Friday, February 29, 2008

Polls, Polls and More March 4 Polls; And More Delegates, Too

Since we've been keeping you up to date on polls on the Texas Democratic primary and Ohio Democratic primary all week, we might as well keep it up.

Here's the latest out of Texas, which shows Obama consolidating his small lead:

Reuters/Zogby (which we think has had a spotty record this primary season) has Obama up by six points, 48%-42%.

Fox News has Obama up 48%-45%.

Of the last eight polls out of Texas (conducted Feb. 22-28), only one had Hillary up, one had a tie and the rest gave Obama a small lead.

Of course, if you go back to New Hampshire, you'll see a similar pattern, so don't get too excited yet.

Then there's the so-called "Texas two-step": Texans don't only vote in a primary next Tuesday, they also caucus. Why, we're not sure, but about a third of the Texas delegates are up for grabs in the caucus and Obama may have an advantage there. He also has an advantage in the way the primary delegates are divvied up (we won't go into the details, but essentially, Hispanic south Texas, where Hillary is favored, will have disproportionately few delegates).

Bottom line: no matter what, Obama should rack up more delegates than Hillary in Texas.

In Ohio, we have three new polls, showing the race tight, but still leaning Hillary's way:

Rasmussen has it as a two point margin for Senator Clinton, 47%-45%.

Reuters/Zogby also has it a two point ballgame for Hillary, 44%-42%.

But Fox News gives Hillary a bigger margin, 8 points, at 46%-38%. Seems like a lot of undecideds there (and in Reuters) so it could break either way.

While we're here, we noted that in the delegate count, Barack Obama jumped from about 1279 delegates yesterday to 1384 today (and Hillary also went up, by about 95 delegates). Since there were no nominating contests between today and yesterday, we're wondering where all those new delegates came from! We wish RCP (and other outlets with delegate counts) would footnote their tallies, or provide a brief blurb when updates are made, to let us know where the newbies came from.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Southeast Drought Breaking--Maybe Georgia Won't Have To Steal Tennessee's Water After All

Periodically we've reported on the prolonged drought that has plagued much of the Southeast, to the point that Georgia, Alabama and Florida are in a virtual water war over the federal reservoir at Lake Lanier, Georgia.

Atlanta and its burgeoning suburbs, in particular, have been hard hit because (1) they haven't bothered to invest in or plan for their growth, and (2) they aren't too interested in making sacrifices to conserve water.

The latest gambit out of Georgia has been a grab for the Tennessee River. Resurrecting a centuries old border dispute, the Georgia legislature--which is generally conservative until its constituents get thirsty over their own lack of investment in water infrastructure--declared its intent to move the border with Tennessee northward so that Georgia could share in the Tennessee River's bounty.

(One Tennessee mayor, taking the move good naturedly, recently declared a give your neighbor a drink day and sent a truckload of bottled water to the Georgia capitol.)

The good news for belligerent Georgia's neighbors is that the drought finally appears to be breaking. Although the Southeast remains unusually dry, the percentage labelled as "exceptional drought" has declined from 31.5% to only 9% in the past three months. Still, just 18% of the Southeast is normally hydrated--up from only 8.6% three months ago--so there's a long way to go.
In Virginia, things are okay right around D.C., but just a little to the west and south it starts to get dry, and right now 93% of the state is in some degree of drought, so we could use a couple good rain (or snow?) storms.

Herndon: Child Pornography Capital of Virginia

Here's a story that is both cool and scary--frankly, we'd like to know more about this technology.

It seems that police in Virginia are using a new computer technology that can track an image to any computer. In this case, they are using it to tag images containing child pornography and then tracking it to computers where the images are stored.

Using this approach, police have identified 20,000 computers in Virginia with the illegal images, including 500 in Arlington. The child pornography capital of Virginia, however, is Herndon, a small town where more than 1000 computers are housing this trash!

Now, it's pretty cool that police can use this to track down child pornography--the technology alone should greatly diminish activity in this illicit sphere, at least until someone figures out a technological way around it (as surely they will).

[Police can't just go in and arrest anyone who owns such a computer--they need additional evidence and prosecutorial resources.]

But it's also pretty scary from a Big Brother standpoint. If police can track down child pornography to individual computers, think what else they can do. This is just a good reminder that for most people on the internet, you're anything but anonymous--all kinds of information is being tracked on you and stored in massive databases. The implications are pretty profound.

Just to start with, what if police published a list of the locations of all the computers they discovered in their search? Some would probably be at businesses (ask the IT person at any large business how many computers have downloaded porn (not usually child porn, though) and they'll roll their eyes and tell you it's most of them), others at homes or apartments with multiple occupants.

But then what about tracking something besides child pornography? We can just imagine what the FBI might be doing with this technology if you downloaded an image of Osama Bin Laden. Or maybe the Bush administration is tracking our downloading habits of more benign images.

While we ruminate on the privacy issues, however, we'll keep our kids out of Herndon.

Texas Democratic Primary Polls: Texas Hold-em!

Whether you're a fan of Hillary or a fan of Obama, there's good news for you in today's polls of the Texas Democratic primary:

According to Rasmussen, it's Obama in the lead, 48%-44%.

According to Insider Advantage, it's Hillary in the lead, 47%-43%.

That's another way of saying it's a dead heat.

Clinton seems to have finally stabilized in Texas after giving up a double digit lead of just a couple weeks ago. She has a slight advantage because, as we noted a couple days ago, a significant portion of the state has ALREADY voted, and she held a 51-46% lead amongst those early voters (as of three days ago).

Speaking of polls, there is another Pennsylvania poll out today confirming that Hillary's once nearly 20 point lead there has evaporated. Rasmussen gives her a mere 4 point lead, in line with the six point lead she had in yesterday's Quinnipiac poll.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Whoops! Maybe Daylight Savings Time Wastes Energy!

The conventional wisdom on daylight savings time has always been that it's a way to save energy by cutting down on the amount of lighting used at night.

Like a lot of conventional wisdom, it may turn out that's not true.

A new study out of Indiana concludes that while daylight savings time reduced lighting costs, it increased air conditioning costs in the evenings during summer, and may have increased heating costs in the mornings in winter, producing a net INCREASE in energy use overall. (See "Daylight Saving Wastes Energy, Study Says" in today's Wall Street Journal.)

It's a pretty good study, but like all studies has its limitations. Researchers looked at the energy use patterns, taken straight from seven million monthly meter readings over a three year period, in 13 Indiana counties that finally switched to daylight savings time after years of opting out.

The study found that electricity use increased by 1%-4% as a result of the changeover, costing Indiana residents an additional $8.6 million a year in power costs.

The study is certainly plausible. Most of the earlier studies, upon which the conventional wisdom rests, were conducted in the 1970's, when daylight savings time was being introduced, but when air conditioning was far less ubiquitous than today (and when temperatures were slightly lower).

There are significant limitations on the research, however, particularly that rural Indiana may not be representative of the experience in other parts of the country. The study also did not examine other costs and benefits of daylight savings time, such as the increased recreational opportunities in the Spring and Fall from having an extra hour of evening daylight.

The issue certainly merits additional study--we ought to know the answer to whether daylight savings time is an energy saver or an energy waster.

That said, we wouldn't want to see the end of daylight savings time: we very much value that extra hour of daylight, especially in March and April, and in October, when we're trying to get a little more soccer playing time in for the kids.

Virginia Legislature to Colleges: Since We're Not Going To Stop Gun Sales, Be Prepared

We love our Virginia legislature. In the wake of the massacre of Commonwealth citizens at Virginia Tech by a crazed gunman, families of the young (and old) victims lobbied for a couple of fairly simple and common sense steps to close loopholes in the state's gun laws.

Gun control!!! You gotta be kidding. The rural GOP members who still dominate the Va. House of Delegates would rather shoot it out in the Capitol building with their concealed weapons than let ANY piece of gun legislation get through (other than to loosen the gun laws and give a liability shield to gun dealers).

So, those proposals by the families, including one to require background checks for sales made at gun shows, have been killed by the General Assembly.

But have no fear, Virginia's legislators are not wholly unsympathetic to the Virginia Tech victims' fate. In their infinite wisdom, they do recognize that, having failed to do anything to prevent this from happening again, there likely will be more massacres of a similar type. So the General Assembly has passed a bill, just waiting for Governor Kaine's signature, that would require all colleges in the Commonwealth to have an emergency plan in place, updated every four years, for the inevitable repeat massacre. (See "Bill Requires Colleges To Have Emergency Plan" in today's Washington Post.)

