Super Tuesday is such a monumental moment on the 2008 political calendar that the big day's voting actually voting began when it was still just ordinary Monday in America.
And the first ballots weren't even cast on U.S. soil.
As part of the Democrats Abroad primary, voters went to the polls in Jakarta, Indonesia--where Super Tuesday arrived a full twelve hours earlier than it did in the U.S. -- and voted for a native son. Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who spent a portion of his childhood in the city, won 75 percent of the vote to 25 percent for New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
The Democratic Party treats its expatriate branch as a state – with 11 delegates to this summer's national convention in Denver – and its round-the-world voting is just one piece of the giant puzzle of delegate selection that will begin to be put together on Super Tuesday.
Twenty-two states, American Samoa and Democrats Abroad will hold Democratic primaries and caucuses today. They'll select more than 1,600 delegates to the party's national convention in Denver.
Twenty-one states will hold Republican primaries and caucuses today. They'll select roughly 1,000 delegates to the party's national convention in the Twin Cities.
This is the busiest day of presidential nominating contests in American political history. And one thing is certain: The campaigns of Democrats Obama and Clinton and Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul are all looking to spin some kind of "win" out of the results.
It is entirely possible that every one of these candidates –including Paul, the anti-war libertarian who has traveled to Alaska and poured considerable resources into a targeted attempt to prevail in that state's Republican caucuses – could win somewhere.
So how can anyone cut through all the spin?
Here are ten tips for sorting Super Tuesday facts from fiction:
1. Remember what the expectations were going into today's voting. Super Tuesday was supposed to "seal the deal" for Democrat Clinton. Barely a week ago, she was still far ahead in the polls nationally and in most of the key Super Tuesday states except Obama's Illinois. If Clinton does not finish the day at least marginally ahead of Obama in key states won and delegates totals, it'll be a setback for the former First Lady. Similarly, McCain has been pegged as the Republican to beat. If his chief rival, Romney, wins more key states – especially California, where he has been surging in late polling – and more delegates, McCain's standing will suffer. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan is right when he says that, "If Romney wins California, it's the comeback story of the night."
2. Delegates matter. While the states may break in a variety of directions, the delegate totals don't lie. The first caucuses in Iowa and the first primary in New Hampshire awarded only handfuls of delegates; they really were about momentum. Super Tuesday is different. By the time today's primaries and caucuses are finished, 52 percent of Democratic convention delegates will have been selected; on the Republican side, the figure is 41 percent. So it is fair to look at the raw numbers. The races are competitive enough so that no one will "close the deal" today. But it is imaginable that a particular candidate – especially McCain on the Republican side -- could emerge as prohibitive favorite. On the Democratic side, if Clinton has a very good day, the combination of the fresh delegates she wins on Super Tuesday with her advantage among so-called "super delegates" (elected officials and party leaders who are assured places at the convention) could give her enough of a "cushion" to survive later losses to Obama and still prevail.
3. The Democratic and Republican races are different. Under Democratic Party rules, each state's delegates are awarded based on a proportional-representation model that is further complicated by the fact that most of those delegates will be allotted at the congressional district level. That means that a candidate can win as little as 15 percent of the vote in a particular Democratic primary or caucus and still secure delegates. As such, just winning any individual state counts for less than doing well everywhere. It is different on the Republican side, where ten states use winner-take-all systems. A one-vote Republican primary win in New York gives the state's convention delegation to the candidate who comes out ahead – probably McCain – as is the case in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Utah and West Virginia. What this means is that it is much more likely that a Republican – again, probably McCain – gains a big win than a Democrat.
4. The big story may not be who wins but who lives to fight another day. On the Democratic side, Obama and Clinton are both likely to survive. On the Republican side, a bad day for Mitt Romney could mean that the self-financing candidate will finally fold up his checkbook and go home. Expectations are lower for Mike Huckabee, but the candidate who has been on a losing streak since his Iowa caucus victory of early January really does need to win some primaries today. (His best bets, aside from native Arkansas, are in Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.)
5. Remember that results from relatively low-turnout caucuses tend to measure the sentiments of the party faithful. As veteran Democratic aide Lawrence O'Donnell notes, "Activists go to the caucuses." And the activists tend to be more liberal on the Democratic side, more conservative on the Republican side. As such, watch for an Obama sweep of the caucus states of Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota. Only in New Mexico could he lose to Clinton. On the Republican side, the caucuses and West Virginia's unique Super Tuesday state convention look to be more likely to favor the aggressively conservative candidacy of Romney over McCain. The most interesting exception is Alaska, where Ron Paul's making his play.
