Mojo - February 2008

Maybe a Drawn-Out Dem Race is a Good Thing

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 1:49 PM EST

I've been saying for quite some time that the long, drawn-out race that the Democratic candidates apparently have in front of them is bad for their long-term prospects: McCain will have all the time he needs to unify the Republicans, raise money, hone his message, and rest up, all while the Democrats are bashing each other over the head.

But Brad Plumer at TNR has the opposite take:

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Vote Totals vs. Recent Polling: Who Exceeded Expectations on Feb 5?

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 1:12 PM EST

In an effort to see which Democratic candidate exceeded expectations on Super Tuesday, I grabbed the most recent polling numbers from pollster.com and actual vote totals from the New York Times. The result is this chart, which shows that the percentage of the vote that Obama actually received exceeded the percentage of the vote polling said he would receive in every state except Illinois (where expectations for BHO were in the stratosphere). In some instances, Obama shattered expectations: he did 11.8 percent better that polling suggested in Alabama, 8.5 percent better in Connecticut, 15 percent better in Georgia, and 12 percent better in Oklahoma.

But Clinton did better as well, which means that some portion of both candidates' gains can be attributed to voters who told pollsters there were undecided but chose a candidate on election day. Clinton picked up slightly fewer of these voters, and in three states, underperformed by a moderate amount.

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On average, Obama beat the polls by 6.5 percent and Clinton beat them by 2.4 percent. States that had insufficient polling were not included on this chart. Those states include one that went for Clinton (Arkansas), four that went for Obama (Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, and Kansas), and one that is still undecided (New Mexico).

CPAC's Coulterkampf

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 12:44 PM EST

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When it was revealed last week that Ann Coulter had not been invited to speak at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, it seemed, at first glance, like a principled move, a decisive refutation of the nasty, degrading speech that is Coulter's trademark. At CPAC 2007 Coulter famously used the word "faggot" in reference to John Edwards.

But at least one of the 6,000 conservatives expected to attend the D. C. conference isn't buying it. "It's all a fraud," the conservative activist and longtime Coulter critic Daniel Borchers told me yesterday. "I think the entire thing shows a lack of character and integrity within the leadership of CPAC." Borchers, who founded the Christian conservative newsletter BrotherWatch, is angry not only that Coulter will be attending CPAC this year, but also that, despite no official invitation from CPAC organizers, she will be delivering a speech during the conference—and that speech will be given in the same hotel ballroom as several CPAC events and is being put on by five organizations who are also cosponsors of CPAC.

In other words, Ann Coulter is speaking at CPAC this year.

Democrats Set Turnout Records in Multiple States

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 12:28 PM EST

Impressive voter turnout numbers that will hopefully translate in general election enthusiasm:

STATE: MISSOURI
PREVIOUS RECORD: 528,000
VOTES SO FAR: 778,000 (98% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +47%

STATE: ILLINOIS
PREVIOUS RECORD: 1,504,000
VOTES SO FAR: 1,809,000 (91% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +20%

STATE: NEW YORK
PREVIOUS RECORD: 1,575,000
VOTES SO FAR: 1,744,000 (99% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +11%

STATE: NEW JERSEY
PREVIOUS RECORD: 654,000
VOTES SO FAR: 1,104,000 (99% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +69%

STATE: MASSACHUSETTS
PREVIOUS RECORD: 793,000
VOTES SO FAR: 1,170,000 (98% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +48%

STATE: ARIZONA
PREVIOUS RECORD: 239,000
VOTES SO FAR: 314,000 (67% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +31%

Ted Stevens Takes Aim At Exxon

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 10:50 AM EST

exvala.jpgAlaska Senator Ted Stevens is a busy guy, what with the FBI raiding his house and all. But recently he took time out of his regular pork-barrel business to return to the practice of law. Stevens is a Harvard Law school grad, and was a practicing lawyer before he was elected to Congress in 1964. He recently dusted off his law books and wrote an amicus brief on behalf of Alaska fisherpeople who sued Exxon after a drunk sea captain crashed its oil tanker, the Valdez, into Prince William Sound in 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the delicate ecosystem.

An Alaska jury hit Exxon with a $5 billion verdict in 1994, but Exxon hasn't paid a dime of it. Instead, it has appealed the case for so long that 8,000 of the original class members in the lawsuit have since died without seeing the case resolved, according to the Anchorage Daily News.In the latest installment of the long-running litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in October to hear the case.

Sen. Stevens has written an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs, drawing on his vast knowledge of maritime law that includes a law review article he wrote back in 1950, which is cited in the brief, according to the Wall Street Journal. Stevens told the Journal that he didn't think the justices would actually look up his article, but that he wanted to establish that he had some expertise in the area. "I don't imagine the justices look at these amicus briefs that much," he said.

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

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 2:17 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 2:10 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 2:07 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 2:02 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 1:31 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?