Sunday :: Mar 9, 2008

The Extended Primary

by eriposte

Following up my post a short while ago on the contested nomination that put FDR in the White House, I want to add some more context to the 2008 Democratic primary battle.

Matthew Yglesias on Feb 9, 2008:

I think Hillary Clinton's going to win this thing. I think the college educated men who dominate punditland have spent a lot of time missing the fact that there actually are enthusiastic Clinton fans out there -- they're just mostly working class women and thus mostly not in the room when this CW gets hashed out. On top of that, I think Clinton's succeeded in managing the expectations savvily. If she wins anywhere at all between now and March 4, that counts as a win for her, then Ohio is mildly favorable ground for her and Texas is extremely favorable ground. That, I think, will seal it for her as the anti-Obama backlash brewing in the press hits full stride.

Matthew Yglesias on March 6, 2008:

Ross explains the cost to progressive politics of Hillary Clinton's decision to unleash the kitchen sink in a likely-futile effort to overcome Barack Obama's delegate lead:

Rather, the problem is that the party is losing a golden opportunity to try to put the race away early, the way Bill Clinton more or less did with Bob Dole in 1996 - by using their enormous fundraising advantage to rebrand John McCain as a Dole-style loser while he's still struggling to get his money-raising operation up to par. As Patrick Ruffini suggested earlier this week, if Obama had finished off Hillary last night he could have been up with anti-McCain ads all over the country immediately, forcing the GOP to play defense in places it usually owns all through the summer. Whereas the longer the race goes on, the less leverage the Dems' fundraising edge gives them, and the lower the chances that they can make it get late early for McCain through sheer dollar-power alone.

That's bad because it increases the chance of losing in November, it decreases the likelihood of an impressive-looking mandate, and most of all because its bad for down-ballot races. Yes, the very same down ballot races Democrats need to win if people actually want health care reform (as we learned in 1994, merely having a president who proposes health care reform doesn't do anyone any good), global warming legislation, etc. to happen.

It's funny how things change, huh? Humorist Mad Kane has the best retort I've seen to the demands that Clinton stop her campaign:

Predictably, the A-list lefty blog-calls for Hillary to get out of the presidential race have continued, notwithstanding last night’s Hillary Clinton wins. Any minute now, I half-expect to read that Hillary’s refusal to bow out is racist.

More seriously, is an extended primary competition harming the Democratic party? Not really. Follow me below the fold to discuss.

Let's start with Chris Bowers at Open Left (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

Lengthy Nomination Process Helping Democrats


For all the hand-wringing over an extended primary campaign, including some hand-wringing of my own, all quantitative evidence currently points to the campaign benefiting the party. The extended primary campaign is creating vast numbers of new Democrats, improving our general election standing, creating new swing states, turning existing swing states blue, allowing small donors to take over direct funding the Democratic Party in the Presidential election, and swamping Republicans in fundraising. First, Rasmussen finds a 7% shift to Democrats in partisan self-identificaiton:

In February, the number of Americans who consider themselves to be Democrats jumped to 41.5%, the highest total on record. Just 31.8% consider themselves to be Republicans. The partisan gap-a 9.7 percentage point advantage for the Democrats-is by far the largest it has ever been. The previous high was a 6.9 point edge for the Democrats in December 2006. Rasmussen Reports tracks this information based upon telephone interviews with approximately 15,000 adults per month and has been doing so since November 2002.

The 9.7 percentage point advantage for Democrats is up from a 5.6 point advantage a month ago and a 2.1 point advantage two months ago. The surge for the Democrats is especially notable because it reversed a modest trend in the GOP direction that unfolded over much of calendar year 2007.

AP confirming Rasmussen:

More people say they are Democrats than said so before voting started in this year's presidential contests while the number of Republicans has remained flat, a survey showed Thursday.

The Associated Press-Ipsos poll had additional bad news for the GOP: The number of independents and moderates satisfied with President Bush and the country's direction has dipped to record or near-record lows.

That is a seismic partisan shift of about ten million Americans that would not have happened without the epic nomination campaign. Also, according to Real Clear Politics, both Clinton (+0.5%) and Obama (+5.6%) have now taken the lead against McCain in general election polling, even though in January they both trailed. Further, compared to McCain's $12M February haul, Clinton and Obama combined to raise between $86M-$90M in February, $75M of which came from small, online donors. Yet further, extensive campaigning in states like Texas and making them surprising competitive in the general election, while heavy campaigning in states like Ohio are making them virtually solid blue states for the general election (see here for more).

