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After the Non-Defeats of Super Tuesday, A Long Slog for the Democrats

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 3:17 AM EST

CHICAGO, IL — By the time that Super Tuesday finally arrived, the mystery was long gone. The day that had loomed for so long had lost its melodramatic make-or-break status for the Democrats. Hours before the vote-counting began, the top strategists for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were pitching the same line: the results would not be decisive and whoever ended up the winner would walk away with merely a small edge in delegates. And as the vote tallies started to come in, both campaigns declared non-defeat. That is, they each claimed to have done well. "Encouraging results," Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist said. "We're having a very strong night," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager. Both were right.

The two campaigns had plenty of data to spin as the results materialized. Clinton triumphed in California (by an overwhelming margin), Massachusetts (where a big turnout in women negated that Kennedy magic), Arizona, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Obama won in Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Delaware, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah, Idaho, and Missouri. Last-minute deciders, Penn said, went for Clinton. "Momentum is turning," he insisted. Plouffe noted that Obama was competitive in regions across the nation, that he won the caucus states (showing the campaign's organizational talent), and that he captured states that did not permit independents to vote (Delaware and Connecticut). Clinton was the Queen of California. Obama was the Master of Missouri.

But all that really mattered was the final delegate count (which was not easy to calculate in the hours after the polls shut down but was likely to be close)--and the fact that neither candidate was knocked out of the race. Despite the wipeout in California, Obama's senior aides appeared pleased, as they spoke with reporters at his election night celebration in Chicago. Pre-election polls had shown him trailing in most Super Tuesday states, and their goal had been to survive the day. They did. "The nominating battle will continue well past today's voting," Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, told reporters. Only weeks ago, Clinton strategists were hoping this mega-primary day would end the race in their favor. Now they were talking about the coming slog, as if it had always been inevitable.

Super Tuesday did not live up to its do-or-die reputation because the Democratic field had been downsized to two strong contenders who push rather different memes. Clinton presents herself as the tried-and-tested hard-worker who can get stuff done. Obama offers himself as a transformative figure who can--due to his power to inspire--bring about change. It's math versus music. And after seven years of George W. Bush--during which the music was awful and the math was bad--Democrats crave both proven competence and uplifting inspiration. For many voters, it's a tough either/or. Super Tuesday demonstrated there is no consensus position within the party among its voters.

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Bedtime for Team Obama

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 3:10 AM EST

SAN JOSE, CA--The Obama war room here is packing up and shutting down. With 31 percent of ballots counted in Santa Clara County, Clinton leads Obama 57 to 35 percent. Assuming the spread holds (and it might not), this is a blow to the Obama campaign. This district was supposed to be competitive--a place where Obama might cut into Clinton's lead among Hispanics. To some extent, he has. A few weeks ago Clinton was winning Hispanic votes by a 3-to-1 margin; exit polls tonight show the gap narrowing to roughly 2 to 1. But they also show Latinos comprising 29 percent of the Democratic electorate--a whopping 50 percent increase since the primaries of 2006. This may well be the story of the night. With the results incomplete and the campaigns heading home, though, it's still hard to say. "If you give me a call tomorrow," Obama volunteer Peter Allen told me as he downed his last beer of the night, "I'll probably be able to give you a better and more sober assessment." And so it goes as well for the press.

Is the Huckasurge For Real?

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 3:07 AM EST

huckabee_flag250x200.jpg WASHINGTON D.C. — The conventional wisdom that began emerging yesterday evening, even before all of Super Tuesday's votes had been cast, was that Mike Huckabee's wins in the South were something of a coup for the former Arkansas Governor. Chris Matthews called Huckabee's five Southern victories – he won zero states in the rest of the country – a "stunning development." The New York Times wrote that Huckabee "revived his candidacy with a surprise string of wins in the South." Mitt Romney didn't reveal any shock publicly, but must have felt it in his more private moments: he had spent weeks treating Huckabee like a sideshow.

One has to wonder what these folks were thinking. Let's review the facts. Mitt Romney is a loafer-wearing country clubber from Massachusetts whose family is from Michigan. He has never served in the military and is a member of the Mormon faith. John McCain is a southwestern Senator who has called evangelical leaders "agents of intolerance." He is notoriously unsuccessful among the most conservative members of his party, most of whom reside in the South. Mike Huckabee on the other hand is a former Southern governor and former Baptist preacher. He is the strongest and most consistent advocate for "values voters" left in the presidential race.

These facts alone should have made Huckabee the obvious frontrunner in the states he won – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia (he lost Missouri, a border state, to John McCain by one percentage point). In fact, in my discussion of how the rules of awarding delegates hurt Mitt Romney, I pointed out that if Romney took a close second to McCain in the moderate coastal states and he took a close second to Huckabee in Southern states, he would win almost no delegates. Though I was incorrect to assume Romney would contend seriously in many of these states, I was correct to assume that Huckabee would lock up the South.

Can Hillary Stop Obamamentum?

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 3:02 AM EST

NEW YORK, NY—It wasn't supposed to happen like this. Not long ago Hillary Clinton seemed a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination. She led in all the early states and dominated the national polls. If you had to bet then, you might have assumed her Super Tuesday speech would have marked her victory over her Democratic rivals.

