Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ecstatic Cheers For Obama, Boos For Hillary

At the 100 Club Democratic dinner in Milford, N.H., last night, a huge crowd of 3,000 gave a reception to Sen. Barack Obama so ecstatic that the Secret Service had to ask his adherents to step back from the podium. But on two occasions during her speech, Sen. Hillary Clinton was booed, once when she said she was "for change for you," and a second time when she said, as she has repeatedly in her campaign, that she would be ready for the presidency "on day one."

With just three days to go until the New Hampshire primary, emotion was at a fever pitch in the Granite State, and the first poll released that was taken entirely after the Iowa Caucuses, by Rasmussen, showed Obama decisively ahead of Clinton 37% to 27%. This indicated there has been a huge bounce to Obama in New Hampshire since the Caucus results, since Zogby, in a poll taken mostly before the Iowa results were in, had shown Clinton leading 32% to 28%. A CNN poll released Saturday afternoon on a survey taken Friday and Saturday, showed the race at Clinton 33%, Obama 33% and former Sen. John Edwards at 20%. On the Republican side, Rasmussen showed McCain leading Romney 35% to 29%. The CNN survey showed McCain leading 33% to 27%. Both Rasmussen and CNN showed former Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani trailing badly. Meanwhile, a Concord Monitor poll showed Obama at 34%, Clinton at 33% and Edwards at 23%. Regardless how big a bounce, things were clearly moving Obama's way.

In Iowa, the Sunday before the Caucuses, the Des Moines Register had a poll which showed Obama with a seven-point lead. As always, the pollsters had made certain assumptions, estimating a large turnout of independent voters and first-time caucus attendees. Other polls showed the Iowa contest closer, but it turned out the Register's assumptions about turnout were right. Obama actually won by eight points over former Sen. John Edwards and nine points over Clinton on the largest turnout in the history of the Caucuses.

A key question in New Hampshire is whether the preponderance of independents -- who under state election law can choose which party primary to vote in -- will jump into the Democratic race for Obama against Clinton or the Republican race for Sen. John McCain against former Gov. Mitt Romney. Since 40% of New Hampshire voters are independents, the outcomes of the primary may well turn on the proportion. A whopping 47% of the voters in Milford are independent, demonstrating why just who was cheered and booed at the political dinner may be important.

The Clintons, Hillary and Bill, are struggling to make a comeback from the Iowa results, in which she so far behind. But she is obviously tired and campaigned yesterday with little dash. Obama was tired too, but 13 years younger than Hillary, not as flat. He warmed up as the day went on.

I don't normally quote Dick Morris, a former Clinton aide with present great animus toward the Clintons, but Morris' observation yesterday on Fox News about the Clintons bears repeating here, because it may have considerable bearing on the Democratic race.

"The Clintons have become old before our eyes," he observed. "They are, as if by magic, part of the past."

I think so. If the turnout in New Hampshire on the Democratic side has many young and/or independent voters, Obama is going to win, as he did in Iowa. Among voters under 30 in Iowa, Obama beat Clinton 5-1.

It is not uncommon in American history that foreign observers have been more perceptive about trends in U.S. politics than the native press. In this light, it is noteworthy, I think that two of the most sweeping articles on the Obama phenomenon and his win in Iowa came today in the Guardian newspaper in Britain.

Michael Tomasky writes that Obama is a politician who understands "that campaigns aren't about specific policies but the larger vision of what kind of country the candidate envisions and will take us to.

"Barack Obama understands exactly the powerful thread of historical redemption for America that is wrapped up in his campaign," Tomasky explains. "Indeed, in his stirring victory speech (in Iowa) he called his win 'a defining moment in history.' This would sound ridiculously self-important coming from any other candidate. But every American understands intuitively what he's writing about; he extends America's tragic narrative of slavery and segregation and discrimination and converts it into something hopeful, something that announces that we are, finally, becoming a different and better country.

"So, when Hillary Clinton and John Edwards tried to attack him because his plan for healthcare is less expansive than theirs, they were factually right, but it didn't matter. Obama beat Clinton among women. He beat Edwards, who ran far and away the most aggressively liberal campaign, among liberals. It was all in the poetry.

