Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"This is the race that never ends..."

Set aside all the political spin, last night's double-digit win for Hillary was dramatic and notable for many reasons. First, Obama had 6 weeks to change perceptions about his associations with Louis Farrakhan, Jeremiah Wright, domestic terrorist William Ayers, and others, but he couldn't even reduce Hillary's win to single digits. Some facts to consider:

  • Hillary was outspent 11 to 1 and still managed a 10 point victory. Obama spent $11 million in Pennsylvania and ran 10,000 ads, saturating the airwaves, yet he couldn't close the gap
  • Hillary performed better in PA then in previous contests among women, blue collar workers, and whites, while Obama held on to affluent voters and blacks. 60 percent of Catholics supported Hillary, a vital PA constituency in the fall that could shift to McCain if Obama's the nominee. Union workers and gun-owners also flocked to Hillary by a more than 10 point margin, suggesting Obama's "bitter" comments had an effect
  • Obama only won 7 out of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Hillary won 13 counties with 70 percent or more of the vote. Obama did not reach 70 percent in any of the counties he won
  • In Philadelphia, PA's most urban county and Obama's base of support (43 percent black), pundits and analysts argued that Obama needed to get 75-80 percent of the vote to close the gap with Hillary. This should have been relatively easy. Instead, Obama only garnered 65 percent of the vote in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's largest city with one of the highest concentrations of African Americans.
  • Pundits also said Obama would sweep the Philly suburbs, enabling him to reduce Hillary's lead to a few points or win outright. Instead, he divided the Philly suburbs with Hillary, winning Chester and Delaware counties while Hillary won Bucks and Montgomery counties. In a reversal of media predictions, Hillary won Montgomery County, a suburban enclave that is the most-populated county outside Philadelphia.

Populism vs. Establishment

Some patterns are manifesting themselves: Hillary surrounded herself with union supporters and women while giving her victory speech. Her tone and rhetoric has become increasingly populist in nature as she talks more openly about guns and religion, realizing that Reagan Democrats have been the key to her victories. She cannot afford to lose this. This is a dynamic reversal of conditions at the beginning of the election cycle, when Hillary started out as the establishment candidate and Obama was the outsider, forging a new way and causing concern among liberal activists that he was too much of a pushover and emphasized unity to the detriment of promoting the values and beliefs of the far-left wing of the party. Now, Obama is the establishment candidate, having won 28 contests so far. The netroots (, DailyKos) have supported Obama and he has now become the insider, and Hillary is positioning herself as the outsider who represents the more conservative, rural, working-class voters often ignored or scorned by the left until the second week in November. Hillary is acutely aware that the Democrats cannot win without these voters, but are other party leaders aware of this? Although the populist and establishment candidate have switched places, Democrats should not be debating experience vs. change, but establishment vs. populism. While some may bristle at the claim that Hillary is not establishment, (she clearly is) she has successfully conveyed her populist credentials and transformed herself, however deceptively, which may be a more appealing selling point in the general election than Obama's rhetoric of change and hope, which have been marginalized by his extremely troubling associations and his decision to go negative on Hillary and McCain.

Democrats tried running an establishment candidate in 2004 and came up short. One would think they would want to go with a populist message and candidate that resonates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan instead of an establishment message with an emphasis on some notion of change, whose candidate will only resonate in states like Massachusetts, New York, and California. This is the decision Democrats have to make.

1 comment:

bjb said...

well analyzed