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Nevada Results Reveal A Big Challenge for Obama: How To Win Die-Hard Dems?

| Sat Jan. 19, 2008 6:17 PM EST

Ever wake up in Las Vegas the morning after a not-so-good night? Barack Obama has not yet gotten the chance to sleep off the Nevada caucus returns--and he's not likely to be getting much sleep between now and Supersaturated Tuesday on February 5--but the Nevada results ought to be troubling for the Obama camp (even though the Nevada caucus was a rather odd affair). Exit polls showed that Hillary Clinton, who won by 6 points, scored well with women, Hispanics, and working-class voters fretting about the recession. The problem for Obama: this is a big chunk of the Democratic electorate.

Sasha Abramsky focuses on the lemonade: Obama was competitive with Clinton in rural white areas. But even if Obama can scoop up John Edwards voters in future contests--Edwards ran a distant third in Nevada, bagging about 5 percent of the vote--Clinton is sitting on a damn good base at the moment: women, Latinos and blue-collar Dems. It will be hard to win the Democratic nomination without those blocs.

Obama could well triumph in South Carolina, depending on how African-Americans vote. But his true political challenge is besting Clinton among the critical die-hard Democratic slices. And with February 5 fast approaching, he doesn't have much time to win over these voters.

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Parsing the Exit Polls in Nevada

| Sat Jan. 19, 2008 5:57 PM EST

clinton-romney-nevada.jpg

Sasha's got the results and the analysis from Nevada. Let's take a look at what the exit polls say about the demographics.

First, the Republican race, won by Mitt Romney (who was the only non-Paul candidate who took this state seriously). Mormons are about seven percent of the population in Nevada, but they were about 25 percent of Republican voters today. And 94 percent of Mormons went for Romney.

There were few independents in Nevada: 84 percent of exit poll respondents identified as Republicans; 14 percent identified as independents. Romney won amongst GOP voters and Ron Paul won big amongst indies. John McCain had no constituency.

Romney's long term attention to the state mattered: 44 percent of voters said they made up their minds over a month ago. Also helping Romney was the fact that the two most important issues to voters were the economy (where Romney has private-sector experience) and illegal immigration (on which Romney has the stiffest plan).

Second, the Democratic race, won by Hillary Clinton. Hispanic voters (15 percent of the electorate) went 64-26 for Clinton. Black voters (also 15 percent of the electorate) went 83-14 for Obama. That's a pretty stunning split. White voters (65 percent of the electorate) went 52-31 for Clinton.

Voters who identified "change" as their biggest priority went 57-29 for Obama. Voters who identified "experience" went 86-6 for Clinton. Many more people said they valued change, but still—beating Obama by 80 points on the issue of experience is so stunning I feel like it might be a mistake.

And finally, Obama got the supposedly all-important Culinary Union endorsement 10 days ago. But according to exit polls, only 25-30 percent of voters made up their mind in the last two weeks. Fifty percent said they made up their mind over a month ago. That endorsement may have come too late to make much of a difference. And it is entirely possible that union members didn't pay attention to it at all.

Results In from Nevada, But Too Early to Count Chickens

| Sat Jan. 19, 2008 5:45 PM EST

The results are in: Romney and Clinton are the declared winners in the Nevada caucus.

Is it significant? More so for Clinton than Romney. If Romney had lost, in a state with a heavy Mormon vote, and in an election which most of the other GOP candidates ignored, it would have been cataclysmic for his campaign. As it is, he's grabbed a few more delegates and put a modest amount more distance between himself and the other candidates in the race for the nomination. Not enough distance to really impact the race going into February 5th, but enough to at least provide padding should he flop in South Carolina when the votes are tallied later tonight and should Giuliani reenter the scene with a strong win in Florida.

For Clinton, she's now recovered from the Iowa blues. So can she coast in the wake of this victory? Absolutely not. With Obama nipping at her heels in rural, white, Nevadan counties such as Elko, he's shown he can compete effectively in the interior West, one of the country's up-for-grabs electoral regions.