The bill "will help parents and students feel more comfortable about returning to campuses," said Del. Anne B. Crockett-Stark (R-Wythe), one of those who opposes any type of gun sale restrictions.

Now, doesn't that make you feel better!

(FYI: the emergency planning measure is one of the recommendations of a panel that investigated the Virginia Tech shootings, and we support it; but we don't support the cynicism of legislators who turn a blind eye to other issues related to the massacre.)

Pennsylvania Democratic Primary Tightens Up, Too

Not only has Obama passed Clinton in Texas and nearly caught her in Ohio, but Clinton's one nearly double-digit lead in Pennsylvania (an April primary) has nearly evaporated as well.

According to a Quinnipiac poll, Obama has cut Hillary's lead in Pennsylvania from 16 points not too long ago to just 6 points--49%-43%.

We're ready to begin the general election campaign, but out of respect for Senator Clinton, we'll wait until next Wednesday.

Update on NBC's "Lucky Case" Rip-off

A couple times awhile back we wrote about a scam NBC was perpetrating on its popular "Deal or No Deal" game show. We thought we'd bring you an update.

We at the Curmudgeon actually like "Deal," notwithstanding that there's no skill whatsoever involved in the "game." Chalk it up to host Howie Mandel's endearing personality, an engaging cast of contestants and, of course, those 26 beautiful models holding briefcases.

But one thing we didn't like about the show was it's "Lucky Case" promotion during commercial breaks. In the "Lucky Case" game, a home viewer could win $10,000 (or sometimes more on a special night, as above) by picking the right case, out of six, and then winning a drawing of the viewers who picked that case. You were encouraged to text message your choice, and you could enter multiple times--meaning you could assure yourself of having picked the right case by texting in six different choices.

That would all be a lot of fun, but for one thing: in very small print at the bottom of the screen, NBC disclosed a 99 cents "premium" text message charge for every one of those texted choices.

In other words, for a buck a shot, you got to participate in a lottery with hundreds of thousands of other people for a shot at a measly $10,000. Where did the rest of the money go? Of course, it went to NBC and a couple of companies that came up with the scam--as of a year ago, NBC had raked in about $57 million on the game, but paid out only $1 million. (See "NBC's 'Lucky Case' Rip-off Scheme Spreads Like A Cancer Through Television.")

When we last visited the issue, some lawsuits were popping up from disgruntled contestants who, having gotten their phone bills, realized that NBC's promotion was "lucky" only for NBC.

Since then, NBC has quietly discontinued the promotion. Why? Because the courts have made clear that the issue is serious enough that it could go to trial and expose the network to significant damages.

Nothing has been decided on the merits yet, but as this news article indicates, the Georgia Supreme Court recently heard argument on whether Georgia law allows a participant in an illegal lottery to collect damages, and if so are the damages due from the lottery's organizer.

Now Georgia is a conservative state with a pro-business Supreme Court, but they still don't like Yankee carpetbaggers down there, so there's a good chance NBC could end up on the wrong end of that ruling.

Our favorite part of NBC's argument to the Georgia supremes: NBC is not the "winner" of the game, and thus should not be held liable if damages can be pursued. Hmm. Let's see: you set up a game in which you rake in $57 million and give out $1 million; we think that makes you the winner.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obamania Spreads Through Texas, Threatens Ohio

It looks increasingly like March 4 will be the end of the road for Hillary Clinton. As soon as Obama wrapped up Wisconsin a week ago, he turned his attention--and that of his enormously enthusiastic campaign--on Texas and Ohio.

As has been the case in state after state, give Obama a few days to get his massive and inspiring rallies going, and he soon has voters converting to his candidacy.

It appears that's exactly what's happening in Texas and Ohio. New polls in both states today continue to show Obama surging, with an outright lead in Texas and rapidly narrowing the gap in Ohio.

Here's the latest: Survey USA has Obama up 4 points in Texas, leading Hillary by 49%-45%. This is the same lead Obama had in a CNN poll released yesterday. One interesting stat in the Survey USA poll: about 25% of the respondents in that poll who indicated they were likely to vote in the Democratic primary have ALREADY voted--among those voters, Clinton leads 51%-46%. Given how large Clinton's lead was just a couple weeks ago, those are NOT encouraging numbers for Camp Hillary, as they likely indicate the best she could possibly hope to achieve in a "must win" state. (This poll also shows that while Obama still trails amongst Hispanic voters, the gap is closing fast.)
[For more on the massive turnout in early voting in Texas, particularly amongst Democrats, see "Early Voters Swarm In Texas," from the Dallas Morning News.]

There is also a new American Research Group poll out for Texas, which has Obama up by 8 points, 50%-42%.

Today is also the first time that Obama has led Texas in the moving average of polls.

In short, barring a game-changer, Obama is now quite likely to take Texas.

In Ohio, Clinton still leads, but her lead is shrinking. With a week to go, we wouldn't put it out of Obama's reach to carry Ohio, especially given that polls in Wisconsin showed a close race, but in the end Obama walloped Hillary there. A new Rasmussen poll in Ohio has Hillary up by 5 points, 48%-43%. That's down from 17% two weeks ago and 8% a week ago. Imagine what it's like watching these poll numbers if you're in the Clinton campaign--it's really unbelievable.

We think it will all be over for the Democrats on March 4, and thank goodness--the deadlocked convention scenarios we were pondering were quite ugly. That said, we truly feel bad for Hillary, and while we like Obama a lot, we still think there's a significant element of risk in his nomination.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gerry Ferraro's Not Too Persuasive Op-ed In The NYT

Today's New York Times carries an op-ed piece by former Democratic VP nominee Geraldine Ferraro, arguing Hillary's cause in the guise of advocating for the role of "superdelegates" in the Democratic nomination process. (See: "Got A Problem? Ask The Super")

On the one hand, we agree with Gerry that the role of the superdelegates is to lead, not to follow. They are the Democratic party's leaders and should exercise their leadership skills. Furthermore, if the will of Democrats is sufficiently clear, those leaders--many of whom are elected officials dependent on that same Democratic electorate--will follow that will. In short, if Obama keeps winning, the superdelegates will fall in line.

Unfortunately, Ferraro--who herself is a superdelegate--has declared for Senator Clinton and her argument soon loses its cohesiveness as she seeks to boost Hillary's prospects rather than make a principled point about the Democratic delegate selection process.

For example, Gerry fails to address the fact that Republicans--who have been very successful in presidential campaigns over the past 25 years--don't have superdelegates, yet seem to getting on just fine. She also contends that the Democratic nominating contests don't really represent the will of Democrats because many of them are not closed--many states allow independents, and even Republicans, to vote in such contests.

Again, so does the GOP. Significantly, if the Republicans didn't have a significant number of "open" primaries, they probably would have nominated an unelectable candidate this go-round.

In any event, it's the Democrats in each state who determine whether to have an open or closed primary (or caucus). In Virginia, where we have no party registration, our primaries are open. That's a good thing, because it let's us get a feel for how independents--the ones who generally decide elections--feel about a candidate, weeding out anyone too extreme to have a shot. It's what Democrats here want, and so it does represent the will of Democrats, at least here.

Where Ferraro's argument really falls to the ground, however, is when she says that if Obama's people really want the nomination decided by the voters, they shouldn't object to the seating of Michigan and Florida's delegates.

Here at the Curmudgeon, we can see a decent argument with respect to Florida: both candidates' names were on the ballot and both kept to their pledge not to campaign in the Sunshine state. (We also see compelling arguments for not seating Florida's delegates; ironically, had Florida stuck with it's original March 11 primary date, it could have had a huge impact on the nomination this year.)

But Michigan is an altogether different story. There, Obama had his name taken off the ballot--as did every other candidate except Hillary. So the fact that Hillary, as the only candidate, "won" Michigan is hardly a surprise. And it certainly doesn't fairly represent the wishes of Michigan voters--no telling how many Obama voters simply stayed home since he wasn't on the ballot. Indeed, the fact that even as the only candidate on the ballot, Hillary barely broke above 50% in Michigan is pretty telling.

If Ferraro at least acknowledged this disparity in Michigan and then came up with a decent rationale (if there is one) for nonetheless seating Michigan's delegates, then we might be inclined to listen to her. But to ignore it entirely shows that she's just cheerleading for Hillary.

Gerry's prescription--that the superdelegates should band together to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates, and then put Hillary over the top--is a recipe for a Democratic disaster of epic proportions. If that were to happen, Hillary would never be able to unite the party and John McCain would cruise to a landslide victory in November.

March 4 Poll Roundup: Obama UP in Texas, Vermont; Trailing in Ohio, Rhode Island

Are we seeing the beginning of the end for Hillary Clinton's campaign? A slew of new polls are out today and yesterday for the "must win" Democratic primaries on March 4.

The most significant is in Texas, where a new CNN poll has put Barack Obama in the lead for the first time, 50% to Hillary's 46% (a week ago, Hillary was up by 2 points in this poll). A Rasmussen poll has Hillary up by one point (47-46), but confirms Obama momentum in Texas--two weeks ago, Hillary was up 16 points in this poll, and a week ago she was up 3 points.

At this point, it looks like Obama will either win Texas or make it so close that Hillary will get no delegate advantage.

The news for Senator Clinton is better in Ohio, where two new polls show her maintaining a comfortable lead, at least for now: The Ohio Poll has Hillary up 47%-39%, while Quinnipiac has Clinton leading 51%-40%. In the latter poll, however, Obama had trailed by 19 points a week and half ago.

The other two, less visible, primaries on March 4 look to be a split: in Vermont, the Rasmussen poll has Obama way out in front (as expected there), leading 57%-33%. In Rhode Island, however, Hillary is up by almost as lopsided a margin, 53%-38% according to Rasmussen.

Perhaps the Clinton team should've included Rhode Island, instead of Texas, in it's "firewall."

So what happens if Hillary at least breaks Obama's long winning streak by taking Ohio and RI, but losing Texas and Vermont? In our view, the loss of Texas should mean it's all over--and many "superdelegates" may join in that assessment. But we think the Clinton campaign will hang on for the Pennsylvania primary, which seems like an eon away--not until late April.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Texas, Ohio Polls Show Very Tight Race Between Clinton and Obama

Some more new polls out of Texas and Ohio show Obama continuing to gain ground, especially in the Lone Star state:

Texas: ABC/Wash. Post--Clinton 48% v Obama 47%

Texas: Rasmussen--Clinton 47% v Obama 44%

Ohio: ABC/Wash. Post--Clinton 50% v Obama 43% (this is Clinton's narrowest lead so far in Ohio)

By the way, even if Hillary were to win by these margins, she'd barely cut into Obama's delegate lead (indeed, he could lose Texas by a point or two but score MORE delegates due to some quirks in the Texas system).

Some Things About "Change" Never Change

We borrowed this old Hubert H. Humphrey campaign poster from Ron Gunbarger's website.

It is of course, Humphrey's answer in 1968 to the surging candidacy of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Make your own analogy.

Why Obama's Winning

Why is Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton pretty handily in contest after contest? The Curmudgeon's brother has a simple theory: because he's simply more appealing--more pleasing to look at and more pleasing to listen to.

"The fact is that Barack Obama is more pleasing to look at than Hillary Clinton, and he also is more pleasing to listen to. For a great number of voters who otherwise have trouble making up their minds (two terrific candidates, right?), this has and will continue to carry the day in his favor. Nobody articulates their decision this way, but the impact is very real, and now magnified when only these 2 candidates are left. CNN reported one exit poll from Wisconsin that 62% of voters making up their minds in the last 30 days went for Obama. Hillary looks and sounds and smirks like an old-school politician. She says all the right things but there’s an element of sincerity and likeability that’s missing. Barack oozes confidence and inspiration, yet doesn’t seem condescending or pandering."

We have to agree. The distinction becomes important especially when you have two candidates whose substantive views on the issues are virtually indistinguishable. It's the "all things being equal" scenario: if two candidates are the same on the issues, then appearance and likeability will carry the day.

Brother Curmudgeon also points to a book by motivational speaker/author Tony Robbins, who compared Kennedy v. Nixon, Carter v. Ford, Reagan v. Carter and Reagan v. Mondale to explain that the winner of each of those races had it over the loser in terms of appealability.

Of course, if that's the standard, both Obama and Clinton should be able to defeat McCain this fall. But Obama would have the bigger advantage.

Deporting Sex Offenders Is Not "Immigrant Bashing"

Here at the Curmudgeon, we're not too happy with Virginia's immigrant bashers, particularly those in Prince William County, whose objection appears more to Latinos in general than to whether someone is in the country legally.

But we can't agree with the assessment in today's Washington Post that a program to deport more than 170 immigrants convicted of sex crimes in the Commonwealth somehow "marks another step in Virginia's escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants, part of the broader debate over immigration that has roiled the nation and the presidential campaign." (See "Convicted Va. Sex Offenders Deported.")

Instead, what this program evidences is Virginia's crackdown on sex offenders, which we're all in favor of. We note that not all the deportees are undocumented aliens--some are legal immigrants. In any event, there is nothing wrong with deporting immigrants who are convicted of a sex crime. Indeed, we'd think other immigrants would just as soon see these criminals out of their communities (and we'd bet that many of their victims were other immigrants).

In short, don't label deportation of sex offenders "immigrant bashing."

Trent Lott Connection To Scruggs Bribery Probe?

We have occasionally chronicled the ongoing probe into whether legendary Mississippi "superlawyer" Dickie Scruggs was involved in a bribe of one Mississippi jurist and illegally sought to influence another state judge by promising him consideration for a federal judgeship.

When the story broke concerning an alleged scheme to obtain favorable rulings from Hinds County (Mississippi) judge Robert Delaughter by dangling a federal judgeship in front of his eyes (see "Deeper Doo-Doo For Dickie Scruggs") we had to wonder whether former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott's name would also surface in connection with the investigation. (Lott is seen here describing a fish that evidently got away.)

As we said in our post a few weeks ago: "Lott is Scruggs' brother-in-law and it's hard to see how anyone could credibly have suggested that Delaughter would be considered for a federal judgeship without at least invoking Lott's name, although it could've been done without Lott's knowledge."

Today's Wall Street Journal reports, as we had suspected, that the feds are looking into Lott's role in the scheme. According to the WSJ, a Lott associate confirmed that Lott spoke to Judge Delaughter, but claimed "the call wasn't made specifically at the behest of Mr. Scruggs."

OF COURSE it wasn't. That's not how these things go. Still, it's possible Scruggs asked Lott to make a call without Lott knowing the more sinister purposes of it--indeed, it would be much smarter on Scruggs' part to orchestrate an apparently innocuous call (from Lott's standpoint) than to let the Senator know it was part of a scheme to get a favorable ruling from the judge.

In any event, it appears that Scruggs' day of reckoning draws nie.

Old Dominion Polls: Obama over McCain; Warner In A Walk

A couple polls of Virginians' sentiments in the November elections have been released recently:

In the race for John Warner's open senate seat, Mark Warner is way ahead, leading former Governor Jim Gilmore by 20 points in a Rasmussen poll, 57% to 37%. (Still, we think it would be more fun if the GOP nominates Bob "Taliban" Marshall, a right wing religious bigot, as it's nominee.)

In the presidential race, a Survey USA poll demonstrates the potential for Virginia to go blue in November: in a match-up between Obama and McCain, Obama leads 51%-45%; but if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, voters flip, favoring McCain by 48%-45% (which is still within the margin of error).

Hey, folks--it's only February, so don't put too much stock in these polls. Two years ago, George Allen had a 20+ percent lead over any Democratic contender, and look how that ended up!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

March 4 Is Do or Deadlock For Democrats

With Barack Obama's surprisingly lopsided victory in Wisconsin last night, coupled with his expected runaway in Hawaii, the die is cast for a decisive showdown on March 4.

That day will be a bit like the Florida primary was for the Republicans: had anyone but McCain won Florida--whether it had been Romney, Giuliani or Huckabee--the GOP race would have been up in the air for at least another month, maybe longer.

On March 4, Democrats will go to the polls in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont. Barring some major gaffe between now and then, Obama should take Vermont with ease. Hillary has declared Texas and Ohio to be her "firewall," and Rhode Island--looking a lot like Massachusetts--should lean her way as well.

If Hillary wins Texas and Ohio, she will have stopped Obama's increasing momentum--10 straight victories--cold, and she'd probably earn enough delegates from those two large states to close the gap Obama has opened up.

The problem for Democrats is this: if Hillary wins both Texas and Ohio, it doesn't mean she's got the nomination wrapped up. Far from it. Instead, it would be more like what would've happened if Giuliani had won in Florida: it sets up a virtual guarantee of a deadlocked convention.

