Mojo - May 2008

Clinton: Damn the Pundits, Full Speed Ahead

| Wed May 7, 2008 12:57 PM EDT

The morning after, the Clinton crew was unbowed. As Hillary Clinton on Tuesday night was being creamed by Barack Obama in North Carolina and eking out a narrow victory in Indiana, pundits throughout Cable News Land were pronouncing her dead, dead, dead. Tim Russert said the race was over. But when a reporter on the campaign's morning conference call, asked Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, if there had been "any discussions about not going forward," he said, "No discussions." And he seemed to mean it.

On the call, Wolfson, deputy communications director Phil Singer, and chief strategist Geoff Garin were forward-looking. They claimed to be "happy" about the 1.8-percent win in Indiana--but without sounding at all jubilant about the squeaker. As for North Carolina--where she lost by 14 points--they claimed "progress" there and pointed to the fact that she beat Obama among white voters by 24 points (as if the increasing racial polarization within the Democratic primary electorate is something to celebrate). They acknowledged that Clinton had in recent weeks loaned her campaign nearly $6.5 million--and claimed it was a sign of her commitment to moving ahead and, of course, fighting for real people. They repeated the campaign's call to seat the disputed delegations of Florida and Michigan, and they indicated they were ready to rumble in the upcoming primaries. Voters in those states, Garin said, should be given the ability "to express their voice." He added, "All we are doing is suggesting the process ought to play out."

In other words, damn the pundits, full speed ahead. It appeared that Clinton--faced with three alternatives: fighting on as if nothing has changed, dropping out, or planning a graceful exit strategy--has for the time being settled on option one.

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Would Seating Michigan and Florida Change the Race?

| Wed May 7, 2008 12:28 PM EDT

Short answer? No. Here is MSNBC's First Read:

...on the delegate front, if Florida and Michigan were seated as is and Obama got the uncommitted delegates in Michigan, Clinton would net an additional 32 delegates from Florida and 18 from Michigan -- for a total net of 50. So add those numbers into the current pledged delegate count and Obama still would lead in the pledged delegate count by more than 100, approximately 110 in fact. So let's use 110 as the baseline. For Clinton to overtake him in the pledged delegate lead using THEIR math on Florida and Michigan, she'd need to win 75% of all remaining delegates. That's an impossible task. Most importantly, knowing the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee the way we THINK we do, the likelihood of the committee NOT punishing Florida and Michigan in some way (say a cut in half of their delegates a la the Republicans) would then make this FL/MI exercise moot.

I made a less precise version of this point yesterday in a post about how shifting expectations affected the race.

NY Times Op-Ed Plugs MoJo Article on Corporate Espionage

| Wed May 7, 2008 11:42 AM EDT

Last month, MotherJones.com broke the story that a private security firm, Beckett Brown International, had spied on Greenpeace and other environmental groups while working for its corporate clients. In today's New York Times, Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser cites the Beckett Brown story and others like it, arguing for congressional hearings on corporate espionage. Doesn't seem hearing-worthy? Maybe you don't know the full story of Beckett Brown. From the piece:

BBI, which was headquartered in Easton, Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, worked extensively, according to billing records, for public-relations companies, including Ketchum, Nichols-Dezenhall Communications, and Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin. At the time, these PR outfits were servicing corporate clients fighting environmental organizations opposed to their products or actions. Ketchum, for example, was working for Dow Chemical and Kraft Foods; Nichols-Dezenhall, according to BBI records, was working with Condea Vista, a chemical manufacturing firm that in 1994 leaked up to 47 million pounds of ethylene dichloride, a suspected carcinogen, into the Calcasieu River in Louisiana.

Or what about this, from an internal Beckett Brown document cited in our piece:

Received a call from Ketchum yesterday afternoon re three sites in DC. It seems Taco Bell turned out some product made from bioengineered corn. The chemicals used on the corn have not been approved for human consumption. Hence Taco Bell produced potential glow-in-the-dark tacos. Taco Bell is owned by Kraft. The Ketchum Office, New York, has the ball. They suspect the initiative is being generated from one of three places:
1.Center for Food Safety, 7th & Penn SE
2.Friends of the Earth, 1025 Vermont Ave (Between K & L Streets)
3.GE Food Alert, 1200 18th St NW (18th & M)
#1 is located on 3rd floor. Main entrance is key card. Alley is locked by iron gates. 7 dempsters [sic] in alley—take your pick.
#2 is in the same building as Chile Embassy. Armed guard in lobby & cameras everywhere. There is a dumpster in the alley behind the building. Don't know if it is tied to bldg. or a neighborhood property. Cameras everywhere.
#3 is doable but behind locked iron gates at rear of bldg.

Want more of the dirty details? Read the full story.

With the Media Seemingly Decided, Clinton Faces Three Options

| Wed May 7, 2008 7:31 AM EDT

hillary-clinton-truck-bed-250x200.jpg It took a long time for the results from Lake County, Indiana, to be filed on Tuesday night. Was it long enough for the conventional wisdom to be cemented?

