Superdelegates: Because The Establishment Is Smarter Than The Voters

The Democrats have discovered just how badly they have constructed their college of delegates in this cycle. They have used the superdelegate structure since the mid-1980s, but no one foresaw how that could appear when two candidates split the vote almost equally. Now one the architects of the Democratic delegate structure defends the concept in today’s Washington Post by saying what no one else will — the Establishment is smarter than the electorate:

In presidential election years, Americans see the face of a political party most clearly in the personality, views and character of its presidential candidates. But a national political party is about more than just the president. Its senators and House members pass the nation’s laws and budgets. Its governors lead the states. All must work together for progress in America.
I chaired the 1982 Democratic Party Commission on Presidential Nominations that created certain automatic delegates to the Democratic convention — the “superdelegates.” It was a good idea then, and it is still a good idea. The superdelegates will be crucial to Democrats winning the presidency in November and governing successfully for the next four years.
In creating superdelegates, the Democratic Party recognized the expertise that its top holders of public office have gained by running for office themselves. They are experts at winning. They know the issues. They are in a unique position to evaluate presidential candidates. They have a well-honed instinct for how candidates will be received in their own states and districts. In short, they can help the Democratic Party pick a winner.
But the superdelegates’ value extends beyond the convention. If they play a role in picking the nominee, they will be more likely to campaign actively for the nominee in the general election.

Does everyone understand that? Hunt tries to explain it in small words, so that Democratic primary voters can understand it. The Establishment understands winning better than the voters. Voters gave the Democrats George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. Thankfully, the Establishment produced Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis.
Hunt has a tough job here. He’s essentially defending the indefensible. If a party wants to offer primaries and state caucuses to produce nominees, then they should structure the race so that the results determine the winner. By reserving 20% of the delegate vote for the Establishment, they have almost guaranteed that any primary with two credible and popular candidates will wind up in an open convention. That means that the Democrats will either have to limit themselves to one attractive candidate per cycle by having big donors and party leaders chase other candidates away, or will need to play kingmaker at the conventions.
The Republicans do not have this problem. Only 5% of their delegates represent the GOP Establishment, which presents few problems for a determinative primary race. They also force pledged delegates to vote for their pledged candidates on the first ballot, which the Democrats apparently do not. Although some complain about the winner-take-all states on the Republican side, the overall result reflects the popular vote — which the Democratic superdelegates can reject at whim, and Hunt argues that they should have that leeway.
It’s ironic that the Democratic Party seems to have the bigger problem with democratic results.

Hillary, Reduced To Satire

I guess the Hillary Clinton campaign spent a lot of time the last few days in debate prep looking for a response with the power of her “change you can Xerox” line that flopped so badly in the last event. Duane Patterson finds this gem at the 16th minute of last night’s debate, which neatly coincides with Hillary’s long-overdue 16th minute of her 15 minutes of fame. In this clip, she paints herself as the victim of the entire debate process … and uses Saturday Night Live as proof. No, I’m not kidding (via Memeorandum):

Hillary Clinton said she was curious about the media in the last few debates always going to her first, citing Saturday Night Live and offering to give an extra pillow to Obama to make him more comfortable. Groans and boos immediately erupted from the crowd. Want to know another signal that a campaign has come completely apart at the seams? Look at the debate prep. Hillary Clinton didn’t just walk into the auditorium in Cleveland tonight and throw caution to the wind. She prepared for this debate. She had people coaching her on what to say. The ‘change is something you can Xerox’ line was scripted. It laid an egg. A week later, she tries again to make another sarcastic joke about the media’s love afair with Obama. Again, it was an awkward egg laid by Mrs. Clinton. If I were a campaign manager, and my candidate flopped like that in two consecutive debates, whoever was prepping her wouldn’t just be fired, but probably sued for oratory malpractice.
You can tell that Hillary is frustrated that Obama is skating his way through the primary season without any significant scrutiny by the press. But as vast and skilled as Team Hillary is, there seems to be no one on the payroll that has any idea how to combat it. She doesn’t possess the debate skills to put her opponent on the defensive, and when she’s speaking at campaign rallies, whatever legitimate point she makes about the media’s messianic complex with Obama gets lost in her shrill delivery.