Overall, the extended nomination campaign has been excellent for the Democratic Party. A big test of just how good things are, and also of Obama's ability to carry his wave downticket, will come on Saturday during the special election in IL-14 for Dennis Hastert's old seat [eRiposte note: The Democrat Bill Foster won!]. There are still nightemere [sic] scenarios, too. First, Obama could use his large delegate lead to eek out the nomination even if he loses the majority of the remaining primaries, and having a nominee who stumbles to victory will be terrible in terms of general election momentum. Second, Clinton could win the nomination through superdelegates, arm-twisting and the credentials committee despite losing the popular vote, which could cause a huge number of disaffected Democrats in the general election. However, if the nomination is decided pretty much any other way, even if it doesn't end until June the extended nomination campaign will have been a great overall boost to Democrats. Small donors are taking over, massive organizing is taking place in long-ignored states, candidates are forced to continually improve after stumbling, waves of new Democrats are being created, McCain is getting shut of the media and swamped in fundraising.

This could change, but so far the extended nomination campaign has been a huge boost to the Democratic cause, and longstanding worries about the negatives of hotly contested primaries are proving both false and very old-fashioned. When the entire country is transfixed on Democrats, when Democrats are forced to compete everywhere, and when large donors are out of money, amazing things can happen. It appears that creating nationwide excitement is a more effective way of building up the party rather than falling sheepishly in line after New Hampshire.

Update: Brendan Nyhan has specific data that shows divisive primaries do not harm candidates in the general election.

Brendan Nyhan points to this post at The Monkey Cage:

Does a divisive primary hurt the general election chances of the nominee who emerges from that primary? In short, the answer is no. Perhaps the most relevant study is by Lonna Rae Atkeson (here, gated). She examines presidential elections from 1936-1996 and finds that the relative divisiveness of the two parties’ primaries is not related to the general election outcome, once other factors, namely the state of the economy and the popularity of the incumbent president, are taken into account. The logic is this: a divisive primary is more likely to arise if an incumbent is unpopular or presiding over a weak economy, simply because this incumbent will attract more challengers. Leaving the economy and presidential popularity out of the equation risks overestimating the effects of divisiveness.

Nyhan has the executive summary of the study (and this is important to note because simplistic comparisons like these can be unintentionally misleading):

Divisive Primaries and General Election Outcomes: Another Look at Presidental Campaigns

Lonna Rae Atkeson

American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 42, No. 1. (Jan., 1998), pp. 256-271.

Theory: The divisive primary hypothesis asserts that the more divisive the presidential primary contest compared to that of the other party the fewer votes received in the general election. Thus the party candidate with the most divisive primary will have a more difficult general election fight. However, studies at the presidential level have failed to consider candidate quality, prior vulnerability of the incumbent president or his party, the national nature of the presidential race, and the unique context of each presidential election campaign. Once these factors are taken into account presidential primaries should have a more marginal or even nonexistent effect in understanding general election outcomes.

Hypothesis: Including appropriate controls for election year context in a state-by-state model and creating a national model that controls for election year context, candidate quality, and the nature of the times should diminish the effect of nomination divisiveness on general election outcomes.

Methods: Regression analysis is used to examine the effect of presidential divisive nomination campaigns on general election outcomes.

Results: Once election year context in the state-by-state model is controlled for, divisiveness has a much more modest effect. This modest effect does not appear to change general election outcomes. In addition, the election year model, which posits that presidential elections are national elections and not state-by-state elections, indicated that divisiveness was not significantly different from zero.

Also see Tom Watson.

Digby refers to this Slate article by David Greenberg:

Like the calls for Al Gore to concede the presidency to George Bush in November 2000, this anxiety about the imagined consequences of a protracted fight misreads both history and the calendar. In 2000, pundits seemed not to know that contested elections in previous years—notably the 1960 race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon—remained officially unresolved until barely a month before Inauguration Day, and so they talked as if each hour of uncertainty brought the republic nearer to doom.

The calls to wrap up the Democratic primary race show a similar amnesia. To suggest that March 5 marks a late date in the calendar ignores the duration of primary seasons past. Indeed, were Hillary Clinton to have pulled out of the race this week, Obama would have actually clinched a contested race for the party's nomination earlier than almost any other Democrat since the current primary system took shape—the sole exception being John Kerry four years ago. Fighting all the way through the primaries, in other words, is perfectly normal.


