Count It

Matt Yglesias takes on Clinton campaign spin on what does and does not count for primary/caucus wins:

Back in October 2007, Clinton was beating Obama in Maine by a hilarious 47 to 10 margin, but it seems he’s carried the state today, once again by a large margin. My understanding, though, is that this doesn’t really count because it’s a small state, much as Utah doesn’t count because there aren’t many Democrats there, DC doesn’t count because there are too many black people, Washington doesn’t count because it’s a caucus, Illinois doesn’t count because Obama represents it in the Senate even though Hillary was born there, Hawaii won’t count because Obama was born there. I’m not sure why Delaware and Connecticut don’t count, but they definitely don’t.

Separate from the relative absurdity of how the campaigns spin the media and the public, it strikes me as obvious that the reason we have over 50 primaries and caucuses is because they all count.* No one win is inherently representative of more than itself until spin is added; that is, Obama won x delegates more than Clinton in Maine, a clear sign that he’s bringing himself closer to the total needed for the nomination. And he can win the Maine Democratic caucus.. At minimum, narratives following wins can’t realistically be crafted to suggest that a win is a sign of a loss. When the Clinton campaign casts wins as something other than that, they’re wading neck deep into absurd waters.

*Except for, you know, Michigan and Florida.

When Presidential Campaigns Flex Their Muscle

I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last four and a half months trying to pressure the major Democratic presidential candidates – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – to use their platform as the two most important, most listened to Democrats in the country to speak out forcefully against retroactive immunity for telecom companies and the expansion of executive powers sought by the Bush administration in FISA reform legislation. These efforts have at times been met by skepticism – what makes these two senators so much more important that the other ninety-eight?

Leadership from these candidates could set the tone of the FISA debate and could raise retroactive immunity to the level of presidential politics in a way that Chris Dodd’s outspoken, persistent efforts never succeeded in doing. While the blogs and key progressive advocacy groups were drawn to Dodd’s use of his somewhat-larger than usual microphone afforded a second-tier presidential candidate, the traditional media never credited Dodd nor even the issue as being particularly important.

The last two days have provided us with a pointed example of the power a presidential campaign possesses to impact the media.

On Thursday night, MSNBC’s David Shuster uttered a shocking, sexist comment about Chelsea Clinton’s role as a surrogate in her mother’s campaign: “Doesn’t it seem like Chelsea is being pimped in some weird sort of way?”

The response from the Clinton campaign was swift, with spokesman Howard Wolfson blasting Shushter in a conference call (full statement via email):

I’m not aware that they’ve apologized. I haven’t received any phone call. I’m not aware that Senator Clinton or Chelsea Clinton has received any phone calls so I’m not familiar with any apology. Look, I think that the comment is disgusting. It’s beneath contempt. And it’s the kind of thing that should never be said on a national news network. There was an apology by another NBC news personality last month on air. I’m not aware that that person ever apologized to the Senator for anything he had said. And I think at some point you really have to question whether or not there is a pattern here at this particular network where you have comments being made and then apologies given. Is this part of a pattern? Is there something that folks are encouraged to do or not do? I don’t know, but the comment was beneath contempt and I think any fair-minded person would see it that way.

Wolfson went on to drop a major hit on MSNBC – the Clinton campaign will no longer take part in any debates on their network:

I’ll say this. We’ve done a number of debates on that network. We had agreed yesterday to do a debate on that network. And I at this point can’t envision a scenario where we would continue to engage in debates on that network given the comments that were made and have been made.

The Clinton campaign pushed back as hard as they could and made sure that MSNBC got the message. Many bloggers picked up on the story, giving it wide traffic in yesterday’s news cycle.

On Friday NBC News responded and suspended Shuster.

On Thursday’s “Tucker” on MSNBC, David Shuster, who was serving as guest-host of the program, made a comment about Chelsea Clinton and the Clinton campaign that was irresponsible and inappropriate. Shuster, who apologized this morning on MSNBC and will again this evening, has been suspended from appearing on all NBC News broadcasts, other than to make his apology. He has also extended an apology to the Clinton family. NBC News takes these matters seriously, and offers our sincere regrets to the Clintons for the remarks.

The Clinton campaign won a victory against media sexism because they pushed back hard and didn’t look the other way when they were subject to biased, poor coverage.

