Saturday, May 31, 2008

Obama resigns from church over controverial pastor comments

There are many ironies and defects in the American political experience and Obama's resignation today from his church of some 20 years, the Trinity United Church of Christ, brings out several of those defects and ironies.

The most glaring one is that the church is not Obama. Clearly his plan and his presidential decisions would be well within the pale of Democratic mainstream American approaches to conflicts here and abroad.

However, it's also true that the church is probably more representative of Obama's views about America than he's letting on. Clearly this was a church that used racial conflict themes as a way to energize the members. Ignoring the debate about that strategy most Americans don't like that approach.

Also provocative is the endorsement of liberation theology - a concept popularized in central America during those severe conflicts that often winds up accepting (or even endorsing) violent socialist revolution as a good solution to the problems of societies, which many in Liberation theology see as the evils of US style corporate capitalism. Even if you buy this point of view, it is not even in the ballpark of mainstream American values.

Ironic that the Church's recent rhetoric, the frenzied media response, and Obama's quitting at a strategic time are all part of the political process - a process we are supposed to work hard to keep separate from religion.

So, on with the game! Let the *second inning* ? Begin as Obama, the very likely nominee, begins the battle with McCain. Those guys may have energy for it but I'd have to say I think most of us are pretty darn weary of it all!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Democrats Meet on Michigan and Florida's Fate Soon

Saturday will bring discussion and a probably decision by the Democratic National Committee on how to treat the delegates from Florida and Michigan. Although Clinton has more pledged support in the meeting it appears unlikely that the committee, which I understand had voted earlier to NOT seat these delegates, will now reverse itself. Most likely would seem to be a compromise that will seat some of the delegates. Even seating all of them would not put Clinton over the top, and any major departure from the original gameplan is likely to create a backlash from the superdelegates who can put Obama over the top.

Prediction: Bet on Clinton to get some delegates seated and Obama to win the big show, probably as soon as next week when it appears likely a large block of superdelegates will move to his support based on pressure from the party.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dem leaders: It's over. Hillary: Its not over until I get to sing

The Democratic Primary has dragged on for over a year, tiring even the most fervent political junkies. Several strategic gaffs by party leaders and state foolishness have led to contention and disenfranchisement of two major states, but Obama maintains a narrow lead over Hillary Clinton even if you allocate Florida and Michigan delegates very disporportionately to Clinton.

With party leaders lining up (indirectly) with Obama in this fashion it's probably only a matter of a few weeks before we'll see a large enough block of superdelegates move to Obama to put him over the top. This ability to manipulate the results "after the voting" is partly why the Democrats have superdelegates in the first place, though I have seen no good explanation for what is obviously a system that horribly mangles the "one person one vote" philosophy that is supposed to lie at the heart of democracy. The electoral college system is bad enough, yet at least it is an attempt to balance state's rights with national rule rather than disenfranchise voters. The Democrats have managed to add in a power elite component to boot - superdelegate votes have thousands of times the impact of a normal party member vote.

Predictions? Very tough in this case. The Clintons are *very pissed off* and it is not clear they will put what leaders think are the party's best interests ahead of their own concerns. Complicating matters is that it's not clear party leaders have a good sense of what is in the best interests of the party. Contention keeps you in the news and my view is still that the Clinton Obama battles are not going to hurt Obama's chances in the regular election. As a candidate of "change" it is to his advantage to appear early and often on TV screens across America while McCain sits almost unnoticed in the corner.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Popular Vote Totals: Michigan and Florida Factor

There's finally some buzz in the media about the issue of Florida and Michigan disenfranchisement. The Florida and Michigan Votes do not appear to shift the delegate count to Obama by my earlier calculations but it is true that if you count - as they stand now - the Florida and Michigan votes Clinton is actually beating Obama in the popular vote by a very narrow margin.

The issue of disenfranchising Florida and Michigan is, as we have noted before, a terrible defect in the Democrat's primary process although it also seems unreasonable to simply give Obama zero votes in Michigan and the relatively small Florida number which is partly because he did not campaign in Florida. Obama was not even listed in Michigan. That said, even if the election had been held on the "sanctioned" date so the delegates would count, it's likely Clinton would have won Florida handily and probably Michigan as well.

Here is a great chart of the popular vote totals from RealClearPolitics

Given that there is not a good alternative, what is the right answer? Both Obama and Clinton appeared to see strategic advantage in this approach, which is why we had no protests from either at the time. Are the rules more important ... or the votes?