It didn't turn out that way. When Clinton arrived at the Grand Ballroom in the New Yorker hotel tonight, everyone in the room knew that the Democratic race would go on. Hillary might not have known it before she began her speech shortly before 11 p.m., but minutes later it became clear that another candidate would win the majority of the Super Tuesday nominating contests and take close to half of the delegates at stake.

Democratic Ballot Shortages Throughout California Counties

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 2:31 AM EST

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Turns out the ballot shortages that kept 14 polls open till 10pm in California's Alameda County, affected at least four of the state's largest counties. Election officials in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Santa Clara were all scrambling to accommodate crossover Independent voters who could vote in the Democratic contest. The "provisional measures" taken included printing new ballots and asking voters to hand in their sample ballots (their scratch paper, really). Still others had to fill out "blank paper ballots," whatever that means. In Santa Clara County the heavy turnout resulted in a mad rush to photocopy and distribute about 6,000 ballots. (Kinkos is loving the ill-prepared machine that is our voting system.)

Anyone miss Diebold?

Clinton, McCain Take California

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 1:15 AM EST

CNN has called California for John McCain, with 44% of the vote, and Hillary Clinton, with 56%, though the polls are still open in my home county, and only 15% of precincts have reported. For what it's worth, the Times isn't calling this one yet. Regardless, the delegate race, which is what matters, is tight tight because the Democrats award delegates based on the proportion of the vote, not the winner-take-all Republican method.

McCain is now the official Republican overdog, winning all 173 delegates in California, without airing a single TV ad. Just a random side note. Ron Paul's got 5 delegates (he took 25% of the Republican vote in Montana). Spendy ones, given the $20 million his campaign spent. For you math types that's $4 million per delegate.

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California Polling Places (Like Taco Bell) Open Late

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 12:48 AM EST

Just announced: Because they've run out of ballots polling places in Alameda County are staying open until 10pm, two hours later than scheduled. Some of that time will no doubt be spent xeroxing or however the hell else they'll find more blank ballots. You'd think high voter turnout would be a good thing, or at least something to prepare for.

Update: A total of 14 polling places in Alameda County ran out of Democratic ballots, which led to the court order to keep the polls open late.

California Polls Are Closed. Let the Cheers and Nail Biting Begin

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 12:20 AM EST

SAN JOSE, CA — At 7:55, a woman with a kid in her lap and a phone in her hand turned to her friend and said, "Let me get this last call in." She looked at the clock. "Well, it's too late. They can't go to the polls now." She set down her phone and picked up a granola bar. And with that, Campaign Obama began drawing to a close.

Neaby, two Latino guys stood talking. One wore a faux hawk, the other a suit. "In two minutes, Obama wins California," the guy with the faux hawk said. If Obama does, it will be in large because Spanish-speaking Obama supporters cut into Clinton's lead among Latinos. This morning no Latino campaign workers were here, and phone bank workers had to hang up on people who didn't speak English. But roughly ten percent of the people crowded into the HQ right now are Latino, and many have been working for weeks in their communities to support Obama.

Now, as people are gathered around giving end-of-the-trail speeches, I'm impressed by the crowd's diversity. I see old and young; black, brown and white; headscarves, neckties, and hoodies. People are having fun. It helps that Obama's name is infinitely cheerable. The latest innovation is a cheer that begins with everyone squatting while letting out a long, low "O" sound, slowly rising, and busting out with a "Bama!" A woman sitting next to me said to her friend: "The energy is just amazing."

Alright folks. I have to secure a place to sleep in San Jose. I'll be back in about an hour, and then here into the small of the night.

Up to the Minute Delegate Counts; Plus Late States

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 12:17 AM EST

WASHINGTON D.C. — Here are some states that have been called late by the networks.

- Arizona for McCain and Clinton
- North Dakota for Romney
- Idaho for Obama
- Minnesota for Romney and Obama

According to NBC's Chuck Todd, the delegate totals from the states so far (which includes more or less everything important but California) look like this:

Obama: 594 delegates
Clinton: 546 delegates

McCain: 400-650 delegates
Romney: 170-428 delegates

On the Democratic side, Obama has won more states than Clinton (with particularly strong luck in small states and caucus states), but Clinton has won larger states. California is still the big kahuna.

Romney, Huckabee Stay in Race; Democrats Rejoice

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 11:35 PM EST

NEW YORK, NY — With the Democratic campaign likely to continue after tonight, some left-leaning commentators feared that the Republicans would unify around John McCain far before the Democrats picked their nominee. But in speeches tonight both Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney vowed (using very strong language) to fight until the end. Romney actually said, "It's time for the politicians to leave Washington and for we the people to take over." Romney will continue to be that raging populist he has so recently become, apparently.

This is great news for whoever becomes the Democratic nominee for president. It indicates that many in the GOP still have their doubts about their choice. It also means that Romney will continues to air negative ads about McCain, forcing McCain to spend time, money, and energy defending himself. Barring a surprise withdrawal from the race, we'll have both a Democratic and a Republican race that will go on for a few more weeks.