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Indiana and North Carolina Postmortem

Barack Obama moved to within 200 delegates of securing the Democratic presidential nomination yesterday, scoring a 56-42 blowout in North Carolina while narrowly losing, 49-51, in Indiana. Barring revelations that would make the Wright affair look insignificant in comparison, the race is all over but the shouting.

Obama Wins the Night

AP’s Calvin Woodward:

On the rebound, Barack Obama left Hillary Rodham Clinton with fast-dwindling chances to deny him the Democratic presidential nomination after beating her in North Carolina and falling just short in an Indiana cliffhanger. Obama was on track to climb within 200 delegates of attaining the prize, his campaign finally steadying after missteps fiercely exploited by the never-say-die Clinton. His campaign dropped broad hints it was time for the 270 remaining unaligned party figures known as superdelegates to get off the fence and settle the nomination.

[...]

Clinton vowed to compete tenaciously for West Virginia next week and Kentucky and Oregon after that, and to press “full speed on to the White House.” But she risked running on fumes without an infusion of cash, and made a direct fundraising pitch from the stage in Indianapolis. “I need your help to continue our journey,” she said.

And she pledged anew that she would support the Democratic nominee “no matter what happens,” a vow also made by her competitor.

Polarizing, protracted and often bitter, the contest is hardening divisions in the party, according to exit polls from the two states. A solid majority of each candidate’s supporters said they would not be satisfied if the other candidate wins the nomination. Fully one-third of Clinton’s supporters in Indiana and North Carolina went beyond mere dissatisfaction to say they would vote for Republican John McCain instead of Obama if that’s the choice in the fall.

[...]

In both states, Clinton won six in 10 white votes while Obama got nine in 10 black votes, exit polls indicated. It was a slightly better performance than usual by Clinton among whites, while Obama’s backing from blacks was one of his highest winning percentages yet with that group.

Adam Nagourney of the NYT:

Despite narrowly winning Indiana, while losing North Carolina, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton did not fundamentally improve her chances of securing the Democratic presidential nomination. If anything, Mrs. Clinton’s hopes for overtaking Senator Barack Obama dwindled further on Tuesday night.

For Mr. Obama, the outcome came after a brutal period in which he was on the defensive over the inflammatory comments of his former pastor. That he was able to hold his own under those circumstances should allow him to make a case that he has proved his resilience in the face of questions about race, patriotism and political mettle — the very kinds of issues that the Clinton campaign has suggested would leave him vulnerable in the general election.

Beating Mr. Obama in Indiana, a state he had once been confident of winning, was an achievement for Mrs. Clinton. But it was hardly the kind of strong victory she posted in Pennsylvania and Ohio. And when paired with his comfortable victory in North Carolina — which Mr. Obama pointedly described in his victory speech as “a big state, a swing state” — it hardly seemed enough for Mrs. Clinton to convince so-called uncommitted superdelegates to rally around her candidacy.

While it remains all but impossible for Obama to win enough delegates to secure the nomination before the convention, Clinton has no chance of overtaking him in the delegate count or the (meaningless, mathematically flawed) popular vote. Mike Allen notes that she’s trying to move the target.

The campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has begun urging party officials and news organizations to include the disputed Florida and Michigan delegations when figuring the number of delegates needed to win the nomination. That unorthodox approach could put her in striking distance of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) over the next month.

Harold Ickes, Clinton’s chief delegate strategist, said in a telephone interview that the senator is likely to finish the primary and caucus season on June 3 “substantially less than 100 delegates behind” Obama’s total if those two states are included. “We don’t believe that this party is going to go forward into a presidential race without seating both Florida and Michigan,” Ickes said.

Clinton has thus far been unsuccessful in her attempts to include those states, stripped of their delegates, into the mix. It’s unfathomable that Howard Dean and the Democratic Powers That Be would change their mind at this late stage, in effect handing it to Clinton, barring some monumental scandal hurting Obama.

Indeed, both Tim Russert and Matt Drudge have proclaimed Obama “the nominee.”

