Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Preview: Wisconsin and Hawaii

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 335

Democratic voters go to the polls today for nominating contests in Hawaii and Wisconsin. Unlike the previous voting on February 5 and February 12, there is, mercifully, no catchy collective nickname for today's contests, which is not say that someone at CNN ("the best political team on television!") isn't working hard to come up with one.

Hawaii is holding a caucus today, awarding 20 delegates. Wisconsin is holding an open primary, with 74 delegates at stakes. Delegates from both states will be awarded in proportion roughly corresponding to the candidate's popular vote totals.

Hawaii is the state where Barack Obama was born, and is a caucus state to boot, so he can expect today to be, literally and figuratively, something of a day at the beach. And for those at home who might be wondering, weather is not expected to be a factor in determining turnout.

Wisconsin has been shaping up as the more interesting contest of the two. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have spent a fair amount of money on TV advertising in the Badger State, and, despite poor weather over the weekend, have spent some time on the ground there as well. Polling numbers have been tracking in Obama's favor, with most surveys showing him with a lead of between four and five points over Hillary Clinton. Numerically, four or five points is not all that significant, and if the day's returns are in line with those numbers, the Clinton campaign will privately heave a sigh of relief and publicly proclaim the political death of Barack Obama.

For today's voting in Wisconsin is far more important for Hillary Clinton than for Barack Obama. Demographically, Wisconsin looks like a state that Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn might have created in an electoral Sim game: overwhelmingly Caucasian (who's votes Clinton has won by an 11 percent average in this year's previous contests), heavily blue collar, with some 40% earning less than $50,000 per year and fewer than half possessing college degrees (and Clinton has won these subgroups by a whopping average of 23% so far), and skews slightly older than the nation as a whole. Given those facts, Hillary Clinton should be leading here by double digits. The fact that she is not shows how far her fortunes have fallen since the beginning of this year, and illustrates how badly she needs to do well in Wisconsin.

It isn't just the eight consecutive contests that Clinton has lost to Obama in recent days, but the enormous scale of many of those losses that have led to Clinton's declining prospects. But, ironically, it also provides a bit of cover for Clinton should she lose in Wisconsin: her campaign has been declaring that they expect to lose the state, and will spin anything other than a double-digit loss here as a big win for their side, and a crushing blow to Obama's momentum.

On the other hand, if Obama wins here on anything like the scale of last week's victories in D.C, Maryland and Virginia, it is simply over for Hillary Clinton. Forget Ohio, forget Texas, forget Pennsylvania. And forget Super Delegates. A bad defeat for Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin will likely render Obama's momentum irresistible, and make further argument moot.

For Barack Obama, a decisive victory in Wisconsin hinges on two elements: turnout and crossover voters. Wisconsin holds an open primary, and with the Republican nomination of John McCain no longer in question, Independent and GOP voters may well go where the action is: on the Democratic side. Obama has done better than Clinton among Independents in open primaries so far this year, and Republicans are, to put it mildly, unlikely to cast their votes in large numbers for Clinton. Neither higher voter turnout nor significant crossover votes may materialize for Barack Obama in Wisconsin today, of course, but given the trends in recent elections, he has some reason for optimism.

And that's as far as I'll go today until the votes are counted. Further thoughts after the results.

No comments:

Politics Blogs - Blog Top Sites