You see, after March 4, apart from Pennsylvania, many of the remaining contests favor Obama. Neither Hillary nor Obama could come anywhere close to the nomination on pledged delegates alone, and with Hillary's prospects still alive, there'd be no stampede of superdelegates to either candidate. Indeed, the most likely scenario would be a waiting game as approximately 200 undecided superdelegates courted both sides while furious back-room maneuvering occurred all summer.

In contrast, if Obama wins both Texas and Ohio, he's got the nomination. No, he won't be over the top in delegates, anymore-so than McCain was after Florida. But at that point Obama is unstoppable: superdelegates can't afford to pledge to Hillary; her money dries up; and party elders begin the game of trying to get her to gracefully bow out.

What if Obama and Clinton split Ohio and Texas? At that point, Hillary is pretty badly wounded (especially if she also loses Rhode Island), but she probably presses on, at least for awhile, until Pennsylvania. (In the meantime, Obama would likely win the Wyoming caucuses on March 8 and the Mississippi primary on March 11, but after that there's nothing at all until Pennsylvania on April 22). [Note: we would've had Florida and Michigan in this period if they hadn't unwisely moved their contests up; they could've been the decisive contests.]

In short, the only way Obama really becomes the "presumptive" nominee is if he wins both Texas and Ohio. Otherwise, this race is bound to go on into late April, perhaps much longer.

The good news, for Obama fans, is this: polls show both Texas and Ohio tightening considerably, even before Obama's route in Wisconsin. Perhaps more importantly, Obama has two weeks--a luxurious amount of time in the crowded, hectic campaign calendar of this year--to personally stump through both states. So far, the enthusiasm of his rallies has been infectious wherever he's gone. We think he has an excellent chance of winning Texas and a decent chance in Ohio, so Democrats' worst nightmare--a deadlocked convention--may yet be avoided.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ohio Democratic Primary Tightening Up

It looks like, as expected, the Ohio Democratic primary is tightening up. A new Survey USA poll, released today, shows Obama gaining 8 points since a similar poll by the same firm just a week ago.

Last week, Hillary had a huge lead over Obama, 56-39%. This week it is down to 52-43%, or nine points. This parallels a tightening of the race in Texas as well, with still two weeks to go.

Of course, a Clinton upset in Wisconsin tonight would be quite helpful to her campaign, while a loss will probably lead to further tightening of the March 4 contests.

By the way, looking down the road, the primary/caucus calendar remains busy through March 11, with six contests (Ohio, Texas, Vermont, Rhode Island, Mississippi, and Wyoming) in the stretch from March 4-11. But then it gets very quiet and very slow: Pennsylvania on April 22 (the only April contest--maybe Michigan and Florida should have "do-overs" that month), and then a handful in May (Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Guam, and Oregon) and closing out in early June with Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico.

Could be a time for a lot of contemplation by Democrats.

Democratic Deadlock: Don't Blame Proportional Delegate Allocation Or Superdelegates

As Democrats increasingly face the prospect of a deadlocked convention and a long summer with no nominee, many party members are turning to their party's system for allocating delegates proportionally, and the reservation of nearly 20% of the delegates as uncommitted "superdelegates" as possible problems that need to be "fixed."

We were wondering whether the proportional delegate system and superdelegates are really part of the problem, or whether it's simply that this is such a tight race.

Our conclusion: don't blame proportional delegate allocation, and maybe don't blame superdelegates either.

We went back through all the Democratic nominating contests held so far and reallocated the delegates on a "winner-take-all" basis, a system the Republicans use in some, but not all, states, which many believe is why the GOP nomination process appears to come up with a winner sooner.

The Democrats have finished 36 contests to date (including Samoa and the Virgin Islands, but excluding Florida and Michigan, which awarded no delegates). According to the website, Obama has earned 1134 pledged delegates out of that process so far and Clinton has earned 996, for a difference of 138.

What if we re-allocate the pledged delegates on a winner-take-all basis? Well, it's closer, with Obama still leading with 1096 delegates to Clinton's 1075, a difference of only 21 delegates. In other words, winner-take-all just makes it a closer contest, not a run-away for either candidate. It would still come down to the 796 "superdelegates" to decide the nomination.

So, you say, let's get rid of, or at least pare back, the superdelegates so that someone can win without going all the way to the convention. It's certainly true that without superdelegates, either Obama or Hillary would eventually win. But neither would be anywhere close at this point, and it would again be very close.

Again, let's allocate each state's superdelegates on a winner-take-all basis to the candidate who carried the state. Now we have Obama leading Hillary by 1396 to 1325, a margin of only 71 votes. (By the way, that's almost identical to's margin for Obama when superdelegates are included now: 1302-1235, for a difference of 67!) That's certainly close enough for both candidates to continue competing at least through April, and probably all the way to June.

It's also close enough that Florida and Michigan would make a big difference, especially on a winner-take-all basis, and so it might still all come down to a convention challenge over seating those state's delegates.

The bottom line is that this is simply a very close race between Senators Obama and Clinton, with each taking a number of states. In such a tight race, no delegate allocation system is likely to give one a significant enough advantage over the other to force him or her out of the race early. And while the superdelegates virtually assure that neither candidate can win this BEFORE the convention, it is not clear that elimination of the superdelegates would avoid a convention fight the way things have gone this year.

Monday, February 18, 2008

CNN Texas Poll: Obama Within Two of Hillary

A CNN poll released today has Obama gaining rapidly on Hillary Clinton in the Texas Democratic primary, with Hillary leading by only 2%.

As we've said earlier today, if Obama wins Wisconsin tomorrow and then goes on to take either Texas or Ohio, he may be unstoppable--he still won't get enough pledged delegates to go over the top, but his lead over Hillary may be enough to dry up her remaining support.

It doesn't hurt Obama that in poll after poll now of head-to-head match-ups with McCain, Hillary loses while Obama wins. (Here at the Curmudgeon, however, we'd caution you to discount those polls heavily--they are virtually meaningless at this stage of the campaign.)

Obama's Best Shot

A few days ago, we did the math for the remaining Democratic nominating contests, concluding that neither Obama nor Hillary has much chance of even coming close to winning the nomination on pledged delegates alone.

For another take on the math, which will get you to essentially the same conclusion, see Michael Barone's piece in U.S. News, "More On A Hillary Comeback." Barone approaches it from Hillary's side of the legdger and concludes that, even with very optimistic assumptions for winning Wisconsin, Texas and Ohio, she'd still trail Obama in pledged delegates, although it would be pretty close at that point.

Barone also briefly reviews the post-March 4 contests and finds them somewhat more favorable to Hillary than to Obama, but that, of course, is only if Sen. Clinton succeeds on March 4.

Which pretty much leads us to this conclusion: Obama has one chance to put this whole thing away and avoid the trainwreck of a deadlocked convention with disputes over seating delegates and all kinds of other entertainment. That chance is to defeat Hillary in either (or both) of Ohio and Texas.

Based on some polls, we think Obama has a better chance in Texas, but we wouldn't write-off Ohio. Certainly, if Obama won both, the pressure on Clinton to give it up would grow immense. While she's said she needs to win both, if she barely loses Texas, but wins Ohio, she'll probably pledge to forge ahead anyway.

While we're at it, there may be yet another source of delegate challenges at the convention if the condidates remain deadlocked. In addition to Michigan and Florida, and potentially Puerto Rico (if it sticks to a plan to award delegates on a winner-take-all basis), there's Texas.

The issue in Texas is that it awards its delegates on the basis of state Senate districts (rather than congressional districts, like most states). That's no problem standing alone, but not every Senate district in Texas is equal in delegates--the state party gives more delegates to state senate districts that had a high turn-out for Kerry in 2004 and for the most recent Democratic nominee for governor.

It so happens that this formula penalizes some Hispanic senate districts where turnout has been low in general elections, but where Hillary expects to do well on March 4. As a result, Hillary could carry the state, but be about even in delegates. Whether this issue is enough to sustain a delegate challenge is not clear. (Another quirk in the Texas delegate allocation process is that all the statewide delegates will be selected by caucuses, held in the evening on March 4, which may favor Obama.)

As a general rule, we think the close the nomination, the more of these delegate challenges will occur.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Will Hillary's Texas/Ohio "Firewall" Hold?

Hillary Clinton's campaign is counting on the March 4 primaries in two big states--Texas and Ohio--to form a "firewall" to stop Obama's recent string of victories, including anticipated wins in Hawaii and Wisconsin next Tuesday.