The Popular Vote

To the extent that the argument that superdelegates should obey the “will of the voters” as reflected in the popular vote — which pretty much anyone who isn’t a die-hard Clinton supporter agrees is absurd — it looks as though Obama will win that, too. Here’s the latest estimate by the folks at RealClearPolitics:

Democrats Popular Vote Clinton and Obama

No matter how you slice it, it’s razor thin. There’s simply no reason for either candidate to think they have some great “mandate” if these numbers mean anything (which, by the way, they don’t). Still, the only way Clinton has a shot at taking the lead is with the inclusion of Florida and Michigan.

Does Hillary Finally Quit?

Several commentators think Clinton may finally have seen the light last night. TNR’s Michael Crowley asks, ” Does Hillary Know It’s Over?” He thought Clinton sounded “dispirited” last night. And Josh Marshall muses,

NBC just reported that Hillary Clinton is holding no public events tomorrow. We’d earlier reported that she’d cancelled her morning show appearances. But that’s not that surprising. There’s not a lot good to talk about. But canceling all public appearances, if that’s what they’re saying, is a different story.

So, obviously, she’s going to pack it in and graciously concede, right?

Not bloody likely. This is a Clinton we’re talking about here. Hillary Clinton, no less. While candidates always say they’re going to keep campaigning until it’s pried from their cold, dead hands right up until the point when they drop out, it’s simply not in this woman’s DNA to concede defeat.

We’ll be hearing murmurs from the Clinton camp for years to come about how this was stolen from her and that, if only Florida and Michigan had counted, it would have been hers. That’s doubly true if Obama loses to John McCain in November.

The Limbaugh Effect

The most bizarre question going around is the degree to which Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” influenced this thing. “Not enough,” would seem the obvious answer given that Clinton underperformed the polls in both states.

ABC’s Jake Tapper reports having met one voter who was heeding Limbaugh’s commands and, if he could find one, there must be thousands! millions!

There were anecdotal reports of big turnout in Republican precincts in Indiana — with, presumably, Republican voters asking for Democratic presidential ballots.

Were they Republicans swept up in Clintonmania or Obamamania? Or did they have something more devious on their minds?

Most of the Republicans voting for Clinton or Obama this election season have been voting sincerely for those candidates — or so they told us, at any rate.

Jonathan Chait thinks he’s found a proxy for measuring the “Limbaugh Effect.”

One exit poll question asks Indiana voters who they would support in a Clinton-McCain contest. 17% of them say McCain. Of those voters, 41% say they would vote for McCain over Clinton. In other words, these voters, 7% of the Indiana electorate, voted for Clinton in the primary but have no intention of supporting her in the fall.

Now, this isn’t a precise measure of the “Limbaugh effect” — no doubt there are some Republicans who backed Obama in the primary out of anti-Clinton sentiment, but plan to vote for McCain in November. But it is a good place to start when making a ballpark estimate. And it’s a sizeable number — 7% may wind up being as big as her margin of victory.

HuffPo’s Sam Stein adds more fuel to this fire:

Thirty-six percent of primary voters said that Clinton does not share their values. And yet, among that total, one out of every five (20 percent) nevertheless voted for her in the Indiana election. Moreover, of the 10 percent of Hoosiers who said “neither candidate” shared their values, 75 percent cast their ballots for Clinton.

These are not small numbers. By comparison, of the 33 percent of voters who said Sen. Barack Obama does not share their values, only seven percent cast their ballots in his favor. Basically, more people who don’t relate to Clinton are, for one reason or another, still voting for her. These are not likely to be loyal supporters.

On a broader level, among the 17 percent of primary goers who said they would choose Sen. John McCain over Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical general election match-up, 41 percent of that group came from Clinton’s own camp. In essence, roughly seven percent of Clinton support in Indiana (40 percent of 17 percent) said they would defect to the Republican should she end up the nominee. That would be a difficult punch to stomach in November. In 2004, nearly 1 million Indianans voted for John Kerry. A seven percent defection rate would have meant 70,000 less votes.

Did these Limbaugh people lie to pollsters, too, convincing them that they were likely Democratic voters? Otherwise, we need to account for the fact that fewer Clinton voters showed up at the polls — despite huge turnout — than in the polls.

Prediction Games

In our predictions yesterday morning, Dave, Alex, and I all picked the outcomes correctly. Alex came closest on the margins, picking Clinton to win Indiana by 5 points and Obama to win North Carolina by 10 points. SoloD was even closer, guessing 4 points and 10 points, respectively.

