Monday, April 21, 2008


Bitterland

I drove across Pennsylvania only once, heading east at edgy speeds with the object of making it into work Monday morning in New Jersey. Having left Seattle on Friday evening, I was admittedly feeling the strain, but what really got me was the state's deceptively vast topography. Once you're out of Pittsburgh, there's big long stretches of rocks and trees, not much traffic, and of the lights you see in the dark, most shine out from burbling rigs of long-haul truckers.

Traversing that state was like crossing the Kingdom of Bocephus Klein, its wild terrain conjuring images of war-painted savages attacking Conestoga wagons, making the environs of South Dakota seem chock-full of sophisticates. After midnight when I got The Nods, it was hard to find a place, any place, with a bed--a simple task in even the sparsest reaches of my neighboring home-state, which can get pretty sparse indeed. Sparse? Hell, it was as if space invaders took out a giant vacuum and sucked up all the people. By the time I found a motel, my status had been downgraded to 'Road Hazard,' and I was almost in New Jersey.

Tomorrow's democratic primary will probably be decided in that central section of Pennsylvania, where easy prospects are faded memories and self-reliance is tattooed on the faces of men like hearts that say 'Mom.' If I hadn't driven across it, I'd be far more inclined to take the P.A. polls on their numbers, which have Hillary Clinton ahead of Barack Obama by as much as 15 points. Even though she has much of the party machine's backing there and counts both the governor and Philadelphia's mayor as fervent supporters, a number of factors may have eluded polling to make the contest surprisingly close:

1) Lots of Newly Registered Democrats
Democrats have gained 326,756 PA voters since a year ago, and the Republicans have lost 73,009. Two bellwether Republican counties, Bucks and Montgomery, have gone Democrat for the first time in living memory. Speaking of which, Hillary Clinton has been a national figure for quite some time, so she's probably not the attractant.

2) Newly Registered Voters Trend Away From Clinton
This is why Obama is winning the national contest, and a poll by Franklin and Marshall College found that almost two-thirds of new Pennsylvania Democratic registrants in the past 3 months plan to vote for Obama.

3) Clinton's Peaking Negatives
Public perception is an odd beast; H.R.C. is the same person who was fired for lying on her first legal case back in 1974, and few laurels for truth have festooned her since. Yet the polled negatives rose by double digits via the euphroes of Bosnian embellishment; this will be the first primary since they were exposed. Her low-trustworthy scores will cast a chill on both undecideds and swing Republicans, and these are probably the chief termites in her numbers, down from 20+ a month ago.

4) Obama's Counterpunches
The "Gotcha" Debate went almost an hour before a non-bizarre question was asked. If an erstwhile moderator asks you, "Does your reverend beat his wife less than you do yours," it sucks, but it does give you occasion to fire back. Referring back to point 3), HRC has a political glass jaw, one that can't take more than a light jab. Early on, Obama resisted his staff's urgings and said, "I'm not going to knee-cap her," rightly believing a positive-message campaign played to his greater advantage. Going negative departs from message, but it's effective. As the Clinton "Kitchen" ad plays today (in which images of Osama bin Laden figure prominently), he finally hit her on trustworthiness.

5) Republicans Can't Vote Against Obama
Pennsylvania is a closed primary. That means the Limbaugh Factor at play in Ohio and Texas is largely void. Because Ohio and Texas hold open primaries, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh (amongst others) urged his listeners to cross party lines and vote for Hillary so the Democrats would "bleed each other white" and hand McCain victory in November. Figuring out how big an effect the anti-voting had in Ohio is speculation, but because of the multi-staged system in Texas, it can easily be inferred. Obama won the mailed ballots 57-42 to take an early lead, lost the general open vote by a steadily eroding margin, and yet handily won the subsequent caucuses to win the state. Odd? The math works out when you factor in the 600,000 self-described "strong conservatives" who voted in Texas' democratic primary. It won't happen in Pennsylvania.

The stilted, drawn-out primary pace, the birth of a new, as-yet-unchristened political current, and the roiling lobscouse of a ravenous media randomly muting and amplifying deeply rocked intangibles have given pollsters a rough time throughout these contests. Obama may not win tomorrow, and my political prognostications are as bad as anyone else's, but it's really, really hard to see how Clinton could muster enough enthusiasm in Pennsylvania's sprawling central belly to achieve more than stalemate there. To have a slim chance of staying in the delegate hunt she has to win by 15+, and the margin will be tighter. If it's only by 5, 6, 7, the race is effectively over. A bumper sticker floats in my mind's eye: I'm Amish, And I Vote.

