Friday, May 30, 2008

The Clintons' end game

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on May 22nd in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my column three weeks ago, I predicted that the Democratic primary contests in North Carolina and Indiana would be the “last two contested Democratic primaries of the 2008 primary election season.” When I was questioned about the validity of this prediction following statements by Hillary Clinton that she would continue in the race following her lopsided loss in North Carolina and near loss of Indiana, I told the questioner that my prediction was just as valid today as it was three weeks ago.
I will now attempt to explain my rationale. To my way of thinking a “contested” primary is one in which two or more candidates are utilizing all of their personnel and financial resources in an effort to either win the primary or hold down their opponent’s margin of victory.
Two of the five remaining states, West Virginia on May 13th and Kentucky on May 20th, are virtual locks as primary wins for the Clintons because they both have a large base of lower income white voters and she leads in the polls there by 20 to 30 percentage points. In addition to these states, Puerto Rico which votes on June 1st, also has an overwhelmingly Hispanic population which also heavily favours the Clintons.
On the other hand, two of the other remaining states, Montana and South Dakota which both vote on June 3rd, have demographics which are very favourable to Barack Obama as does the state of Oregon, which like Kentucky also casts its votes on May 20th.
Both the Clintons and Obama realize there is virtually no chance that either of them will be able to hold down their opponent’s margin of victory, much less win outside of the areas they are already very strong in. As a result, neither candidate is pouring all or even a substantial portion of their available campaign resources into any of these six remaining primaries. To be sure, both the Clintons and Obama will still appear at campaign rallies, give a few speeches and even run some TV ads in all of these states.
But they will be doing so to “keep up appearances” so to speak, which is not the same thing as “contesting” the primaries in these states. No my friends, despite what you may be reading or seeing on the telly about the US Democratic Presidential nomination “contest”, it in fact ended on Tuesday, May 6th when Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination by trouncing the Clintons in North Carolina and by almost winning Indiana.
With the voting results that evening, Barack Obama demonstrated to both the uncommitted Democratic super delegates as well as the Republican Party that he could “take a licking and keep on ticking.” As a result, a new phase of the US Democratic presidential campaign got underway, the one I refer to as “the end game.” This is the part of the party’s nomination process where the victor and the vanquished begin to negotiate the terms of surrender for the loser.
Let me also emphasize that this is a very delicate but important process, especially for the winner, because it will go a long way towards determining the victor’s chances of success in the November general election presidential campaign. In this particular case, Obama will have to negotiate a face saving exit strategy for the Clintons if he wants to ensure that they will actively support him in his presidential bid against John McCain.
I will now describe for you how I believe this process will unfold over the next three months leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August. The first steps were taken by each side in their respective “victory” speeches after they were declared the winners of the North Carolina and Indiana primaries.
Both Clinton and Obama congratulated each other for their respective victories and then went on to stress the need as well as their desire for the Democratic Party to unite behind the party’s nominee in November. Flanked by a very glum looking Bill Clinton, Hillary’s victory speech in Indian sounded almost like a concession speech with an emphasis on Democratic Party unity in the fall election campaign. While Obama also stressed his desire for party unity after congratulating Hillary at the outset of his speech, the rest of it sounded very “presidential” and appeared to be aimed at general election voters rather than his supporters or the Democratic Party.
The negotiations on Hillary’s exit from the campaign began the next day when her campign first “leaked” and then confirmed that the Clintons had been forced to loan their presidential campaign an additional $6.4 million of their personal fortune during April and May. This was seen as an embarrassing admission because it was in addition to the Clintons’ previously announced $5 million loan back in late January.
But in fact this was actually a signal to the Obama campaign regarding one of the most important terms of the Clintons’ agreement to surrender. It was then followed by the Clintons’ pledge to keep the contest going all the way to the convention if necessary.
What the Clintons were really doing was telling Obama that if he would agree to pay off their campaign debts of the $11.4 million in personal loans as well as another $10 million plus they owed people like former campaign strategist Mark Penn, they would try to exit the race before the end of the May and start urging their supporters to back Obama. Otherwise they were prepared to loan their campaign more money and continue to fight on till the August convention.
I think it is likely that Obama will allow the Clintons to “suspend” their campaign sometime soon after May 21st following their likely victories in West Virginia and Kentucky and Obama’s win in Oregon May 20th. Then the Clintons can claim to be going out as winners and Obama can start to reunite the party well before the convention. Now we’ll wait and see if I’m correct.

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