6. Some states are more equal – or, at least more meaningful – than others. Sure, Obama gets some bragging rights if he wins the Democratic caucuses in Idaho but don't look for any Democrat to win there in November. Similarly, the Republican primary winner in Massachusetts is unlikely to take the state in the fall. Of far more interest should be the results from the swing states that will be voting today: Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico and Tennessee. Winning Missouri really ought to count for something; the state has picked the November winner in every election since the days when Republican Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson were competing in the 1950s.
7. Super Tuesday will tell us whether the candidates are popular with the people who know them best. Remarkably, Obama's home state of Illinois, Clinton's home state of New York, McCain's home state of Arizona, Romney's home state of Massachusetts and Huckabee's Arkansas will all be voting. Even Democratic also-ran Mike Gravel is a former senator from Alaska, where his fellow Democrats caucus today. Any candidate who loses his or her own state will have some explaining to do. And on the Democratic side, watch for whether Obama does better in New York than Clinton does in Illinois. Here's a hint: He will.
8. Keep an eye on who wins the "live" voting on Super Tuesday. Many of the states voting today – including California, Illinois, Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey, New Mexico and Utah – allow "no excuses" early voting. That means that millions of ballots were cast before Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama or California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed John McCain. Exit polls will provide indications of the sentiments of people who actually vote on Tuesday, which will tell us more about where the race stands right now than official results that are warped by early-voting patterns. Of particular interest on the Democratic side is the question of whether Obama's post-South Carolina primary surge, which seems genuine, came too late to provide him with a Super Tuesday advantage. Another interesting measure of the early voting effect will be the support for John Edwards. Millions of Super-Tuesday state voters cast their ballots before the populist Democrat left the race and there is at least an outside possibility that Edwards will win enough "wasted" votes to secure delegates from some states.
9. Do endorsements matter? Arguably, the best test will come in Massachusetts. A few weeks ago, every poll had the state solidly supporting Hillary Clinton. Now, Massachusetts Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry have endorsed Obama. If Kennedy's still got clout, it should turn the tide in the Bay State. The best indication of whether Kennedy's campaigning for Obama in Hispanic communities will matter should come from New Mexico, the state with the largest Latino voting bloc.
10. Dig deeper. Don't be satisfied just with the raw vote totals, the tally of state wins or delegate lists. Keep an eye on the exit polls. Did the withdrawal of John Edwards help Obama or Clinton? How is the Hispanic vote breaking? Who is running strongest in cities, suburbs and rural areas? Is McCain finally winning over conservatives? Is Clinton winning white women but losing white men? These are the details that will tell the full story of Super Tuesday and, more importantly, the story of where the Democratic and Republican presidential races are headed on the super Tuesdays that are yet to come.
In one last push to mobilize voters, Michelle Obama is asking her husband's supporters to get viral on Tuesday.
In a final salvo for Super Tuesday, the Obama Campaign blasted an email from Ms. Obama urging supporters to share the new music video "Yes We Can." The video was a smash hit across the web since launching on Friday, bringing direct footage of Obama's stump speech to millions of people. It already netted over 1.8 million views on YouTube, and potentially hundreds of thousands more from another hub, DipDive.com, which drew over 1,000 links from U.S. websites since last week. The Obama Campaign's new viral push should bolster those numbers -- his State of the Union rebuttal recently topped a million views on YouTube. And Obama's YouTube profile has drawn over 11.5 million views, more than ten times Hillary Clinton.
While Obama is tapping energized supporters and intrigued viewers to basically spread his message for free, Clinton invested in an hour of national paid media with a televised town hall on Monday night. The "Voices Across America" event was broadcast on the Hallmark channel, and streamed on HillaryClinton.com. (Neither Hallmark nor the campaign would comment on the cost, according to MediaWeek.)
Of course, all campaigns invest heavily in television, and Obama just bought local Super Bowl ads. But this viral video strategy bolsters and deepens his voter outreach. Obama reaches more people this way, and enables them to share his message with their contacts. He speaks to young voters in their preferred medium. He routes around the traditional media filter -- and its penchant for reactive conflict -- with a proactive message. (It's hard to show leadership while parrying Brian Williams' tactical quizzing, as Obama learned Monday; Video below.)
