Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Aloha Hillary

I'm just back from a much-needed mid-campaign vacation in Kaua'i. Not that I could completely escape the race there; Chelsea Clinton was campaigning for her mom in Hawaii, and Barack Obama's half-sister, who lives in Honolulu, was stumping for him. But there wasn't the same election buzz in Hawaii as there's been elsewhere. The Aloha State caucus was a slam dunk for native son Obama, and, at least on laid-back Kaua'i, the surfers and neo-hippies seemed far more interested in wave breaks and rainbows than delegate counts and poll numbers.

But now that I'm back in the mix, it's pretty clear that Obama is sucking all of the air out of the Democratic race. His rallies are packing basketball arenas: he drew 18,000 in Houston yesterday, 17,000 more in Dallas tonight. He is closing in on one million campaign donors, an astonishing and unprecedented number, and most of those people have given $100 or less. Obama t-shirts and buttons are on back order on his website. His surge of momentum is extraordinary. Even Bill Clinton said it today: if Hillary Clinton doesn't win the Ohio and Texas primaries March 4, she is done.

And Texas will be a tall order. They do things in a weird way in the Lone Star State. First of all, districts that had larger Democratic turnouts in past elections are rewarded with extra delegates. That means funky college town Austin has more delegates than megalopolis Houston and metroplex Dallas. It also means largely black urban centers have more delegates than rural Latino areas, making the delegate math tough for Clinton. Then, after the primary voting ends at 7pm, anyone who voted gets to vote again, at special caucuses, awarding even more delegates to the most motivated and organized. That all sounds like another win for Obama to me.

We talked with Nancy Pelosi today about the campaign, and she downplayed the potential role of the superdelegates. I agree with her; I think this race will be decided by the voters, long before the convention. In fact, it may have been already. When someone wins ten primaries and caucuses in a row, they're usually headed for the nomination. A successful candidate simply can't say, well, these next ten states aren't good for me, but I'll cherry pick a couple big ones after that.

Hillary Clinton has two weeks to save her campaign, somehow. She starts in Thursday night's debate in Austin. She hopes to demonstrate her command of the issues, expose Obama's areas of weakness and inexperience, and somehow slow the Obama Express. But it may be too late. People - not white or black people, old or young, men or women - but simply, people - are responding to Obama's message of hope, in a visceral way, and when that happens in politics, no strategy shift or staff shakeup can stop it.

We have a new satirical song airing Thursday, about Mike Huckabee. You can hear it here. And here is last week's McCain number, in case you missed that one. We are Equal Opportunity Offenders at Sovern Nation.

Speaking of McCain, there is breaking news tonight, from the New York Times, which reports that some of Senator McCain's 2000 presidential campaign staff were deeply concerned about his relationship with a lobbyist, and believed they were having an affair. You can read the Times story here. The newspaper has been working on this story for a long time; there's been some scuttlebutt about it out in the field, and from what I've heard, there was bitter disagreement in the newsroom about whether to run it. Apparently, other news organizations were investigating the rumors too, and the Times may have been worried about getting scooped. McCain vehemently denies any affair, and says he has never betrayed the public trust or his guiding principles. This could become a huge story for a few days - or it could backfire and further erode the public's trust in the Times' judgment. The newspaper still has some of the best reporters and writers in the business, but having started out there, once upon a time, as a copy boy, I know that it has made some shameful mistakes that never would have happened on Punch Sulzberger and Abe Rosenthal's watch. I hope this isn't another one of them.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Mitt Out

When I was a barista in college, we sold a drink called Kaffe Mit Schlag, which means coffee (espresso) with whipped cream, in German. Whenever someone came in and ordered Kaffe, we always asked "Mit? or Mit Out?"

Well, now Mitt is definitely out, as Mr. Romney "suspended" his presidential campaign this week. Readers of this space shouldn't have been too surprised, since I wrote on Super Monday (the day before Super Tuesday) that if Romney didn't win the California primary, he would drop out on Wednesday, in Boston. It took him another day to do it, and he did it at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, but it was clear Romney couldn't win the Republican nomination, and as a smart investor, he knows when to cut his losses.

So now what? John McCain will be the GOP nominee - and we've got a new song about that coming up on KCBS Tuesday morning - be sure to bring your earplugs to work that day - but Mike Huckabee will hang around for a little while. Some of the conservatives will fall in line behind him as their last best hope, even though they consider Huckabee as liberal as McCain on taxes and immigration. The televangelist James Dobson, who said last week that a Clinton-McCain matchup would be the worst choice of his lifetime, so he wouldn't vote at all - has endorsed Huckabee now. The affable Arkansan will probably pick off a couple more wins in conservative states, but it won't be enough to derail the Straight Talk Express. He's angling for the vice presidential spot now, but I'm still not sure he brings enough to the party for McCain to give it to him.