It’s possible that the growing sexism in the media had primed the pump for a strong push back from the Clinton campaign, that they had already reached a point where the next objectionable utterance by any talking head would be met by the full force of a presidential candidate, campaign, and former President. Media Matters documented a long string of sexist remarks by NBC and MSNBC talking heads. And Bob Cesca makes a good case that Shuster was paying the price of this history: “This was NBC apologizing to the Clintons for all of it. Sacrificing their best reporter for the good of establishing a detente with Team Clinton.”

I could be wrong. It’s possible that the Clinton campaign only found such success because this was an overt instance of sexism belittling the actions not of Senator Clinton, but her grown daughter. But even if that’s the case, the campaign, bloggers, and supporters responded in a way that demanded the news outlet listen to them.

Sexism is a blight on our society. Discourse in the media on the Clinton campaign has been deeply tinged with sexist language and sentiments. But what would it look like to see the Clinton campaign put on a full court press to get the traditional media to recognize the critical importance of what is happening in the Senate? What if in addition to fighting sexism in the media, the Clinton campaign started to demand the media report on the state of the Constitution and the rule of law?

This obviously isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison of situations of a campaign interacting with the media. In the Shuster case, the Clinton campaign is reacting to sexism; in the case of retroactive immunity, their engagement would have to be proactive. Moreover, issues of gender and sexism have been ever present in the media’s coverage of the presidential campaign and Hillary Clinton’s role as the long standing frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. I’m not saying it would be easy, just that the last day and a half has shown how much power the campaign has to set out and change coverage. Taylor Marsh notes that after Shuster apologized last night, MSNBC had only women on air for fifteen minutes. The simple lesson is that media outlets respond to pressure from presidential campaigns.

Clinton and Obama have come around to be opponents of retroactive immunity and expanded eavesdropping powers, but they have been effectively absent from the Senate’s debate over the last two and a half months. An opportunity for them to change the debate is present and they are both missing it. It may not be as easy to change the media’s coverage of the Constitution as it is when you’re trying to change their coverage of your entire campaign in response to sexist or racist attacks, but is it any less important?

Lastly, it’s likely that instances like Shuster’s will be instructive for the media. When they foul up their work with sexism or racism, they are getting hit by these presidential campaigns. In the long run, I think these efforts to push back and stop sexist and racist coverage will result in better discourse that doesn’t turn towards bigotry and misogyny when describing, well, anyone. The same could go for a campaign that was shaped by a serious discussion of the Constitution and what legislation like the Intelligence bill granting retroactive immunity for telecom companies that helped the Bush administration spy on Americans means to the health of the rule of law.

Senator Clinton has missed three votes on amendments to improve the SSCI bill. Senator Obama has missed two out of three of those votes. Neither has stood on the floor of the Senate and spoke out against retroactive immunity during this fight. Worse, neither has dedicated a speech on the campaign trail, a major media push, or a television ad to this issue. I hear that Senator Obama enjoys joking about naming his next two kids Habeas and Corpus, while noting that it’s always his best applause line. Well, just as necessary as it is for these two candidates to use the full weight of their campaigns and their standing in the country to stop sexism and racism against them, it’s time for them to flex their muscle and use their elevated platforms to demand coverage of the warrantless wiretapping and retroactive immunity.

Hillary’s Leaving the Band

This is probably my favorite Clinton video of the cycle. It’s really well done, it’s not celebrity driven, and it’s pretty hilarious. I’ll be curious to see if it actually succeeds in gaining traction with young people online, which I’m sure is at least part of the Clinton campaign’s goal, or if it’s merely picked up by Beltway pundits as Clinton trying to be casual. For what it’s worth, I found it via Dana Goldstein at TAPPED and looking at YouTube, the only link trackbacks it’s received are from Politico, Real Clear Politics, a comment in a DailyKos open thread, and a MyDD diary. It has over 180,000 views in a little over a week.

Also, is it just me or does it sound like Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transatlanticism” piano intro is playing in the background the somber part of the video?

Money Race

The big news yesterday afternoon was a double negative story about the Clinton campaign’s money situation. First it came out that Hillary Clinton had loaned her campaign $5 million late last month. Then it came out that top staff on the Clinton campaign were foregoing pay, including the campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle.