The key is that Obama also asks supporters to do something. It could be forwarding the video for Michelle, or telling their MySpace friends to vote, or busting out a cell phone to mobilize strangers. Lately the campaign has even empowered supporters to call voters from home, punching in their results online:
This week, the campaign's leading web volunteers made 100 calls per person. The record is 267, held by one Thomas Hargis. National emails about voter contact and polling places are still top priority, an Obama aide told me, and the music video was added for a final punch. Yet this connected activism is not confined to the number of calls made or videos shared. Inviting people to choose their participation in meaningful, interactive ways, from anonymously persuading strangers to shouting opinions across intimate social networks, can tightly bind people to each other and the candidate. That has little to do with Internet technology and, sadly, almost nothing to do with typical campaigns.
"We may finally be coming to understand what De Tocqueville saw – the promise of democratic politics is in people's ability to enter into relationships with one another to articulate common purposes and act on them," wrote Marshall Ganz, the veteran UFW organizer and RFK backer who advised Obama and Howard Dean on movement-building. "Organizing to bring people back into politics is not a cost, but an investment in rebuilding the democratic infrastructure of our public life under assault for far too many years," he added, in a 2006 blog post.
Unlike Dean, the Obama Campaign does not stress its historic Internet success or run early victory laps in the blogosphere. It does not even discuss the web as an obvious metaphor for Obama's candidacy: An open frontier where race and gender recede, new ideas vanquish the old, and citizens converse and connect in ways that the prior generations would never understand, let alone support.
Perhaps that is simply because no presidential candidate wants to sound like the next Howard Dean. Or maybe, the campaign knows that you don't build a movement by talking about it. You do it, person by person, until one day, everyone can see it.
Hillary Clinton is smart, energetic, immensely knowledgeable, and, as she likes to say, hard-working. I've been appalled by the misogynous vitriol (and mean-girl snark) aimed against her. If she is the nominee I will work my heart out for her.
But right now, I'm supporting Barack Obama. On domestic politics, their differences are small-- I'm with her on health care mandates, and with him on driver's licences for undocumented immigrants; both would probably be equally good on women's rights, abortion rights and judicial appointments. But on foreign policy Obama seems more enlightened, as in less bellicose. Maybe Hillary Clinton's refusal to say her Iraq vote was wrong shows that she has neo-con sympathies; maybe she simply believes that any admission of error would tar her as weak. But we already have a warlike president who refuses to admit making mistakes, and look how that's turned out. The election of Barack Obama would send a signal to the world that the United States is taking a different tack.
When Obama won Iowa, I was surprised that I was glad. Much as I would love to pull the lever for a woman president -- a pro-choice Democratic woman president, that is --I realized at that moment how deeply unthrilled I was by the prospect of a grim vote-by-vote fight for the 50 percent+1 majority in a campaign that would rehearse all the old, (yes, mostly bogus or exaggerated) scandals and maybe turn up some new ones too. I wasn't delighted to think success would mean four more years of Bill Clinton either, or might come at the price of downticket losses, as many red-state Democrats fear. Democrats have nominated plenty of dutiful public servants over the years -- Humphrey, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry . They have always lost (or in Gore's case, not won by enough to not lose). Obama may not be as progressive as we wish over here at The Nation-- and maybe someday we can have a serious conversation about why Edwards' economic populism, promoted for years by important voices at the magazine, was such a bust. But Obama is a candidate in a different mold. He's a natural politician who connects with people as Hillary Clinton, for whatever reason, just doesn't, and appeals to the better angels of their nature. He sparks an enthusiasm in people--independents, the young, the previously disengaged. An Obama victory could have big positive repercussions for progressive politics.
I usually resist words like "hope" and "change." But with Supertuesday barely 36 hours away what I think is, let's go with the charismatic candidate this time. Let's go with the candidate voters feel some passion about. Let's say goodbye to the Clintons and have some new people make history.
Plenty of feminists support Obama, by the way. for example Kate Michelman, former head of NARAL, and Ellen Bravo of Nine to Five. I signed a letter from " New York Feminists for Peace and Barack Obama." Other signers include the historians Linda Gordon, Alice Kessler Harris and Ros Baxandall; the sociologist Judith Stacey; the political scientist Ros Petchesky,and writers Margo Jefferson and Meredith Tax. You can read it and, if you are a New York feminist, sign it, here .
Could Barack Obama "close the deal" on Super Tuesday?