Obama is sure to carry his birthstate of Hawaii; Wisconsin is a closer matter, but he does lead in polls there.

We wonder about the "firewall" strategy. The last time we heard someone using that strategy, it was Rudy Giuliani, in Florida. We all know how well that worked out: after spending $65 million and leading in national polls by as much as 20 points, Rudy G. managed all of one delegate to the GOP convention.

There is a difference between Hillary's firewall and Rudy's. Giuliani's was a dumb strategy all along, doomed to failure--he couldn't just drop out of the media spotlight for six weeks at the beginning of the formal voting season and just pop back up in Florida as if nothing had happened in the interim. In contrast, Hillary is locked into a tight battle with Obama, and, far from being invisible, she is actively campaigning in the key states. Also, for the Dems, it's a two-candidate race now, not the multi-man scrum Giuliani was facing, and with the GOP race essentially over, the entire spotlight is now on Hillary and Obama.

Still, when you announce that certain states are "must win"--which the firewall strategy essentially does--you set yourself up for a fall (and you don't get much credit when you do win). So what of Ohio and Texas?

We think Clinton will do well in Ohio--she has a large lead in polls there (roughly 20 points), and that's notwithstanding Obama's recent string of victories. Ohio has plenty of blue collar Democrats and that's where Hillary's core strength is. Hillary's lead in Ohio won't change much if Obama also wins Hawaii and Wisconsin since the Mainstream Media is already projecting those as Obama victories anyway. To be sure, Ohio will tighten, in part because Obama will start campaigning there and his rallies are truly impressive.

Texas could be a different story. Three Texas polls came out in the last day or so, with two showing Hillary up by just a few points and one giving her a 16 point advantage. We think Texas Democrats, like Democrats in many other "red" states (like our Commonwealth of Virginny here) are tired of losing in presidential elections and want a winner--in their state--and see Obama as having that potential. In any event, Hillary's lead with Hispanic voters has been shrinking. We think Obama can close the gap in Texas. And really, since Clinton has said she has to win there, all Obama has to do is make it close.

Suppose Hillary does win Ohio--handily--and Texas in a squeaker? Well, there are other contests on March 4--Rhode Island and Vermont--where Obama may do well (we're not so sure about Rhode Island after what happened in Massachusetts), so he probably won't be shut out that day. And right after March 4 are the Wyoming caucuses and Mississippi primary, where Obama will be heavily favored.

At most, Hillary could get enough delegates out of Ohio and Texas to close the growing gap with Obama. By the same token, even if Obama wins Texas and makes Ohio close, he'll still be far from victory in delegates, although it might be a strong enough psychological blow to knock Clinton out of the race, or to destroy her fundraising base.

And we wouldn't rule out Obama sweeping on March 4, or coming close: many Democratic voters have to be wondering now how this is all going to end. Right now, Obama is leading in delegates and popular votes. Are some of those voters going to say to themselves, "look, all things being equal, I'd prefer Hillary; but we just can't have a deadlock and let the Republicans walk away with this; Obama is acceptable--I'm going to vote for him." If Obama can figure out a way to pitch that subtly, he could carry the day.

Having said all of the foregoing, we agree with a Clinton strategist with whom we spoke in the past few days about the firewall strategy: what other choice does Hillary have?

Don't Let Florida (and Michigan) Despoil The People's Will Again

In the 2000 Presidential election, it all came down to a flawed ballot in Florida. In the process, the voters got screwed and saddled with one of the worst Presidents in history.

You'd think Democrats, being on the short end of that stick, wouldn't make the same mistake again. Think again.

Predictably, Hillary Clinton's increasingly desperate campaign is maneuvering to reinstate the Democratic convention delegates taken from Florida and Michigan when they defied party rules and moved up their primaries.

(Ironically, both states would have had more influence by keeping their primaries later in the season: see Texas, Ohio).

Of course, the Clinton campaign is pushing to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates because Hillary "won" in both states.

The problem is that Hillary "won" only because Obama played by the rules, while she didn't. And it's not just Obama--recall that at one time there were half a dozen or so Democratic candidates, all of whom abided by an agreement not to campaign in Michigan and Florida.

Clinton's argument in Michigan is particularly ludicrous. There, Obama (and Edwards) weren't even on the ballot, having withdrawn in compliance with party rules. There is simply no way you can award Hillary delegates for Michigan under those circumstances and call it fair or reflective of voters' preferences.

Democrats should heed the lesson of 2000. They should not award the Florida and Michigan delegates based on flawed primary elections where the two candidates played by different rules.

IF Michigan and Florida want to play a role at the Democratic convention, they still have the opportunity: they can either (1) hold party caucuses in which both Clinton and Obama compete, or (2) hold new primary elections. The latter is not very practical. The former probably won't happen because Clinton supporters oppose caucuses, claiming they are at a disadvantage in them.

(The reason for Clinton's disadvantage in caucuses is that latinos and working class women, two groups that disproportionately favor Hillary, are less likely to show up at caucuses. Indeed, in Nevada, Hillary won the caucuses in large part because of "at-large" caucus meetings held in casinos, which allowed her working class supporters to attend--it was these very at-large meetings that her campaign unsuccessfully sought to prevent, in a lawsuit, because evidently they didn't understand where her support was coming from.)

You might ask, how would the Democrats decide whether to reinstate the Florida and Michigan delegates? Good question--the answer is that the Superdelegates would ultimately decide the issue.

Here's how it works: if there is a dispute at the convention as to the seating of delegates, it gets referred to a Rules committee. When things are tight, as they likely will be in Denver this August, the decision usually gets referred to a floor vote, i.e., all the delegates (except those who are challenged) vote on whether to seat the challenged delegates. Those delegates already pledged to Clinton and Obama will vote based on the interest of their candidate--Obama's against seating Michigan and Florida; Clinton's for it. But neither will have enough to win, so it will be up to superdelegates, uncommitted delegates and Edwards' delegates. The vote could decide the nomination, and thus could be quite bitter.

In 1952, Republicans were deadlocked between Eisenhower and Taft as their nominee. The convention came down to seating of three delegations: those from Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. In each state, there were two delegations--one favoring Taft and one favoring Ike--so the winner of this battle would get the nomination. Earl Warren, then Governor of California, had about 100 and something delegates from his run for the nominatin, and he sided with Ike, helping get Ike's delegations seated and putting him over the top (and later becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).

Democrats could be headed for a similar scenario in 2008. (Not that we're saying John Edwards will become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shedding Light On Differing Delegate Totals

Confused about how many delegates Barack Obama has so far compared to Hillary Clinton? Wondering why Obama has 993 delegates according to the New York Times, but 1270 according to

So are we. Here's an article from today's Wall Street Journal that helps shed some light on the subject: "Obama Gains, But Delegate Counters Still Disagree."

One reason for disagreement is that some outlets don't include caucus delegates until they're officially allocated at a state convention, which is often many weeks after the initial caucus with its "straw poll."

Likewise, some outlets don't include so-called "superdelegates" since they are unpledged and can easily back out of any commitment they've made to a candidate.

Even so, the outlets that count superdelegates don't agree on how many have committed to each candidate, nor do they agree on the number of pledged delegates, as shown in the very helpful table contained in the WSJ article (which Blogger is not letting us put here for some reason).

The one thing that makes NO sense is the New York Times methodology: it excludes caucus delegates, which artificially reduces Obama's numbers because he has won all but one caucus so far, while including superdelegates, which increases Hillary's numbers because she has more of the party faithful who comprise these delegates. Come to think of it, the Times methodology does make sense: it favors Hillary.

Do Sugar Substitutes Make You Fat?

Today we'll take a brief break from politics to focus on an important study released earlier this week that suggested artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to obesity.

A number of newpaper articles reported on the study, conducted at Purdue University and published in the scientific journal Behavioral Neuroscience. See, for example, "Sugar Substitutes May Contribute To Weight Gain" in the Washington Post.

In the study, researchers fed rats with two types of sweetened yogurt: one with saccharin and one with natural sugar. The rats who ate the lower calorie yogurt sweetened with saccharin ate more food overall and gained more weight than those eating the higher calorie yogurt with natural sugar. From this, the researchers deduce that humans consuming foods (and diet drinks) sweetened artificially may inadvertently be making their weight situation worse, rather than better.

Of course, the folks at some artificial sweetener industry funded front group misleadingly called the Calorie Control Council immediately attacked the study, scoffing at its findings.

