WAS TUESDAY SUPER?

February 11, 2008

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by Charles Bierbauer

Super Tuesday did what we thought it could.  And, then again, it didn’t.  It sorted out the Republicans and stretched out the Democrats.

Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are in a race that could run right up to the Democrats’ summer convention if the Democrats want to risk the bloodying that might entail.  Mitt Romney has bowed out, as much to avoid the continued bludgeoning Republicans might endure had he stayed in.  John McCain is the nominee apparent.  Mike Huckabee will eventually fold his evangelical tent.  He has made his point that the conservative Republican right is uneasy with McCain, perhaps enough to get Huckabee a spot on the McCain ticket.

The good news for McCain is that he can anticipate some rest and replenishment, though there are still primaries and delegates to be won before the nomination is a lock.  But in McCain’s experience, Super Tuesday may have only been surpassed by the day he was freed as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  This is a different kind of relief, but again a measure of vindication for McCain’s perseverance just months after his campaign appeared to be dying.

The bad news for Clinton and Obama is that there will be little rest, and the need for financial replenishment won’t go away.  There are more primaries this week and next.  Texas and Ohio in March.  Pennsylvania in April.

What do we know that we didn’t know before Super Tuesday?

The Democratic Party has some real rifts in the appeal of its candidates along ethnic and gender lines.  Obama can attract white votes, especially now that John Edwards is out of the race.  He’s still dominant with African-Americans.  Clinton has an edge with women, and since women are a majority of all voters, that edge is critical.  She is strong with Hispanics who don’t line up with African-Americans.  Broad strokes, of course, but sharp enough to suggest that each state presents unique challenges based on its demographics.  Note how many Super Tuesday states were won by wide majorities.

The Republican Party has a gulch between its very conservative wing and its moderate middle.  Romney could not buy enough votes with all the money he pulled out of his own pocket.  Huckabee did not need much money to appeal to the evangelicals and didn’t have much to broaden his appeal.  McCain is on his way to the nomination because he was the only Republican acceptable to moderates and independents and, therefore, the only candidate with a chance of a November victory.

What did we know that Super Tuesday confirmed?

The primary calendar always favors those who can make the long haul.  A candidate first has to get noticed—the retail politicking of Iowa and New Hampshire facilitates that.  A candidate needs to gain traction—the elder George Bush called it the “Big Mo” of an early caucus or primary victory.  Momentum brings money for the long haul.  In the long haul, delegates are what matters.

It is much easier to win—or lose—delegates on the Republican campaign where winner-take-all or winner-take-most states abound.  It is a much longer slog on the Democratic campaign where delegates are mostly apportioned according to the actual vote.  If Obama and Clinton continue to divvy up the primaries, the uncommitted party officials who are “super delegates” become the critical deciding force.

The calendar, of course, is brutal.  It begs reconsideration. The states’ mad competition to be among the first to cast votes created the Super Tuesday dash through more than 20 states.  Ironically, the states that abandoned March or even April dates may wish they’d held what may turn out to be a more decisive place in the process.

Michigan and Florida especially jeopardized their impact by defying Democratic Party rules in order to leap to the head of the queue.  The party retaliated by stripping away the two states’ convention delegates.  We’ve undoubtedly not heard the last of that action if the Clinton-Obama race remains so tight that Michigan and Florida delegates would be decisive.  Al Gore’s Florida lawyers must already be preparing their legal briefs.

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Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns for CNN from 1984 through 2000.
He is dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university.  Bierbauer is senior contributing editor and a consultant to SCHotline.com.

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BLOOD ON THE FLOOR

January 28, 2008

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by Charles Bierbauer

Barack Obama’s victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary was—what’s an adequate word?—dramatic, overwhelming, impressive, gratifying, satisfying.  How, then, dare one suggest that there is still a measure of insufficiency in Obama’s triumph?

Obama more than doubled the vote for his closest competitor Hillary Clinton.  He outpolled Clinton and John Edwards combined.  According to exit polls, Obama was first with women, younger voters, college graduates and higher income voters.  Clinton won Horry County; Edwards won Oconee.  Obama won all the rest—Upstate, Midlands, Low Country.  He won 78 percent of the Africa-American vote.

