In this post, I want to distinguish between states decided by primaries and those decided by caucuses. (In caucuses, people don’t just mark an “X” on a ballot; they assemble in a school gym or a cafeteria and divide into groups based on which candidate they support.)
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were tied in the number of primaries each had won, the last time I checked. But Obama had won every caucus except Nevada. And in many cases, he has won caucuses by a wide margin, thus maximizing the number of delegates he gains. (Delegates are awarded proportionally, based on the candidates’ respective share of the vote.)
Beginning with Iowa, Clinton has claimed that caucuses are a stupid way to determine delegates. And she has a valid point. To give just one example, I think it’s ideal to mark a ballot in private, where you aren’t subjected to peer pressure to vote a certain way.
But those are the rules, and they have been in place for a very long time. The process wasn’t gerrymandered to disadvantage Clinton in 2008. And Clinton didn’t complain until after she suffered that first, stunning loss.
Morever, it isn’t just caucuses that Clinton objects to. She has tried to diminish the significance of all of Obama’s victories:
She said she never expected to do well in any of [last weekend’s] contests, even though she had been favored to win Maine. Clinton repeated her criticism that the caucus system is undemocratic and caters mostly to party activists.
As for Louisiana, “You had a very strong and very proud African-American electorate, which I totally respect and understand,” Clinton said.
So states determined by caucuses don’t count. Neither do states with large black populations. Nor states that are likely to be won by the Republicans in a general election. Nor small states, because everybody knows that big states count and little states … don’t?
But little states obviously count for something, because that’s where Obama is amassing a significant lead over Clinton!
The fact is, Obama has been competitive with respect to every demographic in every part of the country. For example, he won about one third of the Latino vote in California, so it isn’t as if Latinos simply won’t vote for him. He also won more of the white vote in California than Clinton did, even though Clinton won the state overall.
But let’s return to the topic of this post: Obama’s caucus advantage.
Why does Obama outperform Clinton in caucus states? Kevin Drum floats several possible explanations, but it boils down to this: Obama has run a more strategic campaign than Clinton.
To summarize: Caucuses require organization and Obama was better organized. They require enthusiasm and he has more enthusiastic supporters. They require time, and his demographic has more free time. They’re mostly in small states, and Obama targeted small states. They’re dominated by activists, and activists tend to support Obama.
Note the first statement: “caucuses require organization and Obama was better organized.”
But how is that possible?! Bill Clinton is regarded as the senior statesman of the Democratic party. He has political connections in every part of the country, and at least the remnants of an organization he used during his two presidential campaigns.
Obama, on the other hand, didn’t have an existing organization in Iowa, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, and the other caucus states. If I’m not mistaken, Obama’s professional career has been confined to Illinois. So Obama built his organization in all those far-flung states from scratch, and he outperformed the supposedly well-oiled Clinton behemoth. That’s pretty damned impressive!
Returning to Drum’s post: I was particularly struck by Callimaco’s explanation. It makes perfect sense to me:
Everyone knew Clinton was going to run a big state, traditional Democratic campaign….[Obama] used a two prong strategy to build a stalemate through Super Tuesday: 1) remain close enough in the big state, 2) trounce Clinton in the small states.
Given that strategy, and give the clear fact that he intended that strategy from the start, it makes sense to invest very, very heavily in caucus states because those are the elections over which a campaign can exercise the most control. More, organizing takes time and people and those are things Obama had in abundance. Those are also the states in which Clinton was investing the least resources because they seemed almost irrelevant to her campaign strategy.
I think that’s exactly right — except, as I’ve just pointed out, Obama didn’t have people “in abundance” when the campaign started.
Note that Callimaco’s explanation boils down to this: Obama fought a strategic campaign. Clinton is whining:1 caucuses are undemocratic, and naturally black people vote for him, and Obama’s only winning the red states and the small states that shouldn’t count.
But the real story is, Obama saw a potential advantage and he exploited it brilliantly.
That’s how you win a campaign. And it’s a very good reason for the Democratic party to nominate Obama as their candidate in ’08. He and his team are better strategists than Hillary, Bill, Mark Penn and the rest.
1whining: No sexist slur intended. I just think it’s an apt description of Clinton’s many, feeble rationalizations.