Now, we here at the Curmudgeon would be the first to say that you have to be very careful about a single animal study of just about any kind. Such studies can be suggestive of further research and help elaborate hypotheses, but they're hardly definitive.

Here, in particular, rats are not humans, saccharin is not the sugar substitute most people use, and the study conditions are far from those of people eating food in real life. That said, the study raises some provocative questions. It's pretty clear that the more we, as a society, have used sugar substitutes, the fatter we've gotten. It's also clear to anyone who's watched someone chug down a 50 ounce Big Gulp, or some similar oversize diet drink, that all this does is promote gluttony.

When we were kids, growing up in the '60's and 70's, no sane person would consume a soft drink larger than 12 ounces. Then, along came all kinds of diet sodas, and drink sizes started going up, up, up. Today, you'd have to beg a restaurant or fast food outlet to give you a 12-ounce drink--"please, just give me one of your little kid cups, I don't care what you charge me for it."

Likewise, sugar has been substituted for in all kinds of other foods, with no corresponding reduction in our collective waist sizes. Meanwhile, people eat more food today in an average meal than they did 30 years ago.

In short, the notion that artificial sweeteners are somehow screwing with our metabolism to make us eat more--not less--is hardly nuts.

The Curmudgeon long ago gave up artificial sweeteners, diet sodas and other reduced calorie foods. As a general rule, we drink water, and occasionally, de-caf coffee or tea, although we'll sometimes indulge ourselves in a delicious Classic Coke in the red can (or better yet, bottle).

We're not saying you should do likewise--you can wait for some additional research to be done. But we are saying that you shouldn't fool yourself into thinking that those artificial sweeteners are going to save the day.

All things in moderation remains eminently good advice.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Despite Obama's String of Victories, Democrats Must Face Horrible Scenario That They Likely Won't Have A Nominee Before Their Late August Convention

Democrats now clearly face a major peril on the road to the White House: themselves.

Barack Obama swept the "Potomac Primary" yesterday, absolutely trouncing Hillary in Virginia, Maryland and DC. The magnitude of the victory in Virginia--64% for Obama--was quite impressive. Virginia hasn't gone Democratic in a Presidential election in 44 years, but it will clearly be a "battleground" state in November, with a decent chance of going blue. Virginians clearly signalled they believe Obama is the one who can make that historic leap in November.

But here's the problem: it is almost impossible at this point for Obama to win the Democratic nomination based on pledged delegates, i.e., those delegates who are bound to vote for Obama at the Democratic convention, as opposed to the nearly 800 uncommitted "superdelegates."

Here's the math: according to, Obama currently has 1104 pledged delegates to Clinton's 964. If you add in those "superdelegates" who have committed, Obama leads 1260-1221. (Note: you'll find different totals on different websites--but most have Obama with a small lead.) (Second note: the fact that a superdelegate has announced for a candidate doesn't mean they can't change their mind.)

It will take 2025 delegates to win. (Unless the Dems change their mind about sanctions imposed on Florida and Michigan.)

Roughly two-thirds of the states have already voted (34 states and the District of Columbia). There are 18 contests left (16 states, plus Puerto Rico and Guam), which account for 1075 pledged delegates.

If we use the higher RealClearPolitics numbers--which are higher than other websites have--for Obama, he still needs 765 delegates to go over the top, meaning he would need to capture more than 70 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to get the nomination. Likewise, Hillary would have to do even better than that to get over the top herself.

Now, a couple caveats on the math: John Edwards has 26 delegates, who could be released to vote for either Obama or Hillary. In addition, there are still roughly 70 pledged delegates not yet allocated from contests that have already occurred, of which 57 are in Colorado and Washington, both caucus states that Obama carried handily--meaning he will pick-up roughly two-thirds of those later on. Finally, Obama has won 10 out of 11 caucus states--in each of those states, his lead in delegates could shift slightly more in his favor as the caucuses proceed to state conventions. (The reason is that often delegates chosen at the earlier stages drop out along the way, concentrating voting power in the candidate with the majority.)

Still, let's say Obama gets two thirds of the Edwards delegates, two-thirds of the yet-to-be-allocated delegates and picks up another 15 in caucus states, he still needs about 700 delegates to put him over the top (without additional superdelegates).

Even if Obama wins every remaining contest, he's not likely to get 700 delegates under the party's proportional system of allocating pledged delegates. (One other caveat: Puerto Rico, which has 55 delegates, says it intends to give all its delegates--in violation of party rules--to the winner of its caucus, which is not until June 8. Given Hillary's relative strength amongst Hispanics, she should be favored there.)

Of course, if Obama pulled off the feat of running the rest of the table, it would be folly for the superdelegates to deny him the nomination, but he's not likely to do that. In any event, one problem--clearly revealed in the disparity of delegate counts on various websites--is how to count the superdelegates. At what point are they thoroughly locked in? In reality, never. Moreover, many of these superdelegates realize they gain more and more leverage the longer they wait, as they can cut deals for their support. (Deals that can only hurt in the general election, as they will be for special projects and special interests.)

There are a couple other problems as well. First, there very well could be a convention floor fight over trying to reverse the sanctions against Florida and Michigan, both of which were won by Hillary, but only after Obama played by the rules and didn't campaign in those states. Second, there could be a floor fight if Puerto Rico defies party rules and awards its delegates on a winner-take-all basis, also provoking a possible challenge by the loser to the seating of some or all of those delegates.

So, will Democrats have to wait until the last week of August, at their national convention in Denver, to finally know who their candidate is, while John McCain campaigns all summer as the GOP nominee?

That's a horrible scenario, and yet it looks probable at this point. About the only way out of it would be for Obama to graciously accept the Veep nod under Hillary. But why should he do that, and with Bill kicking around with nothing to do, why would he want such a position? Especially if he is leading in pledged delegates--the true measure of a candidates elected support--going into the convention.

Democrats are in trouble. Can anyone step up and lead them out of this mess?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Huckabee Upset In Virginia?

The Virginia primary election results are rolling in, and Obama is having an easy time of it. The only question is whether he'll beat Hillary by more than 20 percentage points.

But look for an interesting night on the GOP side: Huckabee was closing strong in late polls, and in early returns he trails McCain by less than 3%. The exit polls are too close to call this one until all the votes are counted--Huckabee actually has a slight edge in the exit polls, but it's basically a tie.

We're going out for awhile--deal with the icy roads. We'll report back on the GOP race later this evening.

Where To Find Virginia Primary Election Results Tonight

Anecdotally, turnout appears quite high today in Virginia's primaries, at least here in Arlington, where most voters will be going to the polls for the Democratic primary.

To find the most up to date Virginia election results tonight, go to the Virginia Board of Elections website HERE. The VBE's site is easy to use and post results pretty quickly through the night.

Monday, February 11, 2008

OBAMA For President

In case you missed it, buried at the end of a long post this weekend, the Curmudgeon will be voting for Sen. Barack Obama in tomorrow's Virginia Democratic primary.

Sorry Mrs. Curmudgeon.

Obama has run a terrific campaign, with an inspirational message that has gotten many truly excited for the first time in ages. It's been a long road so far and he hasn't stumbled.

To be sure, there are risks in nominating Obama, as there are in nominating Senator Clinton. We believe Obama will match up better against McCain this fall than will Hillary. It will be a battle for independent voters, and Hillary just doesn't turn them on (other than blue collar women--and they are important).

We do worry about the Hispanic vote with Obama, but believe he can make inroads with that demographic by November. (Obama/Richardson, anyone?)

Obama is a more convincing candidate for change than Hillary--although we do subscribe to the notion that both represent significant change.

We've found this a surprisingly tough choice to make, but we think it's the right decision.

Your Complete Guide To The Potomac Primary

Tomorrow we get the Potomac Primary: Virginia, Maryland, and DC hold their presidential primaries for both parties. All are "open" primaries--anyone can vote (but only in one or the other party's contest--not both).

Here's what to look for: polls say Obama will trounce Hillary in all three contests, extending his string of four strong wins over the weekend. If the spread is less than 10 points in Virginia and Maryland, then Hillary has exceeded expectations. If Obama scores over 60% in either or both states (he should do very well in DC), then he's exceeded expectations. At the end of the day, the question will be by how much has Obama padded his small delegate lead. And, does he become the "front-runner"?

On the GOP side, the question is whether Huckabee can catch McCain in Virginia. The Survey USA poll released late today shows Huckabee surging--"closing strong"--in Va. If he wins, it will reveal further weakness in McCain's position. McCain should carry Maryland and DC without too much problem, but if he gets less than 50% in Maryland, it's another sign of trouble.

By the same token, if Huckabee can't get within 10 points in Virginia, and gets clobbered in Maryland, then his miracle is probably over.

Best of all for us Potomac'ers: our votes count, for a change!

Saturday, February 09, 2008


In the past couple days, John McCain has reached out to the conservative wing of the GOP. Their reaction: REJECTION.

Pretty incredible, but a clear frontrunner lost not one, not two, but maybe three nominating contests in one day today. (Lousiana, Kansas, Washington). (As of this writing, Lousiana is close, but Huckabee leads with 92% of precincts reporting; Washington is close, with McCain barely leading with 78% reporting, but with at least 74% of the votes cast AGAINST him.)

We thought the GOP race was done, but maybe not.

Obama Rolling

Barack Obama is on a roll, and it won't stop with today. He's apparently swept Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington today and he's likely--based on lopsided polls--to sweep Virginia, Maryland and DC on Tuesday.

We spoke to a Clinton strategist today who, fully expecting Obama's strength this week, claimed the calendar would favor Hillary after Tuesday. Problem is, you have to factor in the momentum effect of Obama's serial victories in this stretch on the later contests.

Hillary is in danger. By the same token, she's been there before--after Iowa with the MSM proclaiming an Obama victory in New Hampshire based on polls--only to bounce back, so certainly don't count her out.

In any event, if Obama becomes the "frontrunner," just see what happened to McCain today. This truly is a wild and wacky election season.

Do You Believe In Miracles? Huckabee Does.

Could a Saturday miracle be in progress for Mike Huckabee? Before today, he told his supporters he was hoping for a miracle.

It may be occurring! Kansas, Lousiana and Washington have caucuses/primaries today on the GOP side and lo and behold, McCain isn't doing well at all. As of now (10:20 pm EST), Huckabee killed McCain in Kansas, taking all 36 delegates; he is leading by 12 points in a Louisiana beauty contest (the delegates were selected a few weeks ago and somewhat favored McCain, but enough are uncommitted to swing it to Huckabee), and he's within one point in Washington, where McCain has gotten only 27% of the vote (Dr. Paul has 21% and Romney has 17%).
Even if McCain ekes out a "victory" in Washington, no frontrunner can be comfortable scoring under 30% after he's been pronounced the virtual victor.

This is a clear repudiation of McCain, and if repeated in the Potomac Primary (Va., Md., and DC) on Tuesday, will throw the GOP side back into complete chaos.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Hillama versus McAbee?

Wow, we're falling down on the job here at Curmudgeon HQ. Last night we went to see a screening of one of AOL founder Ted Leonsis's "filmanthropy" projects, "Nanking," at Georgetown University. An excellent documentary so long as you don't mind nearly two hours of depressingly gruesome stories.

But that caused us to miss all kinds of other stories of our modern era. Hillary was right here in Arlington, speaking at Washington-Lee High School, where the young Curmudgeons will go if they manage to make it our of middle school. We missed it, but judging from the emails we're getting from both campaigns, Virginia is a real battleground between Clinton and Obama for the next few days.

Indeed, Virginia Democrats timed their Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Richmond perfectly--who knew the race would still be in issue by this point--so that attendees this weekend will get the full treatment from both Hillary and Barack. Friends of ours are going--we're jealous.

Then, of course, Romney dropped out yesterday. A shrewd move on his part--shows the calculating businessman in him. He had no shot at this point, but he's still relatively young (certainly compared to McCain) and has built himself a good base in the Republican Party, so he cuts his losses and lives to fight another day.

We predict Huckabee will go one more round--through next Tuesday--then also graciously drop out (unless conservatives somehow rally around him--we doubt it--and he sweeps the Saturday and Tuesday contests).

We spent our post-movie evening last night debating the merits of Hillary versus Obama. Spiritedly debating, we might add. Too bad we broke down along predictable lines: the wives were for Hillary; the men-folk for Obama (although respectful of Hillary--we do like her).

With McCain as the GOP nominee, Democrats need the strongest ticket possible. We think that's Hillary and Obama, or Hillama. The remaining primaries are not going to decide this contest--it's too close and with proportional delegate allocation, neither candidate can get a real leg up. So pretty soon it's going to be time for party elders (not Bill) to get the candidates in a room and have a good, mature discussion about it.

Meantime, who's McCain going to pick as his veep? Having gotten the nomination on about a 35% plurality of the party, he has a lot of mollifying to do. It certainly won't be someone like Joe "been there, done that" Lieberman. It could be Fred Thompson, although we doubt he's interested--better to go back to television than be a figurehead veep.

Someone who would be interested is Mike "I don't have a job after this" Huckabee. That would certainly help with a significant segment of the evangelical community. Call it the McAbee ticket. But conservatives decided--pretty unfairly--to label Huckabee a "liberal" (that nastiest of all Republican sobriquets) early on, and they would see McAbee as far too centrist for their tastes.

So does McCain go with someone hard right? And if so, who? Kansas Senator Sam Brownback could fit that bill--bringing home evangelicals along with conservatives. There are others, of course. The problem is that many of the more vocal, bomb-throwing conservatives will never be mollified, no matter who McCain picks as his veep, so he may decide "hey, why bother."

We're not making any forecasts, at least not yet.

Heck, we're still trying to decide who to vote for on Tuesday. Probably Obama, despite Mrs. Curmudgeon's protestations. As Virginians, we'd love to see an Obama/Kaine ticket, really putting the state into play in November, but we're not going to bet any real money on that one.

And don't forget tomorrow's contests in Washington, Louisiana, Kansas (GOP only), Nebraska (Dem only) and the Virgin Islands (Dem).

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Huck Doesn't Steal From Romney

Just as an update on some prior posts and the comment threads on them, the claim by Limbaugh et al. that Huckabee's presence in the campaign is stealing votes from Romney can now be proven false.

When asked, Huckabee voters, by a margin of 2-1, prefer McCain to Romney. For details, and for additional insight on why Huckabee's evangelicals aren't falling for Romney (hint: it ain't because he's a Mormon), see this insightful post from The Evangelical Outpost.

Despite Fuzzy Math, McCain's Lead Not Quite So Large As It Appears

If Rush Limbaugh and company are upset at the prospect of John McCain as the Republican standard-bearer, perhaps they should take their wrath out on the folks who set the delegate selection rules for the party.

One of our readers, Katie, has done us the favor of going through the Republican contests held so far and determining that if the GOP allocated delegates proportionally, like the Democrats, Romney would be leading McCain by about 50 delegates at this point. (You'll have to ask Katie for the math--we trust her.)

(Another way to look at it--again, hattip to Katie--is that McCain has won 12 states; Romney has won 11 states, and Huckabee has won 6 states. Hardly a rousing endorsement for McCain--but a tribute to good strategery.)

Instead, if you look at various websites that track delegates (and which don't agree with each other, but are close enough for our purposes) you see that McCain has about a 400 delegate lead. It appears, from a quick analysis, that Romney has more popular votes in the Republican contests than McCain--in part because he has competed everywhere, whereas cash-poor McCain has not.

It is certainly the case that Romney and Huckabee together have far more votes than McCain, yet McCain has at least 200 more delegates than the others combined.

The reason for this, of course, is the "winner-take-all" primaries, where McCain has cleaned up. Now don't get us wrong--there is some merit to a winner-take-all approach--after all, that's how the electoral college system works. Indeed, in our view, the Democrats may have gone too far down the road to proportionality--it's looking very doubtful now that either Hillary or Obama will have enough delegates without resorting to the uncommitted superdelegates.

But here's where the GOP system really breaks down: when they allow a candidate with a plurality of the vote to get all the delegates in a state. Consider this: in Missouri, 67% of Republican voters in yesterday's primary--fully two-thirds--voted for someone other than McCain. Hardly a rousing endorsement for a "front-runner." Yet, by beating Huckabee by 9000 votes--just 1%--McCain received all 58 of Missouri's delegates. Missouri Republicans might want to think about whether that's really what they intended!

McCain likewise benefitted from such rules in Florida, where 64% of Republicans voted against him, but he won all 57 delegates. (Meanwhile, poor Mitt Romney, who won Massachusetts with 51% of the vote, saw McCain garner 18 delegates in the Bay State, compared to just 22 for the Mittster, due to proportional selection rules there.)

