Friday, March 14, 2008

crafting a narrative

One of the things that impressed me most about Rob Miller's recruiting efforts for Utah Democrats this cycle was his get for the Attorney General race.
Echoes of last year's school voucher debate continued to reverberate Thursday as Jean Welch Hill filed to run against Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Last June, Shurtleff stripped Hill of her title of special assistant to the attorney general as she advised the Utah State Office of Education on school vouchers.
In the letter removing her status, Shurtleff wrote "You have fostered an adversarial and hostile relationship between the State Board of Education and this office by giving advice contrary and inconsistent with advice given by me and others in the Attorney General's Office."
It is not that I think Ms. Hill is any stronger of a candidate against Shurtleff than any of the other challengers Rob and his collegues have recruited, it is this pick reinforces the Utah Democrats main message this fall: "They've gone too far" or "They're out of touch" or "Listening to the people, for a change."

This fall, Democrats will be talking a lot about vouchers. But the education policy choice the legislature made is almost besides the point. The real point the Democrats will be trying to make is that Republicans in power have been corrupted by it and don't represent "your values." It is the same message that Republicans used nationally against Democrats in 1994, and vice versa in 2006. There have been many books writen about "framing," and narratives, and the voucher issue is a classic example of this.

By getting the attorney that stood up to the legislature and Shurtleff's bullying on the voucher issue, when she was right on the law (the Utah Supreme Court unanimously agreed with her) and right with the public does two things. First, it ties Shurtleff to the legislature, and casts him as their stooge. Second, it reminds voters that she exhibited superior judgment than him, and suggests his judgment was clouded by lust for power. And Hill is alreadying tapping into those themes.
"What the top lawyer needs to do is listen to both sides," she said. "They need to make decisions based on the legalities, not what a political party wants."
"Utahns are frustrated with what happened last year and what continues," she said. "Obviously we need to have other voices being heard in our state government."
Shurtleff knows he is in trouble, and is trying to pull a Joe Lieberman: "I didn't take a position on vouchers," said Shurtleff.

Let's turn the way back machine to 2007, to get the real chronology on vouchers, shall we?
March 27: In response to an official request from Gov. Huntsman, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff issues an informal opinion stating that House Bill 174 can be implemented and funded regardless of the outcome of a referendum vote, if any, on House Bill 148.
May 3: In light of the successful petition drive and with no election date chosen, the Utah State Board of Education declines to pass on third and final reading a draft rule regulating vouchers in Utah. Instead, it seeks legal clarification from the Utah Attorney General.
May 11: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff sends a letter to Utah State Board of Education Chairman Kim R. Burningham that concludes, "it is incumbent upon the Board to implement the voucher program through H.B. 174 immediately!"
May 23: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff responds with answers to the Board’s questions of May 11.
June 6: Kim Burningham, Janet Cannon, Teresa Theurer, Greg Haws, Richard Sadler, Michael Jensen, Denis Morrill, Laurel Brown, Dixie Allen, Debra Roberts, Sheryl Allen, Steven Mascaro, Kory Holdaway, Carol Moss, Jim Bird, Fred Hunsaker, LaWanna Shurtliff, and Utahns for Public Schools file an amicus brief in the Snow and Bramble case before the Utah Supreme Court.
June 7: Utah House Minority Leader Ralph Becker and Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich send a letter to Gov. Huntsman asking for a special session of the Legislature "to address the confusion associated with the ballot referendum on vouchers."
June 7: Attorney General Shurtleff sends letters to Utah State Office of Education attorneys Carol Lear and Jean Hill terminating their status as Special Assistant Attorney General, a title he gave them just weeks before. The Utah State Board of Education keeps Lear and Hill in their current positions on staff at the Utah State Office of Education.
Not only did he do everything in his power to support vouchers and prevent the matter from going before the voters, but he also used his power to intimidate and punish anyone who crosses him on a politically sensitive issue.

Well played Rob, well played.

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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

HRC's bad week

Remember Barack Obama's bad week last week? Where he was accused of sending an advisor to tell the Canadians that he really didn't mean what he was saying on renegosiating NAFTA? [Turns out, this is a big scandal in Canada where it seems Conservative Party government officials are the sources to stories--including a similar one about Clinton's team was out there but quashed--and there is little to either campaign going back channel to praise NAFTA] Where she ran the 3 a.m. phone ad and pushed the theme that she--and John McCain--had "passed the Commander-in-Chief threshold," but Obama hadn't? Oh, and she won the popular vote in three of the four contests on March 4th--and maybe a handful of net delegates (which was erased by supers and the Texas caucuses almost immediately).