"Well, maybe not all -- politics is ground warfare too, and the Obama campaign played that exceedingly well. His campaign identified his voters and made sure they showed up."

In a "Comment" in the Guardian, Martin Kettle, writing from New Hampshire, is biting about the problems that have, in recent weeks, become ever more evident for the Clinton campaign.

"It is hard not to feel sorry for Hillary Clinton," he writes. "She is, in so many ways, the perfect presidential candidate for the Democrats. She has the brains and the name, the money and the machine. She has worked her passage in the Senate, has accumulated political capital and has spent every day of the past seven years trying to prove that she is not the icy feminist harridan of popular mythology. More than any of her rivals she has adopted the right positions, plans and priorities in order to maximize public support. She has worked out how she will be president, and she would probably be a good one. She is still 20 points ahead of her rival Democrats in national polls.

"And yet, when actual voters are given the chance to seal the deal, too many of them balk, as they did in Iowa this week. Coming third in Iowa, with more than two-thirds of the voters choosing other candidates, is a shocking blow to the Clinton campaign. Yet the pollsters have always known what her problem is. He problem is that a lot of people do not buy into her. She is one of the most divisive figures in American life, however hard she tries not to be. If elected, she would reignite the culture wars in spite of herself. All this makes even her admirers fear that she is neither a winner nor what the country really needs. And in a year when Democrats want, above all things, to win, that is very bad news indeed (for her)."

As for Obama, Kettle writes that he "is in the right place at the right time." He stands for an end to the divisiveness, and the voters are in a mood to put both the Bush years and the Clinton years, and all their partisan strife, behind them.

"In a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly that reads very presciently post-Iowa, the libertarian conservative writer Andrew Sullivan expressed this dramatically," Kettle writes. "Obama's candidacy, Sullivan argued, could be transformational for America. It is the only candidacy in this contest that offers America the chance of calling a truce on the culture wars that have prevailed since Vietnam and on which every presidential election since 1968 has been fought out.

"And if that is right, then the 2008 election may yet be a watershed."

Well, we will see far more clearly whether the watershed year is upon us when the New Hampshire returns come in next Tuesday.

--

The Los Angeles Times editorial pages have been curiously quiet about this possibly historic moment in the two days since the Iowa Caucuses. At least, the New York Times and Washington Post have had editorials, maybe not as perceptive as the Guardian articles. I'm now told the L.A. Times will have an editorial Sunday, that it has waited to catch the larger circulation that day. But on momentous events, newspapers should not be waiting to the third day to comment. Since there are debates tonight and news may well come out of them, there could have been an editorial on Friday, and, then, another probably merited on Sunday, or if press runs on the Sunday Opinion section occur too early, on Monday.

The L.A. Times, it is true, has recently been running a series of long editorials on the values and issues that should shape the 2008 election. These are fine, but they cannot compare, in immediate interest, to quick and incisive commentary on specific events as important as the Iowa Caucuses.

A column this morning in the newspaper's Calendar section by Mary McNamara, by the way, was both an entertaining and informative commentary on media coverage of the Iowa Caucuses. McNamara suggests it was excessive, but, as I said above, we are at a possibly historic moment. The events of the last week have been as exciting as anything in American presidential politics since the Nixon resignation. And even McNamara acknowledges that, as she says, "I myself went a bit googly-eyed over Sen. Obama's speech."

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Frank Cruz said...

Ken, Just a point about the Times coverage. Don't know if you saw the N.H. SOS Bill Gardner on CSPAN not long ago when he praised the Times Polling department. He was asked if he knew anything about the youth vote in NH. He replied that he had a lot of information thanks to what in his opinion was the best polling organization in the country - the LAT Poll. He went on at length about our exit poll and other research he has seen over the past 20 years.

Well, of course that was in the good old days. The Times Poll has been outsourced and simply doesn't have the ability to do the research it once made available to our reporters. Maybe worse, the NH and other exit polls gone. We used to be a check on the results reported by the networks consortium but now we just get the same numbers they do no matter how good or bad (remember) they might be.

Content is King and the Times continues to miss the boat.

By the way, I have to disagree about the coverage especially on MSNBC, I find we aren't being well served by the media either print or broadcast.

1/05/2008 11:25 AM  

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