I know I'm asking to be ignored with a non-Super Tuesday post on the largest primary day in US history. But there's more to politics than elections and no matter who occupies the White House for the next four years, any progressive legislation will need a major push from below to succeed.
One of the best things about the current election is that the unprecedented involvement by young people in both organizing and voting has put to rest, hopefully for good, the old canard that young people are apathetic.
The emergence of alternative spring breaks are a good example of the engagement of today's students. There's nothing wrong with partying at the beach but Alt Spring Breaks offer something more meaningful to do during a week off from classes than hanging out, jetting off to a resort or catching up on school work.
Taking place in Austin, Texas from March 10 to 14, the 2008 Anti-Death Penalty Spring Break, organized by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and co-sponsored by Campus Progress, Amnesty International and Texas Moratorium Network, among numerous other good groups, will draw national attention to the continued use of capital punishment in the US. The specific purpose of this Alternative Spring Break is to bring students to Austin for five days of anti-death penalty activism, education and entertainment.
Why Texas? The Lone Star State leads the nation by far in number of executions. Texas performed twenty-six executions in the US in 2007--a full 62 percent of all the executions in the country. Since the US Supreme Court ruling in 1976 that allowed executions to resume after a four-year period during which they were considered unconstitutional, there have been 1099 executions in the United States. Texas has performed 405 of those executions, which amounts to about 37 percent of the national total despite possessing about 7.4 percent of the nation's population.
Participants will gain training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, direct actions and media relations. During the week, students will put what they learn into action for activities such as a Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day and a Direct Action Day. There will be opportunities to write press releases, speak publicly, meet with legislators and aides, and conceive and carry anti-death penalty actions.
Perhaps the most brilliant move of all was planning these protest activities to coincide with Austin's legendary South By Southwest Music Festival. SXSW is one of the many reasons that Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World. The Alt Spring Break activities will leave lots of time to see the shows. And don't think this activist version of spring break will forgo the glitz--the events from Austin will be featured on an MTV show featuring alternatives to beer and beaches.
Click here for info on the activities, subsidized housing and transportation and to register for the week. It's entirely free of charge. If you're not a student you can help make it possible for more activists to participate by donating to Texas Students Against the Death Penalty.
Since it is Super Tuesday and virtually all Nation bloggers have weighed in on their primary choice, I thought, for the few who are interested, that I might as well join my colleagues in publicly announcing that I also voted for Obama today. Between him and Hillary I thought it was a no-brainer.
As the poor and middle-class continue to bear the brunt of these hard economic times, struggling to pay for housing, food, heating and health care, the Pentagon today announced its request of $515.4 billion for its 2009 budget. (The Bush budget later revealed a correction – the request is actually $518.3 billion – the Pentagon "forgot" $2.9 billion of "permanent appropriations.")
According to the New York Times, this seven percent increase would make annual military spending, when adjusted for inflation, its highest level since World War II. Further, the budget request doesn't even include war funding, nuclear weapons programs, taking care of returning veterans, or covering the interest on defense spending's share of the debt. The Bush Administration has already increased "baseline military spending" by 30 percent since taking office, and the $70 billion Iraq supplemental alone was more than China's entire defense budget.
Meanwhile, the Bush Budget fails to address – and even exacerbates – real threats to security that Americans are experiencing every day. More people are going hungry, and the President proposes eliminating food stamp coverage for more than 300,000 people in low-income working families with children. More people can't pay their bills, and he would cut 22 percent from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The Community Services Block Grant, "a $654 million program that provides housing, nutrition, education and job services to low-income people," would be eliminated. The Hope VI housing program would also be killed. Representative Spencer Bachus of Alabama, one of 53 House Republicans who voted to support the program, told the Times, "The program has been a success. It has eliminated some of the most dangerous and distressed public housing in the country and created livable, mixed-income communities."
Also proposed are $170 billion in cuts to Medicare and $14 billion to Medicaid. Of course, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans who are eating, sleeping, and generally living just fine, thanks, are preserved. As Frances Fox Piven, author of The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism, said today, "American wealth is being redirected toward the military and the rich. Meanwhile, the growing needs of Americans, especially the poor and the old, are being ignored. The instabilities in the US economy now becoming evident are more and more worrisome."
Joseph Cirincione, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of Bomb Scare, told me, "The president's plan shows that the military-industrial complex has firm control of a budget now out of control. Given the growing financial crisis gripping this country, no one believes that these numbers are sustainable. But rather than make smart choices and begin a process that restores fiscal discipline, President Bush is spending like – well – like he's not going to be here next year when the bills come due." Cirincione points to Bush's missile defense requests to indicate the absurdity of the proposed budget: "Take just one number that illustrates the unreality of this unaffordable plan – $720 million for a Rube Goldberg anti-missile weapon system in eastern Europe. Intelligence assessments show that Iran does not have now – nor is it likely to have in the next ten years – a missile that could threaten Europe, let alone the United States.
Nevertheless the president is rushing to pour money that we don't have, on technology that doesn't work, to counter a threat that doesn't exist. Not only that, Bush wants to spend $4.5 billion over the next five years on a European anti-missile system that hasn't passed even basic tests, and which many experts believe will never work. The citizens in Poland and the Czech Republic, where Bush would house these weapons, don't want the bases. But Bush is still trying to force it down their throats, even as real domestic needs at home go unfunded. The Alaskan ‘bridge to nowhere' achieved political infamy for being a $1 billion budget item. This ‘weapon for nothing' has four times the cost and even less justification."
For Americans whose lives are threatened daily by how hard it is to make ends meet, the Bush defense budget is indeed just another Bridge to Nowhere.