Moreover, Edwards' support collapsed going into the caucuses. As someone who believes Edwards presence has enriched the campaign, I'm saddened by this. But, realistically, Nevada probably marks the beginning of the end of his candidacy.

Look at the numbers and you'll see Obama apparently picked up more of these loose Edwards voters than did Clinton. He also won over more of the independents who attended Democratic caucuses. If Edwards' support hemorrhages in other states too, my bet is the newly minted two-horse race will remain tight into Super Tuesday and, quite likely, beyond. Nevada's result may well mean Edwards can't be president. But he could yet become a king-maker.

-- Sasha Abramsky.

Dems Get Dirty in Nevada

| Sat Jan. 19, 2008 4:33 PM EST

The Obama campaign has nabbed a robocall left on the voicemail of a Nevada supporter that refers to Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" four times. No word on who is funding the ad.

On the other side, Bill Clinton, top Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe, and other Clinton surrogates are alleging that union officials are intimidating union members into caucusing for Obama. They are claiming that Clinton-friendly union members are being told to stay away from the caucuses. (This, by the way, will have the effect of delegitimizing the caucus if Obama wins. That is likely the point of the Clinton camp's agitating.)

All of this builds on the nasty radio ad Obama supporters are airing in Spanish.

MEMO FROM STARR VALLEY, NEVADA

| Sat Jan. 19, 2008 2:51 PM EST

It's mid-morning, and Republicans are caucusing all over Nevada. They've been doing so since 9am.

In Starr Valley, halfway between Elko and the wild-west town of Wells, in an epic snow covered landscape of ranches and soaring mountains, 43 Republicans are caucusing in the Starr Valley Progressive Club. It's a huge turnout for a region this remote. Many of the caucus-goers have driven scores of miles to the old wooden building, with a small Mitt Romney sign outside and a herd of wooly cattle across the icy street to cast their votes.

The people here, a goodly number of them Mormons, have a keen sense of their region's history. Many of their grandparents and great grandparents homesteaded the region in the nineteenth century, and stories of epic cattle drives "before the railroads" provide fodder for familial lore. Most of the men and women here live in the same houses their ancestors built and ranch the land as they did.

"My family homesteaded this area right about the turn of the century," says Sheriff Dale Lotspeich, who is in charge of signing in the voters from his precinct. "My parents and I still live in the family homestead – 300 acres. We run about a dozen head of cattle and fifty head of sheep. People typically here are against higher taxes, are very self-sufficient, don't believe in big government. We're very down to earth. One of the big things we care about is the right to bear arms. Family values are very strong."

Unlike the Democrats, who have a traditional form-and-reform caucus process in Nevada, with candidate supporters continually coalescing into new groups until "viability" has been reached for candidates, the Republicans have a simple ballot process. As the suns burns off the morning fog over the wilderness outside, they talk about party policies for the first half of the meeting, from abortion to tax cuts, from the sanctity of marriage to gun control, and then move on to the real business at hand – choosing the man they want to be their presidential candidate.

They discuss the merits and flaws of each candidate for half an hour, place their ballots in an envelope and wait for volunteers to count the votes.

Not surprisingly, since Romney's the only Republican candidate to really woo Nevadans, and, in addition, since eastern Nevada has a large Mormon presence, two thirds of the caucus-goers choose Romney.

I've no idea whether Starr Valley will be representative of the rest of the state, in particular Las Vegas – though the last polls released did show Romney had a sizeable lead statewide and the Associated Press is already calling the race for Romney. Huckabee is seen as being honest and somewhat charismatic here, but voters seem to have been turned off by his lack of knowledge about the state. Thompson's campaign has been so lackluster, few in rural Nevada support him even though they generally agree with his conservative positions. McCain curries favor for being a westerner; but, despite his win in New Hampshire, he doesn't seem to have gotten enough traction here. People think he's too liberal, too soft on push-button conservative social and economic issues they care about. Ron Paul – they like him, many of them an awful lot, but they're pretty certain he's not electable. As for Giuliani… big city, east coast; need we say more?

We'll know more in a few hours. Right now, I'm off to the Democratic caucus in the tiny city of Wells.

-- Sasha Abramsky.

