Monday, March 03, 2008

The election swings on women

Maybe I've been watching too much TV, but I'm amazed to think that Hillary has a chance of pulling this off, or at least, realistically, pushing it to the convention and the superdelegates. I don't know if the polling organizations have been able to compensate/balance for their inability to really reach good samples of people under the age of 30 (not many landline phones). In the past, that hasn't mattered because they don't really turn out to vote much, but in this election, it does.

But if the polls are relatively accurate, then she's ahead very slightly. What Hillary needs is a couple of wins tomorrow to keep the money train rolling. It doesn't matter by how much of a margin with the win. Then, over the next week, Wyoming and Mississippi caucus and vote, respectively. Both are relatively likely to go for Obama. Then there's a break for 6 weeks before the remaining 10 states and territories vote.

This break is critical because it's enough time to get field organizations set up in those remaining areas. The Clinton campaign's biggest mistake is not setting up field operations in states. It seems as though they had field (get out the vote, door-to-door, local campaign offices, volunteer coordinators, lawn signs) in some of the major states, the ones that are critical to the general election. She won many of those. Clearly, they were looking ahead to the general, thinking the primary would be no big deal. Good to get a little organization rooted for the general, right?

Basically, she might prevent Obama from getting enough delegates to trigger nomination, and/or keep the delegate count between them pretty even. Super delegates will be looking to see which way the wind blows--they don't get anything unless they've been backing the winning horse before a decision is reached. Her argument to superdelegates would be that she's the person who's won almost all of the states that will be important in the electoral college in the general election. Hillary, saved by the system.

The problem for Democrats is, of course, two-fold (or maybe three-fold): Obama will, I would guess, be ahead in the total popular vote tallies. So the party risks looking like Antonin Scalia in Bush v. Gore. Second, this whole primary season throws up in the air the conventional wisdom of the big states mattering most. Obama has been able to get as far as he has by bundling together the medium-sized and smaller states. And that's one of the strategies the Dems will need to win the general. The smaller states are now tremendously energized because of this long, extended contest. For the first time in decades, it matters whether people in Vermont or Rhode Island go to the polls. It may matter whether people in Montana go to the polls (big area, small population).

To win without the southern block, Dems need to win maybe one southern border state, but win a lot of other smaller states. And all of the electoral college math and trends dating back to 2000 shows that it's possible to win without the south. Do the Dems really want to give the smaller states the impression that they don't matter, after all?

Finally, look at the voter alienation picture. It's Obama who's been bringing substantial numbers of new voters and new registrations into the fold: students, low-income voters, and other voters under the age of 30. These are the populations that tend to vote Democratic, but rarely turn out to actually vote. If Hillary becomes the nominee, they may not vote in the general. Hillary's support base is white women over the age of 45/50. These are the people who always vote.

But it's the softer support of women in their forties that may swing this primary election. That's where her power to win lies. Women constitute a little more than half of the population, but constitute 57% of registered voters. That margin of victory lies in that 4-5% of the female population that just isn't wild about her, but might be persuaded. The thing that's always bothered me about Hillary is that she's never actually tried to appeal to women as a group--she's relied on us for sympathy, but has never pitched a speech at us, never vowed to make our lives better, make the workforce fairer, or anything like that. It's that pro-choice line of 'choosing' to have a child--we can make life fair for you up to the point you decide to become a mother and then bets are off.

But I won't go into that tonight. This election, though, hinges on women--what a thought. Not 'soccer moms' or 'security moms' but women generally.

And, bad weather tomorrow in Ohio? Freezing rain? Only the most committed voters will vote--and who will that be?

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