21 comments:

Naj said...

I was a bit taken aback by hearing Obama has already conceded defeat in Pensylvania! What kind of strategy is that????

I wish he were more aggressive; I also wish he were more aggressive on that silly ABC debate!

I also wish that woman went to hell!

Jon said...

As a proud cheesehead, I have to point out that I traveled the width of Pennsylvania several times on the NJ-WI route. I remember that Western PA was a close to Wisconsin as I'd ever seen.

Most readers will think that comment a condemnation of hickness for Western PA. However, as I was homesick from living for years in the land of constant-suburbia (NJ), with Yuppie fern bars as far as the eyes could see, the bars in Western PA were a HUGE relief. Real people, real grilled cheeseburgers, real cheap tap beer. Not neccessarily in that order.

The good people of Wisconsin went in a large majority to Obama - despite an open primary and the Limbaugh defect. I mean, effect. The Obama rally I went to was the largest crowd I had seen at the Kohl Center (UW Madison's basketball arena); I'm a season ticket holder. These are real people, like those in Pennsylvania, and they know how to vote their hopes, not fears.

So, at the risk of being completely embarrassed, I make a prediction. Obama will win the Pennsylvania primary. Not come close, not lose by less than 10%, but a victory. You read it here first. ;)

Jon

pissed off patricia said...

Oh man Jon, I sure do hope you are correct.

I lived in Pa for a few years. I lived outside Philly. My favorite Sunday afternoon drive was to go out to the Amish land and admire their beautiful fields and homes. You could look forever and never see an electric line or electric pole. In many ways I envied their way of life.

MarcLord said...

Naj,

As for Hillary going to the Devil, she's already in regular communication with him. ;-)

While the polls have tightened from a +25 for HRC, they're still well beyond the margin of error. Polls are the only metric political strategists can believe in, and his team is probably telling him he'll lose PA.

MarcLord said...

Jon,

Yeah, getting 35,000 people out to a park on a chilly Friday night in Philly is no mean feat.

Thanks for coming out with the prediction--I sure wanted to, but one thing kept me back: they use Diebold voting machines. Therefore it matters tremendously who the governor or mayor supports.

But you know what? Obama might win anyway. Voting matters. Voting unexpectedly matters much more. The machines can be pre-set for votes more easily than they can be re-set later, when risk of observation is high. To pre-set a victory margin, you have to go off the polls.

This is speculation, but it would explain the extremely narrow Dem victories in November of '06. Statistical odds alone argue against the high number of 100-vote victories or defeats that were in Diebold states. It defied credulity.

My hunch is that Karl Rove guaranteed a Republican victory because he had thoroughly examined the polls in each state and district and adjusted accordingly. He was wrong because the polls were wrong, or at least unable to accurately measure the strength of voter volition. Obama has a chance.

MarcLord said...

Patricia,

hey thanks for stopping by!

Yeah, in the evening I saw the farms and some buggies, and the relative absence of lights out in the darkness later made me think there must be lots of Amish out there. Should've just stayed an extra day and enjoyed the countryside.

Zoey & Me said...

What all this adds up to, the entire post, is neither candidate can win in November even against a senile old man who says, "friends" all the time and can't remember where Iraq is.

Naj said...

Well ... the "obliterator" won, by two formidable forces in America's politics: phallic envy and senility!!

Jon said...

Alright, I admit it, I was wrong. I misunderestimated her.

MarcLord said...

Naj and Jon,

another way to look at it is that her negative campaigning squandered 12 points off a 20% lead. Obama will make up the diff in NC alone. And the NYT just barreled into her this morning, slamming her for staying in the race this long. She's not dead yet, though, that must be admitted.

Zoey & Me said...

The reason I dropped Obama off my radar screen was two things: first his show of pure arrogance: "I am confident I will get her votes if I'm the nominee. It's not clear she would get the votes I got if she were the nominee." That kind of in your face position does not bode well for anyone seeking the presidency and 2) he's against the Iraqi war but votes to fund it. He's purely parcel and part of the cake and eat it too crowd. No thanks.

Naj said...

Zoey,

Is Obama arrogant or Mrs obliterator who patronizes the voters and the "masses" and yet claims "i am fighting for you"!

Clinton's hypocrisy has exploded in America's face, she is more of a George Bush than even McCain is, and you want to elect her ONLY because Obama's self confident????!!!!

Well at least his self-sonfidence is not contaminated by petty and deceit as that of Mrs Cling-ton!

MarcLord said...

