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April 19, 2007

I'm Ezra Klein

And I endorse this op-ed. Of course, it's also written by the guy who signs my checks, but still -- Harold's perspective on Obama is damn smart. The one thing you can't underestimate, though, is the political potency of his connection with the African-American community. One reason candidates of the intellectual class have been failures in the primaries is that they got buried in the African-American vote, which went heavily for the establishment Democrat. Obama blunts that traditional disadvantage, which may prove important.

All that said, Obama currently trails in every primary state. He's a terrifically strong runner-up, but he needs to actually look likely to win somewhere to maintain momentum. New Hampshire strikes me as his best bet, given their traditional affection for reform-minded folk, but for now, his path to the nomination looks much less clear than his path to a really strong second-place for the nomination. I don't know how exactly he syncs his national appeal with the idiosyncratic demands of the early states, but he's going to have to figure it out.

Also, it's early, etc.

Update: Whoops, David Mizner points out that some polls have Obama ahead in South Carolina. That i didn't know. I still think he needs one of the first two, but strength in SC is important.

April 19, 2007 | Permalink


"Obama currently trails in every primary state."

As most people here know, I'm in the tank for Edwards, but I feel compelled to point out that at least one poll has Obama up, way up, in South Carolina.

Posted by: davidmizner | Apr 19, 2007 12:54:57 PM

Your point, though is well taken: Obama's support among African-Americans make him a different kind of upscale candidate. Too often, working class is shorthand for "white." Obama has plenty of working class supporters; most of them are black.

That said, Obama's inability or unwillingess to engage in much needed class warfare leaves a huge opening for Edwards, which he's beginning to walk through. Edwards is beating Obama (and Clinton) handily in the Midwest primarily because of the support of working class and middle class whites drawn to his populism. For the moment Clinton is doing okay among low-income voters, but that's maninly because of the Clinton brand. As the season progresses, more downscale whites will be coming into the Edwards camp.

And this issue raises huge electability questions. Although the political power of white working class voters is sometimes overstated, there's no question that they're an important swing vote--especially in the all-important industrial Midwest. Edwards would beat the Republican candidate among this constituency. Would Obama? Very much an open question.

Posted by: davidmizner | Apr 19, 2007 1:10:41 PM

As Mizner points out, one poll has him way up in South Carolina.
And given the prominence of the Indy vote in New Hampshire, I would guess that he would be the early favorite there.
And speaking as a Midwesterner (I live in Illinois), I can say that while Edwards is likely to do well in Iowa, the fact that after spending as much time in Iowa over the last two years as he has that Edwards is no higher in the polls than he is today is not good news for Edwards.
My sense is, from talking to middle-aged and older folks I know, that there are a lot of folks who will end up supporting Obama who are afraid that he is just another "flash in the pan." I suspect that about half of the Clinton support is soft enough that it could go to Obama (or Edwards).
Look for Obama to take a more "red meat" approach in the future when he addresses union audiences.

Posted by: PaulD | Apr 19, 2007 1:16:04 PM

By the way, I don't think the $400 haircuts and the 28,000 square foot house (1/2 the size of the White House) are going to be real helpful to Edwards as the white blue-collar voters decide who to support in the primary season.
Those seem real strategically dumb for a candidate trying to position himself as the populist candidate.

Posted by: PaulD | Apr 19, 2007 1:26:10 PM

One last comment, then I'll shut up--at least for a while. I love the multiple ironies at work in this race. Obama, the less progressive candidate, is riding the support of the most progressive constituency, African-Americans, to lead in the most conservative region, which happens to be Edwards's hometurf.

Posted by: davidmizner | Apr 19, 2007 1:26:19 PM

One thing I've not seen explained with the new front-loaded primary schedule is what happens if none of the candidates ends up with a majority of the delegates? These seems more likely than in the last few decades as fewer candidates may have dropped out early. Is it back to the smoke-filled backrooms then?

Posted by: mrgumby2u | Apr 19, 2007 1:29:07 PM

"By the way, I don't think the $400 haircuts and the 28,000 square foot house (1/2 the size of the White House) are going to be real helpful to Edwards as the white blue-collar voters decide who to support in the primary season.
Those seem real strategically dumb for a candidate trying to position himself as the populist candidate."

FDR, Kennedy: working class voters have never had a problem voting for rich candidates, especially, I suspect, ones like Edwards who made their own wealth.