Hillary’s failures extend beyond this, and into the absurd. What’s more, they have consistently failed along these lines since November. When she took a tumble in the debate by alternately supporting and opposing Eliot Spitzer’s plan to issue New York drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, she immediately went on the attack against Barack Obama. And how did she do it? The woman whose best literary analogue might be Lady MacBeth tried to convince people that they needed to worry about Obama’s obsessive ambitions — and used a kindergarten essay to “prove” that Obama had always wanted to run for president.
She turned herself into a satire. Last night, she went one step further: she mistook satire for reality. Perhaps Lorne Michaels wanted to atone for his $2300 contribution last year to John McCain, or maybe — just maybe — he was satirizing Hillary’s whining about unfair press treatment in that skit in addition to skewering the press. In either case, using an SNL skit to hammer debate moderators not only looks like a desperate attempt to be the victim, but also a desperate attempt to be hip.
Desperation is not an aphrodisiac. Neither is perpetual victimhood. And self-satire only works for those intent on getting a gig on a future version of Hollywood Squares.

McCain In Front: LA Times Poll

The Los Angeles Times has conducted a national poll for the presidency, and the results show John McCain leading both Democratic presidential contenders despite all of the attention on their primaries. Experience and wartime judgment carry McCain to leads over both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, although within the margin of error for the latter:

As he emerges from a sometimes- bitter primary campaign, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain poses a stiff challenge to either of his potential Democratic opponents in the general election, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.
The findings underscore the difficulties ahead for Democrats as they hope to retake the White House during a time of war, with voters giving McCain far higher marks when it comes to experience, fighting terrorism and dealing with the situation in Iraq.
Both Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have made ending America’s involvement in the war a centerpiece of their campaigns. And even though a clear majority of those polled said the war was not worth waging, about half of registered voters said McCain — a Vietnam vet who has supported the Bush administration’s military strategy — was better able to deal with Iraq.
In head-to-head contests, the poll found, McCain leads Clinton by 6 percentage points (46% to 40%) and Obama by 2 points (44% to 42%). Neither lead is commanding given that the survey, conducted Feb. 21-25, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

As with any poll, the reliability depends on the sample. The CBS/NY Times poll deliberately skewed their sample towards the Democrats in order to find that Obama led McCain by twelve points. In this case, the sample also has problems. It uses 1246 registered voters, not as reliable for predictive models as likely voters, which usually puts Republicans at a disadvantage. It also only includes 290 Republican primary voters against 436 Democratic primary voters, a definite advantage for Democrats.
And yet, the results show McCain ahead of both Obama and Hillary, and not just on the war and foreign policy. He leads Obama on the economy by eight points, 42%-34%. He also beats Obama on illegal immigration. (Clinton edges McCain on both issues.) And on leadership, McCain beats both Hillary and Obama, with the survey showing him as the “strongest leader” for the country.
These results come from a sample and survey methodology that should have helped the Democrats. Imagine what a clean and balanced sample of likely voters will find.

The New York Times Seems To Have Missed This

Both Democratic presidential candidates keep harping on two topics in the campaign. They want to end lobbyist influence in Washington, and they want to keep foreigners from unfair competition in American markets. The latter message has generated considerable enthusiasm, and blaming lobbyists has always been a winning political message.
However, both need to explain how they managed to break those same promises as Senators (via Instapundit):

Both Democratic presidential candidates, who promise to curb the influence of corporate lobbyists in Washington, helped enact narrowly tailored tax breaks sought by major campaign contributors.
Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign has accepted $54,350 from members of a law firm that in 2006 lobbied him to introduce a tax provision for a Japanese drug company with operations in Illinois, according to public records and interviews. The government estimates the provision, which became law in December 2006, will cost the treasury $800,000.
In 2002, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced legislation at the request of Rienzi & Sons, a Queens, N.Y., food importer, according to company president Michael Rienzi. The provision, which became law in December 2004, required the government to refund tens of thousands of dollars in duty charged on imported tomato products, Rienzi told USA TODAY.
Rienzi gave $110,000 to committees set up to support Clinton’s 2000 Senate race, records show. Rienzi family members contributed an additional $52,800 to her campaigns since 2000. Michael Rienzi also said he donated to Bill Clinton’s presidential foundation, but he declined to say how much.

Got that? They both received tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists in order to make it easier for foreigners to compete in American markets. Hillary’s change made it tougher on American tomato farmers to compete against foreign farmers, while Obama’s allowed the Japanese to expand their competition against American pharmaceuticals, although at least it created jobs in this country.
How did they manage to do that? A little-known rule in Congress allows members to create exceptions in tariff laws every two years, individually, somewhat akin to earmarks. Basically, this process exists to sell Congressional influence to the highest bidder. Lobbyists can make a fortune for their clients with a little down payment to a single Senator or Representative.
One presidential candidate refuses to introduce tariff suspensions, considering them dirty politics. John McCain has what he calls a “standing policy” that rejects private-relief bills or any bills intended for the purposes of any one person. I’d say that Obama and Hillary talk the talk, but only McCain walks the walk. I guess the New York Times missed this in their haste to tie McCain to lobbyist interventions.
UPDATE: Not sure how I mentioned Japanese farmers; need more coffee before posting. Should have been foreign farmers. Thanks to CapQ commenter DDH for the correction.