The Obama campaign followed with a fundraising email to his supporters asking them to try to raise $5 million online in small dollar donations to match Clinton’s loan. Sarah Lai Stirland reported late last night that Obama had already raised over $6.3 million online since Super Tuesday; checking the Obama fundraising widget on their blog this morning, the number is now approaching $6.9 million. And to top that off, the Clinton campaign has announced that they’ve raised over $3 million online in the last 24 hours. Clearly both campaigns are entering Ron Paul territory when it comes to rapid online giving from their supporters.

While I was still on the Dodd campaign, I remember having a conversation with a number of our more experienced and savvy staffers who’ve been around campaigns much longer than I have about how the race might shape up if it got down to just Clinton and Obama (trust me, campaign staffers are just as much political junkies as folks online). The consensus was that, if it were close, the race would go to the convention because neither candidate would have an incentive to drop out as long as they had money and the assumption was that these two would always have enough money to compete.

I think money is a factor that will be most instructive for how things proceed over the coming weeks. The Clinton campaign is clearly in a tight financial situation, but is certainly capable of raising enough in spurts online to do what they need to do. I don’t know whether the Obama campaign’s speculation that Clinton might sink up to another $15 million comes from, but both Bill and Hillary have had many big book deals, and the former President has cleaned up as a consultant and speaker. But if they can’t keep the funds flowing in online, then the Clinton campaign will be in trouble. Obama’s support isn’t shrinking, it’s growing at a rapid rate. He’s probably going to easily pass the $30+ million he raised last month in February and don’t be shocked if they’re able to hit $10 million later today.

As of now, I don’t think that either campaign will be forced into conceding because of money. But the Clinton campaign, while showing strength in some areas financially, is showing weakness in others and is certainly not looking like it can match Obama’s small dollar tsunami. We’ll see how the rest of this week shakes out and if Clinton can keep her smaller (though still incredibly impressive) wave of online donations coming in to buoy the campaign in the next few days.


I’m with Steve Benen, last night was a draw and anyone who’s spinning hard one way or the other is just  spinning you. Both candidates had places where they had key victories. Both candidates lost in places they really would have been helped to win. Generally speaking, I think Obama closed ground and kept delegates out of Clinton’s hands in places like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California with his late surge. I don’t think he could have realistically be expected to have won those states based on where the polls were two weeks ago. Obama kept Clinton from winning big in big states; but Clinton still won some of the biggest states yesterday.

So, no, Taylor, Obama should not give up. And no, Joe, the tide has not turned against Clinton.

The race is deadlocked and the primary contests moving forward are incredibly important. I hope we’ll be able to determine a winner based on delegates pledged from the outcomes of our primaries and caucuses, but it’s looking more likely that super delegates will decide the winner.


It’s hard to describe the Clinton campaign’s decision to do a 180 and accept an invitation to participate in a debate hosted by Fox News as anything other than nuts.

According to the Lear Center, Fox News is the most politically divisive news channel. 70% of its daily viewers are conservative and only 3% are liberal.

Via The Hill, a Media Vote study paints an equally imbalanced picture of the Fox audience:

Yet, in our 2004 polling with Media Vote, using Nielsen diaries, we found that Fox News viewers supported George Bush over John Kerry by 88 percent to 7 percent. No demographic segment, other than Republicans, was as united in supporting Bush. Conservatives, white evangelical Christians, gun owners, and supporters of the Iraq war all gave Bush fewer votes than did regular Fox News viewers.

Moreover, Democrats are getting huge turnouts in the polls so far. The viewership for their debates on other networks is through the roof. Fortunately it looks like the Obama campaign is currently holding the line on Fox debates:

“As of right now, there are no debates on our schedule at all,” Burton told the Huffington Post. “We’ll figure out our schedule, including any debates, soon.”

The good news is that you can’t have a debate with just one candidate there (though I did see Tom Tancredo be the only GOP candidate in attendance at the NAACP Presidential Forum in July, which was hilarious). I’m all for more head to head debates between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, particularly if the Democratic nominating process might run all the way to the convention. But there’s no reason to hold future debates on Fox News.


It’s worth noting that Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films series of “Fox Attacks” videos are as convincing a body of evidence as any other for Democrats to avoid Fox News.

