliché voiced in political circles is that McCain is the luckiest candidate in the world with the two Democrats clawing each other to death. Consequently, it is a matter of some concern to Republicans that the national AP poll shows a 9-point Clinton lead over McCain (though McCain and Obama are running even) — at least showing a trend in the wrong direction for McCain.
  5. McCain has yet to show that he understands the role of a presidential nominee. He still sometimes acts like a back-bench senator, as when he ordered the North Carolina Republican Party to take an ad off the air (a request that ought to have been made by Republican National Chairman Mike Duncan). McCain has been told to knock it off.
  6. Will McCain name a vice presidential candidate in mid-July to step up fund-raising before the national convention, or will he wait until Democrats make their choice in late August? A rumor running through the political community now puts former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the lead for VP. But Romney has many critics in the McCain inner circle, and we don’t think the decision has been made.

Democratic Presidential

Upcoming Primaries: Clinton is still the favorite in Indiana and Obama in North Carolina.

  1. Clinton continues to present Indiana as a fair-fight state, hoping to spin a victory there as a major coup (a line some in the media bought in late March), but it still favors her demographically.
  2. Recent poll movement in Indiana have mirrored Pennsylvania polls in the days before the Keystone State’s primary, and the same assessment applies. The surveys showing a close contest or an Obama lead are not reliable. Barring serious movement in the final week, Clinton should win by about 8 points.
  3. In North Carolina, Obama continues to post huge leads in the polls. Gov. Easley’s endorsement of Clinton could help her, as he is a popular governor. Within the party, however, his strength is among voters that already are Clinton supporters–unlike the endorsement of Gov Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania, which roped in for Clinton some Obama-leaners in the Philadelphia suburbs. Also, as a rule, endorsements are not as important as the media portray them to be.
  4. The best-case scenario for Clinton: She wins Indiana with a higher percentage than Obama wins North Carolina, and she wins the aggregate popular vote for the day. This gives her “momentum” and a shot at a popular-vote victory nationwide.
  5. Obama’s best-case scenario: He wins Indiana while carrying North Carolina. This would resurrect calls for Clinton to withdraw and would sway many super-delegates.
  6. Only about 220 pledged delegates in five states, plus Puerto Rico and Guam, will remain to be chosen after next Tuesday, with 75% of them coming from Puerto Rico, Kentucky, and Oregon.

Rev. Wright: Obama was dealt a blow by this week’s media tour by his former “mentor” the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama’s response Tuesday showed him off-balance.

  1. Wright appeared to be deliberately trying to hurt Obama’s candidacy, accusing him of posturing and misleading voters and the media regarding his views on race. This accusation threatens the crux of Obama’s campaign: the notion that, unlike Hillary, he is a principled man and not just an ambitious politician.
  2. While repeating many of his more outrageous statements (that the federal government caused AIDS, for example), this time Wright didn’t just attack whites or the United States, but he repeatedly and sarcastically attacked the media. This earned him very bad press and made an Obama response that much more urgent.
  3. In its substance, Obama’s response hit exactly the correct note — a full rebuke of Wright’s statements. Obama, however, often struggled to express himself clearly, and he alternated between indirect, vague lawyer-speak and stuttering ineloquence. It is rare for him to be so off-balance, but this is at least the third time his eloquence has failed him since losing Ohio and Texas in early March.
  4. The friendly media are more helpful here, perhaps, than they have been in his campaign to date. The news stories all distilled Obama’s muddled message, and presented it as a clear rebuke of Wright — which is probably what it was intended to be.
  5. Will the Wright return affect voters in the late primary states? More importantly, will it affect super-delegates? Both are certainly possible, as Clinton continues to gain ammunition for her attack that Obama is unelectable, which could be the tactic to win her the nomination.
  6. Obama’s March comments, after video of Wright’s sermons hit the air, were widely praised by the press, but parts of them seem ill-advised now. Why would Obama have defended Wright so strongly (“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”) without a promise from him of silence until November?
  7. On the other hand, Wright’s angry and cynical language and attitude about race and politics so clearly contrasts with Obama’s sugary-sweet talk about hope and unity that many liberals will be even more motivated now to elect Obama as a step towards fixing America’s racial animosity.

Florida and Michigan: If the Obama-Clinton battle continues to tighten, the DNC’s Rules & Bylaws Committee could play a significant role in choosing the Democratic nominee, contrary to the committee’s apparent wishes.

  1. An April 25 memo suggests that the committee will meet on May 31 to discuss and vote on the challenges by Michigan and Florida to the DNC’s ruling to strip all delegates from those states.
  2. For weeks, Florida Democrats have been calling on the committee chairwoman and chairman — former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and Jim Roosevelt — to unveil their plan for the state’s delegates, but have been met with silence. DNC staff has prepared recommendations for the committee, but those are still secret. Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (Fla.) have called for swift action.
  3. The May 31 date for the meeting is late, but it is before voting is finished. The ideal circumstance from the DNC’s perspective is to make a Michigan and Florida decision that will not affect the nomination. In effect, that means waiting it out.
  4. The committee appears to favor Clinton. Twelve of the members are open Clinton supporters, while eight are openly support Obama. Another eight haven’t endorsed anyone yet. Herman served in the cabinet of President Bill Clinton.
  5. If the committee rejects the appeals, that does not guarantee that Michigan and Florida will be disenfranchised at the convention. On the flip side, even if they accept the appeal, it may not be immediately clear how those delegates will be chosen.

Iowa Conventions: Although the first state to vote, Iowa was one of the last states to actually elect delegates to the national convention. The first of those delegates were chosen over the weekend.

  1. Caucus-goers in the January 3 precinct caucuses elected delegates to county conventions. Those delegates in March elected delegates to the five congressional district conventions. On Saturday, the five districts elected their delegates to the national convention. Delegate counts issued after those first two rounds were forecasts, and both proved inaccurate.
  2. In the end, Obama won 16 of the 29 district delegates, while Clinton won 9 and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), who actually beat Clinton in the popular vote on January 3, picked up 4 delegates.
  3. This final count is an improvement from Obama’s January 3 showing, largely because Edwards delegates, uncommitted delegates, and minor-candidate delegates flocked to Obama. Compared to our March estimate, however, Edwards took one delegate away from Obama by reaching the viability threshold in the 5th District (possibly on the strength of shrewd defectors from the Clinton camp).
  4. Last weekend’s district conventions also chose delegates to the state convention in June, which will select the 16 statewide delegates. Expect a slight Obama pickup there.

Public Financing:Confusion regarding public financing of the McCain and Obama campaigns is the result of media and public misunderstanding, and not of real ambiguity or indecision.

  1. McCain is financing his primary campaign through private donations, and his general election campaign through public financing. Accordingly, his aggressive (though not terribly successful) fundraising efforts these days are aimed at raising primary money, which can be spent until he is officially nominated September 4 at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention.
  2. McCain has already begun returning general election money to donors, a sure sign that he is letting taxpayers finance the final nine weeks of his campaign. By accepting public funding, McCain may not raise any private campaign funds (with small exceptions).
  3. Obama, on the other hand, shattering fundraising records, will privately finance his campaign. This will make Obama the first presidential candidate to eschew public financing in a general election.
  4. This is clearly an uncomfortable position for a liberal self-styled reformer, considering that public financing of campaigns is a liberal reform idea. Obama has given two lame defenses: (a) His network of mostly small donors is a “parallel” public financing system; (b) He will accept public financing and the spending limits if the Federal Election Commission will also regulate the spending of outside groups.

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