Gray Lady Issues Correction On McCain Smear

Well, it’s not what one might think. They have a correction on an irrelevant point in a completely discredited article — but at least it’s right at the top:

A front-page article on Feb. 21 about Senator John McCain’s record on lobbying and ethics, including his role in the Keating Five case, described incorrectly the reprimand delivered to three other members of the Senate in 1991 for intervening with government regulators on behalf of Charles H. Keating Jr. The Senate Ethics Committee rebuked the three senators for improper behavior, but under a parliamentary agreement the full Senate did not censure them or take any other vote on the matter.

Wow. That really builds the ol’ credibility, doesn’t it? Here we have a story that got held for months while the editors tried to build a case for their accusations. We’ve been told by no less an authority than Dan Rather that we should trust their smear because all involved are, and I quote, “very responsible journalists.”
And these responsible journalists — the ones who accused McCain of possibly thinking of having an affair with a lobbyist on the word of two disgruntled staffers who couldn’t even offer testimony that such an affair had taken place — couldn’t be bothered to fact-check the end result of the Keating Five investigation in the Senate? How hard would it have been to check their own archives for the right information?
Very responsible journalists. Hmmm. Sure. (via Lawhawk)

McCain’s Sister Souljah Moment?

Apparently, John McCain doesn’t like the asinine emphasis on Barack Obama’s middle name any more than Obama himself. After talk-radio host Bill Cunningham introduced McCain at a Cincinnati rally, the presumptive Republican nominee apologized for the disrespectful tone taken by his emcee:

McCain wasn’t on stage nor in the building when Cunningham made the comments, but he quickly distanced himself from them and the talk show host after finishing his speech. McCain spoke to a couple hundred people at Memorial Hall in downtown Cincinnati.
“I apologize for it,” McCain told reporters, addressing the issue before they had a chance to ask the Arizona senator about Cunningham’s comments.
“I did not know about these remarks but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them,” he said. “My entire campaign I have treated Senator Obama and Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton with respect. I will continue to do that throughout this campaign.
McCain called both Democrats “honorable Americans” and said “I want to dissociate myself with any disparaging remarks that may have been said about them.”
Asked whether the use of Obama’s middle name—the same as former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein—is proper, McCain said: “No, it is not. Any comment that is disparaging of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is totally inappropriate.”

Some will ask what problem there could be with saying the candidate’s full name. After all, Cunningham and others aren’t making up names for Obama; Hussein is his real name. How can that possibly be “disrespectful”, in McCain’s own words?
The intent makes all the difference. Those emphasizing the middle name want to drive home the heritage of Obama, specifically his father. It seeks to extend the urban myth of Obama’s supposed Muslim identity. The name “Hussein” has other connotations as well, a not-so-subtle link to Saddam Hussein, one of the worst dictators in recent times.
None of this is subtle, and anyone professing innocence of these intentions are either lying to us or lying to themselves. If we need to refer to Obama, his last name will suffice, or Senator Obama, or Barack Obama. Using the full name three times in an introduction makes it quite clear that the speaker wants to invoke a less-than-intellectual response to the likely Democratic nominee.
McCain rightly disassociated himself from that kind of politicking. Given that Cunningham represented his campaign at this event, McCain made the right decision to apologize for the speech and to categorically reject the tactic. He wants to win the election by remaining on the high road, not by appealing to fear and dislike. McCain just passed his Sister Souljah test, but his staff will have to do better to avoid these tests in the future, as Allahpundit points out.
UPDATE: I’ve posted this in slightly different form at Hot Air. And yes, I know that many people have the name “Hussein” in the Arab world. So what? Is there so many Barack Obamas in America that commentators have to specify with such emphasis that they are speaking about this particular Barack Obama by using his middle name?
Of course not. They’re pandering to fear and emotion. Don’t get caught up in it.

