Monday, February 11, 2008

" Looking Ahead: Will Obama's Caucus Strength Translate to Primaries and Beyond?"

Dan Kirkdorffer:
There have been 11 caucuses in the race for the Democratic nomination and the results are stunning:

Clinton Obama
------- -----
Iowa 29% - 38%
Nevada 51% - 45%
Alaska 25% - 74%
Colorado 32% - 67%
Idaho 17% - 80%
Kansas 26% - 74%
Minnesota 32% - 66%
N. Dakota 37% - 61%
Washington 31% - 68%
Nebraska 32% - 68%
Maine 41% - 59%

Average 32% - 64%
With the exception of Nevada, Obama has won every one of them, and he has never received less than 38% of the support, even when John Edwards was still in the race.

In comparison, Clinton has done better than 38% only twice: in Nevada, and today in Maine with her 41% to Obama's 59%. This is the same state which had her at 46% to just 10% for Obama around Halloween last year.

Essentially, Obama has been taking caucuses at about a 2 to 1 ratio, which by any standard is a blowout.

So why is Obama winning at the caucuses?

Part of it could be a better "ground game", with the Obama campaign doing a better job of getting their supporters out to the caucuses. At least that's the spin we hear. But how true is that, and if it is, is it really because they have a great ground game, or is due to a failing in the Clinton camp? And what does that say for the grassroots support of Clinton in these states?

Hillary supposedly does well in small groups, answering questions, being personable and seemingly approachable. Problem is, that hasn't carried over in the caucus states where personal politics is the name of the game.

Here in Washington the claim is the liberal elites came out to a voting venue the working poor couldn't attend (because they were working). There is no doubt the caucus system locks out people who either don't want to participate in public voting, or cannot make it for one reason or another. Yet even after the February 19 primary votes are tallied, we won't be able to deduce much about the voter make-up because most will be via mail-in ballots, and the contest itself is irrelevant with regards to delegate selection so a lot of people may not bother to vote.

What we could be seeing, however, is that Obama's support has surged past Clinton's and the latest caucus results are masked by his early caucus strength. To know for sure we'll have to see how the upcoming primaries in Maryland, Virginia and Wisconsin turnout.

Here is the demographic breakdown of these three states:

Maryland is 64% White, 30% African-American, 6% Latino.
Virgina is 73% White, 20% African-American, 6% Latino.
Wisconsin is 90% White, 6% African-American, 4% Latino.

Latest polling is showing Obama leading in Maryland and Virginia by at least 16%. A poll conducted just after Super Tuesday, so before the results of this weekend, gave Clinton a 9% edge in Wisconsin. Surely much of this has to do with the demographics.

My guess is that Obama will win both Maryland and Virginia on Tuesday, and the Wisconsin results will be very close the following Tuesday.

Either way, Clinton will fail to pick up more delegates from these three states, and head into March 4th with a pledged delegate count that is more than 100 less than Obama, and a total delegate count that is 30 to 50 less when super delegates are added.

Given that Ohio and Texas combined have fewer delegates than California, and that even in California Obama lost only 44 delegates to Clinton, I don't see those March 4 primaries making up enough ground for Clinton. She would need to blow Obama away, but the momentum Obama is currently picking up will be hard to stymie enough for that to happen.

The fact that there will be two whole weeks between primaries will give Obama that much more time to reach voters in Ohio and Texas, and he appears to have a financial edge that will enable him to do so more effectively than Clinton. The more people have had a chance to hear Obama, the more they seem to have fallen under his spell. If he manages to close the gap in those two states it could be very hard for Clinton to recover and Obama could reach the convention with both a greater number of pledged delegates and greater number of total delegates. I believe that since over 400 super delegates have yet to choose a preference, he could also have more of those, as the closer we get to the final states the more they will want to side with a winner. If such is the case, even if the pledged-only delegate count for either candidate is below the 2025 delegate threshold, we would have a candidate with a clear support advantage, and no need for a brokered convention.

So, as things stand today, advantage Obama. Clinton may be watching this race for the democratic nomination slipping away from her.

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