John Zogby, whose polls I dismissed as an outlyer in that post, got it pretty close, it turns out. He had a 14 point gap in NC but, alas, had Obama winning Indiana by 2. He missed that one.

The Needling and the Damage Done

The biggest concern for Democrats — and, indeed, much of the impetus for “Operation Chaos” — was that a prolonged nomination fight would bloody the eventual winner, damaging his chances against McCain in the Fall. The exit polls would seem to provide some evidence that this has happened.

Marc Ambinder worries about a ” Democratic Party crack-up.

Forget the horse race numbers for a moment: if the surveys are accurate, the polarization within the Democratic Party has reached critical levels. Nearly six in ten Obama supporters in Indiana say they would be dissatisfied if Clinton were the nominee — that’s (I believe) the high percentage of Obama supporters who have ever said that.

In both IN and NC, two thirds of Clinton supporters say they’d be dissatisfied if Obama were the nominee — I believe that’s the highest number recorded for that question, too.

The percentage of Clinton voters who say they’d choose McCain over Obama in a general election is approaching 40% in Indiana. Put it another way: in North Carolina, less than HALF of folks who voted today for Hillary Clinton are ready to say today that they’d definitely vote for Obama in a general election.

But this is just a furthering of existing trends, with partisans of each candidate digging in their heels. Remember all those Republicans who said they’d never vote for McCain? Or would vote for Hillary rather than McCain? Where are they now? Sure, some of them will never come home and that’s likely true for some Clinton voters, too. But history tells us that people get over these things and revert to form come election day.

The racial gap, which actually widened last night, is a legitimate concern. Blacks rallied to Obama in even greater numbers than previously and Clinton got slightly higher white support, especially among the “working class” (a term I truly despise, as it implies that those putting in 60 hours a week at high paying jobs don’t work).

Then again, Obama is almost certainly going to get the nomination. Which means the black base isn’t going to be alienated.

The question, then, is whether white Democrats are going to stay home in November — or even vote for McCain — in significant numbers. Why would they do that? Are we to believe that 40-odd percent of Democratic primary voters simply won’t vote for a black man? Or that the seemingly paper thin ideological differences between Clinton and Obama loom so large that her supporters will abandon the party in droves? That just doesn’t make sense.

Race and the Race

Interestingly, Andrew Sullivan — who yesterday was fearful that race would be a big factor in the postmortems — couldn’t be more pleased with the way things turned out.

Here’s what now seems obvious: African-American voters killed the Clinton candidacy. It is a fitting end to the Clintons’ campaign and an almost Shakespearean coda to their career. The Clintons were exposed in their long-running exploitation and reliance on minority votes. No group was more loyal to them than African-Americans; and in the end, like everyone else, African-Americans realized that the Clintons are frauds, disloyal to the core, cynical to their finger-tips, and finally, finally, returned the favor.

[...]

After what the Clintons did in this campaign, and what they’ve revealed about themselves, and their alliance with Fox News and Bill Kristol and Pat Buchanan, this couldn’t be more appropriate.

This will be history’s verdict: in the end, the Clintons were defeated not by Republicans, but by African-American Democrats. How wonderful. How poignant. In the end, the karma gets you. Maybe it had to be this way. But this final coup de grace against these awful, hollow, cynical people is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

It’s a good thing those African-Americans showed up! (Although, for the life of me, I’m not sure what Fox News, Bill Kristol, and Pat Buchanan have to do with anything.)

It’s doubtless true that black voters were decisive, propelling Obama to a huge win in North Carolina and making it close in Indiana. Indeed, there were so many absentee ballots in Gary that they were up late at night counting them.

On the other hand, let’s not forget that Obama got a handful of white votes, too. Like, 40 percent of them in these two states. And that he won numerous primaries and caucuses in states with negligible black populations.

Indeed, if Obama has been somehow transformed by this process into “the black candidate,” he’s doomed. Even presuming that he’ll energize that bloc like no candidate in recent decades, driving out turnout to record levels, we’re still talking about 12 percent of the population and less than that of the eligible voting population. Remember, too, that 90 percent of blacks routinely vote for the Democratic nominee anyway.

Fortunately for his party, though, Obama is far more than the Great Black Hope. He’s energized the youth vote and seems to have turned that phrase into something other than an oxymoron. A goodly number of Republican-leaning moderates have found him appealing. He’s going to be a very formidable candidate in the fall in a country that’s 74 percent white and where the voters will likely be closer to 80 percent white.