Arrogance is pretty much a requirement to run for President. Obama is too proud to steal, true. Hillary Clinton and her husband don't have that problem.

Obama has been better organized, raised more money, won more states, gained more delegates with a better strategy than the Clintons. He'll rip McCain a third asshole in the fall, if the Clintons don't steal the nomination by ripping off Michigan and Florida. That's the only way they can win.

Zoey & Me said...

Marc,
Forgive me, but why didn't he win in any big states, California, Texas, New York? etc?? You can see the ads already playing in NC by the GOP. They know he doesn't stand a chance in the racist South. He has to win in the mid west. He will NOT kick McCains ass.

MarcLord said...

You are forgiven, sir. First, he won Texas by 4 delegates. Next, Hillary Clinton owns the democratic machine in NY, it being her "home" state. Finally, if California were held today, he'd probably win it despite its being Latino-laden.

And as for McCain? Please. You had a post up about his grevious negatives up yourself a few days ago. No one's attacking him right now. It's simple. People don't want the Republican Party back in the White House.

Bruce said...

Hey Marc, I'm gonna play devil's advocate for a mintue. I know you are right that people don't want the Republican Party back in the White House.

But it's also true that people didn't want them in the White House in 2000 and 2004. And if it's Obama as the dem nominee in 2008, I anticipate tons of negativity and inuendo directed his way and little directed McCain's way, plus serious saber rattling at Iran to herd people to the former warrior/present warmonger.

We say, "eh, McCains a joke, a senile fool." But that doesn't mean too much considering they shoehorned the idiot son into the office twice.

Slapping down the will of the people is the number one sport these days, I'm afraid.

Jon said...

Or as I put it, never underestimate the Democrats' ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

MarcLord said...

Guys,

I don't discount McCain, not at all. He would've almost certainly won against Gore had he not been kneecapped. He's a stronger candidate than Bush ever was, and Rove the Guttermaster is working for him know.

But: Bush was running against a backdrop of Clinton Fatigue, AND he still had to steal two elections. Now the backdrop is Bush Fatigue. In a Gallup poll, 52% of Americans now lean Democrat, vs. 39% Republican. Democratic turnout dwarfed Republican turnout in every state, even a red stronghold like Virginia went purple. These are fundamental shifts.

As likeable as McCain is, Obama's favorability rating is still highest, even after weeks of getting pounded from HRC (and also McRove) attacks. He has stood up to front-runner scrutiny. Obama doesn't even have to attack McCain himself: all he has to do is attack the Republican Party, the Party of High Gas Prices.

Jon said...

Sorry, Marc, you seem to assume that one of the following will happen:
1) The R's will forget how to steal an election;
2) The American people will no longer succumb to fear-based attack ads; or
3) The American people will suddenly become smart enough to realize it's been the Republican party attacking their interests for all these years.

My point is not to show how cynical I am, but to try to keep people from being complacent. This thing ain't over by a long shot, despite the good and logical points you made. Americans don't vote on logic.

Zoey & Me said...

Marc,
I have to agree with Jon. We will see, over the summer, an attack by the U.S. on Iran or Syria, or both, coming soon. Then the fear machine will take over this next election and whoevers the Democratic candidate will mis-read the impact of war and stand solidly behind the President to prove their patriotism. They get sucked into that vacuum every election with Karl Rove at the helm. People will see them me-tooing it, and vote for McCain. Fear and loading the Diebold boxes with fixed votes will be in your neighborhood soon.

MarcLord said...

Jon, & Z&M,
you are both probably right, and have recent events on your side. The Fear Machine has worked, Obama could be the Barry Goldwater of an immature movement, and attacking Iran is the most important item on the BushCo shopping list.

I have to admit that my basis for thinking Obama will win the nomination and the presidency isn't bias, not even wishful thinking: it's primarily just intuition, the feeling that a national tide is turning. Fear is one end of a pendulum, hope is another, and affairs great and small swing between.

Still, you must admit it is entirely possible that attacking Iran will hand the elections to the Democrats rather than Republicans. It'll just make gas prices go up further and provide bigger contrast between the candidates. High gas prices aren't fear--they're loathing.

Polls show people are tired, and Bush and Cheney have the highest disapproval ratings of any presidency ever. Even on the Diebold black boxes, they didn't stop the Dems from winning state and local races in Ohio for the first time in almost 30 years.

You need not worry about complacency from me. I'm the one who was watching the TV on 9/11 and asked, "how could they already find out who all the terrorists were by the 7 o'clock news? And have their pictures?" I'm the canary called Cassandra, and I'm smelling some perfectly good air down this mineshaft.