Pennsylvania Primary

2008-Apr-22

I am amazed at the amount of bullshit the mass media are hoping we will swallow, much of it based on claiming that if Obama has problems winning the “big states” in the primaries, then he will have trouble winning them in November. Maybe they can’t do the simple math of comparing the number of Democratic primary votes cast to the number of Republican votes cast. And asking if the number of Democrats in these states who will be so bitterly disappointed that their candidate lost is close to the number of Republicans who have grown to hate the president they voted for and have no love for his replacement.

But no one in the mass media is looking at what should be obvious: Political campaigns are won on the ground.

Even in hot races, many voters have little clue about the issues. They vote on name recognition, and even more importantly on whether they think a candidate cares for them personally. Which is why candidates try to meet as many voters as possible in person, or alternatively through canvassers, or through the media…but the media is not as important as meeting person to person. This will be a campaign based, not on Clinton’s or Obama’s issues (which are damn near identical despite all claims to the contrary), but on their ground game, their ability to Get Out The Vote.

And it is an excellent chance to compare the DLC corporate Dem “swing-state” strategy of Rahm Emanuel versus the “50 state strategy” of Howard Dean. The “swing-state strategy” concentrates all time and effort on winning big “swing states” with a lot of electoral votes, where the winner take all votes in the Electoral College will win the presidency for the Dems. That contrasts with Howard Dean’s “50 state strategy” which tries to build up a Democratic base in every state to contest every election.

The “swing state strategy” is economical and efficient in using resources to win a presidential election, at the risk of ignoring the needs of the Democratic Party everywhere but those few swing states. The “50 state strategy” is a long term movement to build a Democratic majority that can last for decades, but at the risk of losing elections short term that might have been won with a bit more concentrated funding.

Hillary Clinton has been using the corporate Dem “swing state strategy”, concentrating on the big states. Obama has been using the “50 state strategy” and winning more delegates because he has won many small states. Problem is the “swing state strategy” assumes “winner take all” but in the primaries her swing states give proportional representation, so a small win in a big swing state may not give an advantage in delegates. So the Obama/Dean strategy seems like a winner in the primaries.

Hillary’s side is bitterly complaining (whining?) about being “outspent three to one” by Obama. This ignores the advantages she holds in the big swing states by virtue of her strategy (and totally ignoring all the blather about “identity politics”: male/female, white/black, and such). Her strategy concentrates all her energy in those big states such as Pennsylvania, where she has built up a huge organization, and so ought to win handily (and certainly started with huge leads). She also has the name recognition advantages of two terms of the Presidency, which is worth billions of dollars in free advertising. She also has the advantage of many years of machine politics, her contacts with machine Dems and unions, which are permanent sources of funding and volunteer labor.

But Obama has no such links to the Democratic machine. He is a complete newcomer. What he has, in addition to personal charisma, is the Dean Machine, the legions of young, mostly progressive, activists, who have been working ever since Dean’s candidacy to establish their own network, frequently outside the official Democratic machine. They have learned a lot about canvassing and phonebanking, and raising money, and building a political movement through the internet. When Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards gave up, many of the Deaniacs (and Kucitizens) migrated to Obama because they see Hillary as irretrievably wedded to the corporate DLC Dem machine.

The Pennsylvania primary today will give us a good chance to see how the orthodox Democratic machine and the progressive Dean machine fare when matched up against each other.

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