Race is going to be a factor in the election, of course, just as it always is. The “race gap” has always been much greater than the vaunted “gender gap.” But the contest will ultimately be decided on issues, personalities, charisma, trust, fear, and the same litany of intellectual and visceral issues that always decides these things.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    The Hillary camp has been saying that with Florida and Michigan added in she was the ‘popular’ vote winner (prior to yesterday’s election). Now that she is no longer the popular vote winner she’ll drop out, right?

    (sound of maniacal laughter)

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  2. [...] and Michigan and that Clinton isn’t going anywhere until they do (bingo!). OTB has a good postmortem and a look at the numbers. They also nail it with their assessment of the Clinton camp’s [...]

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  3. Bithead says:

    In the end, the real winner last night was JOhn McCain. Ambinder, lat night:

    Forget the horse race numbers for a moment: if the surveys are accurate, the polarization within the Democratic Party has reached critical levels. Nearly six in ten Obama supporters in Indiana say they would be dissatisfied if Clinton were the nominee — that’s (I believe) the high percentage of Obama supporters who have ever said that.

    In both IN and NC, two thirds of Clinton supporters say they’d be dissatisfied if Obama were the nominee — I believe that’s the highest number recorded for that question, too.

    The percentage of Clinton voters who say they’d choose McCain over Obama in a general election is approaching 40% in Indiana. Put it another way: in North Carolina, less than HALF of folks who voted today for Hillary Clinton are ready to say today that they’d definitely vote for Obama in a general election.

    I can’t say I’m overly happy about McCain and his candidacy, but I will say there are two and eventually one very good reason for voting for him; The Democrat candidates. I suspect, based on the numbers, that even rank and file Democrats are starting to understand this.

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  4. Elmo says:

    Or that the seemingly paper thin ideological differences between Clinton and Obama loom so large that her supporters will abandon the party in droves? That just doesn’t make sense.

    Dems making sense? Haha … good one James.

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  5. SoloD says:

    She may not drop out right away, but look for her tone to change. If she is too harsh, she will damage her future as a VP/Majority Leader/2012 Pres. candidate. She still is in good standing in the party, but she could really jeopardize that over the next month.

    My prediction (and for a change I got one close) is that she stays in through West Virgina, and leaves on a high note. (At this point she may also just stay in through the last primary.) But I don’t think you’ll see the scorched earth campaign that many Republicans seem to be hoping for.

    I also expect an large movement of uncommitted superdelegates to the Obama camp in the next few days.

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  6. Michael says:

    Bithead, it’s a long way to November, and whomever the Democratic candidate is (Obama), he will have plenty of time to give the loser’s (Clinton) supporters reason enough to vote against McCain.

    As I’ve said before, this primary is going to hurt McCain’s options of attack in the general, because Hillary is binding the strategy of her campaign to his (gas tax holiday, ready on day one), and his campaign seems eager to user her same lines of attack against Obama (Wright, bittergate). When Hillary loses, so does her line of attack.

    It may not be logical, but guilt by association happens to arguments as well as people (think of how Dan Rather poisoned the AWOL line of attack). Once Hillary is finally down and out, then anybody who brings up Wright, or bittergate, or starts calling Obama and economists elitists, will automatically be associated with losing, and that is something McCain doesn’t want. So McCain’s only options now are to find a new successful line of attack, or hope that Obama’s campaign doesn’t tie Hillary around his neck and watch him sink.

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  7. Bithead says:

    Bithead, it’s a long way to November, and whomever the Democratic candidate is (Obama), he will have plenty of time to give the loser’s (Clinton) supporters reason enough to vote against McCain.

    the winner of this race, whoever it is, will have their work cut out for them. This is the angriest bunch I’ve ever seen in 40 years of watching elections. I have my doubts they can be swung, frankly.

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  8. cian says:

    It now looks likely Obama will be the Democrats’ nominee for president of the United States, and whether or not you like him, whether he wins or looses against McCain, its got to be a good day for the country. Even Bithead has to admit that.

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  9. Michael says:

    This is the angriest bunch I’ve ever seen in 40 years of watching elections. I have my doubts they can be swung, frankly.