When almost two dozen states are voting, the Democratic presidential campaigns of both Illinois Senator Obama and New York Senator Hilllary Clinton are prepared to spin things their way. That means that the best bet going into "Super Tuesday" is that it will be a wash, with both campaigns finding enough good news to carry on through the primaries and caucuses of February.
There is no way at this point that Clinton can win the day decisively. Obama had built too many firewalls in southern and western states.
But could Clinton lose the day? Possibly, and that's what to watch for on Tuesday.
Let's be clear that only something akin to a sweep would be enough to force the once-inevitable Clinton campaign to accept the new inevitability of Obama as the likely Democratic nominee and Clinton as also-ran. Patterns of early voting that favor Clinton argue against such a scenario. But Obama's late surge in states across the country keeps the possibility open enough to be worthy of discussion.
What would a sweep look like? Obama would not have to win every state or every delegate, but he would have to dominate the map in a manner that left no doubt that Democratic primary and caucus voters prefer his candidacy to that of the woman who not long ago was busy outlining her Democratic National Convention acceptance speech.
To do this, Obama would has to begin by winning California convincingly. That's possible. He's moved even or ahead most Golden State polls. Clinton is drawing huge crowds and working the state aggressively; and Obama's decision to focus most of his campaigning elsewhere in the final days is risky. But if Obama gets California and reaps the benefits of the broader focus, he is on his way to the kind of day that could transform American politics.
Obama then must come close to Clinton in her adopted home state of New York. To do that, he needs to carry New York City and do well enough statewide to pull at least 40 percent of the vote and roughly that percentage of the state's delegates. This seems possible, although the Clinton camp is working hard -- and smart -- to keep the New York senator's vote up in the city. The key may be the borough of Brooklyn, where the Clinton campaign is targeting women from the Caribbean -- a very large and engaged voting bloc that they hope to keep with Hillary.
Next comes Illinois, Obama's home state. He needs to win with over 70 percent to keep Clinton's take of delegates from congressional districts in the suburbs and downstate from being worthy of note.
Once the touchstone states are out of the way, we move to the difficult-but-not-unimaginable part: Obama must carry either New Jersey or Connecticut, states adjacent to New York that had been seen as safe Clinton turf until recently. New Jersey seems the more likely prospect. Most polls from the Garden State show him catching up with Clinton -- with some putting them even as of this morning. Late appearances could be key here, as Obama needs a maximum excitement factor to motivate new voters to get to the polls. Much attention has been paid to the fact that Newark Mayor Cory Booker is backing Obama, but that's less important than the south Jersey vote in cities such as Camden, where turnout must be large and maximized for the Illinois senator.
Also in the northeast, Obama needs to win Massachusetts. That would have been unimaginable not long ago, but with the Kennedy family pulling for him is such a high-profile manner, it is now required. Polling from the state is scant but all indications are the Obama is gaining, especially in the Boston suburbs that had been Clinton country.
In the south, Obama should take Georgia and Alabama, states with large African-American voter blocs. The exit of John Edwards -- who was splitting the southern white vote with Clinton -- complicates things a bit. But if Obama does not take Georgia and Alabama, he's got no claim to a sweep.
Clinton will get Arkansas -- her virtual home state, by virtue of her status as the wife of the former governor; and neighboring Tennessee and Oklahoma look good for her. Obama should get delegates in all three, however. (He is helped in Oklahoma by the late endorsement of the Transport Workers Union, a big player in New York City politics that also happens to be the biggest union in the Sooner State.)
Count Kansas for Obama -- it's his virtual home state, by virtue of his mother's roots there. Obama should also take Colorado, where he opened his campaign offices last fall, and Idaho, where 14,000 people turned out Saturday to hear him declare, "They told me there weren't any Democrats in Idaho - that's what they told me. But I didn't believe them." Give him Alaska as well; caucus voters in the most northerly state tend to go left and insurgent.
The same hold true for the caucus goers in Minnesota, where Obama's Saturday appearance in Minnesota drew a huge crowd.
Obama is also looking strong in North Dakota, where popular Senator Kent Conrad is solidly behind his colleague from Illinois.
That leaves three key battlegrounds, in addition to New Jersey:
* Missouri, where Clinton has some neighbor-state advantages but Obama has Senator Claire McCaskill and large, well-organized African-American communities in Kansas City and St. Louis. Obama's moving up fast; at least one poll now has him even with Clinton.
* Arizona, with a large Hispanic population and a white population that trends older, should be solid Clinton country. Obama has moved up here. If he wins, it would be a huge coup and go a long way toward making him the clear winner on Super Tuesday.