Now, it seems that it is Sen. Clinton's turn for a bad week. First, and most obvious, two large (60-40 range) losses in Wyoming and Mississippi on Saturday and Tuesday.

Those were largely expected. It seems Obama does really well in either a) lilly white states (Iowa, Vermont, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, Connecticut, etc.) or b) states with a very large African-American population (Maryland, Alabama, Georgia, D.C., Mississippi, Louisana, etc.) but not so good in states with say 20-30 percent African-Americans (Ohio, Texas, Tennesee, New York, New Jersey, etc.) Of course, there are exceptions to this pattern (Virginia, Illinios, etc.)

But there were two other big negatives for Clinton that she couldn't have expected: Gov. Spitzer's high-priced hookers and 1984 VP nominee Garaldine Farraro's racist comments. Althought perhaps the comments could have been anticipated.
"If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race," [Geraldine A. Ferraro] said [April 15, 1988, Washington Post]
And then on February 27, 2008, on FOX News' John Gibson's radio show:

FERRARO: If Barack Obama were a white man, would we be talking about this as a potential real problem for Hillary?

If he were a woman...

GIBSON: You mean if he were John Edwards?

FERRARO: If he were a woman of any color, would he be in this position that he's in, absolutely not.

GIBSON: Geraldine, are you playing the race card?

FERRARO: No, and that's the problem. Every time you say the truth - I'm the first person, John, and you know how honest I am, I am the first person who will say in 1984 if my name were Gerard instead of Geraldine, I would never have been picked as the vice presidential candidate.

There is an argument to be made that pictures of Mrs. Spitzer next to repeated philandering moralist Gov. Spitzer will remind voters of when Bill embarressed Hillary (and Chelsea, his supports, America, etc.) with his affair with a good way. People like Chris Mathews have claimed that the only reason HRC won in 2000 was people felt sorry for her about WJC's cheating. But I don't think that is why she won. And I don't think it will help her among women, since she is already getting 55-60% of women in these primaries anyway. I don't see the Spitzer story helping her with any other demographic.

At the very least, this means Sen. Cliton lost a superdelegate. New York's LG Paterson is already a super for her, and the party will not give New York another super to replace Spitzer.

That news, combined with the campaign's inability to shut Fararro up and properly denounce and/or reject the former Congresswoman, who said that if she wasn't a woman, she wouldn't have been on the ticket in 1984, means this story will last at least another day. And the Obama people will flog this story to death until Clinton does something much more dramatic than saying she disapproves of the comments or disagrees with them. Look for the Obama camp to demand Hillary return money that one of her HILLraisers (aka Ferraro raised at least $100,000 for HRC) bundled for the campaign.

This if nothing else serves as a distraction from Hillary's preferred messaging in PA: that she is "Ready on Day One" and offers "Solutions not Speeches" etc. If a Republican had said what Ferraro said, it would be treated with the same scorn as Rep. Steve King (R-IA)'s "dancing in the streets" comment. If a similarly prominant Obama supporter--like Govs. Tim Kane or Deval Patrick--had paid around $10K for hookers for years, there would be similar outrage and distraction.

I think everyone can agree--whether they love her or hate her--that Hillary is a tough fighter and can rally. No one should ever count her out. But these pieces of news, and more importantly, how the campaign handles them, will certainly not help her in PA.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

straight on 'til morning

(Photo Credit, BluBet)
Commander Pavel Chekov: Course heading, Captain?
Captain James T. Kirk: Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning.
Trust me, I have never been much a fan of either Star Trek or Peter Pan. This is all an artistic lead-in (well I hope so at least) to a discussion of how this crazy Democratic presidential primary ends.

And Peter's (and Capt. Kirk's) incredibly vague directions are about as precise as both candidates' end games. How does Barack Obama finish off Hillary Clinton? He was right in saying the other day that she will "not lose it on points, [he's] got to...knock[] [her] out." Yet, Obama and his campaign staff keep arguing about the point score to say that Clinton cannot possibly catch up with him in pledged delegates.

At the same time, Clinton's strategy seems to be to attempt marginalize Obama's wins and the delegate (and popular vote) lead, then complain about poor Michigan and Florida. Even if both states hold a re-vote and she wins Pennsylvania convincingly (it's possible, she currently is up 19 points)...she still won't capture a pledged delegate lead, let alone enough to win on the first ballot without the Super Delegates.

