Tag: presidential elections (page 2 of 2)

If a caucus is held in the Pacific but nobody hears it, does the vote really matter?

Obama’s losing streak is over, he won the Guam caucuses this weekend.

Guam only has 9 delegates (8 half-votes plus 5 super delegates). Obama won the caucuses by 7 votes, Hillary and Obama split the 4 delegates, but it looks like Obama will come out 1 up with the super delegates.

Now, no one is really talking about Guam. You could write it off as another small-state/territory caucus win for Obama, and its not even a state, really just a huge military base. But, with the Puerto Rico primary looming in June as the last major contest in this race, it might be important to pay attention to those districts and territories that have a role in the nominating process but no actual votes for President or in Congress.

And yet, a win is a win, and here’s Obama racking up another win. What does it say that Hillary can’t win the Hegemony/Empire vote?

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History lesson: PA 1980

Pundits have frequently compared the 2008 election to 1980. In both elections, the opposition party fielded strong candidates in the face of an unpopular president brought down by economic insecurity and foreign policy disaster. For his part, Senator Barack Obama has openly compared himself to Ronald Reagan — not in substance, of course, but in transformational style.

Reagan won the 1980 Republican nomination for President, but his main opponent became his Vice President and was later elected for the top job.

I was a freshman in college during spring 1980 and was taking a course on campaigns and elections. Our term paper assignment was interesting. We had to select a presidential primary or caucus and turn in a paper predicting a winner before the votes were counted. We were supposed to analyze demographic information, campaign appeals, resources, and other factors when making our predictions.

I selected the Pennsylvania Republican primary largely because it was very late in the cycle and because the Republican race was still being contested. By April, however, Reagan was comfortably ahead. He had already won most of the contests. Indeed, Reagan ended up winning 29 elections that year — out of 34 contests — and just over 60% of all votes cast in them.

So, what happened in 1980? Which candidate did I pick? Who won — Reagan or Bush?

Well, I picked Reagan to win.

Yet, Bush won just over 50% of the votes and Reagan won under 43%. In my defense, because of his “grassroots work,” Reagan did win most of the delegates.

So, at 18, I was not much of a political analyst.

But that’s not the take-home lesson.

Pennsylvania didn’t stop the inevitability of front-runner Reagan capturing the Republican nomination. Like Reagan, Obama has sometimes won the delegate count even when he lost the popular vote: Nevada and Texas may be joined by PA.

Pennsylvania was an unfortunate speedbump for the frontrunner, but it did not seriously slow the campaign. Will 2008 be like 1980?

Incidentally, Bush’s strong showing made him the Veep, even though he had accused Reagan of advocating “voodoo economics.” In that case, intra-party mud-slinging did not seriously damage the frontrunner.

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Meet the new boss…

A focus on foreign policy has returned to the campaign, and the Washington Post had an telling series of articles yesterday and today on what the next President might do in the Foreign Policy arena. A column in Sunday’s Outlook section speculated on what lies ahead:

The next president will inherit a turbulent, intractable world that sharply constrains the room for creative new U.S. initiatives, according to many foreign policy experts of varying ideological persuasions. Despite the sharp campaign jousting, it’s not hard to imagine the next president – even a Democrat – pursuing basically the same set of policies as Bush has in recent years on such big subjects as North Korea’s nuclear program, Arab-Israeli peace talks, development and conflict in Africa, Russia’s increasing belligerence and China’s integration into the world.

“The truth is, a combination of realities . . . make a certain degree of continuity more likely than not,” [Kurt] Campbell told me.

Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor who served for two years as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, echoed that thought. Obama and Clinton’s “critique in general of the administration, aside from Iraq, is we are going to be more competent and collegial,” he said. “They don’t really debate many of the underlying premises of the administration’s current policies.”

This may come as a surprise and a shock to fans of the candidates, all of whom have distanced themselves from the current administration. Even McCain has been critical of Bush to demonstrate his independence on key issues such as Iraq or terrorism, though admittedly not nearly as critical as Clinton or Obama. Regardless, those expecting that campaign criticisms presage a break with the past across the board in US Foreign Policy should temper their expectations.

[H]istory also tells us to be cautious about using campaign rhetoric to predict how presidents will operate on the world stage. In 1992, Bill Clinton famously attacked George H.W. Bush for coddling “the butchers of Beijing,” only to revert to the long-term U.S. strategy of patiently trying to engage China. In 2000, George W. Bush sharply condemned Clinton’s approach to “nation-building” — only to engage, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in two of the biggest nation-building projects in U.S. history.