The year 1972 is when the current primary system came into being, and to review the races ever since is to behold a panorama of Democratic infighting that makes the Clinton-Obama fisticuffs look tame. Back in 1972, following the watery collapse of Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie in the New Hampshire primary, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota emerged as the Democrats' front-runner. But as he marched through the primaries, large swaths of the party worried that he was too far to the left and rallied behind other candidates—they just couldn't agree on a single one to rally behind. Well into June, some Democratic leaders were openly mounting a "stop McGovern" movement. Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the 1968 nominee, actively competed in the June primaries, while Muskie, having suspended his campaign weeks earlier, made a sudden cross-country tour to woo delegates and cast himself as the alternative to McGovern. Only after the South Dakotan won the June 21 New York primary did he effectively seal the nomination—and even then he opened the convention without the backing of his main rivals.

The 1976 primary was equally protracted. Jimmy Carter, then a former governor of Georgia, surprised everyone by staking out a lead with a win in Iowa, but his grasp on first place remained tenuous as Arizona Rep. Morris Udall and Washington Sen. Henry Jackson—men with more experience and stronger national followings—pressed on. Jackson finally bowed out on May 1, but at that point Idaho's Frank Church and California's Jerry Brown jumped in the race. Carter continued to stumble. On June 9, he lost not only to Brown in California but also to an uncommitted slate of delegates in New Jersey. Only a decisive victory the same day in Ohio helped Carter prevail, as he lined up key endorsements the next day from antagonists such as Jackson, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Udall conceded June 15.

Four years later, Carter, as the sitting president, should have had an easier time. But Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy launched a primary challenge that galvanized the Democratic Party's liberals. By June, Carter had won enough contests to amass a lead in delegates that seemed to guarantee him renomination. Yet Kennedy refused to withdraw. He publicly carried on his campaign through high-profile speeches while allies worked behind the scenes to poach Carter's delegates. "If Mr. Kennedy is feeling no great financial pressure to get out of the race," the New York Times reported on June 11, "he also appears to be feeling no great pressure to withdraw to avoid splitting the Democratic party." Days before the convention, Kennedy announced he would break precedent to become the first Democrat since William Jennings Bryan to address the convention before the first roll call—the gesture of an active candidate, not a peacemaker. He ultimately surrendered at the convention itself.

A swift resolution eluded the Democrats once more in 1984. Starting with an upset in the New Hampshire primary, Colorado Sen. Gary Hart mounted a surprisingly effective challenge to former Vice President Walter Mondale, who had long been the presumptive nominee. Mondale retook the lead in a March 12 debate when he punctured the image of Hart as a bearer of new ideas with the line from a Wendy's commercial, "Where's the beef?" Hart, however, refused to quit, scoring primary wins in Wisconsin, Ohio, California, and elsewhere. Though trailing in delegates, Hart sought ways to stay alive after the primaries, threatening a challenge to some of Mondale's delegates. At length, on June 25, he effectively threw in the towel, appearing with Mondale to announce the end of his delegate challenge, though he still had his name placed in nomination at the July convention.

In the last two decades, Democrats have arrived at a nominee faster—yet the contests still dragged on longer than popular memory suggests. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis is remembered as having sewn up his nomination rapidly. But he didn't earn the label of presumptive nominee until April 21, when he beat Tennessee's Al Gore in the New York primary. And Jesse Jackson—whom the press never treated as a viable candidate, despite numerous primary victories—stayed in the race into June, when Dukakis nailed down the delegates he needed.

June was also the magic month for Bill Clinton in 1992, as Hillary has been reminding us recently. Clinton had been confident of getting the party's nod since March, when his chief adversary, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, suspended his bid. But Jerry Brown, again playing spoiler, dogged Clinton throughout the remaining primaries, forcing him to limp rather than sprint to victory, as the New York Times put it. Both Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 fairly coasted to the nomination after their victories in Iowa, but even they were still enmeshed in battle in March: Gore's challenger, Bill Bradley, kept fighting until March 9, and Kerry's strongest competitor, John Edwards, didn't drop out until March 3.

Although the intraparty warfare sometimes got ugly in these races, and pundits warned of its harmful consequences, there's little evidence to suggest that it ever made a substantial difference in the fall election. In 1976 and 1992, the Democrats won. In 1972, 1980, and 1984, they surely would have lost anyway. In 1988, Dukakis met defeat because of his weak general-election campaign, not his springtime battles with Gore and Jackson. It's true that Gore had attacked him over a Massachusetts prison furlough program and that George H.W. Bush infamously followed suit, making Willie Horton part of the annals of negative campaigning. But providing ammunition to the other party is a hazard of even short primary campaigns, and the Republicans will surely need no help in depicting Obama as unready to fight a war on terrorism or Clinton as Lady Macbeth.

