Sunday, February 10, 2008

Obama takes Maine

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There are two big stories today on the Democratic campaign trail:

1) Obama won the Maine caucuses.

2) Clinton's campaign manager stepped down.


However the latter story is spun, there has clearly been a shake-up in the Clinton camp. Clinton was supposed to have won the nomination by now, or at least to have been well out in front. Basically, Super Tuesday was supposed to have been her big day, the "national" primary to secure the nomination. But the race hasn't quite gone as planned, or as expected, for Clinton. She won New Hampshire, a solid victory after Iowa, and she was well ahead in both national and state polls, but Obama trounced her in South Carolina and closed the gap heading into Super Tuesday, when he won more states than Clinton and essentially pulled even. It was (and is still) a tight race, but the advantage was clearly Obama's, and he followed up his astounding performance on Super Tuesday with a sweep this weekend. Obama now has the momentum heading into Tuesday's "Potomac Primary" in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.

And so, in the Clinton camp, Patti Solis Doyle is out and Maggie Williams is in. As in sports, where coaching and managerial changes in the middle of the season are common these days, it is likely being hoped that a new manager will turn the campaign around -- and that this crisis can be overcome.


But things don't look so good for Clinton right now.

Maine was once considered to be a Clinton stronghold. Back in October, for example, she was ahead of Obama, according to one poll, by an overwhelming 46 to 10 margin (h/t: Matt Yglesias). With 99 percent of precincts reporting, however, Obama is up by 19 points, 59 to 40, in today's caucuses -- yet another decisive victory.

Let's look again at our table of the primaries and caucuses between Super Tuesday and the March 4 (Ohio and Texas), along with the results:

-- Louisiana (2/9): CHECK (57-36 -- 21 points)
-- Nebraska (2/9): CHECK (68-32 -- 36 points)
-- Washington (2/9): CHECK (68-31 -- 37 points)
-- Virgin Islands (2/9): CHECK (90-8 -- 82 points)
-- Maine (2/10): CHECK (59-40 -- 19 points)
-- Maryland (2/12)
-- Virginia (2/12)
-- D.C. (2/12)
-- Hawaii (2/19)
-- Wisconsin (2/19)

Look at those margins of victory. It's not just that Obama has won all the post-Super Tuesday contests so far, it's that the votes haven't even been close.

Here's Andrew Sullivan: "[S]omething happened today -- the same thing that happened in Washington and Nebraska. In not-so-great weather, a huge turnout delivered a another huge margin of victory to Obama. The message is clear and its volume is increasing. The more Democrats look closely at their two candidates, the more the insurgent begins to look like the inevitable."

Nothing is inevitable, of course, and the race is far from over. But, as I (and others) have been saying over and over again, Obama looks extremely strong right now, and he could very well follow up his weekend sweep with big wins on Tuesday.


I want to respond briefly to a point being made by Obama's detractors, namely, that he is mainly winning red states where the Dems have no chance in November. They see this as a reflection of a central weakness in Obama's candidacy and prospects in a general election against McCain.

First, Obama is not just winning red states like Georgia and Nebraska. He is winning all over the country, in region after region -- for example, in Iowa, in South Carolina, in Colorado, in Missouri, in Minnesota, in Washington, and now in Maine. While it is true that he is winning most of the red states, he is also winning key swing states like Missouri and Colorado, as well as Democratic strongholds like Maine.

Second, while it is true that Clinton has won large blue states like California, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, these states should go Democratic in November regardless of whether she or Obama is the nominee. Obama may not have won, say, New York, where he didn't have a chance against the junior senator, but New York would vote overwhelming for Obama come November.

The fact that Obama has done so well in red and purple states is a sign of his electoral strength beyond the blue states on the coasts. It is a sign that he could win those purple states and be competitive in certain red states in November. While Clinton is looking more and more like a regional candidate backed up by the establishment (or certain key parts of it in certain key states), Obama is looking more and more like a genuinely national one who would force McCain and the GOP to play defence all over the country. This would only help the Democrats in the general election.

If he keeps up the winning -- in states red and blue and everything in between -- he will continue to show that he is the strongest option for the Democrats come November.

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  • A "solid victory" for Clinton in New Hampshire? Come on. It was supposed to be her early firewall, yet she managed only a 2-point margin, and less than 40% of the vote.

    Had it not been for all those polls that suggested the post-Iowa bounce for Obama was going to be enough to give him a plurality, the story would have been about how weak Clinton's showing was.

    She had led NH polls by 10 points or more before Iowa, and barely hung on in a state she invested heavily in.

    Seems anything but "solid" to me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:04 PM  

  • I take your point. I suppose I was, in retrospect, giving Clinton a bit too much respect, playing up what was otherwise a narrow and, given how far ahead she had been in the polls, disappointing win.

    What I suppose I meant by "solid" was a significant enough victory to regain momentum (which, as you know, is media-driven, not reality-driven).

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 9:36 PM  

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