I think the clear answer is a revote in these states. This was the right answer in 2000 when Gore would have won Florida had voter intention been properly measured but was not due to defective Butterfly ballots in Palm Beach County.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hillary's Assassination Comment

Hillary Clinton's sound byte sized comment that appeared to suggest one reason to stay in the campaign is that Obama might be assassinated is, as usual, getting hopelessly and stupidly discussed in the media.

*Obviously* she pretty much meant what she said. She meant "shit happens that can affect the campaign dramatically" and it does happen. Both Clinton and Obama almost certainly get threats every day from many sources and unfortunately we live in a violent culture. It's not unreasonable for a person to factor this in to the campaign equation.

However *obviously* this was an inappropriate statement. Discussing assassination in this context only inflames the debate and issues largely irrelevant to the campaign. She let slip a concern any intelligent observer of American politics must consider.

Now media people, let's talk about real issues.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Recount - A Film About the 2000 Election Problems

Kevin Spacey will star in HBO's "Recount" which will be shown Sunday and dramatically address issues that still swirl around the 2000 USA Presidential Election where GW Bush beat our Al Gore despite losing the popular vote and a razor thin margin in Florida.

We've talked a lot about the recount here at President Picker. Gore clearly should have won Florida, but not for the reasons often cited which are vote fraud (no indication of much of that) and Supreme court stopping the recount proposed by Gore (which was not a full recount and would have left Bush with the win according to most standards of counting). However, Gore *would have won* if you factor in the clear intention of voters in Florida. Thousands of the punched butterfly ballots of Palm Beach County were spoiled because they had votes for both Pat Buchanon and Al Gore when the voters clearly would have voted only for Gore if they had understood the poorly designed ballot. Also, an analysis of overvotes indicates that counting them would have shifted the win to Gore (overvotes are where voters left scratches or marks or extra punches).

Recount is somewhat biased towards a Democratic partisan viewpoint but otherwise does a commendable job of detailing how complicated and political the decision making became in Florida 2000.

I personally take a bit of comfort in recognizing that the founders anticipated resolving this type of vote trouble which is why the "safe harbor" provision left it to the state legislature to allocate the electors (as they used to do in all cases - popular vote allocation of electors is a somewhat modern notion).

Still, the system failed - dramatically - and could fail again. How to prevent this? Abolish the Electoral College before we have this happen again. This means fraud or irregularities in a given area will matter much less, and be far less likely to affect the outcome.

Obama Wins Oregon

Obama has handily won the Oregon Democratic Primary by a large margin - some 58% to 42% Clinton in the still unofficial vote tally.

Speaking in Iowa it's now clear Obama will not only play the frontrunner, he's strategy is to play the elected candidate, talk much more about McCain than Clinton, and challenge the Clinton campaign to make their case against his candidacy which they are not inclined to want to do. This appears to be a plan that will seek to immunize him against a last minute superdelegate coup by Clinton - an act that even the media would be likely to challenge so severely that it's become a non-strategy for the Clintons who are down to their last few cards. As we showed earlier this week even an allocation of most of the Florida and Michigan delegates to Clinton is unlikely to affect the delegate outcome and although she can make a claim to the popular vote that is somewhat unfair since Obama did not campaign much in Michigan and Florida and popular vote appears to have gone out of style in the 2000 election, though this electoral and delegate craziness remains one of America's great shames.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama in Iowa "We have returned with a majority of elected delegates"

Barack Obama is speaking in Iowa and getting very close to claiming victory in the Democratic Primary. It's a good strategy to make it much harder for the Clinton campaign to work the Florida and Michigan and Superdelegate angle - an incomprehensible mess left over from a poorly structured primary.

The Obama campaign is keeping up the "hey, we have won this now!" spin as he spoke today in Iowa. He's even cleverly throwing out kudos to Hillary Clinton, lauding her participation and saying he's grateful to her .... and now going on to suggest the party needs unity.

So has he won? Of course not. Obama however has a clear lead in elected delegates, and as we calculated earlier this week even if you assign a generous number of the Florida and Michigan delegates to Clinton she'd still have fewer than Obama. Therefore it's unlikely that the Clinton's will turn as many superdelegates as Obama. Superdelegates will want to go with a winner, so look for a large block of them to soon announce that they are pledging to put Obama over the number needed to win - this could happen as soon as this week. At that point Hillary will very likely drop out so the Democrats can have a unified convention.

Clinton Crushes Obama in Kentucky

As happened in the West Virginia primary Hillary Clinton soundly won today's Kentucky democratic primary with 65% of the vote to Obama's 30%. Clinton must be thinking "oh what a difference an Iowa makes" as she contemplates a strategy that now appears to have failed to gain enough support early in the primaries to carry her on to victory. Although it is not clear that Obama's 11 consecutive victories before Pennsylvania were the key factor in his probably primary victory, I think a combination of strategic errors cost Clinton an election she would have won with a different approach. The key mistakes:

1) Waiting *far* too long to gripe about Florida and Michigan's missing primary votes. Clinton's point is very valid that these states have been disenfranchised. In fact to any clear thinker this is an outrage. Yet I think the Clinton strategy was very foolish, waiting until she was the underdog to complain about this. Now the question is one of fairness to the states who had their votes voided vs fairness to the process of electing which was also seriously compromised here. A revote is the answer, and the Democratic party should fund a new vote unless it can be shown that the outcome would be very unlikely to have an effect on the outcome of the race.

2) Failing to name Obama as her choice for VP after Edwards dropped out of the race. This would have won her superdelegate support and might have turned the tide in some states - most importantly it would have stolen Obama's momentum at a critical time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

McCain vs Obama's Iran Smackdown

The McCain and Obama campaigns are obviously out testing strategies for their general election matchup. Obama is speaking much more aggressively, calling McCain for example a "creature" of Washington and lambasting his stance on the Iraq War. McCain is getting tag team help from no less than the President of the USA himself, GW Bush, who is calling Obama's approach to foreign affairs the "appeasement" that Bush says has historically failed in dealing with other countries.

As usual this election will probably be won or lost with the indecided voters who have yet to make a firm decision. A key indication of the outcome will be how the Hillary Clinton voters react to her likely demise. If, for example, West Virginia and other conservative southern states go towards McCain the Obama campaign will be pressured to "conservatize" Obama in ways that won't make his key support base happy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bill Clinton in Oregon

Bill Clinton was here in Oregon today wrapping up a final Oregon Hillary hyping tour before the Oregon primary vote gets counted on Tuesday. Here in Oregon we vote by mail, so many people have already sent in their ballots or won't vote at all.

Still, many will wait until Tuesday to vote and although the outcome here is likely to favor Obama and very unlikely to affect the fact that the superdelegates are going to make this decision, it's fun to see Oregon get more national attention than in the past.

Meanwhile John McCain was on Saturday Night Live and appeared to do well. It will be fascinating to watch how McCain works a strategy to keep his conservative credentials but also appear very hip and cool to the younger voters who are currently overwhelmingly in the Obama camp. Will McCain seek those young votes or focus more on stripping away the Clinton Conservatives such as older women and some southern men who indicated they'd vote for Hillary over Obama but for McCain over Obama.

McCain is 71, Obama is 46. Will this be an issue? Count the years on it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Race and Gender? let's talk about it.

The media discussion about the role of race and gender is almost hopelessly naive and misguided. By any reasonable measure the Democratic primary process has blown completely out of the water the notion that race or gender bias are key driving forces in our society. They are *factors* but they are no longer major factors.

Lost in much of the debate is the fact that relating to a candidate on the basis of race or gender is NOT an indication of prejudice. I was glad to see two high level insiders on Bill Moyers tonight essentially agreeing that the WV vote for Clinton was not so much about race as it was about relating to the candidates. Obama as a northern bright and dynamic guy would have lost regardless of race. Perhaps a small percentage is a "racist" vote, but the fact he's the presumptive nominee of the party and the national frontrunner really should give pause to the many who think the national dialog remains too racially or gender biased for clarity. On the contrary I worry that we are now at risk for making too many topics off-limits because they will be unfairly labelled as "code" for race or gender issues that should not be discussed.

So the news is good - America is a more open minded society than many have suggested. Let's honor this and stop trying to take so many topics off limits. Talking about gender and race - rather than stifling debates and questions - is the best way to honor the national diversity we all enjoy in this country.RR

Thursday, May 15, 2008

John Edwards Endorses Obama

John Edwards has endorsed Barack Obama in what may be considered another sign of Clinton's diminishing chances at the nomination. Coming strategically a day after Clinton's huge victory in the WV primary, Edwards will shift media focus away from that thorn in Obama's side.

Watching the two stand together on stage waving and hearing Edwards say "we" a lot in his speech, I got the idea he's on the *very* short list for VP. As a populist southerner Edwards would appeal to the block of southern democrats who are not showing much support for Obama.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bob Barr = 2008's Ralph Nader?

Well, not exactly politically, but Barr could certainly become a spoiler for McCain in a very close election if he pulled away a few percent of the conservative voters.

Bob Barr is running as a Libertarian, though he'd likely appeal to very conservative voters and would be running as something of an alternative to John McCain - a more appealing choice for some conservatives who like Bob's no holds Barr'd very conservative agenda and can overlook the tarnish he took on his reputation when Larry Flynt revealed some of Barr's earlier indiscretions during his first of three marriages.