And for that matter, neither will Barack. For him to deliver that knock out blow, he could have won New Hampshire and Nevada, or Texas and/or Ohio. Now, his latest chance is Pennsylvania, which doesn't look good for him right now. If the patterns hold, he will get a lot closer, but probably won't be able to overtake her...I would guess 52-48. And that's not good enough by far, even if he still maintains a 100-150 delegate lead.

Then again, Clinton could have knocked Obama out in Iowa, South Carolina, and Super Tuesday...but also failed.

What we are looking at is two essentially equally matched opponents with tons of money, excellent field teams, and crappy surrogates. This is why the nomination seems poised to go right through every state and straight on 'til Denver. As long as they keep it civil, the whole process will help build the Democratic party in states blue, purple, and red (as well as protectorates like Guam and Peuto Rico), which can only help the party, and highlight the craziness of the nomination process (which also might lead to a good outcome--reform based off the popular vote or something far more "fair"). The worry for Democrats is that, with all the time between tomorrow and April 22, Clinton's and/or Obama's camps will get increasingly nasty and hurt the eventual nominee. And that if this does in fact go to Denver, there is little time for Democrats to get organized for the general. Remember Bush had his field team in place for 2 years prior to his reelection campaign.

Since people like sports metaphors, let's try this one out. This 2008 election cycle has the feeling of the NBA/NFL playoffs of recent years, where the Western Conference/AFC finals felt like the real Finals/Superbowl and the other conference's battle seemed to be about who had won the right to lose to the West/AFC. Now of course, the sports pundits, like political pundits, haven't always been right...just look at the Giants' victory this February. But you have to agree, the Republicans' nomination battle always played second fiddle to the Democrats'.

And I don't that was because Democrats had two "firsts"...I think it was because the political environment favors Democrats. As a result, Democrats had a very strong field, whereas the Republicans had a terrible one. If George W. Bush was still as popular as he was in 2002, the field for both parties would be very different.

Monday, March 10, 2008

marginal candidates

Who is having the last laugh now? (Vice Chair Todd Weiler (R) [Left] and Vice Chair Rob Miller (D)[Right] © 2008 Ben McAdams)

Sigh, and I was about to write snide remark about Rob's recruting abilities.
The first person to file for election against popular Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman is a registered Republican who was charged with marijuana possession in January and is seeking the Democratic nomination.
Monty Nafoosi, 53, is a Bountiful real estate developer.
He was charged by Bountiful police Jan. 2 with possession of less than 16 ounces of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Nafoosi, who lists his nickname as "Millionaire" on the lieutenant governor's Web site, could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. A pretrial conference on the charges was scheduled for Thursday.
Nafoosi's Web site indicates that a cleaner environment is one of his goals.
"By the end of my first term as governor of Utah, my goal is to have an electric car in every garage," his site says.
Utah Democratic Party spokesman Bill Keshlear said Nafoosi isn't someone party officials are backing in their bid to unseat Huntsman, who has said he will seek a second term.
"He's a marginal kind of candidate," Keshlear said of Nafoosi. "This is not the guy we've recruited."
Keshlear said the Democratic Party has recruited a candidate to run against Huntsman, although that person won't be announced for several more days.
Could Nafoosi be any more cartoonishly Mike Gravel/Ralph Nader? What posesses such clowns to run? All of the attention?

As a whole though, Rob has really been stellar at recruitment. He has gotten so many seats filled where it is rough going, like Utah County. Over in Happy Valley, one is afraid to tell the neighbors they're a Democrat. (But Rob's changing that) He has gotten some great candidates in highly symbolic key races like Curtis's and Buttars's seats. I am muy impressed.

Rob's biggest advantages are the legislature's overstepping on vouchers, as well as the neverending stream of conflicts of interest that the legislators exhibit in large numbers. But if Rob can topple Speaker Curtis, it will be about as big as Bill Foster (D-IL) winning ex-Speaker Hastert's seat 52-47.
"By itself, this would not be that big of a deal, but coupled with everything else it will just deflate the [House Republican] Conference," said an aide to one top GOP lawmaker. "And symbolically, losing Hastert's seat is like the toppling of the Saddam statue in Baghdad for Republicans."
Now that's mental image that will stick in your head.

registry contest

So this is Paul Rolly's idea, but I think SLC Mayor Ralph Becker should totally get on board with it and have a naming contest for the erstwhile named domestic partner registry.

My entrant is "Chris Buttars's enemy list" ... what's yours?