Thursday, March 13, 2008

big little states

With all of this discussion about Florida and Michigan, as well as Clinton spin about their ability to win "big states," I think it is appropriate to take a step back and look at the bigger picture on why Hillary Clinton's path to the nomination is now predicated on so many difficult obsticles (winning overwhelming majority of superdelegates, getting MI and FL to some how count, and winning PA and lots of other remaining states big).

Using the same logic that Bob Shrum used in 2000 and 2004 general elections, Mark Penn decided that there were only a few states that "mattered" in the 2008 primary elections. If Clinton could win Iowa and New Hamshire, she would win the nomination. If she won New Hamsphire and Nevada, she would still be viable. If she won South Carolina, she would have the upper hand on the nomination (after winning NH and NV). If she crushed Obama on Super Tuesday, she would have the nomination.

To crush Obama, Clinton's team thought they should just rack up big wins in big states like NY, CA, NJ, etc. The rest of the states, she assumed would fall into line with the national polling average (which had her ahead) and all she needed to do was a few radio/TV ads in those states.

By contrast, Obama's strategy all along was to keep the big states close enough that he could snag a significant number delegates from them without having win, and cleaning up all of the small states that the Clinton's ignored. Immediately after winning Iowa, he sent his Iowa staff to ALL of the Super Tuesday states (and some to SC and NV). As a result of the Clinton's camp ignoring those states, some predisposition to Obama (or dislike of Hillary Clinton), and Obama dedicating some serious staff and cash to these states, he won disproportionate shares of the vote. For example, he got 75% of the vote in Idaho and Alaska.

Obama's people realized that they might ever have time to make up Clinton's huge leads in many expensive media states, and that there were overall more states with more delegates that could more than offset their losses. That's same reason why Obama's wins Wyoming and Mississippi negated Clinton's wins in Ohio and Texas (Primaries).

By the time the Clinton camp figured this out, it was too late to do much about it...other than spin these big wins as "latte-sipping" states or "boutique" contests.

From their rhetroric, it seems that Clinton's general election stategy would be the same 15-20 "swing states" formula that hasn't worked two cycles in a row. Obama's campaign has hinted that it plans to campaign strongly in not just those states, but also places like North Carolina and Demcratic-leaning congressional districts in Nebraska--places that are demographically becoming for favorable to Democrats.

In the end, it doesn't matter if add up a few big numbers or lots of small numbers, the goal of any presidential candidate is to win 270 electoral college votes. And there are potentially more electoral votes in "swing-able" smaller states (AR, IA, NM, CO, NH, parts of NE, NC, GA, KS) than there are potentially "swing-able" larger states (PA, MI, FL, MO, OR, WI, WA). Personally, I think it would be better to win without having to depend on the incompetent elections administration of Florida and/or Ohio to capture the White House.

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