As the hours passed into the night yesterday, Hillary Clinton's chances dimmed. By mid-evening, she had lost North Carolina by 14 points and was clinging to a diminishing lead in Indiana. By 10 pm, the political world was all staring at the same situation: Clinton, up on Obama by an unexpectedly low 30,000-40,000 votes in Indiana, endangered by the still-absent results from the northwestern county known as Lake County, home of Gary and just outside of Chicago.

As the pundit class waited for Lake County to tabulate, Clinton's precarious position became the only topic of conversation. On MSNBC, Tim Russert declared the race over, saying that Clinton had no realistic path to the nomination after the events of the day. Chuck Todd, normally beholden to the numbers and unaccustomed to bold proclamations, conceded that Russert may have been correct. On CNN, David Gergen said that Clinton's ability, seen repeatedly in the campaign, to respond with a victory when her campaign was on the precipice had finally failed her. Democratic superdelegate and CNN contributor Donna Brazile stated that it was in the best interests of the Democratic Party to unify around one candidate. In fact, the entire broadcasting team at CNN, seemingly over a dozen people, was so dismissive of the New York Senator's chances that Clinton surrogate Lanny Davis complained about the coverage on air.

But then, after midnight, Lake County finally submitted its result and Clinton won Indiana by two points, momentarily jeopardizing the media narrative already in the making. But it appeared that Obama's miserable two weeks leading up to election day Tuesday set the bar for him so low that his 14-point victory in North Carolina and his two-point loss in Indiana were effectively a victory in the media's eye, which, jaundiced by the expectations game, doesn't see a win as a win and a loss as a loss. Adam Nagourney, the New York Times's lead political reporter, published a news analysis Wednesday morning that began, "In this case, a split was not a draw." The Drudge Report ran a simple headline under a picture of Obama: "The Nominee."

And maybe rightfully so. Clinton won Indiana by 23,000 votes. That means if 12,000 late-deciding Indianans had woken up on the other side of the bed, or seen one fewer Clinton ad, or had one more conversation with their Obama-loving granddaughter, the election would be, for all practical purposes, completely over. And besides, Obama's lead in the delegate count grew because of a split decision in Indiana and a significant delegate pickup in North Carolina. Moreover, Clinton now has fewer pledged delegates with which to close the gap. She must now win a staggering percentage of the superdelegates to overturn Obama's lead in the pledged delegate count.

That that leaves her with three options.

Clinton Continuing On... For Now

| Tue May 6, 2008 11:44 PM EDT

"We've let states like Kentucky and West Virginia slip out of the Democratic column for too long... [it is] so important that we count the votes of Florida and Michigan. It would be a little strange to have a nominee chosen by 48 states."

In Clinton's speech in Indiana moments ago, she made it clear that she isn't quitting the Democratic race in the face of tonight's disappointing results. (The fact that the Clinton press office blitzed out an email to reporters spinning the night's results suggests the same.) West Virginia's primary is May 13, Kentucky and Oregon are May 20, Puerto Rico is June 1, and Montana and South Dakota bring up the rear on June 3. Obama will likely get beat badly in West Virginia and Kentucky (polling shows him getting murdered in both states). If you accept the conventional wisdom forming by the minute that Hillary Clinton has no path to the nomination, and if you accept the idea that the superdelegates' primary role is to officially hand the nomination to the best and most likely candidate, in order to protect him or her from dangerous primary challengers, the logical time for the superdelgates to step in and start endorsing would be... now.

That said, Hillary Clinton's supporters have shown time and time again that they are most willing to step up for their candidate when she is in trouble. The post-loss fundraising appeals from Bill and Hillary really open up the pocketbooks. Furthermore, as I've said before, the Clintons are at their best when their backs are against the wall.

The Effect of Shifting Expectations

| Tue May 6, 2008 10:37 PM EDT

The numbers out of Indiana show a narrowing race — the difference between the candidates is roughly 33,000 votes out of just under a million cast. That's a four percent lead for Hillary Clinton.

The response from the TV pundits: Is a two-point or three-point victory for Clinton effectively a loss? Does Clinton's massive loss in North Carolina and her tiny victory in Indiana mean that she needs to exit the race? Will superdelegates take her seriously after those results?

What's so interesting about this is that a week or two ago, a lot of polling showed Obama winning Indiana by one to five percent. Almost all of it showed him winning North Carolina by double digits. But Obama had such a miserable two weeks going into today's vote that the expectations shifted. Ironically, the beating Obama has taken recently may have helped him.

Update: Just want to add something quickly. The Clinton campaign surrogates on TV tonight are latching onto Michigan and Florida as their lifeline. If only Obama hadn't blocked a revote in Michigan and Floriday, they say, this would be an even race. I'm not sure that's true. If you assume Clinton nets 50-70 delegates in those two states (and that's being very generous), Clinton is still losing the pledged delegate count. That's how large Obama's lead is at the moment.

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NC for Obama, Indiana Undeclared; Let's Look at the Exits

| Tue May 6, 2008 9:12 PM EDT

If you're following the primary tonight, you've probably seen the news on TV: Obama has won North Carolina, in what appears to be a decisive victory, and Indiana is too close to call.

