Wednesday, February 13, 2008

in defense of a long, drawn out primary

So unless you don't own a TV or newspaper, you know that Obama destroyed Clinton last night in three more contests. Obama's campaign manager is saying that Clinton will have to win Texas and Ohio by large margins (20-30 points) in order for her to recapture the lead amoung pledged delegates, assuming he wins Hawaii and Wisconsin next week. Even if he does, it would be a big mistake of his to go through the motions in Texas and Ohio (maybe he is trying to lower expectations).

But the real point of this post is not talk strategy for once, but explain why Democrats are blessed with a surprisingly lengthy and hard-fought primary calendar ... and why the GOP should be increasingly nervous.

With each state contested, Obama and Clinton must find supporters and train staffers, draft field teams, walk neighborhoods, hold rallies, sign up supporters, hand out lawn signs, conduct visability, etc. It may sound like a collosal waste of money, but one concrete example of how this is helpful is Carol Shea-Porter. In 2004, she worked for Wesley Clark's primary campaign in New Hampshire. Clark narrowly got third place in that contest, but two years later, Carol fared much better. She beat the Democratic leader of the State House 54%-34% in the primaries without any money, and then beat the incumbent Republican Jeb Bradley 52-48 without any help from the outside and being outspent 5 to 1. Why, because she knew the issues and the district.

Now I am not saying that every supporter of Obama or Clinton will become Members of Congress, but what I am saying is that training staff and volunteers now leads to winning other elections in the future. Staffers who worked for Clark, Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, and Edwards in 2004 all became reliable hands for Obama, Clinton, and Edwards in 2008. These folks also helped Democrats win the House and Senate in 2006.

A battle between two smart, tough, well-funded, yet relatively friendly campaigns is a great way to train the next generation of political leaders and a great way to get people excited about your party. You get months and months of relatively positive coverage, and both end up looking like winners since they both won lots of states and votes.

The proof is in the pudding. Obama got much more than all of the Republican candidates combined yesterday in all three races, and Hillary Clinton bested McCain in terms of raw numbers of votes by about 100,000. And while Maryland and DC are safe Democratic territory, the last time Virginia went Blue was when Utah did--LBJ's landslide in 1964. Indeed, Democrats getting more votes in each state (except Utah, Arizona, and Florida and Michigan where they didn't campaign) than Republicans. Most of this is due to Democrats excitement about their chances in getting back the White House, but some of it has to be due to the fact that Clinton and Obama and spending serious sums to get people to the polls, money that will be well spent when we see returns in November. I am not saying it will be 1964 or 1984, but right now it looks to be a pretty good year...thanks in part to the primaries.

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