On the Democratic side, Obama's definitely gaining steam, and he will gain more, because he has natural advantages in many of the states voting in the next ten days. Louisiana, DC, Virginia and Maryland have large black populations. He has family ties to Nebraska and Hawaii (well, Nebraska's next door to Kansas anyway). There are a lot of progressive Democrats in Wisconsin. Obama could win all of those states. Clinton's best shot is probably the Maine caucus, on Sunday. The overall delegate count will stay close, but Obama will keep raising more money, and generating more excitement, and he could start to pull away. Clinton's next firewalls are Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania - huge states built a lot like California, as far as Hillary is concerned - and if she sweeps those, she will probably still be the nominee. But if not...

For more on how the superdelegates work, and the role they could play, listen to the story I did on them Friday.

We've added a new widget to the Sovern Nation home page, with the latest delegate count. And we've updated our Primary Calendar, to show who's won what so far, and how many delegates each remaining state has. Check it out!

Finally, a clarification: When I wrote about Mike Huckabee promising to sit in with the Eyewitness Blues Band, I mentioned that Bill Clinton "stood us up" last year when he declined to play the sax with the band at an event in San Francisco. Imagine my surprise last week, when I arrived at the Ferry Building to cover Bill Clinton campaigning for his wife. No, he didn't whip out his horn - but a Clinton staffer came up to me and told me I was "just like every other reporter....The President did not stand you up, because he would have had to make a commitment for that to be true, and he never said he would play with you!" I was stunned - but thrilled and flattered that someone from the Clinton campaign was actually reading my blog. So she's the one...

I promised her a clarification, just to prove I am not just like all the other newsboys. So here it is - former President Clinton never promised to play with us. We just hoped he would, so we rented a sax for him to play, and learned his special song just in case, and were told he might...but when we asked him backstage, he glared at us and said "nice try." Of course, he did promise afterwards that he would bring his sax and sit in with us the next time he was in town, and he's been here a few times since, and that hasn't happened. So there.

But we've been playing pretty well Mit Out him.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wait And See Wednesday

It was a veritable bacchanalia of ballots. An Obama orgy. A Hillary hoedown. A Huckabee hullabaloo. A McCainapalooza. Yes, it was Big Fat Super Tuesday - Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Election Day pretty much everywhere else. And who won?

Well, for the actual results, check all our links and tables and numbers on the Sovern Nation home page.

But here's a thumbnail of what I think, at 1-something in the morning in Sacramento, where I covered the California primary tonight. I mean, last night.

As expected, the battle for the Democratic nomination was not ended by Super Duper Tuesday. Barack Obama won 13 states, but Hillary Clinton will end up with slightly more delegates, thanks to her wins in New York and California. I was surprised by her margin of victory here; all the polls pointed toward a closer race in the Golden State. Obama did carry San Francisco, beating Clinton there, 53-43. He did well among white men, African Americans and younger voters. She did better with women and Latinos. There was a 26-point gender gap in California; Hillary beat Barack by 18 points among women, but he had an eight-point margin among male voters.

But neither of them even has half the delegates needed for nomination, which means the fight goes on, to the next wave of voting in Louisiana, Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland - and ultimately, to what now loom as huge primaries in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. States that were supposed to be anticlimactic are now going to be all-out delegate scraps, with blanket media coverage and 24/7 punditry. Obama has more money, but Hillary's not exactly going begging. Will she go negative again? Probably not as long as she's still got the delegate lead, and the edge in superdelegates - Democratic officeholders whom she doesn't want to alienate further by getting nasty. If Obama can build on his momentum - and he's likely to gain more by winning the next few primaries, all in areas favorable to him - he may be able to wrest the nomination from her.

On the Republican side, John McCain is clearly the prohibitive frontrunner now, as we expected Super Tuesday would confirm. Mitt Romney has been mortally wounded by Mike Huckabee. Is it really a surprise that Bible Belt Southerners would prefer a Southern Baptist preacher to a Boston Mormon? Yet in many of these states, even ones that McCain won, two-thirds of Republican primary voters preferred someone else. That doesn't bode well for McCain in November. More and more conservatives are talking about sitting this one out, if McCain is their nominee. They can't seem to rally behind either Romney or Huckabee though, so McCain's going to win the nomination by default. As my brother Mark points out, McCain polled best Tuesday in Blue States - places the Republicans will be hard-pressed to carry in November, even with McCain's appeal to moderates and independents. There's little Red State enthusiasm for the Arizona Senator. The silver lining for the Republicans is that the Democrats are likely to have a much more protracted, and potentially divisive, nomination battle for the next two months, while McCain consolidates the GOP behind him.

I did my own number-crunching in the wee hours to see how the California delegates pencil out, and the way I add it up, right now McCain wins 164 of our GOP delegates, Romney gets the other six...and Hillary beats Barack for delegates here, 199 to 171, but the Democratic numbers will certainly change a little bit.