Here’s another good reason to be dubious about grandiose promises of foreign policy change: Bush himself has shifted course. After his wholesale repudiation of all things Clinton in his more ideologically charged first term, Bush moved to reorient his foreign policy along more traditional, realist lines, experts say. He has opened nuclear negotiations with North Korea, sought to repair frayed relations with key European allies, backed off from pressuring friendly Arab regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to democratize, and made a new diplomatic offer to Iran over its nuclear program. So far, he has resisted pressure to open a third war front by bombing Iranian nuclear facilities.

Today’s paper has a full profile of Obama’s foreign policy team and his major foreign policy positions. The Post’s analysis:

Yet for all the criticisms leveled at Obama, and his own professions of being the candidate of change, most of the policies outlined in his speeches, in the briefing papers issued by his campaign and in the written answers he gave to questions submitted by The Washington Post fall well within the mainstream of Democratic and moderate Republican thinking. On a number of issues, such as the Middle East peace process, Obama advocates a continuation of Bush administration policies but promises more energetic and intense presidential involvement.

Now, this expose might come as a surprise and shock to those up to their eyeballs in campaign horse-race coverage, but none of this should surprise anyone familiar with IR theory. All the major IR theories have a strong structural bias, that is to say, the ability of any one individual to shift world politics ranges from not at all to rather limited. The most liberal of foreign policy analysis theories suggest that a different President would make different policy choices, but the menu of those choices and the resulting pay-off matrix changes little from administration to administration. No presidential candidate can alter the international balance of power, and all strands of realism say that the pressures of power politics will, largely, push any president onto the same path. Even constructivists, who celebrate agency, still acknowledge that though president’s may make history, they will be doing so in circumstances not of their own making (yes, nod to Marx there….). The norms, rules, and identities that constrain and enable world politics don’t change with one Presidential election—developing new norms and identities takes and effort, limiting the number of changes any President can make.

Ergo, IR theory, writ large, suggests continuity on a wide range of key foreign policy issues. This should be neither a surprise to any observer nor a detriment to any candidate. It’s the

“combination of realities . . . make a certain degree of continuity more likely than not”

What is certain to change is the tone of US foreign policy. Obama certainly sounds different than Bush. Bush is, simply, unpopular around the world, and Obama gives one heck of a good speech. The question is: Does that really matter, and how much?

I think that the answer is that it does (after some reflection, I think my scholarship naturally leads me to this answer), and I’m hoping to have a post in the near future spelling out my reason why.

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2008 Election: New favorite Among Dems?

I don’t typically blog about domestic elections at the Duck, preferring to save my analysis and preferences for my personal blog.

However, Super Tuesday was a unique political event. No primary election ever had so much at stake — at least in terms of the number of states and delegates to the national convention.

Hillary Clinton was once the odds-on favorite to win the 2008 Democratic nomination. She secured backing from much of the Party establishment, raised tons of money and led in the polls throughout 2007.

Now, she’s the former frontrunner — managing to earn only about 50,000 more votes on Super Tuesday than her chief rival, Barack Obama, out of 14 million votes cast. That was virtually a statistical tie. Apparently, the two candidates essentially tied in delegates earned on Tuesday, though many analysts say Obama eked out a few more than she did.

Chris Bowers and numerous MSM pundits point out that the February campaign schedule seems to favor Obama. The race is turning towards Louisiana, Washington, and Nebraska this weekend, then to Maryland, DC and Virginia next week. After that, the battlegrounds are Hawaii and Wisconsin.

Clinton may be the favorite in Virginia, but that’s about it so far as I’ve heard. Washington may seem like California, but it is a caucus state and Obama’s organization has done very well in caucuses. He even took more delegates in Nevada despite losing the overall vote there.

Obama is now favored on the political trading markets.

Those markets are not the only way to “follow the money,” of course.

Clinton revealed yesterday that she has loaned her own campaign $5 million even as Obama was raising nearly $4 million — yesterday, online. The bigger fundraising picture is even worse for Clinton.

Obama raised more than twice what Clinton did in January and is getting much more cash from small donors. This is a good thing because he can call on them again:

A report just completed by the Campaign Finance Institute showed Clinton raised more than half her money in 2007 from donors who gave the maximum allowed by law. Obama, in comparison, raised just one third of his money from $2,300 donors.

“It means, Sen. Obama has the ability to keep going back to his donors, while she has a more difficult burden of having to seek out new donors,” said Weissman, who is the institute’s associate director for policy.

Clinton also had more trouble attracting support from small donors, many of whom gave over the Internet. While 47 percent of what Obama raised last year came from donors who gave less than $200, those small contributors made up just 15 percent of Clinton’s donor base.