Obama was justifiably elated Saturday night.  “We’ve got the most votes, the most delegates, the most diverse coalition,” he told supporters who jammed Columbia’s
Convention Center.

And 24 percent of the whites who voted in the Democratic primary.

Obama will say—has said—this is not a campaign of black versus white, but of “the past versus the future.”

By winning the Iowa caucuses, Obama demonstrated that he belongs in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.  The pundits were impressed because Iowa’s minority population is negligible.  Still, Iowa could have been a fluke.  The next contests—New Hampshire and Nevada—went to Clinton.

South Carolina, we pundits said, would be a better test. It is the first foray into the South and has a significant African-American population that votes in strength in Democratic primaries.

The vote-for-one-get-two Clintons double teamed Obama. Senator Clinton challenged Obama’s record as a legislator at the Democrats’ debate.  Former President Clinton went on the attack, demeaning Obama’s campaign stance on Iraq as a “fairy tale.”

“Politics ain’t beanbag,” the writer Finley Peter Dunne observed about 100 years ago.

The Clintons play hard.  Obama got in his licks, too.  But the wounds were beginning to show, so much so that black leaders such as Rep. Jim Clyburn urged President Clinton to “tone it down.”

Bill Clinton is in an unprecedented situation. We are used to candidates hammering each other.  We are accustomed, alas, to exaggerations and half-truths.  We expect spouses to be loyal and are no longer surprised when one is outspoken.  But we prefer to think of former presidents as statesmen more interested in unity than partisanship.

“There’s blood on the floor,” says Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist and television commentator who ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign.  Brazile is close enough to the Clintons to have endured what she describes as a 30-minute telephone tirade from the former president.  Brazile thinks the party has been seriously wounded by the Clintons’ actions.

Political parties routinely mop up the blood between their primaries and the general election.  But this campaign still has the knives out, not the mops.

The Clintons–can we even think of them singularly any more?—have also wounded themselves with the African-American community in which Bill, at least, was held in great esteem.  Hillary’s hopes of holding the majority of African-American votes, especially black women, is gone.

For Clinton, that may be the price to pay in the hope of winning the majority white vote in the 22 states going to the polls on February 5.  California, New York, New Jersey and others don’t look like South Carolina.

For Obama, this new twist on race in the 2008 campaign makes Saturday’s victory as challenging as it is remarkable.  His 28-point margin of victory doubled the margin of any poll going into the primary.  That victory should not be diminished.

Yet as much as we anticipated the South Carolina primary because of the substantial African-American vote, the question that follows Obama now is how well can he do in states where African-Americans are not such a powerful constituency. Edwards staying in a race in which he looks to be eternally third probably takes more votes from Obama than Clinton.

Fair or unfair, presidential candidates must run a brutal gantlet where they are hit from both sides. The blood on the floor wasn’t caused by a beanbag.

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Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns for CNN from 1984 through 2000. He is dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university.  Bierbauer is senior contributing editor and a consultant to SCHotline.com.

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CHARACTER, NOT COLOR

January 23, 2008

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by Charles Bierbauer

CNN got its priorities right. The Democratic candidates’ last debate before the South Carolina primary focused first on the economy. It’s presumptuous, but I’d like to think Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have agreed. Even though the debate took place on Martin Luther King Day.

Dr. King’s March on Washington “was for jobs as well as justice,” Barack Obama reminded. The economy is “the #1 issue,” Hillary Clinton declared.

The first hour of Monday’s debate in Myrtle Beach provided some detail as to how the Democrats would deal with the current sub-prime mortgage crisis, the high cost of energy and the prospect of rebates, universal health care. If I heard Senator Clinton correctly, she said, “my health care covers everyone.”

There was, at times, more heat than light as Clinton and Obama aggressively challenged each other’s past voting records and current promises. “This kind of squabbling,” John Edwards chastised his competitors, “how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get an education from this? How many kids are going to be able to go to college because of this?”

Earlier in the day, the three candidates had spoken at the King Day at the Dome rally at the South Carolina State House in Columbia. If the candidates could see past the waving Obama, Clinton and Edwards signs—there were some of each—they might have spotted signs that read “Ed in ‘08” (that’s Ed as in education) and buttons that warned “I’m a health care voter.”