One thing is certain: the party's just getting started for the Democrats, while they're ordering up McCain banners for the Saint Paul convention down at the Republican National Committee.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sunday Flashes


California First Lady Maria Shriver delivered a surprise endorsement of Barack Obama today. She appeared unexpectedly at the big Obama rally at UCLA, led by Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Caroline Kennedy. Hear her 8-minute endorsement speech here. Shriver hinted at the trouble her decision could cause at home, joking about how "scary" it was to break publicly from her husband, Governor Schwarzenegger, who's endorsing John McCain. It's not the first time the two have disagreed publicly on politics, but if Obama wins the nomination, it sure raises the prospect of a fascinating fall campaign, with Schwarzenegger stumping for one candidate and his wife for the other.


You can feel Obama's momentum on the campaign trail, and now you can measure it. Three new polls show him closing what was once a yawning gap with Hillary Clinton. She had a 30-point lead in California's Field Poll six months ago - now it's just two points. Meanwhile, Zogby and Rasmussen say Obama has pulled ahead - and Zogby polled through Saturday, while Field quit calling on Friday. So Zogby's numbers may be tracking late-breaking voters more accurately. We talked with Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo about his numbers, in both the Democratic and Republican races - hear the interview here.

The Clinton campaign, trying to stop the hemorrhaging in a must-win state, is scrambling to bring the First Husband-in-waiting back to a place that still loves him: Bill will barnstorm California on Monday, from Orange County to San Francisco, to try to sway those undecided and Edwards voters, and keep Obama from stealing the Golden State. Hillary insists she's not worried; if you missed our exclusive interview with her Friday night, here it is.

We'll break down those Super Tuesday races tomorrow - too much going on today to keep up!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Hillary and Huckabee

There's never a dull moment at Sovern Nation. In the last 36 hours, we chatted about bass-playing with Mike Huckabee and did an exclusive interview with Hillary Clinton.

Huckabee came to San Francisco, not exactly I Heart Huckabee territory, and spoke at the Commonwealth Club. He was charming, engaging and affable, with a tremendous personal backstory. He talked about his hardscrabble childhood, getting a job in radio at age 14, marrying his high school sweetheart at 19, making it through her battle with spinal cancer just one year later, and becoming a Baptist minister and ultimately, a very successful politician. His wife Janet was with him (she's been in fine health for years now), furiously working her Blackberry while her husband was campaigning (actually, I think it was his Blackberry and she was answering emails for him).

Huckabee was interrupted by hecklers from Code Pink, a feminist anti-war organization in the Bay Area. He handled them deftly, celebrating the disruption as an affirmation of American freedoms, pointedly reminding the demonstrators that in some countries, "they'd be taken out and shot" for interrupting him. The women were dragged out of the room and released. Our audio of the episode was picked up by the Drudge Report, and man, does that site have readers. We've had over 160,000 hits on Sovern Nation and since then - many, many times more than normal.

Most of Huckabee's positions are anathema to San Franciscans. He is staunchly anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, anti-gun control, and wants to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage and abortion. But he told the crowd at the Fairmont Hotel, that he doesn't always think Democrats are wrong, and he doesn't always think Republicans are right. He considers himself a conservative but admits that Rush Limbaugh thinks he's too far to the left on some issues.

He told me afterwards that he really still thinks he can win the Republican nomination, and that if he wins enough delegates on Super Tuesday, while Mitt Romney falls short - then it will be Romney who drops out next Wednesday, leaving him as the only remaining conservative alternative to John McCain.

We also talked for a while about playing the bass - something we both do. He got quite technical, talking about action and intonation and neck woods. We discovered our bands play some of the same songs - Mustang Sally, In the Midnight Hour - and when I told him about Bill Clinton standing us up last year when he was supposed to sit in on the saxophone with the Eyewitness Blues Band, Huckabee promised to come back and jam with us if he's the Republican nominee. And, displaying remarkable flesh-pressing skills, when I mentioned that the cameraman who'd shot an interview with him two hours earlier was the drummer in my band - a guy he met only in passing - he remembered his name, saying "Oh, Zack is your drummer?" Now that's a smooth politician.

Hillary Clinton is one, too. She finally called in to Sovern Nation to do a long-awaited interview. Maybe you already clicked above and heard it. She said she would consider Barack Obama as her running mate, if she's the nominee - although the way he's closing on her, it may be him choosing a Veep, and I don't see him selecting her. I do think, even though it goes against conventional wisdom, that he would make a tremendous running mate for her - simply because that Democratic Dream Team would generate enormous enthusiasm and turnout, especially among women, blacks, Latinos and young voters. Some of those Obama supporters really don't like Hillary, and may not vote at all in November if he's not on the ticket. Put him on there, and their support might just be enough to put another Clinton in the White House.

You can also hear our interview with Senator Ted Kennedy about his endorsement of Obama by clicking here - excellent questions by my colleagues Patti Reising and Jane McMillan. Still waiting for Obama himself to grant us an interview - I'm hoping it will happen before Super Tuesday.

In my next post: some analysis of what to expect Tuesday, and how all those delegates could shake out.