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Government & Elections
by James S. Toedtman, AARP Bulletin, May 21, 2008
Sen. Barack Obama passed a milestone Tuesday. He has now won more than half of the available elected delegates in his march to the Democratic nomination. He won 58 percent of the Oregon primary vote; Sen. Hillary Clinton won the Kentucky primary with a whopping 65 percent of the vote. But neither candidate has won enough delegates to claim victory.
Clinton toned down her criticism of Obama as she continued to carry the campaign to the final three primaries in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota. She also pressed her case that Michigan and Florida primary results should be counted. Obama went to Iowa, site of his first surprise primary victory in January, politely praised Clinton’s campaign, then turned his attention to the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain.
Needed to win: 2,025
• May 31: The Democrats’ National Rules and Bylaws Committee meets to consider the validity of contested and uncounted primary votes in Florida and Michigan.
• June 1: Puerto Rico (55 delegates)
• June 3: Montana (16 delegates) and South Dakota (15 delegates)
1. Dwindling Days, Dwindling Delegates
Obama leads in the delegate count by nearly 200 delegates, according to RealClearPolitics.com, an independent political website. The winner needs 2,025, but neither candidate can win the nomination without super delegates, the 795 state and federal officeholders and party dignitaries designated by Democratic Party rules as independent protection against a poor primary choice. They can make their decisions for any reason and at any time. In the past two weeks, Obama has passed Clinton in the super delegate count, a major development. Still, 211 super delegates remain uncommitted. There are only 86 delegates at stake in the three remaining primaries, and Obama remains beyond Clinton’s reach unless a major revelation or development between now and the Democratic National Convention prompts a major shift by the super delegates.
2. Beyond the Tipping Point
Obama celebrated his capturing of a majority of the 3,253 delegates to be selected in the party primaries and caucuses. That trend has been matched by a surge in super delegates. But he still falls short of the 2,025-delegate target that clinches the party nomination. Super delegates hold the key, and they will be under growing pressure to declare their preferences, especially by June 3, the last primary day.
3. For Barack Obama: The Delicate Pivot Point
The teleprompters were the indicator. Obama’s campaign is confident that he has all but secured the nomination and should turn his attention to the general election. That’s why he delivered a prepared speech with new program details about fairer taxes, better health, financial security and an Iran-Iraq strategy that he had not discussed publicly before. His speech was carefully prepared, and the teleprompter in front of the great stage in Des Moines Tuesday night ensured that he would deliver it carefully, too.
4. For Hillary Clinton: The Long March
What hope she has rests with her effort to reverse Democratic Party leaders’ decision to disallow contested primary results in Florida and Michigan. After the Kentucky primary, she scheduled three campaign stops in Florida to press her case. On May 31, the Democratic Party Rules and Bylaws Committee meets to discuss how to let Michigan and Florida delegates attend the party convention in Denver and how to treat their votes. The primary results were disallowed when the state primaries were moved to February and March—earlier than the national party allowed. Neither candidate campaigned in the states, but Clinton outpolled Obama in Florida and won in Michigan, where she was the only candidate named on the ballot. She argues that all votes should be counted.
Beyond that, she continues running for four reasons: (1) By all accounts she believes she has a better chance of defeating McCain than does Obama; (2) she needs to keep her candidacy open to help erase her campaign’s $20 million debt; (3) a last-minute disclosure or Obama mistake might cause super delegates to switch their choices; and (4) she feels she has nothing to lose.
5. For the Super Delegates: Do We See Momentum?
In the past two weeks, super delegates have surged to the Obama campaign. He holds a 305-279 lead among this group of party leaders. But 211 have still not declared. They will hold a unique position at the Democratic convention as they are free to switch candidates at any time. Of the 211 super delegates who have not taken sides, 115 are from states that Obama won, not a good sign for Clinton. More ominous was the decision of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, one of Sen. Clinton’s closest Senate counselors. Clinton won the West Virginia primary by 39 percentage points, but Byrd still endorsed Obama on May 19.
6. For John McCain: A Little Reorganizing Music
McCain’s campaign is happy to let Democratic primaries take the spotlight after a weekend of close media scrutiny on his shuffling campaign staff. Since McCain directed that all staffers give up their federal lobbying activities, at least five top aides have left the campaign. The most conspicuous were Tom Loeffler, his top fundraiser, who has been a lobbyist for the government of Saudi Arabia, and Doug Davenport and Doug Goodyear, partners in DCI Group, which has represented the military junta in Myanmar.
McCain pronounced what he called “the most comprehensive and transparent policy concerning lobbyist activities,” and two other top aides also complied: Senior adviser Charles Black left his firm, BKSH and Associates Worldwide, and campaign manager Rick Davis is taking no pay from his old lobbying firm, Davis Manafort.
7. The Money Race: Beyond Belief
The fundraising success of Barack Obama is perhaps the most significant accomplishment in Campaign ’08. He’s attracted more contributors and raised more money than any presidential candidate before. With a May 20 deadline for filing their April financial statements with the Federal Election Commission, the campaigns reported that Obama raised $31.3 million in April, compared with the $22 million raised by Clinton and $18 million raised by McCain. That brings the cumulative money totals the three have raised to: $271.5 million for Obama, $216 million for Clinton and $98 million for McCain. Obama has drawn an average $94 contribution from nearly 1.5 million contributors, providing a comfortable financial lead. McCain overspent in the early months of his campaign, but used thrift and efficiency to recover his financial footing. Clinton has borrowed at least $20 million, much of it from herself.
8. The 50-Plus Election
Nationally, 41 percent of eligible voters are over 50. If past voting patterns persist, more than half of the voters this fall will be over 50. In Oregon and Kentucky, primary voters over 50 went in separate directions. In Kentucky, Clinton won the 45-to-64 voters by a wide (65%-28%) margin and 65-and-over voters by a wider (77-18) margin. In Oregon, voters 50 to 64 preferred Obama, 52-45, while voters 65 and over preferred Clinton, 55-43.
The 50-plus segment will be very much in play as the campaign continues. In the last month, McCain has joined the Democratic candidates by articulating more precise health care and economic stimulus plans, both key issues for older Americans. Current polls show that Democrats win that segment handily if Clinton is the candidate, while McCain wins those voters if Obama is the candidate.
9. Battle for the Middle
The candidates will also target independent voters. In a Clinton-McCain matchup, McCain wins the independent voters. In an Obama-McCain matchup, Obama wins the independents. President George W. Bush is the lightning rod, and Obama is attempting to link McCain with Bush. Meanwhile, McCain is attempting to declare his distance from Bush
10. The Last Word
“This will be a very united party in a matter of days.” —Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., to CNN, May 20, 2008.
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