At some point in the day, each candidate made a point of decrying the state of education in South Carolina’s now infamous “Corridor of Shame.” These are rundown schools in the old cotton belt in the eastern part of the state running from Dillon to Florence to Orangeburg. Those school districts, heavily African-American, unsuccessfully sued the state, contending the state had not even met the legislatively mandated “minimally adequate education.”

Clinton said she had seen the “mold and the holes where the rodents come in.” Obama called for turning it into a “corridor of opportunity.” Edwards suggested a “corridor of hope.” Having our state in the political spotlight also means having the spotlight shine in our dark corners.

Monday’s debate, co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, turned to the legacy of Dr. King in its second hour. It provided moments of passion, Edwards repeatedly trying to demonstrate that his mission of “ending poverty” is in lockstep with King’s mission. Moments of differentiation: Obama, the first African-American candidate with a serious chance of being nominated and elected; Clinton, the first female candidate similarly having the potential of winning the presidency; Edwards, for all his passion and southern roots still looking like all past candidates—“it’s amazing now that being the white male….”

And there were moments of blithe amusement created by this year’s unique circumstances. Asked about author Toni Morrison’s assertion that Bill Clinton was the “first black president,” Obama acknowledged the former president’s “affinity with the African-American community.” But Obama added he would have to “investigate more of Bill’s dancing abilities…before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother.”

Is the quest for South Carolina’s primary votes about race? Or is it about appealing to voters of all races? On the surface, it’s about appealing to voters regardless of race. Undeniably, the candidates want to capitalize on voters identifying with an African-American, a woman or a fellow southerner.

But none of the Democrats is campaigning with the notion that is enough.
To paraphrase Dr. King, the voters’ decision rests on the character of the candidates’ campaign, not the color of their skin, their gender, their place of birth…or their dancing ability.

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Charles Bierbauer covered five presidential elections from 1984 to 2000 for CNN. He is now Dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Bierbauer is senior contributing editor and a consultant to SCHotline.com.

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DO OVERS?

January 21, 2008

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by Charles Bierbauer

John McCain has every reason to think South Carolina finally got it right. “But what’s eight years among friends?” he told reveling supporters in Charleston Saturday night.

The Republicans leave South Carolina with a cleaner taste in their mouths than in 2000. Mike Huckabee, having run a close second to McCain, told his disappointed backers that the two of them had run a “civil, good, and decent campaign” and coming in second was “better than to have run with the dishonor of attacking someone else.”

There might have been a little poll pushing and an askance assertion this time. But no one seemed to be playing from the Lee Atwater School of Politics handbook that George Bush’s attack dogs kept tucked in their pockets in 2000.

South Carolina did not owe McCain a victory. It only owed him a fair shake. He had to earn the victory and did so, on the strength of a coalition of older voters, veterans and Low Country supporters. Held his own with evangelicals, too.

The state’s tradition of selecting the eventual Republican nominee is yet to be perpetuated. It’s more uncertain than in the past, as three candidates move on to Florida with victory claims. McCain is on a two-state roll after wins in New Hampshire and here. Huckabee has not duplicated Iowa. Mitt Romney abandoned South Carolina (we’re not likely to forget), but won a largely uncontested gold for his medal collection in Nevada. And waiting in Florida is Rudy Giuliani whose campaign strategy of sitting out the first three weeks is either brilliant or nuts.

The Republicans of 2008 reveal myriad fault lines—conservative values, the economy, national security, immigration. Normally, it’s Democrats who can’t focus their issues, while Republicans have a Reagan-like core fixation. No Republican candidate has yet laid convincing claim to the Reagan mantle.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…

The Democrats are back with the state to themselves for the week. Much of the candidates’ attention and that of the national media is on the African-American voters who may cast half or more of the votes in Saturday’s Democratic primary. The demographics are incontrovertible, but the African-American vote is not monolithic. Some voted this past week.

Politics makes people say ill-considered, sometimes unconscionable things. There were early assertions that Barack Obama was “not black enough.” Civil rights activist Andrew Young suggested that “Bill (Clinton) is every bit as black as Barack.”

