Sunday, January 13, 2008

Endorsements going Obama's way

My impression of the Democratic race over the past few days has been that Clinton would probably get the nod. As the NH exit polls showed, Clinton seemed to be the favorite among the poor, the less educated, union members, loyal Democrats, etc., whereas Obama was winning the well-educated, wealthier, more independent voters. In other words, Obama was winning the Macintosh Democrats. That's a fine constituency to have, but previous Macintosh Democratic candidates, including Howard Dean, Gary Hart, and Paul Tsongas, have tended to lose. Adlai Stephenson is, of course, an exception, but he lost to JFK in 1960.

Now, I'm not so sure about the Democratic race. Despite Clinton's impressive and unexpected victory in New Hampshire, a number of key party elites are endorsing Obama. These endorsers include Sens. John Kerry (MA), Claire McCaskill (MO), Tim Johnson (SD), Ben Nelson (NE), and Gov. Janet Napolitano (AZ). I think Josh Marshall's observation here is spot-on:
You don't hit a big time politician like Hillary Clinton when she's down unless you're really against her and you're fairly confident she's not getting back up. After winning in New Hampshire, albeit narrowly and after the clobbering in Iowa, there's been a sense that Clinton may be back on track to consolidating her frontrunner status and perhaps following a modified version of the standard script in which the anointed frontrunner gets a scare in the early states before mopping up the competition as the race goes national. But these four clearly don't want that to happen. In fact, they're sticking their necks pretty far out to help make it not happen. And their endorsements, coming right now, tell me they have some confidence it won't.
Typically, I'd expect a strong party to not even wait for the primaries. They could make som ejudgments based on candidates' statements and previous performances and jump in and back someone long before the voters even had a say. So it's less than impressive to me that these folks waited so long to endorse. What strikes me as interesting evidence of strong party behavior, however, is that these insiders who are jumping over to Obama right now are not following the media narrative, which is along the lines of "Hillary's a strong and underestimated campaigner who can come from behind and should not be counted out." They seem to be following a different script: "Look at all the advantages Hillary had, and she still lost in Iowa and only barely eeked out NH."

Meanwhile, Obama has shown considerable ability to excite voters and impress moderates without alienating core Democratic constituencies (all the more impressive given his weasely statements on Social Security). So it's not dumb for insiders to be backing him at this point. Indeed, it would be dumb to ignore the evidence voters have provided thus far.

No comments: