Monday, December 31, 2007

Iowa: Down To The Wire

This is Pollster's trend chart for the 2008 Iowa Democratic Presidential caucus for today, December 31:

This is the same trend chart from December 27:

The important thing is the change in the trajectory of the yellow line. That line is Barack Obama's line. Over the long weekend, Obama has stopped gaining strength and started to lose it. One might say that's because he and his campaign lost it this week.

Before we get to the explanations, another set of numbers that are interesting, and not often reported by the various partisans:

Research 200012/26-27/07282929
Strategic Vision (R)12/26-27/07292830

Three polls conducted in the last few days show this thing to be a dead heat. I'm not too sure about the quality of the Research 2000 poll, but it does seem to have a consistent result, which is a good thing. It also tracks with other polls, which some do not.

When you add in the fact that this is a caucus, not a straight election, it makes this race look wide open.

Meanwhile, Obama's momentum has been fading. The reason is that he and his campaign keep making big mistakes. As I've mentioned before, rival campaigns aren't going to get too many chances to make mistakes against Hillary Clinton. She's polished and very good at the political game. She also has a terrific advisor in her living room. Obama and his people have been shooting themselves in the foot all week, only pausing to reload.

First, there was the aftermath of the Bhutto assassination. While most of the other Democratic Presidential candidates managed to say something that was either profound or serious, Obama seems to have impressed no one. His top political strategist, David Axelrod, started things off with this statement regarding Hillary Clinton:

“She was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, which we would submit, was one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan and al-Qaeda, who may have been players in this event today, so that’s a judgment she’ll have to defend,” Axelrod said. “I know Woody Allen said that 80% of life is just showing up but there’s actually more to being proficient in foreign policy than just having been around for a long time. You also have to have good judgment. Obama was willing to split with the conventional wisdom on Iraq and many of these other issues and I think events have borne out his judgment.”

Axelrod on Bhutto Assassination, and Clinton Team Response

While Clinton's vote was certainly a mistake, it was a small blunder compared to those committed by President Bush in lying about the threat Iraq represented, and then starting the war without consulting the U.N. Security Council, which was part of what the bill Clinton voted for required. You can also lay some of the blame at the feet of a whole Capitol full of legislators, including Obama, who haven't impeached him for it since. Obama didn't help matters by clumsily defending Axelrod on CNN.

The next thing that doesn't seem to have helped him is a series of robocalls purportedly supporting Obama, making some questionable assertions about the Clinton health care plan. While I disagree with some of the counterarguments, and think that the idea that they are a product of Obama's campaign is questionable, it still is a sore point with many Democrats. I haven't noticed any denials of responsibility coming from the Obama camp, either. That either means they don't want to, or they're not getting the word into the right ear, which seems unlikely.

Finally, today Obama's campaign really stepped in it. In a press briefing today, the campaign asserted that Obama's campaign was in better shape than Edwards' because it had more money. Edwards' campaign communications directory Chris Kofinis jumped on this quickly:

“The Obama campaign has spent over $9 million to our $2.6 million on television in Iowa and by all accounts we have the momentum. Their pre-occupation with money instead of the power of a strong message speaks volumes to a flailing campaign. And it may answer the question why the campaign premised on hope is closing with hopeless attacks."

"We’ll put our message of fighting corporate greed up against Obama’s and Clinton’s mega millions any day of the week, in any state. The bottom line is this is an election, not an auction. Democrats win elections when they address the real issues facing the lives of Americans. John Edwards is the only Democratic candidate who won office in a 'red' state, defeated a Republican incumbent, and he is the one candidate who will contest every state and win states thought lost to Democrats.”

Obama camp still feeling confident

As if the obvious problem with the Obama campaign's focus on money weren't enough to turn off voters, there's also the question of why are they telling us this?. As Chris Todd noted:

The memo ticks through a series of numbers the campaign believes proves they are the candidate with momentum. But coming on the eve of the release of the final Des Moines Register poll (due out tonight), one can't help but also see the memo and call as a bit defensive. Overall, this was a presentation that a few months ago we might have expected from, say, Clinton rather than Obama. The campaign wasn't necessarily downplaying Iowa but they certainly were trying to leave the impression that Iowa's only the beginning, not the end.

Obama camp still feeling confident

Short version: This is how losers talk. As you can see from the polls, I don't think Obama's out of the race, but politics is partly about perceptions.

Speaking of perceptions, Obama himself provided this one today, also about Edwards:

During a Des Moines speech Sunday night to a heated crowd of 1,500 supporters, Obama vigorously rebutted statements made earlier in the day by Edwards that Obama was "too nice" to be an effective President. "I have to say, I've been doing this my whole life," Obama said, referring to his long record of personal political activism. "When you talk about change, you might just want to try the guy who's actually done it before," Obama said, implying that Edwards is a Johnny-come-lately to the arena of social reform.

Obama said that as a young man he was offered many lucrative choices but turned them down in favor of low-paid work as a community organizer and as a civil rights lawyer, a theme he has sounded repeatedly on the stump over the past weeks. For the first time, and in a direct shot at Edwards, Obama said one of the big bucks options he turned down was to work as a "trial lawyer."

Edwards has made millions as a trial lawyer and boasts of how he has used that position to take on bog [sic] corporations.

Obama Slugs Back At "Trial Lawyer" Edwards

Sometimes, how someone chooses to insult someone else tells you as much about him as it does about the other person. As I've mentioned, Obama's own career as a civil rights attorney has been less than spotless. I doubt anyone would have written this about him:

In certain ways, Edwards's history as a medical malpractice lawyer ought to have a positive moral valence for Americans -- who are deeply attached to the idea of personal responsibility. By working within the system of American tort law, Edwards not only represented his client honestly, he also showed that he subscribes to mainstream American values - and that is an important thing in a Vice President.

Should Doctors Vote Against John Edwards?

That was from an article in FindLaw back in 2004. Edwards' cases, like Lakey v. Sta-Rite Industries, were often against large corporations, some of which repeatedly refused to fix the things that injured his clients:

[Five]-year-old girl was disemboweled, but survived, after being caught and suctioned by wading pool's defective drain. Despite 12 prior suits with similar claims, manufacturer continued to make and sell drain covers lacking warnings.

Findlaw Profile: John Edwards (summary of Lakey v. Sta-Rite Industries)

Edwards, in short, made much of his fortune by fighting for the little guy. Not too many people can make that claim, either, no matter what line of work they're in.

To make a long story short, this has been a bad week for Barack Obama's Presidential hopes. Many of these moments seem borne of desperation and inexperience at real campaigning. That, perhaps, is one of the biggest reasons he should be losing.

UPDATE: Fixed attribution of the quote from the Edwards campaign concerning Obama's emphasis on campaign money. Originally, I'd attributed the quote to Edwards, not his communications director.

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