Here's what the exits are saying. In North Carolina, Clinton won white women 64-32 and white men 54-40. In Indiana, she won white women 61-39 and white men 58-41. Those numbers are roughly equivalent, and would suggest that the results from both states ought to be the same. The reason they likely will not be? The size of the black population. In North Carolina, blacks are 33 percent of the vote. In Indiana, they're just 15. In both states, they went for Obama by over 90 percent. The takeaway: racial voting blocks acted in consistent fashion across states today; it was their size that made the difference.

Comparing today's numbers to Ohio's should give us a fair sense of how the race has changed since March 4. In the Buckeye State, Clinton won white women 67-31 and white men 58-39. That means that Obama is doing slightly better nowadays with white women and roughly the same with white men. It's hard to read too much into these numbers, because the differences in question are probably just barely outside the margin of error, if they are at all. That said, the fact that Obama is doing as well with white voters as he did before the Reverend Wright situation really took off (he may even be doing slightly better!) is a sign of good things for Obama.

Happy 60th. Sorry About That Indictment.

| Tue May 6, 2008 7:03 PM EDT

Talk about awkward timing. Next week, President Bush heads to Israel to mark that country's sixtieth anniversary celebrations. But as Israeli media have reported this week, a rapidly moving corruption investigation has put the political future of Bush's chief interlocutor there, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, in jeopardy.

Israeli media are subject to a sweeping court gag order inhibiting them from reporting details of the investigation. But today, the New York Post reported that a New York financier, Morris Talansky, with residences in Long Island and an apartment in Jerusalem, is central to the investigation of whether Olmert took bribes when he served as mayor of Jerusalem:

White House Admits It Is Missing Email Backup Tapes From Start of Iraq War

| Tue May 6, 2008 4:27 PM EDT

The White House acknowledged in a court filing last night that it no longer has backup tapes of email from between March 1 and May 22, 2003, a period that includes the beginning of the Iraq war.

Yesterday's filing (PDF) is the latest development in the ongoing White House emails lawsuit, in which two non-profits, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive (NSA), are suing to force the administration to recover any missing emails and institute a more effective email archiving system. (For the full story on the missing emails, check out our missing White House emails index.) The filing comes on the heels of several seemingly contradictory statements by administration officials about whether the allegedly missing emails are available on backup tapes. The court had asked the administration to clear up the confusion by clearly stating which backup tapes it does and does not have for the period between March 2003 and October 2005.

In their filing, administration officials claim they have 438 backup tapes for the period between May 23, 2003 and September 29, 2003. The White House stopped its foolish policy of recycling backup tapes in early October 2003, so all the backup tapes made after that date are supposedly preserved—some 60,000 of them. But even the emergency recovery backup tapes the White House does have are far from a fool-proof source for recovering missing emails. Any email that arrived and was deleted in between backups wouldn't be preserved, since backup tapes take a digital "picture" of the data on a drive at a given time. And while that problem applies to all the backups, it's especially concerning for the period between May 23 and September 29, 2003, for which the White House says it has 438 backup tapes. That is a low number of backup tapes per day for an entity as large as the Executive Office of the President, so backups may not have been made for all offices in the EOP on all days during that time. Even if backups were made every day for every component of the EOP, emails could still escape archiving if they were sent, received, and deleted in between backups.

Syriana, the Rendon Group Edition (Updated)

| Tue May 6, 2008 4:20 PM EDT

Is Washington showing new signs of willingness to test out opportunities for increased diplomacy with Syria?

On May 5, the Rendon Group, a government consulting group which worked closely with Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, was asked to organize a "narrow focus discussion group" to examine the case of Badran Turki Hishan Al Mazidih, according to a Washington source with an ear on the Levant. The Syria-based Al Mazidih, also known as Abu Ghadiyah, runs the Al Qaeda in Iraq "facilitation network, which controls the flow of money, weapons, terrorists, and other resources through Syria into Iraq," the Treasury Department said in a February press release announcing his designation as a terrorist. "Former AQI leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi appointed Badran as AQI's Syrian commander for logistics in 2004. After Zarqawi's death, Badran began working for the new AQI leader, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri. As of late-September 2006, Badran took orders directly from Masri, or through a deputy."

The group assembled by Rendon yesterday consisted of Defense, State Department and Intelligence analysts, according to this source. They concluded, he said, "that the US needed to send a message requesting Damascus' assistance on Abu Ghadiyah. But it should not be seen by Damascus as an American message." Ideas were floated to ask the Turks, or the French to play the intermediary. "A request will be made to the Iraqis to ask the Syrians for Abu Ghadiya's extradition," he says.

The alleged Rendon Group meeting comes amid reports that principal deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs Jeffrey Feltman, a former US ambassador to Lebanon, recently held a rare meeting with Syria's ambassador to the US Imad Mustafa. After the meeting, the Syrian ambassador flew to Damascus for consultations.

What's going on?