We should also bear in mind that Obama holds a much slimmer lead over Clinton than McGovern, Carter, and Mondale held over their closest challengers—or, for that matter, than any of the nomination-bound front-runners in the elections since.

Digby also has this excerpt:

Update: I know there's little point in again trying to convince people that this primary has not been particularly brutal (although it's probably going to get worse before it's over) perhaps Governor Dean could soothe everyone a little bit:

MATTHEWS: OK, you‘re on offense, but you don‘t believe that the Republicans are picking up useful material in these weeks of combat between Clinton and Obama.

DEAN: I can‘t imagine that what we‘re seeing now between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, yes, is anything but a—a tea party compared to what the general election‘s going to be like in the fall.

MATTHEWS: Well, since you hesitate to call this quits, here the ABC poll and “The Washington Post” poll that‘s come out, and it shows that that two thirds of the voters, basically, believe that the race should continue on. So I guess you‘re with the voters. I thought you wanted this thing to end. I was misinformed.

DEAN: It‘s always better to be with the voters. And I...

MATTHEWS: I‘m being sarcastic, Governor.


MATTHEWS: When I get sarcastic is I smile because I do think you want this thing to end and clean it up and have a nominee and move on to attack McCain, which is what you‘re already doing.

DEAN: If we get—well, we‘re certainly going to do that. But if we could, have a nominee before the convention, that would be helpful. But we‘ve got a long way to go between now and the convention.

MATTHEWS: Are there any rules that are being broken? The Republicans have this “11th Commandment” that Reagan sort of codified. Is there anything that‘s improper in the way you‘ve watched this campaign? Is either side, Clinton or Obama, getting a little too dirty for you?

DEAN: Chris, four years ago, my opponents got together and had a political action committee, all four of which contributors contributed to the thing, which morphed me into Osama bin Laden. So this is pattycake. This is a tough campaign between two well—well-spoken, smart people, either of whom is capable of being president of the United States. But this is not, by and large, out of bounds.

With that history and data, I want to also include some perspective that is sometimes misssing about the strengths of the two candidates.

Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left on March 7, 2008:

I tell you, today is quite a day in the blogs. Look at what Chris Bowers writes today:

Clinton's primary coalition thus far has been largely kept afloat by older Reagan Dems who also tend to be white southern Baptists. And yes, they also tend to be older, as exit polls have shown. . . . I don't care if Democrats never make up any ground among Reagan Democrats ever, as long as we lock up the support of expanding groups like the creative class, white non-Christians, Latinos and Asians for a generation. . . . While Clinton's advantage among Latinos and Asians does not make it a perfect match, Obama's primary coalition is far closer to the coalition we need for an expanding future of the Democratic Party, while Clinton's primary is a lot more like the coalition we have been chasing after for the past twenty-five years or so. . . .

Yep. Except for those pesky Latinos and, of course those older women, and white working class men - I hate the Clinton coalition and I love the way Obama does not make appeals to Reagan Democrats. Why yes, that is what I really love about Obama - the way he is sharply partisan against the Republicans and has not run one of those Unity Schtick campaigns to appeal to Reagan Democrats. Heck never would Obama even say a word of praise of Reagan EVER. And Republicans? No where to be seen in that Obama coalition. Nosirree.

Some things can not be parodied...

Big Tent Democrat also has a link to an article that goes into an under-reported aspect of HRC's campaign:

I wrote so many posts last week like this one about Ohio and the rural vote, both from a historical perspective and for this year. I feel vindicated -- here's a new AP article today that explains how well Hillary did in the Ohio rural vote, how it was her intentional strategy, how John Kerry failed to go after it or win it, and more.

Bottom line: The Dems can take Ohio in November. But not without that rural vote, which went astonishingly for Hillary.

Decades have passed since Ohio last saw a competitive Democratic primary, and the interest showed in a record turnout of 48 percent of registered voters.

Clinton still garnered more interest than Kerry in his primary four years ago. Where she won 81 percent of the vote in Scioto County, Kerry got 55 percent in his 2004 primary. Where she got 80 percent of the vote in Jackson County, Kerry got 64 percent. Where Clinton got 78 percent of the vote in Lawrence County, Kerry got 59 percent.