Strategically dumb? Maybe, but a lot less stratgetically (and morally) suspect than Obama's getting in bed with Wall Street and K-Street.

Believe me, working class voters in Ohio care a lot more about NAFTA than haircuts.

Posted by: davidmizner | Apr 19, 2007 1:43:26 PM

I doubt the polls will be much more than a name and familarity right now. mid to end of summer is when the polling will be a bit more viable.
Especially with Hillary's strong negatives

Posted by: vwcat | Apr 19, 2007 1:57:20 PM

The one thing you can't underestimate, though, is the political potency of his connection with the African-American community.

Ya THINK!!??

Obama, the less progressive candidate, is riding the support of the most progressive constituency, African-Americans, to lead in the most conservative region, which happens to be Edwards's hometurf.

Yeah, now *there's* a mystery

We're always told by the liberal left that the black commnunity will not vote race, and then when it comes down to it, I believe they will, indeed, vote race.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 19, 2007 2:03:52 PM

Paul D. I am in Illinois as well. You know how surprised the people in the rest of the country will be when they find that Obama is highly intellegent, has loads of substance and depth. this monday he makes his Iraq speech that got cancelled after the shootings.
For Davidmizner: How can Obama be not as progressive when all the ratings of the Senate constantly have both my senators, Durbin and Obama, in the top of most liberal. And is rated the most liberal of the presidential candidates.
As for electability: though I am not putting much into the polling right now, it constantly shows him beating all 3 of the top gop candidates while both Edwards and Clinton cannot beat Guilliani and sometimes McCain.
And who draws thoudsands to his rallies, much more in attendance than for either Clinton or Edwards or even both combined. And it is not just 20 year olds. There are tons of older people as well.

Posted by: vwcat | Apr 19, 2007 2:06:36 PM

It will be interesting to see if Obama can bring a little more red meat to the blue collar table. If he does, it will be hard to stop him from getting the nomination. But I don't see it being one of his strengths.

Obama is a liberal, no doubt, but there are real inequities in America today, and things got to be the way they are because it made people more money. If a candidate will even talk about changing these arrangements, that candidate will upset that group that profits from them. Obama does not want to upset people, he wants to bring them together. Union members in Ohio remember being brought together by Bill Clinton only to get hosed by NAFTA. Call it Obama's dilemna.

Posted by: chimneyswift | Apr 19, 2007 2:18:56 PM

I'm genuinely conflicted on which of the Clinton, Obama, Edwards trio can beat Republican. After all that has happened under a GOP pres (and the less than stellar GOP candidates), I can't past the fact that Rudy (another GWB if there was one) runs nearly equal or ahead in the polls. Polls this early don't have much predictive value, but it shouldn't be even close between the Dems. and Repubs - but it appears to be.

What can the voters be thinking? They say (in polls) they are against nearly everthing the Repubs have done under Bush, but then rate a second-rate GOP candidate high enough to make it look like a race. Clearly, none of the Dem. candidates is exciting the voters enough to offer evidence that they can actually win.

I'm feeling premature despondency for 08.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 19, 2007 2:24:56 PM

I can't past the fact that Rudy (another GWB if there was one)

Rudy's natural base is not in the South. Interestingly, none of the top line Republicans are of the South. Gee, I wonder if that suggests anything about how Republicans diagnose their weaknesses.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Apr 19, 2007 2:41:38 PM

I agree that Giuliani is the biggest threat. However, I think that either Obama or Edwards could beat him. Even if much of the traditional GOP-base still voted for Giuliani, he wouldn't get enthusiastic support due to his stands on social issues and skeletons in his closet. The only way support might get drummed up for Giuliani is is HRC is the Democratic nominee.

Posted by: JM | Apr 19, 2007 3:25:49 PM

I agree with JM -- I think Giuliani beats HRC, and possibly Edwards too. Not sure about Obama though.

Posted by: fiat lux | Apr 19, 2007 3:33:14 PM

Every election year we see this obsession with week-to-week polling as political junkies look for answers in the tea leaves and statistical nonsense.

So we get comments like:

No mayor has ever been elected president, no Democrat can win without winning Texas, no Republican can win without winning South Carolina, Americans elect Governors over Senators, no candidate has ever won the presidency without winning his home state.

and now intellectual candidates are failures

and, of course, no woman has ever won, no minority has ever won, no one over the age of 70 has ever won, and no Mormon has ever won.

Now that we've eliminated all the major candidates running today, can we agree that elections are won by the people in the race, not by silly fortune telling.