Cloverfield: New Kind of Monster Movie or "The Real World" With Giant Frog?

| Sat Jan. 19, 2008 12:44 AM EST

mojo-photo-cloverfield.jpgI saw Cloverfield (herein I shall refuse to type that ridiculous title and will refer to it as "Monsterfield" or "Cloverfrog") at the press screening Tuesday night, and I suppose waiting three days to write about was probably a good idea. I'm a sucker for apocalypse (my cinematic motto is "The World Must Be Destroyed;" I dragged friends to "The Core" on opening night) plus I'm always intrigued by J.J. Abrams' creepy mysteries, so I came in as giddy as a schoolgirl, ready to see some crap get smashed. And sure, it's scary and there's some good effects, but reading Manohla Dargis' review in the Times just now made me laugh out loud. As you probably know, the film's conceit is that it's "found footage," a videotape found in "the area formerly known as Central Park" after Monsterfrog comes to town. The tape starts out at a loft party for what's basically the casts from every Real World minus the gays or blacks, and we follow a few of them on an insane mission to save a gal whose apartment (in one of the Trump Towers on Columbus Circle!!!) has gotten smooshed. A dude (or perhaps a "bro") carries the camera around the whole time, taping even as friends are killed or they're attacked by giant cricket crabs who need to implant their eggs in your brain. Is it a bitter commentary maybe, asks Dargis:

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Caucus-Eve: Obama Woos Elko

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 8:08 PM EST

Elko is a tiny town, but in the mountainous, snowy vastnesses of eastern Nevada, three hundred miles to the east of Reno, it passes for a metropolis.

Barack Obama, wrapping up his caucus campaigning in the state, came to this overwhelmingly white town in conservative ranching and mining country to speak. The venue his campaign selected for the rally was the town's high school, a large brick building adjacent to a sprawling cemetery.

Unlike Edwards' event in Reno last night, Obama's had all the trappings of superstardom:

Is Music Really So Bad? Another Music Snob's Dissent

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 6:52 PM EST

Daughtry is America

Yesterday, my Riff cohort Gary posted a diatribe against Americans' terrible taste in music. The commoners like their trash, for sure, and it's not restricted to music by any means: "Everybody Loves Raymond" lasted nine seasons, and I believe George W. Bush actually got a majority of the popular vote in 2004. It's tempting to curl up into the fetal position and whimper, "why, why, why," and it happens to the best of us: Idolator recently mocked a College Times writer for, ahem, "waking up to discover people have lousy taste," and he covered some of the same territory:

5 Questions On Israel For The Next Debate

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 6:06 PM EST

As I've said before, there's been a vacuum surrounding Israel and Palestine this campaign season. Moderators have broached the issue only twice in the last 13 debates. And the most recent question, posed by Wendell Goler last week at the Fox News debate in South Carolina, was pretty weak. As Goler wound up—"Mayor Giuliani, President Bush is in the Middle East ... laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state"—there was, briefly, a glimmer of hope. Then he tossed this doozy of a softball: "I wonder, sir, how you would keep a Palestinian state from becoming a breeding ground for anti-American terrorism." One of several surreal assumptions behind the question seemed to be, "The Palestinians are prostrate, mightn't it be better if they're kept that way?" And that to the candidate with the Likudnik A-team advising him. Oh, well.

Since the debates have been so deficient in this area, I asked five well-informed Middle East observers what they would ask the candidates on the issue, if they could ask anything. The only ground rule was to keep it brief; no other boundaries. Here are their responses:

Friends: Who Needs 'Em?

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 5:03 PM EST

volleyball100.jpgNo friends? No problem! Researchers at the University of Chicago say you can make them yourself out of everyday household objects.

For evidence, they say, look no further than a crappy Tom Hanks movie:

"In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks was isolated on an island and found the social desolation to be one of the most daunting challenges with which he had to deal," said Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.
"He did so, in part, by anthropomorphizing a volleyball, Wilson, who became his friend and confidant while he was on the island." Although fictional, "Castaway depicts a deep truth about the irrepressibly social nature of Homo sapiens," Cacioppo said.