    Angry people are the easiest to swing, and all you have to do is tell them who they should be angry at. The people who support Clinton for rational reasons will be harder to swing because you have to appeal to their intelligence, but for them Obama is a much shorter swing than McCain. All in all, I don’t see Obama having a difficult time bringing the majority into the fold.

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  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    Run Hill run…..man I can’t wait till they start suing each other, swing………..

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  11. Our Paul says:

    What a way to sweeten your first java jolt, reading the smart set as they dissect yesterdays Clinton / Obama bash!!!

    Strikes me that the pundits, talking heads, bloggers, and ether net discussants are missing a point. Obama’s roots are as a street organizer, and he has put together a formidable political machine. How formidable? Look at his bank account.

    The money is not top down, but bottom up. Once a member of the great unwashed puts a couple of bucks down on his or hers favorite candidate, they are committed to vote. As for the gray beards of the Democratic party, the supper delegates, they are not going to pass up Obama’s organizing skills, nor will they pass up his money machine. The folks he has attracted is the future of the party.

    Full disclosure: My money went to Senator Dodd, but Opama’s getting closer to my wallet. The deficit, the war, health care, and after McCain’s last speech, the Supreme Court are on my mind…

    Moved from wrong thread. – jhj

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  12. Bithead says:

    It now looks likely Obama will be the Democrats’ nominee for president of the United States, and whether or not you like him, whether he wins or looses against McCain, its got to be a good day for the country. Even Bithead has to admit that.

    Actually, no, I don’t.

    The more bloodletting that goes on, on the left, the better it is for the country.

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  13. C Stanley says:

    Angry people are the easiest to swing, and all you have to do is tell them who they should be angry at. The people who support Clinton for rational reasons will be harder to swing because you have to appeal to their intelligence, but for them Obama is a much shorter swing than McCain. All in all, I don’t see Obama having a difficult time bringing the majority into the fold.

    Well, if that’s not the most candid statement of Democratic electoral strategy I’ve ever heard, then I don’t know what is.

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  14. Michael says:

    Well, if that’s not the most candid statement of Democratic electoral strategy I’ve ever heard, then I don’t know what is.

    It’s not just a Democratic strategy, the GOP has been using the same thing for as long as I can remember. Heck, politicians have been successfully using the strategy throughout history.

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  15. Pug says:

    (a term I truly despise [working class], as it implies that those putting in 60 hours a week at high paying jobs don’t work).

    There is a term for the 60-hour people, like you and me, James. It is “elitist”. Or you could use Paul Begala’s “egghead”. Whatever you prefer.

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  16. James Joyner says:

    There is a term for the 60-hour people, like you and me, James. It is “elitist”. Or you could use Paul Begala’s “egghead”. Whatever you prefer.

    I rather like “elitist egghead,” myself.

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  17. Bithead says:

    The word “Tired” leaps to mind, too.

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  18. anjin-san says:

    Turnout for the Democrats has been so huge that even fox analysts are admitting, on camera, that they are stunned.

    Fundamentals for the GOP suck. They are losing special elections in districts that should be completely safe.

    Bush has basically screwed everyone except billionaires. Including Republicans.

    McCain is not going to look very good when the spotlight hits him. He is on record admitting he is weak on the economy, and he does not seem to understand core issue in Iraq, such as the difference between Shia & Sunni.

    I am not happy at all about the campaign Hillary has run. I would be totally bummed if she should somehow get nominated. Then I would get out and work to get her elected. This country cannot stand any more incompetence and corruption from the GOP. I suspect most Democrats will do the same…

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  19. Bithead says:

    Turnout for the Democrats has been so huge that even fox analysts are admitting, on camera, that they are stunned.

    yeah, well, if Lake County is an indication of how genuine those voters are, you may be in for a bit of a stunning, yourself.

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  20. [...] as adding Florida to the current popular totals still gives Obama an edge of 417,285 votes (click here and scroll down to see a table with te various permutations of the popular vote totals). Sphere: [...]

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  21. anjin-san says:

    Sure bit sure.

    How are things in Louisianas 6th? And in Haster’s old district.

    How about New York State Senate 48th district?

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  22. Bithead says:

    Glad you brought that up, Anderson… the election boards in those areas are run by whom, again?

    See? The argument does in fact carry over.

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