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Michael Russnow

Michael Russnow

Posted: March 5, 2008 07:55 PM

Will Hillary Clinton Have the Last Laugh in Spite of the Media? Or Will the Super Delegates Pull a Surprise?


I'm not a Hillary Clinton superfan, although I voted for her against Obama in California because my preferred candidates John Edwards and Joseph Biden had already dropped out.

I previously wrote a piece suggesting that Al Gore enter the race, as someone who has already been chosen by the American people for president and in consideration of the equal split between the two remaining Democratic candidates. That idea was met with varying responses, from "Wish it were so" to outright scorn, because some feel Gore's already had his chance, as if he'd been beaten badly and why should we give him another one?

And isn't this all due to what I'd mentioned before -- that the American people follow the media and almost always do their bidding? I say almost always because, on occasion, people actually pay attention to what's happening and listen to the debate arguments. It was this factor, which no doubt eroded Hillary Clinton's slide in Ohio and Texas, resulting in a large win in the Buckeye State and a convincing one in Texas.

But still the media had to steal her thunder, terming the Texas victory a "squeaker." Excuse me, it wasn't a landslide by any means, but it was deemed a state going for Obama just as the polls closed and as the evening rolled on her numbers kept pulling away from his, giving her a 3.5% win of approximately 100,000 votes. That's not a "squeaker" -- it's not a huge margin, but it was absolutely decisive.

Other so-called pundits, who were chomping at the bit hoping this would be over, so very much want to keep digging Hillary's grave. They pooh-pooh Clinton's victory, citing Obama who is ahead in the Texas caucus, where about one third of those who voted in the primary took part. The media is hard pressed, though. It doesn't want to be termed wrong, but at the same point, if it were truly over last night, what would they have to do until the late summer conventions start the fall campaign in earnest?

Were they worrying about being laid off, having to seek temp jobs for those living above their huge TV salaries? Would CNN finally have remembered that John King predicted the Clinton presidency was all but over soon after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in early 1998? And that his self-confidence generally goes with the flow? In fairness, most of the TV "experts" act in that knee-jerk manner, with only the on-air champions of a candidate spinning the facts, come what may, to give their very partial points of view the best foot forward.

You know, I'm getting tired of all the rhetoric spewed forth by both sides. Aren't you? I'm tired of the meaningless arguments designed to foment fear or outright dislike that are manufactured by the campaigns or by "unknown" supporters. And I'm really tired that the media doesn't take the trouble to put the charges through a filter to measure their actual veracity and significance. Instead, they choose to fan the flames to sell papers or induce ratings, all to give them an excuse to be paid to write or talk about the so-called issues.

It was ridiculous to see the plagiarism charge against Obama or that photo of him dressed as a Muslim, and foolish of Hillary to hedge on whether she thought he actually was one. But that's what the media kept harping on, and it was hard to see whether they were bent on hurting Hillary, citing her "waffling," or reminding voters that Obama's father was born in Africa and that Obama spent a few years of his childhood in Indonesia.

It was equally absurd for the Obama people to attack Clinton on NAFTA and her tax returns, because in the former she had admitted a change in heart, did not set the policy in the first place and even former White House advisor David Gergen revealed on CNN that she was lukewarm about it when it was first presented. As to her tax returns and real estate dealings, didn't all the Whitewater investigations clear her of any wrongdoing? Yet the media keeps having a field day over that as well.

And with all that's happened, the media continues to tout Obama's 11 straight wins (12 with Vermont, which apparently was called before Rhode Island). I've gone over the state returns and count only nine since February 5, so they must be counting the last two results that were reported on that date as well. In any event, let's take a look at the nine states since the Super Tuesday contest. Four of them were caucuses (Maine, Washington state, Nebraska and Hawaii) and if you add them to the six caucuses held on Super Tuesday (North Dakota, Colorado, Alaska, Idaho, Minnesota and Kansas), not to mention the Iowa caucus in early January, that means almost half of Obama's victories in 24 states (plus D.C.) came in situations where the bulk of the state's populace did not participate.