* New Mexico would be an even bigger coup for Obama, and he is fighting hard for it. His Santa Fe rally last week was huge. If very-popular Governor Bill Richardson were to endorse Obama at the last minute, that might tip things the senator's way. But Bill Clinton is seeking to head that eventuality off; the former president's keeping such a close eye on Richardson that he watched the Super Bowl with the governor.
There are a few other small-state primaries and caucuses in Utah, Delaware, America Samoa. They all look to be toss-ups. If Obama wins any or all of them, the case for awarding him the day increases marginally. If Clinton wins them, they'll give her a small measure of redemption -- unless the races for delegates and bragging rights are close. And if those races are close, then there is no Obama sweep in the offering.
What does this all add up to? An Obama sweep is imaginable, and the Clinton people know it. Obama will survive Super Tuesday; at worst, he meets the expectations of the weekend. Clinton and her aides understand that Tuesday will be her make-or-break day, which explains the edge in her closing comments regarding the campaign.
To recap: Obama should win California and Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Dakota. Then, out of the northeast, he needs another state, preferably New Jersey. Out of the middle of the country, he needs Missouri. Out of the southwest, he needs Arizona. If he gets these, and if the delegate distribution plays right, he can claim to have dominated the day. If he adds New Mexico in the southwest and Connecticut in the northeast, and perhaps a surprise -- like Tennessee or Oklahoma -- he'll no longer be merely claiming a sweep. He'll have it, and a clear road to the nomination.
The Obama campaign, intent on taking some of the crucial Latino vote in California away from Hillary Clinton, organized a daylong door-to-door canvas on Saturday in the region's most Spanish-speaking city just south of Disneyland.
200 volunteers showed up for a morning rally in Santa Ana before heading out for the final push to canvas their precincts. The tote board in the streetfront Obama office showed 51 precinct captains had already logged almost 8,500 calls.
The LA Times poll last week had Obama getting under 30 per cent of the state's Latinos in the primary, while Hillary was at 60 percent.
Santa Ana is the most Spanish-speaking city in the US. In 2006 it became the largest US city with an all-Latino city council. Santa Ana is also a city where the mayor, Miguel Pulido, has endorsed Hillary; where the representative in congress, Loretta Sanchez, has endorsed Hillary; and where Hillary herself campaigned in December with Latina icon Dolores Huerta.
Nevertheless the Obama effort in Santa Ana is big, well-organized and energetic. At the rally, office staffer Abraham Jenkins asked how many of the 200 volunteers had worked in previous campaigns. A few hands went up. Then he asked, "How many are first timers?" Almost everybody raised their hands.
The headliner at the rally was Congressman Xavier Becerra from L.A., one of Obama's highest profile Latino supporters. He recalled that Bobby Kennedy campaigned as an underdog in the California primary in 1968, and brought a new kind of hope to voters. "Someone stole that from us in 1968," he said; "someone tried to snuff out the light. But 40 years later, we have that spark again."
He told the precinct walkers the key arguments to make when they knocked on Latino doors: At the top of the list: "Obama is the son of an immigrant." Second: "Obama is a Harvard law grad who went to work as a community organizer." Then "tell them to read La Opinion, which today endorsed Obama;" and "tell them why this is your first time working in a campaign - why you are doing this."
The enthusiasm and energy of the first-timers was unmistakable, but it didn't solve the big problem facing the Obama operation in Santa Ana: the precinct walkers were a largely white group in an overwhelmingly Latino city. When staffers asked how many of the 200 volunteers were bilingual, perhaps a dozen raised their hands.
One of those was Elvira Rios, a precinct captain, a retired schoolteacher and a "first timer." Her perspective on Latino voters is radically different from what you get in the media. "The biggest challenge is not getting them to switch from Hillary to Obama," she said. "The biggest challenge is getting them to vote at all."
She said she has been working in Santa Ana for Obama for the last ten days from nine to nine, and only a week ago she had to start with the basics: "voters needed to hear his name - many didn't really know his name."
The biggest Clinton supporters among Latinos, she said, are "the mothers." But "it's amazing how many young Latinos were trying to talk their parents into voting for Barack. I see this all the time."
Were the kids succeeding? She shook her head no: "Older Latinos," she said emphatically, "are so stubborn."