Broken Convention

Chris Bowers breaks down potential outcomes from Super Tuesday in the Democratic presidential delegate chase and paints a clear picture that shows we’re headed towards an outcome that is determined by super delegates. Then the Clinton campaign confirmed to Matt Stoller that they think this can go to a brokered convention. Then Bowers received further input worthy of reflection on how things could sort out if things remain close between Obama and Clinton.

I’m with Paul Krugman: “I hate this thought.”

I think for somewhat different reasons, though. I hate the horse race, having lived on the tail end of it for much of the last year. But what I hate more is the thought that Democratic primary and caucus goers may not be the final arbiters in choosing our party’s nominee. Super delegates, unelected officials bequeathed with authority for their role in the party structure, could determine the outcome in contravention to the popular vote totals.

This may be how things are always done, but I can’t say the microscope of a brokered convention would reveal particularly democratic tendencies  in the Democratic Party.

I’ve been mulling over a potential alternative system for picking our nominee. I’ll probably post on it after Super Tuesday, but needless to say it will reflect the need for us to evolve a more democratic, more systematic, more national primary system. This kind of nonsense needs to stop after this election.

Questions about MoveOn’s Endorsement of Obama

Yesterday’s MoveOn member poll showed Barack Obama winning decisively over Hillary Clinton, 70% to 29%. Matt Stoller has the news at Open Left. MoveOn had set the threshold for endorsement at 66% and Obama comfortably got enough votes to meet that standard.

But there are a number of questions that I would be curious to see answered.

MoveOn cites the votes totals as Vote results:

Obama: 197,444 (70.4%)
Clinton: 83,084 (29.6%)

That’s a total of 280,528 votes cast in 24 hours, a very impressive number. But MoveOn has 3.2 million members. Only 8.7% of them participated in the poll. Only 6.17% of MoveOn members voted for Obama, yet he will receive their endorsement and support.

Now, comparing vote totals to total membership is not exactly a fair comparison to adjudicate the merits of the endorsement. But it’s the information I have at hand.

What would be more helpful to know in evaluating these numbers is this:

  1. How many people opened the email?
  2. How many people went to the voting landing page linked in the email and decided not to vote?
  3. How many people previously participated in MoveOn’s Virtual Town Halls on Iraq and the environment?

Knowing the answers to these questions would give us a better sense of how MoveOn members thought about the vote between Clinton and Obama. I don’t expect to find out #1 and #2, as most organizations keep that information secret. I asked for the answer to from #3 by Ilyse Hoque of MoveOn, here’s what she provided me with:

Iraq Town Hall: 42,896 votes cast

Climate Town Hall: 95,284 votes cast

She also provided me with the individual candidate breakdowns for both votes, but I don’t think those numbers are relevant to the question at hand. It’s the totals that concern me.

MoveOn saw a 294% increase in participation in the straw poll from the larger virtual town hall to the endorsement vote. That huge increase makes me think that concerns about participation in proportion to list size for the endorsement vote are not valid. They clearly had a major portion of the active members of their list participate and the result was clearly decisive.

I’ll be curious to see how MoveOn members work to help the endorsement have an impact beyond a press release. Will Obama be able to count on nearly 200,000 MoveOn members to man the phones for him in the coming days and weeks? Will MoveOn ask their members to donate to Obama’s campaign? Will Obama’s campaign try to do an acquisition email to MoveOn’s members who voted for him? I’ll be looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

Mike Caulfield’s Right

Mike Caulfield, co-founder of Blue Hampshire, included this passage in a comment here on my first post on Bob Cesca and blogger endorsements.

I’m not interested in helping either of these candidates win at this point. I’m interested in helping them be better candidates. That means applying pressure to Obama to stop his fetishization of unity (which I’ve been complaining about since before he was a candidate).

It also means applying pressure to Clinton to apply that dogged (some would say bullying) style to the opposition, and help us fight the battles that matter.

Or to kind of take off on what Eli said — to make sure Clinton is on our side, and to make Obama realize sides matter.

I’m into doing whatever it takes to get that done. The question at this point is not who is the better candidate, but how do we make both of these candidates better. [Emphasis added]

That’s a great way to think about the impact we can have on candidates that we might not be ready to endorse. It may be that one of them actually is a better candidate, but that’s clear, working to make them both better is important. That’s what I’ve tried to do with my writing since I started this site, at least.