Palin’s In

As speculation increases on the VP choice for John McCain, we have begun to hear the traditional denials from the leading candidates. They want to focus on their current job, or they don’t want to presume that they will be one of McCain’s final options. One candidate has offered some refreshing enthusiasm:

Palin would make an interesting choice. She would be the first woman on a major party ticket since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, assuming Hillary Clinton fails to win the Democratic nomination. Palin could be the first Alaskan on a major-party ticket as well. She’s young and popular in the party, and her pro-life credentials are beyond dispute. She also has a history of demanding better ethics in politics, resigning a position on a state board because of ethical lapses by fellow Republicans.
However, Palin has a few drawbacks as well. She’s younger than Barack Obama and has held the governor’s office for less time than he’s been in the Senate (2006, versus 2004 for Obama). She has not served in elected office above that of mayor prior to her gubernatorial victory. She has not yet been tested in any kind of major-media election process.
Perhaps that’s why she laughs and tells Chris Cillizza that it would be “impossible” for her to get the invitation. She encourages other potential candidates — she toys with but eventually eschews the term “wannabes” — to honestly talk about their ambitions, rather than hide them under faux-modest denials. If Palin can continue to succeed in Alaska, she may find national office a lot more possible in the next few years.

It’s Kitchen Sink Time

The Hillary Clinton campaign has begun to throw everything they have left in the cupboard against Barack Obama as the window of opportunity begins to close on their candidate. Mike Allen and John F. Harris at Politico report that the campaign has also begun to turn on itself in its last throes on the national stage, and as polling numbers continue to drop nationwide:

With a week to go before climactic tests in Texas and Ohio, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign team has slipped into full recriminations mode.
Looking backward, interviews with a cross-section of campaign aides and sympathetic outsiders suggest a team consumed with frustration and finger-pointing about the apparent failure of several recent tactical moves against Barack Obama.
Looking forward, it is clear Clinton’s team has only a faint and highly improvisational strategy about what to do over the next seven days. Simply put, there is no secret weapon.
At Tuesday night’s debate in Ohio, aides are mapping plans for drawing persistent attention to Obama’s record without attempting any knock-out punch theatrics that could backfire.
Many recent decisions have done exactly that. This has left the campaign awash in anger over who is to blame.

The Clintons never got the message this cycle. They won in 1992 with James Carville fist-in-face tactics, but in sixteen years, people have tired of it. They want candidates who focus on themselves, not on their opponents. Both Barack Obama and John McCain managed to figure this much out, as did Mike Huckabee to a certain extent. They talked about their own narratives, while their opponents floundered by talking about others.
Hillary should have stuck with her own narrative. When she did that, she controlled the race. Only after she panicked after that disastrous November 2nd debate, in which she flip-flopped on drivers licenses for illegal aliens, did she come out hard against Obama. That’s when her campaign started discussing his kindergarten essays as evidence of his supposedly overweening ambition. Until then, she ruled the polls.
This will be instructive in the general election. With two candidates who seem to understand this mood in the American electorate, the question will be whether any negative or “contrast” politicking will work. The first candidate who can successfully manage it will win the election.

CBS Polling Still As Good As Ever

CBS and the New York Times have a new poll out that looks at the Democratic primary race and at the general election. In the former, it uses a rather small sample, but in the latter the sample gets weighted — as usual — in favor of Democratic voters. Barack Obama has taken a lead in the national numbers for the primary, not exactly breaking news:

A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds Barack Obama with a 16-point lead over rival Hillary Clinton among Democratic primary voters nationwide.
Obama, coming off 11 straight primary and caucus victories, had the support of 54 percent of Democratic primary voters nationally. Clinton had 38 percent support.
In a CBS News poll taken three weeks ago, shortly before Super Tuesday, Obama and Clinton were tied at 41 percent. Clinton led by 15 points nationally in January.
The former first lady has lost her advantage among women, according to the poll: The two leading Democrats now have even levels of support among female primary voters.

How did CBS reach this conclusion? They polled 427 Democratic voters. That isn’t an exceptionally strong sample, and it produces a conclusion that is a likely outlier. Gallup, AP, and Rasmussen all show Obama leading but in a much closer race.
The problems increase when the poll includes Republicans. They show Obama beating John McCain by twelve points, 50-38. However, the sampling and weighting explains the strange notion that John McCain would only get 38% of a general election vote. The sample of 1152 respondents comprises 358 Republican voters, 420 Democrats, and 337 independents. Here’s how they weight the sample:
Democrats – 419
Republicans – 318
Independents – 325
Get the math? They deducted 40 Republicans, 12 independents, and a grand total of 1 Democrat for their weighted sample. The original configuration would have made Democrats 37.6% of the sample, and Republicans 32% – almost exactly how Rasmussen
breaks out party affiliation. Instead, the weighting makes Democrats 39.5% of the sample, and Republicans just a shade under 30%.
If your butcher did this, you’d demand that he take his thumb off the scale. These results are completely useless, and once again CBS and the New York Times report more on their own credibility than on the mood of the electorate.

Did Saddam Figure’s Millions Influence Obama?

The Times of London follows the money in the journalistic tradition of Watergate and finds a strange connection between Tony Rezko, Barack Obama, and Nadhmi Auchi. The latter, one of Britain’s richest men, has a long history of shady financial dealings as well as numerous connections to Saddam Hussein, who he helped to power. According to the Times, Auchi sent a lot of money to Rezko just before his wife bought property adjacent to the Obamas in a land deal that has already raised a lot of eyebrows:

A British-Iraqi billionaire lent millions of dollars to Barack Obama’s fundraiser just weeks before an imprudent land deal that has returned to haunt the presidential contender, an investigation by The Times discloses.
The money transfer raises the question of whether funds from Nadhmi Auchi, one of Britain’s wealthiest men, helped Mr Obama buy his mock Georgian mansion in Chicago.
A company related to Mr Auchi, who has a conviction for corruption in France, registered the loan to Mr Obama’s bagman Antoin “Tony” Rezko on May 23 2005. Mr Auchi says the loan, through the Panamanian company Fintrade Services SA, was for $3.5 million.
Three weeks later, Mr Obama bought a house on the city’s South Side while Mr Rezko’s wife bought the garden plot next door from the same seller on the same day, June 15.

Why is this important to the land deal?

Mrs Rezko paid the asking price for the garden but the Obamas bought the house for $1.65 million, – $300,000 less than the asking price. The sellers deny they offered the Obamas a discount on the house because the garden had fetched full price from Mrs Rezko.

They took 15% less than the asking price? That’s a rather remarkable discount. And how exactly did the Rezkos afford to buy the adjacent plot? It cost $625,000, and they needed to make a $125,000 down payment on the land. Yet at the time, Tony Rezko had “no income, negative cash flow, no liquid assets, no unencumbered assets [and] is significantly in arrears on many of his obligations” — according to a sworn court statement a year later. His wife had an income of $37,000 and assets of around $35,000.
How could they qualify for a mortgage on the adjacent plot? Where did they get the money for the down payment? More importantly, why did Auchi lend so much money to Rezko, when Rezko had been in such financial straits? And why was Auchi so interested in Rezko in the first place?
Let’s take another look at Auchi:

Auchi’s brother was among the many Baathists killed by Saddam, but the execution did not inhibit Auchi’s business dealings with Iraq which, he says, didn’t stop until the Gulf war of 1991. His first coup in the West was to broker a deal to sell Italian frigates to the Iraqi Defence Ministry, for which he received $17m in commission. Italian investigators claimed that a Panamanian company owned by Auchi was used to funnel allegedly illegal payments. Auchi denied he had done anything wrong.
In the mid-1980s he got to know Pierfrancesco Pacini Battaglia, a man whose role in directing money to politicians led Italians to call him ‘the one below God’. Saddam Hussein had ordered the construction of a pipeline from Iraq to Saudi Arabia. Battaglia and Auchi secured the contract for a Franco-Italian consortium. In a statement to New York lawyers Battaglia alleged he knew how. ‘To acquire the contract it was necessary, as is usual, especially in Middle Eastern countries, to pay commission to characters close to the Iraqi government… In this case, the international intermediary who dealt with this matter was the Iraqi, Nadhmi Auchi.’ Auchi has denied any wrong-doing.

Nick Cohen suggests that Britain only extradited Auchi to France to face fraud charges in 2003 because our invasion of Iraq had ended his usefulness as an expert on the Hussein regime for MI-6. In any case, Auchi also allegedly had a hand in defrauding the UK’s National Health System after his fleecing of the French oil company Elf.
Rick Moran pines for the late Mike Royko, who would have known exactly what to do with these connections:

At this point, unless there is a deliberate, concerted effort by the large media outlets to allow this story to die once Rezko is convicted, I find it probable that other revelations are yet to come that will show Obama to be just another machine politician, skirting the edge of ethics and the law – perhaps even going over the line and engaging in criminal activities.
Obama is not the Agent of Change. He is a calculating politician who plays the game the same way politicians have been playing it for hundreds of years – receiving money in exchange for favors from government for his friends and cronies. And if Mike Royko were alive, one has to believe that despite agreeing with his politics, Royko would have been relentless in taking Obama down, hammering away in his own inimitable style at the influence selling, the sweetheart deals, the pay for favors, and all the rest of this sleazy mess.
No Royko today. But we have an army of bloggers who can push this story into the mainstream and force the media to expend the resources necessary to get to the bottom of the Rezko-Obama enterprise. True, like Whitewater it is a very complex story and there is very little ease in the telling. But given the stakes, an effort should be made nonetheless.

There seems to be a lot more to Rezko than just slumlording. When a figure like Auchi gives a low-rent figure like Rezko that kind of money, he’s not looking to expand tenement ownership.