Unlike Elvira Rios, the great majority of Obama volunteers in Santa Ana were young Anglos who didn't speak Spanish. Several were students at nearby UC Irvine. Rebecca Westerman is one - she lives in Santa Ana and is an Obama precinct captain for her Latino precinct. She told me that she has reached one-third of the 800 voters on her list. "I'm focusing on the 18-25 year olds," she said, "because that's where we've gotten a good response."
Mark Hendrickson is a recent grad of UC Irvine and another Santa Ana resident and precinct captain. In his canvassing, he said, "I get mostly Spanish speakers, but I don't speak Spanish." As the two of them were about to head out, the office staff was trying to find bilingual partners for each of them; they found one woman volunteer from the neighborhood - she was wearing a UNITE-HERE T-shirt -- but she had to go to work. So the two went out to canvas by themselves, full of youthful energy and hope.
Five hours later, Westerman reported that "We actually had a really good response from our entirely Latino precinct. Suprisingly, more people were already supporting Obama than Clinton - and our limited Spanish got us a long way."
To be a campaign veteran in this operation is to have worked in Obama's Las Vegas effort a couple of weeks ago, which several people had done. Two staffers had worked for several months in Iowa. As for people with campaign experience before that, the only one was Jocelyn Anderson, a paid regional field director who is African American. She had volunteered for the Clinton campaigns in 1992 and in 1996, the first in Alabama and the second in Michigan.
Asked her how the Obama effort compared to those, she said "This is more than a campaign. It's a movement. The least of it is the policy issues. Obama is moving people to change the world." She added, "Hillary is a great candidate, but Obama is the first time you don't have to vote the lesser of two evils."
Only a few Latinos from the neighborhood showed up for the rally. Afterwards, one young Latino couple with two children introduced themselves to Congressman Becerra, and the man explained why he was supporting Obama: "I have older cousins lost to the war, and I don't want my kids. . . ." his voice trailed off. "I know," Becerra said quietly. "Thank you for coming today."
The energy of the 200 volunteers in Santa Ana on Saturday was real; their passion was palpable. But the election was only three days away. How much success could this effort have in winning Latino votes for Obama? Nobody in the office would hazard a guess; Giovanii Jorquera, community outreach director, said quite honestly, "we'll see on Tuesday." Congressman Becerra summed it up best: "if people only had a little more time to get to know him."
Do we think a certain former president might still be smarting over Ted Kennedy's decision to endorse Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton?
Bill Clinton tried hard to land the endorsement of the senator from Massachusetts for his wife. Plenty of cajoling and calling was expended in the effort during the hectic month of January. But Kennedy, offended by Bill Clinton's racially-tinged campaigning in South Carolina, finally went for his younger colleague from Illinois.
With the senator's move came much of the Kennedy clan -- including, most recently, Ethel Kennedy, the widow of the first family of liberalism's most iconic campaigner, Bobby Kennedy -- and a critical boost for Obama going into the Super Tuesday primaries.
Bill Clinton could have been gracious.
Instead, he's now slipping digs at the senior Kennedy into his remarks while campaigning before Democratic audiences in key states.
On Thursday in Arizona, the former president said, "I want you to think about this, and I have to say, this was a train wreck that was not intended. No Child Left Behind was supported by George Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy and everybody in between. Why? Because they didn't talk to enough teachers before they did that."
No Child Left Behind -- the Bush administration's federal education initiative that mandated much new testing but offered scant new funding -- is exceptionally unpopular with teachers and other prime Democratic voting blocs.
In case anyone thought that the complaint about Kennedy was an off-hand reference, Bill Clinton voiced a similar dig on the Massachusetts senator Friday at a campaign stop in Arkansas, which will hold its primary on Tuesday. Speaking to 400 educators and students in Texarkana, the former president said No Child Left Behind exists in its current form because "the President made a deal with Senator Kennedy..."
Kennedy, long a key player on education issues in the Congress, did indeed play a role in shaping and passing No Child Left Behind.
But in a campaign season that has not been without its cynical statements, these comments by the former president stand out.
It's not just that, after trying so hard to secure Kennedy's endorsement for his wife, Clinton is now linking the senator with Bush in front of Democratic audiences.
What Bill Clinton fails to spell out on the campaign trail is that Hillary Clinton was an ally of Ted Kennedy in promoting No Child Left Behind. She voted for the No Child Left Behind Act when it passed the Senate in 2001, and has declared that, "I believe that every child should be taught by a qualified teacher and that schools should be accountable to the parents of the children they serve. That is why I supported the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 and continue to believe in the principles behind the landmark law."