Obama and Hillary Clinton had testy exchanges that suggested this campaign is about race. Yet neither is running an overtly race-oriented campaign. Obama happens to be black in much the same way Hillary Clinton happens to be a woman. As Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia delegate in Congress, noted on CNN this weekend, Hillary “needs men” and Obama “needs whites and Hispanics” in order to win.

Obama and Clinton get a do over chance on courting the African-American vote when they speak—along with John Edwards—at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Columbia on Monday morning and at the debate co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Monday evening in Myrtle Beach.

WHAT ABOUT 2012?

Upstate snow was less trouble than feared. Some electronic voting machines in Horry County did not work. But the Republican Party survived its primary without major incidents. The Democrats likely will, too.

We’re a state so nice that we hold our primary twice. But does it make any sense? We do get an extra week in the national spotlight. All those campaign and media folks have to eat and stay somewhere. Our local TV stations count on political advertising revenues.

The race to be first among the states has not necessarily clarified the race for the presidency. A couple of idiosyncratic states—ours included, I suppose—have inordinate impact on the process. Given a do over, would we still want to be voting in the (relative) cold of January, cramming most state primaries into February, and then mulling over—or lamenting—our choices until November?

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Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns for CNN from 1984 through 2000.
He is dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Bierbauer is senior contributing editor and a consultant to SCHotline.com.

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NOW IT’S OUR TURN!

January 11, 2008

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by Charles Bierbauer

The presidential campaigns arrived in South Carolina this week in a muddle and a hurry. Thank you Iowa and New Hampshire.

It would have been a shame had those two idiosyncratic states pushed a pair of snowballing races our way with any notion of inevitability in deciding the two candidates who will face off for the presidency in November. Fortunately, our votes will matter. As will Florida’s and those cast in more than 20 states on Super Duper Tuesday, as we are now calling February 5.

Quirky Iowa surprised us with victories by Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama. Crusty New Hampshire turned nearly conventional with wins for the once putative front-runners John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Good thing.

The founding fathers wrote the U.S. Constitution with the intent of ensuring that small states would not be obscured in the electoral process. But the framers of the Constitution could not have envisioned that by the time the neighborly voters of the 30th largest state had caucused and the bundled electorate of the 41st state in size had held its primary, that the pundits and pollsters would call the race and dismiss the rest of us. Hey, we’re the 25th largest state! Thank you Iowa and New Hampshire for your decisively indecisive handoff.

Of course, this does mean South Carolinians now have two weeks of bombardment by the candidates’ multimedia ads, two more televised debates, even more lawn signs and all those annoying campaign phone calls. But only two weeks. It will go quickly, and then we’ll likely not see another candidate the rest of the year.

I’ve started getting several calls a day from political reporters in other parts of the country or just across town. They ask how South Carolina’s African-Americans will vote. Will black women vote for Hillary or Obama? Will whites vote for Obama? They certainly did in Iowa and New Hampshire. Can John Edwards win his home state? Will religious conservatives vote for Huckabee, Fred Thompson or Mitt Romney? My answers range from “I don’t know” to “it depends.” Then we do nuance.

Nothing is as simple as black or white voters, red or blue states. South Carolina may be a red state in November, but in January it’s got two primary colors and a significant number of magenta independents who could be tempted by Obama to vote Democratic or lured by McCain or Rudy Giuliani to vote Republican. Independents will have to decide whether to vote on the 19th for a Republican or on the 26th for a Democrat. Let’s see, which day am I in town? We don’t make it convenient, do we?

Is an African-American woman more likely to vote for Clinton because she’s a woman or Obama because he’s black? Would it make a difference if the voter were a younger or older woman?

John Edwards won the South Carolina primary in 2004, but that’s no reason to think he will win in 2008. It’s a different cast of competitors, not the distant John Kerry of 2004, but the accessible Barack Obama and the familiar—thanks to Bill—Hillary Clinton. Edwards may have been born here, but he didn’t grow up here, didn’t make his millions here, didn’t get elected to the Senate here. How many votes is the coincidence of birth worth?

Republican candidates, in contrast, have courted religious and social conservatives. Last year we witnessed the paradox of the president of Bob Jones University endorsing Romney, even while denouncing Romney’s Mormon faith. Many conservatives held their breath waiting for Thompson to give up “Law and Order” for the campaign trail, then wondered why they hadn’t taken a deeper breath. Enter Baptist preacher Huckabee to a chorus of Hallelujahs. Who will get those votes on the 19th?