This is what Hillary did in her New York Senate races. Howard Wolfson says it's been her strategy in all the primary races.

Clinton's primary strategy is modeled on her New York campaign, where she went to rural areas of the state considered Republican strongholds, said Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson.

"It's the way that we've run this set of primary contests, and it is the way we would certainly run in a general election," he said.

I have doubts a Clinton-Obama ticket (or vice versa) wins Ohio in November. Would Strickland reconsider his statement last week that he doesn't want it?

I frequently see Sen. Clinton's campaign being mocked for not running a 50-state strategy in the primary. There is some merit to those criticisms. But the criticisms exaggerate the reality. Sen. Clinton completely understands the need to focus on regions that are outside the traditional "safe" zones for Democrats. For her Senate race, she certainly did not need to focus on Republican strongholds in one of the bluest states (NY) but she did - repeatedly - and it paid dividends for her. In fact, in so many states, Sen. Obama has been winning the traditional Democratic base in and near the cities (in red, blue or swing states) along with a wave of new voters - particularly youth whom he has been galvanizing impressively. Sen. Clinton, along with her wins amongst the traditional Democratic base, has also been winning voters in areas where Democrats in recent years have not done so well. Where I believe the Clinton campaign erred is in assuming that her popularity back in the Fall would be sufficient to carry her through on Super Tuesday - as a result, they focused very little of their efforts and spending on the post Super Tuesday states, giving Obama an easy win in so many states in February (where he massively outspent her). This doesn't take any credit away from Sen. Obama for his impressive victories, but it is important to put those victories in context.

Ron Brownstein in National Journal:

There is a tendency to credit all of the energy in the Democratic presidential race to Barack Obama. And he has unquestionably inspired great passion. Fifteen hundred people turned out in February just to greet the aides opening his headquarters in nearby Austin. That office was so crowded last Sunday that some volunteers were dialing voters while standing in hallways because every desk was filled.

But Clinton's gritty wins in Ohio and Texas are a reminder that she has built deep, durable connections to Latinos, seniors, working-class whites, and, above all, women. In fact, although Clinton still trails Obama in the overall popular vote, she has now won more primary votes than any Democratic nominee in history, according to political analyst Rhodes Cook.

Clinton has sparked particular passion among women who have made their own difficult ascent in the workplace. Shortly before Rao started canvassing last Saturday, she sat among dozens of mostly female volunteers in Clinton's San Antonio office calling voters with a palpable sense of urgency. Determination, if not desperation, defined the mood.

Nancy Patterson, a 54-year-old communications technician from San Antonio, had taken a week's vacation to volunteer for Clinton. "I like Obama, but he needs to wait his turn," she said. "I feel if it was the opposite -- a more experienced man and a more eloquent woman, [the voters] would go with the man. But because she's a woman, [experience] is discounted."

Patterson remembered working in an office where her supervisor kept a copy of Playboy on his desk, and she saw in Clinton's rise an echo of her own struggles. "I know what she had to put up with," Patterson said intently. She pounded her fist on the table. "She's giving her all," Patterson said. "I want to give my all."

Even after Clinton's twin big-state victories on Tuesday, Obama retains a solid delegate lead and remains the likely, though not certain, nominee. But Clinton's resurgence reconfirmed that these two compelling candidates have divided their party almost in half, with mirror-image coalitions of stony stability. For months, analysts have asked how Clinton might reach out to Obama's supporters if she wins. Given the loyalty that Clinton's supporters demonstrated on Tuesday, it may be time to ask the opposite: If Obama wins, what suitable role can he offer her in the Democratic campaign or his administration? Each may need the other precisely because neither is likely to decisively beat the other.

Paul Krugman continues to impress:

Thanks to Tuesday’s results, the nomination fight will go on to Pennsylvania in April, and probably beyond — and rightly so. It’s now clear that Mrs. Clinton, like Mr. Obama, has strong grass-roots support that cannot be simply brushed aside without alienating voters that the party will badly need in November. So the Democratic National Committee had better get moving on plans to do Michigan and Florida over, to give the eventual nominee the legitimacy he or she needs.

Bottom line: Both candidates are bringing out large numbers of voters - many of them new. It is important to recognize that and stop the nonsense and hand-wringing about the continuing primary.

P.S. Also worth reading: Anglachel's "The Inevitability Game".

eriposte :: 10:36 AM :: Comments (41) :: Digg It!