I now believe Obama will win our nomination. His lead among delegates was built by his activist-based victories in states that allocate delegates by caucus. You win such states by having the money to compete on the ground (which has been internet based for Obama) and by generating excitement among the faithful. For all her strong points, Clinton has been unable to generate activist excitement. And because her fundraising was centered around contributors to her husband (‘investors’) she was able to raise a lot of money but not a lot when compared to Obama.
Clinton has been able to compete financially against Obama in the large, primary states while conceding the caucus states. But all states now allocate delegates in proportion to the votes cast (as opposed to the old days, when all of California’s delegates went to George McGovern). So even with impressive victories in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio and now Indiana, Clinton’s delegate total only advanced proportionately. Obama built his 150+ advantage in caucus states.
As for “superdelegates”, Clinton had an early advantage because of the relationship most of them had with her ex-president husband. But those who remained uncommitted were obviously people who had turned down her (and Bill’s) importunities. Among them the edge clearly shifted to Obama. Unless she looks like a sure thing, those superdelegates are likely to move to Obama. (Superdelegates are also likely to weigh the value of the new energy brought to the party by Obama on a different scale than others – and value it more).
Had Michigan and Florida obeyed the rules that govern all states in the delegate selection process, Clinton might well have the lead now enjoyed by Obama. But they didn’t, and those rules will be enforced by the party chieftains who put them in place in the first instance. The Clinton campaign can provide a rationale by which those rules could be broken, but they will not have officials who will pay attention to that rationale or the votes of other delegates to sustain such a “rule break”. Delegations will be seated, but without any decisive edge going to Clinton of the sort she might have won in a real set of contested primaries there.
So the doors are closing on Hillary Clinton. Her loss in North Carolina and very narrow win in Indiana will not change the coverage of the race back to “momentum” stories and away from “delegate count” stories. Barring a sweep of the final six events and an unexpected change of heart by party officials who have the responsibility of dealing with Michigan and Florida, her campaign will be over on June 3rd. She could take it further, of course, but too many of her own contributors, delegates and supporters will at that point begin to focus on beating John McCain and ending eight dismal years to continue a struggle that will appear increasingly divisive and mean-spirited on her part.
In the meantime, I think this contest is the best thing that has happened to the Democratic Party in 40 years. Pundits may think it has gone on forever, but voters are slow to pay attention. We have got their attention. And while there is division in support between the candidates – which includes a demographic division and some racism and some antipathy towards women – that is minor league, in my opinion. The Republicans may try and equate Rev. Wright and Obama to make anti-black bigotry look respectable, but it won’t work. Obama is so obviously not Rev. Wright.
And after (stupidly, I thought) making Hillary into ‘one of the boys’ instead of playing to her strength as a woman, she’s managed to overcome the weakness of her handlers and even to outgrow “Bill” and emerge as a tough-minded and determined person in her own right. No woman will be disparaged as a serious candidate because of her gender in future elections. Clinton’s women supporters will be disappointed, but they will have no reason to be bitter.
Our convention should be a true event this year. Not an obvious ratification of prearranged succession (Humphrey, Mondale, Gore) or the coronation of a person relatively unknown to voters at the time (Carter, Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Kerry), but of someone increasingly visible over an eight month period. It will generate energy and huge amounts of good will for our nominee.
In 1968, the last year the Democrats had a significant set of primary elections, assassination removed one of the candidates and left three who each represented ideological polarities: an opponent of the war in Vietnam, a supporter of the President’s view on the war, and a sectional candidate who supported segregation. Unity was hardly possible.
This year the differences between the leading Democratic candidates are hardly ideological – in fact, I have difficulty keeping track of them week to week.
But the differences between the two parties are greater than anyone can remember. We oppose this silly, pointless, endlessly expensive war. McCain embraces it. We see the inflation that inevitably follows spending without revenue (the war again), making the economy a huge issue. McCain wants a continuation of a policy that cuts social spending and pays off the rich. Our campaign will focus America on the issue’s that matter (to Americans) and make November a referendum on whether we have more of the same, or a “change” in direction.
It should be, in the words of James Farley, “a big night for the little people”.
Bill Cavala was Deputy Director of the Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services where he worked for over 30 years.
He attended undergraduate and graduate school in the 1960’s and received a doctorate in political science at UC Berkeley. He taught political science at UC Berkeley during the 1970’s while he worked part-time for the State Assembly.
Cavala left teaching at UC Berkeley and went to work for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in 1981 until his tenure as Speaker ended in 1995, and he has worked for his five successors as Speaker up to and including Speaker Fabian Nunez.
Mr. Cavala manages election campaigns for Democratic candidates.