These things are all true, until they're not. They are observations, not predictors. We're dealing with a statistically tiny sample here.

Posted by: Mikef | Apr 19, 2007 3:52:58 PM

Going to keep saying this even though nobody cares...

It's too early to divine anything. It's too early to divine anything. It's too early to divine anything.

About a thousand different things can and will happen before the first state votes. I know a lot of people wouldn't have jobs if they didn't over analyze the shit out of every move or non-move ("Where's Obama's health plan?!? The primary isn't until next year but I demand service NOW!"), but, even for someone who's a political junkie like me, I'm already turned off to all of this.

Wake me up on Election Day next year.

Posted by: Mike P | Apr 19, 2007 5:14:26 PM

I actually am of the opinion that Obama's current strategy is fine. It's true he's somewhat-bombed in various interest group forums, and this is due in part to his concilliatory approach to his politics. However, it can't be helped: Obama just isn't a propogandist, by intellect or inclination, and it would be too phony to try to become one at this date.

Now taking that into account, the obvious thing to do is to try to turn this into a strength, to play it up and to make it a central feature of his candidacy--which Obama is doing quite effectively. If he loses because he's not partisan enough for people's tastes, well, the voters can make that choice. But it's most important not to compromise who he is.

Personally, I don't think Obama's rhetoric is going to be the deciding factor, or at least not the negative deciding factor. By far the most dangerous counter-narrative to his candidacy is the "empty suit" no substance charge. At a distant second is the "inexperienced" charge. If Obama can successfully knockout both of those criticisms, then I think he has a pretty damn good chance of winning the nomination.

Posted by: Korha | Apr 19, 2007 5:52:19 PM

no Democrat can win without winning Texas

Who says that? Bill Clinton would be surprised to hear it.

But more seriously/substantively, you're right that "such and such has never happened" means squat when it comes to presidential politics. Elections are rare occurrences, and the political and social climate changes rapidly. Even if the political environment had remained the same over the entire course of US history, we'd still have a relatively small sample size. Given that what got somebody elected in 1880 is completely irrelevant, the sample size is drastically reduced.

Hell, even elections from 20 years ago don't seem to have much to teach us given how drastically different the environment is. I mean for God's sake, in 1984 Reagan won forty-nine states, including California, Massachusetts, Vermont. That's inconceivable today.

Posted by: Jason | Apr 19, 2007 6:20:08 PM

Trippi! Trippi! Trippi!

Posted by: Petey | Apr 19, 2007 7:27:50 PM

Did I mention Trippi?

Posted by: Petey | Apr 19, 2007 7:53:23 PM

The following may sound snarky or humorous, but I mean it completely seriously:

I fail to see how a Democratic candidate supported by both Trippi and Petey can not end up winning the nomination.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 19, 2007 8:05:02 PM

I'm a very middle class worker. I make about 40 grand, and my health insurance is covered by my employer. If I want my spouse covered, that's extra. He is disabled on Social Security. He gets medicare, but since he's under 65 there is (by statute) no medigap option for him. If he wants anything beyond medicare (which only covers 80% of procedures and nothing on drugs) we have to pay $400 per month extra. That's a bargain because I get it through the small employer group organization in NE Ohio. Otherwise, his coverage would be anywhere from $750 to $1000 per month.

Taxwise, this means that his health insurance alone is so high that we can actually deduct health insurance on our tax return (we're above the 7.5% of income limitation.)This is crazy. If we ever filed a claim, my small employer would probably be priced out of the insurance market.

I haven't had a raise in six years, because the health insurance increases are so high that it eats up salary increases.

We need a single payer arrangement like Canada. The Brits hate their national health insurance, but the Canadians, the Scandanavians, the French, the Germans, and the Italians all love theirs.

Posted by: sab | Apr 19, 2007 8:50:33 PM

"...is riding the support of the most progressive constituency, African-Americans"

Economically progressive, but on social issues and miltary/security issues? Do Southern Blacks have the same opinions as Northern Blacks? I had long thought that HRC's "triangulations" was a move to the right on issues where the Black voters were more conservative than the white base.

Obama is obviously attempting another historically valid strategy. I honestly don't know who is the "least progressive" of the three.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 19, 2007 8:55:28 PM

Obama or Edwards are fine. HRC is not. And to answer the question of least progressive- that would be be HRC.

Posted by: akaison | Apr 19, 2007 9:26:37 PM

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