Both Kennedy and Hillary Clinton are now complain about the Bush administration's failed implementation of the education reforms.
And what of Obama?
When he campaigned for the Senate in 2003 and 2004, Obama did so as a critic of No Child Left Behind, telling Illinois voters that the law "imposes new requirements on our public schools while failing to provide the resources so that schools can meet the new requirements."
Rock n' Roll Hall of Famer Patti Smith, The Nation's unofficial bard and balladeer, is on the job still fighting to ensure that – like her powerful song says – People Have the Power.
The artist who has penned songs about Guantanamo, the Iraq War, the WTO protests in Seattle, and many more critical issues of our time – and who John Nichols describedas "marked by a determination to work like Paine – as a poet-pamphleteer with a good beat" – now has her eyes set on the upcoming elections. Her website features links for folks to make sure they are registered to vote (especially important since state registration deadlines are often arbitrarily set long before primary/caucus day) and to demand paper ballots in 2008 rather than relying solely on easily hacked and unreliable voting machines.
As I recently posted, there is a desperate need to fix our broken electoral system, and it's good to see Smith giving her considerable energy and attention to this cause. Representative Rush Holt is still working to build support for his Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008 and bring it to the floor for a vote. You can help in that critical effort by clicking here. It's too late for Super Tuesday, but with a little People Power we can still make some much needed improvements to the way we count votes in November.
Her critics may dismiss Ann Coulter as a "kooky-con," the craziest of conservatives. But there is nothing nutty about Coulter.
If the right-wing diva appears to be crazy, it is crazy like a fox.
The woman is diabolical. And she has a genius for the doing more damage than mere mortals could hope to inflict.
And her latest gambit is so sly that she has everyone talking -- and just about everyone misreading her sly intent.
Few political realities are more certain than the fact that Coulter hates, hates, hates Hillary Clinton with a passion she and other conservatives will never be able to muster against the softly-bipartisan Barack Obama. Obama is probably more liberal than the former First Lady, and almost certainly more likely to win the presidency if the Democrats nominate him.
But Obama does not have the history with Coulter and the conservative echo chamber that the Clinton's have. Bill Clinton outmaneuvered them even when the GOP took control of the House and Senate. And Hillary Clinton named their "vast right-wing conspiracy."
The disdain is deep, sworn and eternal. Coulter calls Hillary Clinton "pond scum."
But Coulter is making the rounds of right-wing talk-television shows to say she'd back Clinton as the Democratic nominee against Republican John McCain. "She's more conservative that he is," the author and commentator claims. "She will be stronger on the war on terrorism...I will campaign for her if it's McCain."
Of the woman she once accused of committing treason, Coulter now says, "Hillary's gonna be our girl!"
Here's the slanderer of all things Democratic and liberal from last night's "Hannity & Colmes" gabfest on Fox:
ANN COULTER: Hillary is absolutely more conservative. Moreover she lies less than John McCain, she's smarter than John McCain. When she's caught shamelessly lying at least the Clinton's know they've been caught lying. McCain is so stupid he doesn't even know he's been caught.
ALAN COLMES: Go! Could you fill in for me next week? Let me get this straight, would you vote for Hillary Clinton?
COLMES: You would actually go into a voting booth…
COULTER: If it's close and the candidate is John McCain, because John McCain is not only bad for Republicanism –- which he definitely is -–he's bad for the country.
COLMES: Can I tell you the last thing Hillary Clinton wants, is Ann Coulter's endorsement.
Colmes is, of course, correct.
Coulter despises McCain because he is on the verge of winning the Republican nomination without the help of the paid partisans of the Republican right. She and Rush Limbaugh fear for their franchises.
She is a sly woman this Ann Coulter. And she is not entirely insincere. While she may not really believe that Clinton is more conservative than McCain, she undoubtedly would rather have Clinton as president. That's because Clinton presidency would be a full-employment program for the right-wing attack machine for which she is Cog No. 1. And a McCain presidency, by defining a different and more responsible conservatism, could marginalize Coulter and her kind.
So anything Coulter can say to hurt McCain, she will say. And to suggest that the right's favorite demon, Hillary Clinton, is more credibly conservative than the maverick McCain hurts the senator from Arizona with the Republican base that is only now beginning to warm to him.
But the diabolical part of Coulter's strategy is this: In attacking McCain and endorsing Clinton, the right-wing heroine that the left loves to hate hurts both the Republican she fears and the Democrat she despises.