Observing Barack Obama run for president has been like watching a home movie blown up into a glorious, IMAX blockbuster spectacle. It's been more than a little unnerving to see the thread of something so familiar writ so large. But there he has been on TV, in the newspapers and in front of stadium-size crowds, winning the lavish praise of white liberals (you don't get more lavish or more white liberal than Caroline Kennedy's endorsement). At the same time, he's patiently borne the skepticism of his fellow minorities, slowly garnering their support. Every day he risks igniting the wrath of either clan. Run too far away from the Sharptons and the Jacksons, and you get tarred a race traitor. Run without the Kennedy-liberal establishment, and you become nothing more than a race man, a mouthpiece for the ghetto. Suspicion abounds on all sides; trust is always hard-won. This is the gauntlet of American racial politics that Barack Obama has skillfully navigated to date, and every model minority knows the wily tricks he has had to use in this game of representation.
I won't go so far as to call Obama "the first Asian American" presidential candidate--though the metaphor might suit him just as well as Bill Clinton's coat of blackness once did--but he is our first "model minority" candidate if you consider model minority-ness a matter of situation. The term might just as well accommodate the pioneering black lawyer or the postcolonial subject on a special visa from the tropics. It is the racial other that both represents and transcends race itself [see Patricia Williams], and whatever the unlikelihood of blood relation, there is something that I (a "high-achieving," Korean American scholarship boy) recognize in him (the Kenyan American Senator with the Harvard JD). It is this recognition that both attracts me to and, frankly, repels me from Barack Obama as a presidential candidate.
At times I have watched him speak and been struck with awe--not at his eloquence or charisma--but at the sheer nerve with which he's executed the model minority role. Indeed, he has flaunted his racial virtuosity throughout his campaign--nowhere more so than in his South Carolina victory speech when, having turned the tables on the Clintons' race-baiting strategy and won with 24 percent of the white vote and 78 percent of the black vote in a state where the Confederate flag flies in front of the Capitol and blacks are far more likely than whites to be in jail, foreclosure or poverty, he had the chutzpah to say that he did not "see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina" but rather "South Carolina" while the mixed crowd below chanted "Race doesn't matter!"
What cunning! What mad skillz! You have to applaud the magician's sleight of hand, even as you wince at how easily, how desperately the audience suspended their disbelief.
But believe they have and in droves as Obama evokes race only to transcend it, indeed to attach its transcendence to his own political victory. Any minority who's tried to leverage their success on behalf of others might find a glimmer of recognition in this trick of racial rhetoric: what's good for me is good for other people of color is good for us all. There is always some lie, some whiff of venality in this equation--some uneasy way in which personal ambition, the politics of racial representation and the fuzzy unity of institution (or country) must be spoken of in one tongue. Obama has proven himself remarkably good at this alchemy. But his Kennedy-meets-King stylistics can only hold so much together for so long; at some point push must come against shove--and what will Obama do then? As much as I don't always trust myself in such situations, I also don't trust him.
Case in point: in yesterday's Slate the ersatz liberal Richard Kahlenberg made an appeal to Obama to win the working-class white vote by selling out blacks and Latinos on affirmative action. As Bill Clinton ended welfare as we know it, could an Obama presidency end affirmative action? Kahlenberg practically salivates at the possibility. It's a move, he argues, that would befit the "tough liberalism" of RFK--who took a "colorblind approach," opposed "racial preferences" and "called for a crackdown on violent crime." By ending race-based affirmative action in favor of class-based affirmative action, Obama could not only demonstrate that he is, once again, "forcefully reject[ing] identity politics" but also win over that key Hillary contingency--the white, working class.
As a matter of strategy, who knows if Kahlenberg is right; he's clearly masking an ideological agenda as merely savvy tactics. But it's not hard to imagine a scenario where President Obama is confronted with such choices. Already on the ballots this year are five state initiatives (in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma), to ban affirmative action. Modeled after Ward Connerly's successful backlash bids in California and Michigan, such measures are perfect wedge issues for Republicans. Indeed, in terms of peeling off voters from the Democratic party, anti-affirmative action initiatives hold much more promise than anti-gay marriage drives--which succeeded in turning out the evangelical base for the GOP, but not in making party converts. Let's say that Connerly is successful this year in getting his initiatives through. Aided by "tough liberals" like Kahlenberg, could 2010 or 2011 see a federal, anti-affirmative action measure? What about posing affirmative action as a kind of "litmus test" for judicial nominees?
Kahlenberg for one believes that Obama would support the end of affirmative action, noting with approval his reply to George Stephanopoulos' own race-trap question. Would Obama want his daughters to get into college on the basis of racial preferences? Obama's response: "I think that my daughters should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged...I think that we should take into account white kids who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to have what it takes to succeed."
It's a worthy duck on Obama's part, taking a page from John Edwards' economic populism while deflecting the matter of structural racism--as Obama has on other issues like criminal justice, the death penalty and sub-prime mortgages. But it does beg the question: what would Obama do when his own rhetoric of "race doesn't matter" comes back in the form of a civil rights backlash? Having built no groundwork for leading on racial justice--how long can he evade the race traps, not from the fringe-right, but from the center?
All this said, I'm going to vote for Obama today anyway. He's a better choice for progressives than Hillary Clinton (as others have laid out in this magazine). And moreover, I vote for him, at least in part, with admiration at the cunning and bravado with which he's played the game. I salute his audacity.
But hope? Hope for a day when the traps of race might not just be evaded, but genuinely, truly dismantled? For me, Obama does not offer that hope--only trepidation.
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.