A couple of interesting issues are at work here: in a two-candidate race, completely proportional representation draws the fight out far longer than it should be; by the same token, in a multi-candidate free-for-all, like the GOP has had, winner-take-all can greatly skew the results.

Now, is McCain's lead as big as it looks? No, but it's still pretty big. Because McCain has won a bunch of winner-take-all primaries, it is easier to count up all his delegates now. But there are nearly 200 delegates from states that have ALREADY VOTED that have not yet been allocated. The bulk of THOSE delegates will be going to Romney and Huckabee.

The main reason for this is that caucus states allocate their delegates over a period of time, culminating in the state convention. Romney and Huckabee have won most of the caucus states, so they have quite a few delegates-in-waiting that aren't yet reflected in the totals you see on various websites.

Here's what we have so far--we're using delegate totals from for our purposes here:

The following states have allocated all of their delegates, so have no more to hand out to anyone:

New Hampshire, Michigan, SC, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Arizona, Utah, Delaware, Montana.

The following states still have delegates to allocate:

Iowa--37/40 delegates allocated. The other 3 should go to Huckabee, maybe one to Romney.

Wyoming--8/14 delegates allocated. Romney should get the other 6.

Nevada--27/34 allocated. Romney should get most of the remaining 7.

Maine--18/21 allocated. Romney should get the remaining 3.

California--137/173 allocated. McCain/Romney will get what's left. (California is a good example of the difference with proportional allocation. On the Dem side, Hillary won by 10 percentage points, getting 202 delegates, but Obama got 163; on the GOP side, McCain won by only 8 points, but got 134 delegates to Romney's 3, so far.)

Alabama--36/48 allocated. Huckabee should get most of what's left.

Colorado--22/46 allocated. Romney should get most of what's left.

Massachusetts--40/43 allocated. Romney should get the other 3.

Minnesota--27/41 allocated. Romney should get the rest.

Oklahoma--38/41 allocated. McCain should get the other 3.

Georgia--48/72 allocated. Huckabee should get most of the rest.

Illinois--56/70 allocated. McCain should get most of the rest.

Tennessee--44/55 allocated. Huckabee should get most of the rest, some for McCain.

Arkansas--28/44 allocated. Huckabee should get the rest.

Connecticut--27/30 allocated. McCain gets the rest.

West Virginia--18/30 allocated. Huckabee should get the rest.

Alaska--26/29 allocated. Romney has advantage for the rest.

North Dakota--23/26 allocated. Romney has advantage for the rest.

Totals: 188 delegates unallocated. Of those, roughly 50 will go to McCain, and 70 to each of Romney and Huckabee.

The rest of the election calendar, however, favors McCain--most remaining states have primaries, instead of caucuses (which tend to favor Romney). However, the next round, this Saturday, is caucuses in Kansas and Washington, along with a beauty contest primary in Louisiana. Romney could win all three, which would give him some much needed free publicity before a spate of primaries in coming weeks.

McCain remains the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. Will it be McCain-Huckabee? We sure wouldn't rule it out. (Or maybe McCain-Thompson--the pace of the Veep's duties seems suited to Big John. He could probably still do his television gig between state funerals.)

Thank God For Macaca!

Today's Washington Post reminded us that, but for the utterance of the infamous three-syllable "macaca" there's a good chance that former Senator George Allen would be the Republican front-runner at this point. (See "The 'What If' Of Allen Haunts The GOP Race.")

The horror! All we can say is "thank god for macaca."

Georgia Loses A Big One In Water Battle With Florida, Alabama

We've previously reported on the "water war" between Georgia, on the one hand, and Florida and Alabama on the other. (See "Will Florida v. Georgia Water Fight Become Political?")

The battle centers on control of the water in the massive Lake Lanier reservoir, north of Atlanta, which was built by the federal government to provide hydroelectric electricity to the region. Lake Lanier flows into the Apalachicola River, which in turn provides the water for needed for cooling Alabama's largest nuclear reactor, and then flows on southward through Florida, where it is vital to the health of the fish, wildlife and shellfish of Apalachicola Bay.

The reason for the fighting is that Lake Lanier has been shrinking, in large part due to a sustained drought in the Southeast, and in no small part because of the increased demands for drinking water in Atlanta's burgeoning 'burbs.

Georgia has tried to grab more of Lanier's water for itself, under the banner "people before animals." The Bush administration has tried to mediate the dispute, but with little success.

Georgia won an early round in court, obtaining a ruling that the Army Corps of Engineers could allocate greater water rights to the state, at the expense of Alabama and Florida. Yesterday, however, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals--which encompasses all three states--reversed that ruling, holding that Congress would have to approve of such a change. The case could be headed to the Supreme Court, but the 11th Circuit's ruling is likely to stand.

In any event, Georgia did not deserve to win this one. What Georgia wants is for the federal government to solve a state and local problem: to wit, Atlanta and its environs have, for years now, failed to plan for the future by funding their own reservoirs. Instead, they just decided that Lake Lanier would last forever--bad water planning.

Now that the chickens have come home to roost in the inevitable drought, Georgians prefer to simply take water from their neighbors, rather than own up to their profligacy. Indeed, water restrictions in north Georgia are still lax and widely ignored.

Georgia is one of the reddest states in the Union, represented by anti-tax social conservatives in Congress. Georgians remind us of San Diegans, who twice voted against funds for more fire stations despite wide acknowledgement that the city was highly vulnerable to wildfires, and then turned to the federal government for help.

Funny how all those anti-tax people are the first to ask for federal help when their own failure to plan and pay for services goes awry.

Inevitably, if the drought goes on much longer, the federal government will have to provide emergency assistance to Georgia. In the long run, however, Georgians need to take care of themselves, by planning and INVESTING in an adequate water infrastructure for future growth.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday: Waiting For California

As of 11:30 pm we have a pretty good take on Super Tuesday as we wait for California, which will take awhile since the exit polls make it too close to call on either side.

As we said earlier, McCain had--as expected--a big day. The Straight Talker clearly benefitted from winner-take-all rules in Connecticut, NY, NJ and Delaware. He also picked up Oklahoma by having Huckabee and Romney evenly divide the anti-McCain vote there, and he's likely to pick up Missouri, albeit by a hair, over Huckabee, again because the Huckster and the Mittster cut up the anti-McCain vote. If McCain also wins California, then he's the prohibitive favorite, especially since Romney hardly finished off Huckabee tonight.

That said, McCain did not get as big a victory as some predicted for him--he's going to lose a good 10 states or more, so there's still room for the anti-McCain movement if they can only get anyone to listen to them.

Huckabee had a pretty good night, too, proving that he's "not dead yet." Over the weekend, when polls showed McCain leading in Georgia and Alabama, we thought the Huckster might be finished. But by winning Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia, and Tennessee Huck has shown just enough strength to slog on, but not enough to win. If he's angling for the Veep slot, he helped himself a lot tonight. Missouri is still too close to call, but we think McCain will eke it out (based on exit polls and word that St. Louis County is late with its results). We were pretty accurate in our pre-Super Tuesday forecast for Huckabee. It's too bad for him that he couldn't quite take Oklahoma, however.

Romney, of course, won Massachusetts (although not by that much!) and Utah. As we predicted, he's also doing well in the caucus states (except West Virginia, where an unusual voting process did him in--he was the leader on the first ballot). Romney won the North Dakota caucus and looks likely to win in Colorado and Minnesota, and perhaps he'll pick up Alaska, too. (Hawaiians have been caucusing for two weeks now--who knows what's up there.) The caucuses tend to be dominated by the more conservative Republicans who actually listen to Rush Limbaugh, so Romney has an advantage there.

The real irony is that if the GOP had proportional selection of delegates like the Democrats, McCain would have a much smaller delegate lead at this point--one that could be overcome.

As we said earlier tonight, the Limbaugh/Coulter/Buchanan et al. anti-McCain radio-fest is also a clear loser, as voters ignored their contentiona that vote for Huckabee is a vote for McCain. As we noted, evangelicals are not nearly as likely to be influenced by the crass likes of these bomb throwers, and in any event, they remain highly suspicious of Romney the Mormon.

On the Democratic side, Obama can say he took more states, doing well in the Red states. But Hillary should come out of the night with more delegates, and by drubbing Obama in Massachusetts, she should get some bragging rights. Still, California is a big prize and could tip the spin room scale to either candidate come tomorrow morning. Moreover, Missouri, where Hillary at one point had a big lead, is sliding steadily towards Obama; if he wins there it will certainly take the sting out of Massachusetts.