Politics, it is said, is show business for ugly people. So it only made sense when the Democratic presidential race came to Hollywood, viewers of the last debate before a score of states will hold primaries and caucuses February 5 would be invited to compare the celebrity candidates who remain in the race – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – with actual celebrities.
Thus, as Obama and Clinton spent inordinate amounts of time parsing the spending formulas for their health care plans during Thursday night's forum in Los Angeles, CNN's cameras crews spent inordinate amounts of time searching out and focusing on George Constanza (actor Jason Alexander), Archie Bunker's son-in-law (actor-turned-director Rob Reiner) the Titanic guy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Stevie Wonder.
These "Academy Awards moments" were often more engaging than the actual debate.
Seated just inches from one another, Obama and Clinton chose to host an academic seminar rather than rumble in a "Super Tuesday" wrestling match.
When Wolf Blitzer tried to get the candidates to spar a bit, it didn't really work. While the differed on some particulars of how they had previously answered questions about whether to grant driver's licenses to immigrants, or whose health care plan was more thoroughly compromised, most of their clashes ended with compliments.
"I respect Senator Clinton's record. It's a terrific record."If there was a point of disagreement, it was on the pressing question of who was more like John Edwards.
One day after Edwards quit the race in which he said he represented "the grown-up wing of the Democratic Party," the remaining candidates pursued his endorsement by lavishing so much praise on the former senator from North Carolina that it was hard to remember why he quit the race.
Obama opened his remarks by paying homage to "John Edwards, who did such an outstanding job of elevating the issues of poverty and working people…"
Clinton upped the ante by saying "I'm very grateful for the extraordinary service of John and Elizabeth Edwards…"
When the subject turned to health care, the senator from New York said, "I have put forward a plan similar to what Senator Edwards put forward."
Minutes later, Obama said, "I think that a lot of issues that both Sen. Clinton and I care about will not move forward unless we have increased the kinds of ethics proposal that I passed just last year -- some of the toughest since Watergate -- and that's something that John Edwards and I both talked about repeatedly in this campaign."
Even when Obama and Clinton reviewed their minor differences on questions of how and when to withdraw troops from Iraq, Clinton said, "We're having a wonderful time."
And it almost seemed that the candidates -- who almost came to blows in their last debate before the South Carolina primary ended this one with a hug -- were getting along.
For the first time since this campaign began, it was possible to imagine these two contenders as running-mates.
Clinton came close to saying as much during a discussion about whether her proposal to mandate universal health care coverage or Obama's proposal to expand access might be preferable, the senator from New York said of the senator from Illinois, "We share a lot of the same values… we are trying to work our way through to get to where we need to be and that is to have a united Democratic party…"
But neither Clinton nor Obama is running for vice president just yet. Despite one warm and fuzzy debate, don't think that this race has gone "soft." Simply recognize that Obama and Clinton no longer choose to be seen slinging mud at one another in public. They'll do that via direct mail and negative radio ads as their struggle to secure the nomination hits its critical stage in coming days -- and, if "Super Tuesday" proves inconclusive, coming weeks and months.
Only when one candidate claws his or her way to the top will we get a sense of whether Thursday night's magnanimity was feigned or the start of a beautiful relationship. And, even then, personal ambitions and political calculations make a fall combination of this duo no more likely than a John Kennedy/Lyndon Johnson pairing in 1960 or a Ronald Reagan/George Bush match in 1980.
But even Wolf Blitzer noticed the dynamic.
Referring to the potential for a "dream ticket," the CNN anchor asked, "Would you consider an Obama-Clinton or a Clinton-Obama ticket down the road?"
"Obviously, there's a big difference between the two…" said Obama.
But he did not shoot the speculation down. He merely referred to it as "premature."
"Well," Clinton chipped in, "I have to agree with everything Barack just said."
Most people paying any attention know when Super Tuesday is? February 5. But many people have more trouble explaining what the day actually represents and entails and why the day has grown so important.
The youth voter group, Why Tuesday?, established to make election reform an issue that our elected pols can't keep ignoring, has created a new video which helps explain the history of America's crazy primary season, details the interests behind the recent front-loading of the electoral calendar, and offers advice for citizens looking for ways to upgrade US democratic practice.
After watching, check out the Fix the Primaries site for creative solutions to America's electoral dysfunction. The ideas are out there. Our challenge is build a movement sufficiently powerful to push them on to the national agenda.