McCain, like Edwards, has been here before. Unlike Edwards, McCain was treated harshly and slanderously through Bush campaign dirty tricks in 2000. Might South Carolinians think they owe McCain a fairer shake?

The good news is we’ve still got choices. And now it’s our turn.
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Charles Bierbauer covered five presidential campaigns for CNN from 1984 to 2000.
Some of them brought him to South Carolina. He is now dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the opinions here are his own and not those of the university. Bierbauer is senior contributing editor and a consultant to SCHotline.com

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THE EXPECTATIONS GAME

January 4, 2008

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by Charles Bierbauer

You don’t have to win the Iowa Caucuses, as presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee have just done. You just have to beat expectations.

Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Mitt Romney came up short. On to New Hampshire for a second, perhaps final, chance for trailing candidates. Time is short.  They have five days to change their fortunes.

An Iowa loss is not fatal, no more so than losing the first game of a football season. Ohio State and LSU both made it to this year’s NCAA championship with blemished records. In the past 32 years, only Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush won contested Iowa caucuses and then the presidency.

But losing in Iowa is painful when, like Clinton, you are expected and expecting to win. Or like Edwards, you have pretty much invested your energies and resources on the first roll of the dice, hoping that Iowa will push you to the head of the pack and replenish your bankroll. Or like Romney, you have outspent your opponents by a factor of 20 or 30 to one, but been outscored by a challenger (Huckabee) who was an asterisk in the polls only a couple months ago.

THE DEMOCRATS

Obama has shattered the expectation that an African-American candidate cannot win in a state where even the Democratic voters are 93% white. Obama neither mentions that, nor campaigns as an African-American. But TVs talking heads note his Iowa victory changes the expectations about a black candidate winning the white vote.

Donna Brazile, an African-American strategist who was Al Gore’s campaign manager, says Obama has “momentum for New Hampshire and beyond,” meaning South Carolina and its large proportion of African-American Democrats. CNN analyst Bill Schneider speculated that black voters may not want to block the first legitimate chance for a black candidate to gain his party’s nomination.

Hillary Clinton had expected to share the African-American vote with Obama, in part because she appeals to older women, in part because Bill Clinton is still the favorite politician of many blacks. Hillary’s organization and funds are deep enough to withstand a second loss and make an uphill climb. But no more third place finishes if she’s to do it.

Edwards may barely make it to South Carolina, so top heavy was his investment in Iowa that even a second place falls short of Edwards’ early expectations. And he cannot realistically expect to win the state he was born in with Obama and Clinton in the race.

THE REPUBLICANS

Huckabee, needless to say, has dramatically exceeded expectations. He has captured the vote of the so-called religious conservatives who had been searching the political wilderness for their candidate. He has captivated the media who have crowned him “frontrunner.” In an irony, Huckabee does not now need to win in New Hampshire. Indeed, he is not expected to.

Romney, on the other hand, really needs to win New Hampshire before the primary campaign swings to the South where Romney is not expected to do as well.

John McCain, largely ignoring Iowa except for a late flurry that put him in a virtual tie for third with Fred Thompson, could improve his overall chances by further weakening a wobbly Romney in New Hampshire. A rejuvenated McCain and a plucky Huckabee would then be expected to fight for the next surge here in South Carolina. (Frankly, I don’t know what to expect of Thompson, but I’m not alone.)

Rudy Giuliani wound up sixth among Republicans in Iowa, leading analyst David Gergen to opine on CNN that “Giuliani’s strategy worked.” You can’t lose Iowa if you don’t play. Giuliani was in Florida, noting he’d “paid attention to the states others haven’t paid attention to.” He’s gambling on getting past Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, but it’s one way to beat the expectations game.

Note to candidates: If your name is not mentioned here, you’ve exhausted your expectations and may already be a former candidate.

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Charles Bierbauer followed the campaign trail from Iowa to New Hampshire and beyond as a CNN correspondent in elections from 1984 through 2000. He is dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Bierbauer is senior contributing editor and a consultant to SCHotline.com.

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