How Hillary Lost & Obama Won

The media narrative isn't always right, but it's always fascinating to watch. Because political reporters tend to be pack animals, once a narrative gets out there, it's tough to change. Yesterday, there was only one narrative: the Democratic race is over.

The consensus was swift and brutal. The tabloids had their own way of saying it (like the NY Post, which led the front page with "Toast!"). TIME has a cover offering an Obama victory pic. Broadcast media had their list, as captured by Jim Rutenberg in the NY Times (Pundits Declare the Race Over).

The moment came shortly after midnight Eastern time, captured in a devastatingly declarative statement from Tim Russert of NBC News: "We now know who the Democratic nominee’s going to be, and no one’s going to dispute it," he said on MSNBC. "Those closest to her will give her a hard-headed analysis, and if they lay it all out, they’ll say: ‘What is the rationale? What do we say to the undeclared super delegates tomorrow? Why do we tell them you’re staying in the race?’ And tonight, there’s no good answer for that.

Russert, btw, did an encore on Wednesday's evening news, using his whiteboard to go over the inexorable delegate math on the Nightly News (the astute Chuck Todd has been all over this), reiterating the idea that there was no way Clinton wins.

Yesterday afternoon, this AP story made its way onto the internet via the Houston Chronicle: Analysis: Democrats quietly send word to Clinton it's over. In the WaPo, Dan Balz did his own canvassing:

I sent a message to one of her most loyal supporters early Wednesday morning asking what are her realistic options? "She has only one option," he replied. "Gracefully exit and help unify the party to beat [John] McCain." How quickly, he was asked. "I would advise them to figure out how to do it as soon as this weekend," he replied.

Another veteran Democrat who has backed Clinton was equally pessimistic in his private assessment. "It's hard to see a path toward the twin goals of Hillary winning and the party uniting," he wrote. "Her strategy cannot be to destroy the village in order to save it. The superdelegate dam is about to break. Hillary losing [George] McGovern is like LBJ losing [former CBS News anchor Walter] Cronkite."

Several outlets started to dissect the Clinton superdelegates (this from The Hill):
"I, as you know, have great fondness and great respect for Sen. Clinton and I’m very loyal to her," [Dianne] Feinstein said. "Having said that, I’d like to talk with her and [get] her view on the rest of the race and what the strategy is.

Clinton, who eked out a win in Indiana Tuesday night but lost big to front-runner Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in North Carolina, has not responded to Feinstein’s phone call, the California senator said.

"I think the race is reaching the point now where there are negative dividends from it, in terms of strife within the party," Feinstein said. "I think we need to prevent that as much as we can."

Today, it'll be about grace, timing, pride and, inevitably, money. Already one can see the references to Planet Clinton ( a place far away from here where people think they can win) openly make their way into political discussions (I heard it on MSNBC yesterday; pundits hate it when the candidates defy the narrative.)

I'll leave it to others to talk about why the pundits suddenly realized what the blogs have been saying for weeks... Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee, and it's about damn time to put his opponent, 71 year old John McCain, under the microscope and hold him accountable for his positions, his gaffes and his embrace of the worst President in polling history. But given the current narrative, that time is coming very soon.

GOP strategists have been fearing an Obama nomination since Iowa. Not because of his strength as a Presidential candidate, but because his organization has long coat tails. The grassroots organization that vaulted him to the nomination has the energy and organization to put the 21 "Republican Leaning" house seats into play. And in so doing cause the RNC's monetary advantage over the DNC will be eliminated as they attempt to defend seats that they never thought they would have to put resources into.

How did she lose? See below.


Five Mistakes Hillary Clinton Made

For all her talk about "full speed on to the White House," there was an unmistakably elegiac tone to Hillary Clinton's primary-night speech in Indianapolis. And if one needed further confirmation that the undaunted, never-say-die Clintons realize their bid might be at an end, all it took was a look at the wistful faces of the husband and the daughter who stood behind the candidate as she talked of all the people she has met in a journey "that has been a blessing for me."

It was also a journey she had begun with what appeared to be insurmountable advantages, which evaporated one by one as the campaign dragged on far longer than anyone could have anticipated. She made at least five big mistakes, each of which compounded the others:

1. She misjudged the mood
That was probably her biggest blunder. In a cycle that has been all about change, Clinton chose an incumbent's strategy, running on experience, preparedness, inevitability - and the power of the strongest brand name in Democratic politics. It made sense, given who she is and the additional doubts that some voters might have about making a woman Commander in Chief. But in putting her focus on positioning herself to win the general election in November, Clinton completely misread the mood of Democratic-primary voters, who were desperate to turn the page. "Being the consummate Washington insider is not where you want to be in a year when people want change," says Barack Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod. Clinton's "initial strategic positioning was wrong and kind of played into our hands." But other miscalculations made it worse:

2. She didn't master the rules
Clinton picked people for her team primarily for their loyalty to her, instead of their mastery of the game. That became abundantly clear in a strategy session last year, according to two people who were there. As aides looked over the campaign calendar, chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that an early win in California would put her over the top because she would pick up all the state's 370 delegates. It sounded smart, but as every high school civics student now knows, Penn was wrong: Democrats, unlike the Republicans, apportion their delegates according to vote totals, rather than allowing any state to award them winner-take-all. Sitting nearby, veteran Democratic insider Harold M. Ickes, who had helped write those rules, was horrified - and let Penn know it. "How can it possibly be," Ickes asked, "that the much vauntedchief strategist doesn't understand proportional allocation?" And yet the strategy remained the same, with the campaign making its bet on big-state victories. Even now, it can seem as if they don't get it. Both Bill and Hillary have noted plaintively that if Democrats had the same winner-take-all rules as Republicans, she'd be the nominee. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign now acknowledges privately:

3. She underestimated the caucus states
While Clinton based her strategy on the big contests, she seemed to virtually overlook states like Minnesota, Nebraska and Kansas, which choose their delegates through caucuses. She had a reason: the Clintons decided, says an adviser, that "caucus states were not really their thing." Her core supporters - women, the elderly, those with blue-collar jobs - were less likely to be able to commit an evening of the week, as the process requires. But it was a little like unilateral disarmament in states worth 12% of the pledged delegates. Indeed, it was in the caucus states that Obama piled up his lead among pledged delegates. "For all the talent and the money they had over there," says Axelrod, "they - bewilderingly - seemed to have little understanding for the caucuses and how important they would become."

By the time Clinton's lieutenants realized the grave nature of their error, they lacked the resources to do anything about it - in part because:

4. She relied on old money
For a decade or more, the Clintons set the standard for political fund-raising in the Democratic Party, and nearly all Bill's old donors had re-upped for Hillary's bid. Her 2006 Senate campaign had raised an astonishing $51.6 million against token opposition, in what everyone assumed was merely a dry run for a far bigger contest. But something had happened to fund-raising that Team Clinton didn't fully grasp: the Internet. Though Clinton's totals from working the shrimp-cocktail circuit remained impressive by every historic measure, her donors were typically big-check writers. And once they had ponied up the $2,300 allowed by law, they were forbidden to give more. The once bottomless Clinton well was drying up.

Obama relied instead on a different model: the 800,000-plus people who had signed up on his website and could continue sending money his way $5, $10 and $50 at a time. (The campaign has raised more than $100 million online, better than half its total.) Meanwhile, the Clintons were forced to tap the $100 million - plus fortune they had acquired since he left the White House - first for $5 million in January to make it to Super Tuesday and then $6.4 million to get her through Indiana and North Carolina. And that reflects one final mistake:

5. She never counted on a long haul
Clinton's strategy had been premised on delivering a knockout blow early. If she could win Iowa, she believed, the race would be over. Clinton spent lavishly there yet finished a disappointing third. What surprised the Obama forces was how long it took her campaign to retool. She fought him to a tie in the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday contests but didn't have any troops in place for the states that followed. Obama, on the other hand, was a train running hard on two or three tracks. Whatever the Chicago headquarters was unveiling to win immediate contests, it always had a separate operation setting up organizations in the states that were next. As far back as Feb. 21, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe was spotted in Raleigh, N.C. He told the News & Observer that the state's primary, then more than 10 weeks away, "could end up being very important in the nomination fight." At the time, the idea seemed laughable.

Now, of course, the question seems not whether Clinton will exit the race but when. She continues to load her schedule with campaign stops, even as calls for her to concede grow louder. But the voice she is listening to now is the one inside her head, explains a longtime aide. Clinton's calculation is as much about history as it is about politics. As the first woman to have come this far, Clinton has told those close to her, she wants people who invested their hopes in her to see that she has given it her best. And then? As she said in Indianapolis, "No matter what happens, I will work for the nominee of the Democratic Party because we must win in November." When the task at hand is healing divisions in the Democratic Party, the loser can have as much influence as the winner.

Furthermore I saw this gem mentioned on the fark forums:
I was shocked—Penn was speaking admirably of “lefties,” not trying to recast them as moderates, not trying to write them out of the party? ...

I read on. Penn was talking about actual lefties—people who are born left-handed. Increasingly grim, I absorbed the first hard blows of Penn’s interpretative technique: “More lefties,” he enthuses, “could mean more military innovation: Famous military leaders from Charlemagne to Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Napoleon—as well as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf—were left-handed.” He uses the same thunderingly awful logic to argue that we’ll see more art and music greats, more famous criminals, more great comedians, more “executive greatness,” and better tennis and basketball players.

This is what statisticians—or anyone who has taken a statistics class—call a “correlation/causation error.” It is not enough to cherrypick a couple famed military leaders, notice that they’re lefties and assume that something intrinsic to their handedness caused their tactical genius. It is not enough to say that past cultures discouraged left-handedness and use that as a stand-in for discouraging creativity of all sorts. To say that Bill Gates is right-handed does not suggest that a greater proportion of right-handed people would mean more Bill Gateses. For a professional pollster to imply that correlation equals causation is like a firefighter trying to put out flames by tossing a toaster into the blaze—it bespeaks a complete unfamiliarity with the relevant techniques.