In January, when Obama swamped Clinton by raising $32 million, compared to her $13 million, the vast majority of his total — $28 million — came over the Internet.

Is Barack Obama the new frontrunner?

After February, the candidates will square off in Texas and Ohio on March 4. That will be a telling confrontation — will Obama’s momentum secure victories in states that might have gone for Clinton this past Tuesday? Bandwagoning is a powerful political force in domestic politics and seems to be appearing in the fundraising.

A word of caution: I saw Gary Hart on TV a few days before Super Tuesday. He told viewers that he won 11 of the final 12 Democratic state contests in 1984, but ultimately lost the nomination because Walter Mondale was far more successful in securing the so-called “superdelegates” to the Democratic National convention.

About 40% of the 2008 convention voters are superdelegates, so this race might well hinge on their decisions made privately over the next few months.

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Interpreting the surge in Iraq

I have a longstanding apathy towards State of the Union addresses. If a President says anything important (like declaring states part of an “axis of evil“), then I figure that the text serves just as well. My actions are bipartisan — I don’t watch anyone named Bush give these addresses and I didn’t watch Bill Clinton either. And I generally didn’t watch Ronald Reagan’s efforts.

However, there’s a case to be made that I should have watched the address this year — not because of what Bush said, but because of how specific members of the audience reacted.

After all, both of the remaining Democratic rivals for the presidential nomination are U.S. Senators and had the opportunity to agree or disagree with the current occupant of the White House. They could clap — or not — whenever the President made a policy point or arrived at a conclusion. In an extreme case, the candidate might even stand and clap. Arguably, such a move sends a clear signal to potential voters.

The Hill, January 29, provided this news about what I missed:

Obama and Clinton seemed to see eye to eye on Bush’s domestic agenda, sitting firmly on their hands through most of the first half of his speech…

Clinton and Obama’s divergent views on the troop surge in Iraq, however, were plainly visible.

When Bush proclaimed, “Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among terrorists there is no doubt,” Clinton sprang to her feet in applause but Obama remained firmly seated.

Kevin Drum is skeptical that this means anything, but Mark Kleiman believes it signifies a great deal.

I tend to side with Kleiman on this — largely because I do not think the surge has been a success. Thus, I do not think that any public figure, but perhaps especially Hillary Clinton — who already mistakenly voted for the war — should be clapping about the continued prosecution of the war.

The post I’ve just linked mentions that the civilian violent death rate in Iraq has declined to 2005 levels, which were worse than 2004 levels. This month, about 24 people per day are dying violent deaths. The January 2008 number will likely be between 700 and 800 dead.

These numbers are dramatically down from the war’s peak from June 2006 through August 2007 when more than 2500 people were dying each month.

The December 2007 civilian violent death toll in Iraq was 902.

Context: While the President defines that as success in Iraq, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has been trying to mediate an exploding crisis in Kenya. The US envoy to Africa has called the situation “ethnic cleansing.” Yet, since December, “only” about 900 people have died. Press reports place the January death toll at around 800.

Do the math:

A good month in Iraq = a burgeoning political crisis in Kenya.

Since Kenya‘s population is about 10 million greater than Iraq‘s, the death toll in Iraq is a larger portion of the population.

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I just can’t seem to get enough of you

I was planning to blog on the Ukrainian elections today (exit polls show a very slim lead for Yulia Timoshenko’s party, but both sides claim victory), but, well, things get in the way.

Like these headlines:

Putin eyes prime minister’s job
Putin Says He Will Run For Parliament

United Russia (Edinaya Rossiya)–the Kremlin-approved dominant political party in Russia–kicked off its election campaign this morning with a party conference. It was widely announced that Putin would attend this meeting, which is not unusual–he has attended past United Russia conferences, though he is not technically a member. The surprise, though, was his announcement that he would top the party list; as a result, he would be entitled to a seat in the Duma (though he may not actually to claim his seat as long as he is a sitting president). He also said that the possibility of becoming prime minister is a “realistic idea” that he has already been thinking about.

I can’t say as I’m shocked to learn that Vladimir Vladimirovich has a plan to keep hold of the center of power in Russia. Although he’s constitutionally limited to two consecutive terms, he’s wildly popular in Russia, and few really expected him to leave political life. The current scenario favored by Kremlin watchers is that Zubkov will run for president, while Putin will take the prime minister’s seat. However, technically, the
prime minister’s powers are significantly less than the president’s. Would Putin be content to play second fiddle? Does he trust Zubkov enough to be mere puppet, even though he would hold the legal reins of power?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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