Tuesday, November 11, 2008

primary results

I heard someone (I think it was Jeff Zeleny of the NYT, speaking on PBS's 'Washington Week') make an interesting point about the election. Part of Obama's victory is due to his campaign's deliberate attempt to win across the country, even in states traditionally assumed to be Republican (such as Indiana and North Carolina). Part of that, we know, is a credit to Howard Dean's 50-state strategy for the DNC.

But part of it is also due (this is Zeleny or whoever's point) to the punishingly long Democratic primary season. Obama did so well in the general election because he put together campaign offices in states where Democrats don't normally bother, and he did this because the results in those states actually did matter during the primaries.

Consider: Obama won the Democratic primaries/caucuses in states like Montana, Virginia, Idaho, Colorado, and yes, North Carolina. The Clinton campaign notoriously failed to set up offices in several of these states, expecting the primary season to end on Super Tuesday, and lacking the logistical resources to adapt thereafter. Further, the Clinton strategy was based upon banking delegate in large states (like California and New York) that traditionally vote Democratic anyway, while the Obama strategy relied upon a slow accumulation of delegates from every state.

Arguably, it was the length of the primary season that induced Obama to be active - early and aggressively - across the country. Imagine that he had won all of the first several primary contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Suppose Hillary had dropped out before or immediately after Super Tuesday. Surely then Obama would have done much less to create a campaign apparatus in traditionally Republican states - why bother at that point? But as it happened, North Carolina and Indiana held their primaries on the same day, May 6, three months after Super Tuesday. Surely Obama's intense efforts to win those primaries (he got NC by 15% and lost Indiana by 1%) contributed heavily to his later general election results there.

So it is likely that Barack Obama owes his victory - at least in part - to the tenacity of Hillary Clinton's opposition early this year. That is something that the Party should keep in mind when it gets to work revising the crazy primary rules. Maybe those rules are just as they should be.

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