Ironically though Barr is now working for the ACLU, a group hardly noted for their pro-conservative stances.

Florida voters disenfranchised ... again

The extremely poor coverage of the big story of this election has been a disgrace of mainstream media incompetence more than bias but I think both are a problem in this election. Party insider politics rather than voting are determining the outcome of the election. Most in the press are fretting that it will be Clinton who would pull a backroom play while they fail to talk much about the most significant aspect of the Democrat primary so far - the disenfranchisement of *every voter* in Florida and Michigan.

The first problem is that the popular vote should be determining things rather than state by state voting. The idea is to mimic our seriously problematic electoral college system which determines the national election, but with all the superdelegate and back room disenfranchisements it's not having that effect anyway. The people - not the party hacks - should control all the elections and America is dangerously close to failing in that area ... yet again.

Did the voters make the decision to hold these primaries early? NO! Did Florida and Michigan voters decide to delete their votes? NO! Party hacks determined this outcome though I don't understand how or why. Presumably both the Obama and Clinton campaigns saw strategic advantages to this or they would have bitched louder. But that is not particularly relevant. The key question regarding teh nominee should be simply this: Who do Democrats want to represent them? Party insiders have made it hard to determine this with clarity. The race is extremely close and a huge number of delegates may not be seated. The superdelegate process is an anti-Democracy outrage, clearly designed to take control away from voters and give enough control to party insiders to determine the outcome.

Florida voters must be getting used to being disenfranchised - in 2000 the butterfly ballots of Palm Beach County were seriously flawed (they were designed by Democratic Party officials). Ballot spoilage threw the entire state - and the presidency - to George Bush. The focus was all on the chads which would *not* have affected the outcome had a recount been allowed. However the Palm Beach Butterfly ballots - Designed by a democrat - almost certainly threw the election to Bush.

Yet the Democratic Party had few qualms about the decision to delete the Florida vote from the current primary.

It is certainly true that rules should matter, both campaigns agreed to these rules (why?!), and Obama supporters are right to say that it's not "fair" to allocate to Clinton votes that might have gone to Obama if Florida party hacks and national party hacks had not mangled this process, but it's *even more unfair* to disenfranchise the Florida voters - again.

However if they did allocate the delegates according to votes in Michigan and Florida here are some scenarios:

Michigan popular vote: 55% to Clinton, 40% Uncommitted to Obama -
Clinton gains 23 delegates.

Michigan split the uncommitted vote: 75% to Clinton, 20% Obama -
Clinton gains 85 delegates

Florida: 50% to Clinton, 33% to Obama. Clinton net gain of 36 delegates.

Thus if we count these states Clinton would gain a net of either 59 delegates or 121 delegates depending on how you allocate the Michigan uncommitted vote.

As of today 1884-1718 = 166 votes separate Obama and Clinton so even the rosiest picture for Clinton would still have her trailing Obama by some 55 delegates, throwing the election squarely to the superdelegates and more party hack back room wheeling and dealing.

A solution to this mess? Clearly, new elections are needed in Florida and Michigan. Party hacks decided against this earlier in the year, but they were wrong to discard the only fair option. However this is very unlikely to happen. Welcome to our new Banana Republic voting system.

Gamesmanship is deciding the outcome of the election. Ironically this is likely to lead to an Obama victory as his strategists have more masterfully played their cards than Clinton's have and Obama really does seem to have a kind of groundswell support sorely lacking in Clinton voters.

Historically there has always been gamesmanship and strategy - but the extent to which that trumps the pure and unadulterated Democracy we all should seek is the extent to which we have a good vs a bad system. What shoud be clear to all after the elections debacle of 2000 and the questionable backroom politics of 2008 is that we have a bad system that is subject to uncertainty and manipulation.

The solution is simple - one vote to one person and no electoral college.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Clinton Wins West Virginia

The votes are not yet in but Clinton will certainly win the West Virginia Democratic Primary, throwing somewhat more uncertaintly into the complex and poorly constructed Democratic primary process. Although most pundits are exaggerating the demise of the Clinton dynasty West Virginia to some extent confounds the notion that "it's over", given that Clinton is likely to win by as much as 20% or more. Race appears to be a key factor in this victory, though it's simplistic to see race as a one way factor in an election where Obama consistently can count on some 80 or even 90% of the African American vote in most states.

Surprisingly few have challenged the incomprehensible system that almost all the candidates and parties signed on to over a year ago, but it's making it very hard for the Democrats to define their process clearly in the face of this close election.

If Clinton can leverage this victory into better treatment for the Florida and Michigan delegations which in turn might shift superdelegates to Clinton, the race would become even closer, and Obama's "frontrunner" lead could evaporate overnight. Is that likely? No, but neither was the GW Bush victory over Al Gore in 2000, and the Democratic process is looking more like it could hinge on defects in the process or on elitist insider plays rather than the popular vote.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Battleground: Oregon

Here in Oregon the TV advertising is starting to get very heavy, especially for Obama. It appears he may be trying to set up the campaign to effectively "declare victory" after this primary, arguing that his delegate total is greater and superdelegate total about equal.

However I'm inclined to think that both campaigns are going to settle this at the convention- probably in an amicable fashion and probably with Obama as the victor although skeletons in the closet could still rear their ugly heads and totally derail either campaign. This election is in the hands of the superdelegates now and it is not at all clear how they'll respond to the circumstances.

The Democratic party really should be ashamed to have such an un-Democratic process for choosing candidates. Although there are a handful of justifications for having "elite" voters with much more power than regulary people, the notion flies so flagrantly in the face of true Democracy and good elections practices that it's surprising the party hacks didn't realize this would create problems in a close election.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Clinton Wins Indiana

Although the Indiana race is going to be close the exit polling, which is almost *always* correct, indicates that Hilary Clinton will win Indiana by a narrow margin:

Male (45% of vote ) 51% for Clinton 49% for Obama
Female (55% of vote) 53% for Clinton 47% for Obama

The Male and Female stats cover all the bases, and therefore the likely outcome, assuming the exit polling was done fairly well, is that Clinton will get (.45 x .51 .2295) + (.55 x .53) = 52.1% of the total Indiana vote and Obama will get 47.9%. There is enough error in polling that this outcome is not certain, but it is very probable.

Contrary to what many think the exit polling in Florida was correct to suggest that Al Gore won the state. The key factor in Gore's "loss" in Florida was that the butterfly ballots of Palm Beach County which led to thousands of spoiled votes due to double voting. The exit polls can't measure this spoilage - they have to assume that people's votes actually *counted* where in the case of Florida the cast ballots were destroyed.

An important tangent to that is that the chad situation - even if Gore's Supreme Court challenge had moved ahead with a recount - would still have decided the election for Bush. Only certain unusual treatments of hanging chad counts, or the calculation where the spoiled palm beach ballots were mathematically allocated to Gore would have given him the edge. In a sense most of the analyses there were wrong. Republicans did not steal the election, but Gore did in fact win it. Blame our foolish Democracy and ballot procedures which fail to do a good job in some close elections.

North Carolina to Obama

Barack Obama has won the North Carolina Primary, beating Hilary Clinton in the state with the largest number of remaining delegates. Indiana also voted today but that race is too close to call by the TV networks.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

President Selector from SelectSmart

Not sure who to vote for? Select Smart has a candidate selector that will ask you several questions and help you find the right man..or woman... for the job:

Indiana Primary Looms. Obama and Clinton Stumping as Usual

One simply has to marvel at the *stamina* of American politicians, who spend pretty much 16 hours per day on the campaign trail for more than a year. While John McCain can take something of a break from the breakneck schedules of his opponents and focus on the November election, Clinton and Obama remain locked in a very close race that will probably be determined by superdelegates during the Denver Democratic Convention coming up in a few months.

Although Obama had the big "mo" until recently, he is not plagued with the Reverend Wright issue which has given Clinton a very needed boost in the polls both in primaries and in the national polls that pit Clinton or Obama vs McCain in the general election.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Obama as Liberation Theological Manchurian Candidate = Ridiculous

As Americans we like to see things in Black and White (no pun intended here), where gray is the color of compromise and the color of politics. It's unfortunate to see the contest for the Presidency swirl around the ranting of a retired pastor who clearly does not speak for Obama.

Although Reverend Wright's naive and misguided liberation theology themes are a legitimate issue, they should not be considered a major issue. Why? Because Obama's record is clear on many topics already, and he's not getting elected to be the national pastor. It's very reasonable to take Obama to task regarding his long term relationship with a person who holds the US Government in such great contempt, but it's not reasonable to reject Obama's answers out of hand.

The story is a perfect storm of fodder for right wingers like Sean Hannity, who is always on a crusade to cut down moderates and left-wing politicians like Obama. More than anybody Hannity has massaged this minor issue into a major one. One can only wonder if Hannity would even *pay attention* if the issue were racist rantings of white pastors. I don't think Hannity is a racist, but I believe he's hyping this issue beyond reasonable measure to further the Republican political agenda.

It's working.