And look at the states he won. In the top 15 states, he handily won primaries in Illinois, Georgia and Virginia, plus Washington state, which held a caucus, and also in moderately large states such as Wisconsin and Maryland, and by a razor thin margin in Missouri, with the rest medium-sized or with a paucity of population, and half of those in caucus contests.

Compare this with Hillary Clinton's wins in primary states where many more people voted. In the top 15 states, she won by large margins in California, New York and Ohio, New Jersey and Massachusetts (with Ted Kennedy supporting Obama), a convincing win in Texas and was also on top in Florida, though not contested, where, with both names on the ballot, she beat Obama 50% to 33%. She also won by quite a lot in moderately large states like Arizona and Tennessee.

What does this mean? It means that the media is relying more on the number of states won, irrespective of tallying up actual people participating in the respective processes, which is very close. This, without question, more than the message of either candidate, contributed to Hillary's decline in the polls, first in Wisconsin and then in Ohio and Texas. A last minute burst of energy and change of campaign tactics apparently spoke louder than the prognostications of the media, which had pretty much written and declared Hillary's political obituary.

And now the seesaw is tipping the other way a bit, the media not quite wanting to admit it was wrong, but eager to wonder about Obama's fate. On the other hand they give much greater weight to the superiority of Obama's current delegate total, which numbers less than a hundred above Clinton's, with both candidates far from the magic goal that will yield the nomination.

They muse on how the 800 super delegates wouldn't dare upset the candidate who was ahead in elected delegates, when in fact it was precisely for such a situation that the super delegates were created. That and to soothe the feelings of party leaders and professionals, some of whom felt shunted aside as more and more states held proportional primaries instead of the previously winner take all variety.

It is clear that if ever there was a reason for the pros to exercise a judgment call, it is for cases like this where the race might be arguably too close to call and is certainly not a runaway. Where a candidate demonstrated clear strength waging and winning primary contests in the electoral rich states, which in the general election will be winner take all. A candidate who also did well in primary contests in western and southern states. Where Hillary slipped badly -- and this is her campaign's fault -- was due to not exercising a meaningful strategy in the overly hyped caucus states, where Obama scored so well.

Look, either candidate would be fine with me, considering the reactionary choice that awaits us in November. John McCain may seem a bit more reasonable and puppy dog-ish than George W. Bush, but his only major calling card that sets him apart from all the candidates is his prisoner of war status. It was a horrible fate for any man or woman to endure, but we should be much more troubled and concerned about his domestic and foreign policy papers and general plans for our future.

So, this Democratic Party campaign is far from over, and with fewer primaries and caucuses remaining, there will be little opportunity for Obama to have the press exaggerate his victories by counting the number of state totals, which are mostly small to medium, in his victory column. And there's little doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton will now win Pennsylvania, as previously expected, the only state, save North Carolina, abounding in electoral votes in upcoming contests.

Thus, we will probably have a situation where the nomination indeed goes to the convention. And it is here that the super delegates will have to determine who will be a more effective candidate. They will also have to concern themselves with whether the two candidates' supporters can come together without undue bitterness and will campaign vigilantly against the Republican standard bearer in the fall.

Otherwise, the unthinkable may happen. McCain may slip into the White House, just as George H. W. Bush did by beating Michael Dukakis, who was so very far ahead during the summer but slipped badly in the fall and notably at the presidential debates. Frankly, I do expect that the Democratic nominee -- Clinton or Obama -- will be able to clasp hands with the other and help the former foe vanquish John McCain. However, if things get too tense during the summer and a kumbaya moment does not seem possible, it would be only prudent for the super delegates to sit the two Democratic candidates down and for the good of America and our collective future make them realize that Al Gore is our best chance for the White House.

Yes, I know it appears unlikely, but it might well present the optimum solution.