Friday, May 16, 2008

MSNBC's Chuck Todd on the Five Turning Points of the Democratic Primary Season

From Chuck Todd-- NBC's Political Director and Math Geek Extraordinaire:

His 'First Read' columns this week:


*** Five big turning points: For the rest of this week, we're going to focus on what we think are the five big turning points of this campaign, which put Clinton in the position she's currently in: on the brink of elimination. Some will be obvious, and some will be points we think were under-appreciated at the time.

We'll start with an under-appreciated one: Obama's Illinois residency.

From his blowout win in Wisconsin and his initial launch in Iowa to the Super Tuesday squeaker in Missouri, Obama's candidacy was propelled as much by geography -- states touching Illinois -- as it was by race.

Take Missouri, for example. Had Obama not won a single swing-state primary (not caucus) on Super Tuesday, Clinton would have had a VERY powerful talking point that night, because she would have won every state primary (not caucus) that matters.

But Obama's Missouri squeaker (which probably was only possible because of the shared media market of St. Louis and because of McCaskill’s endorsement) made the focus on the delegate fight, rather than states won. This also brings us to a fact that could have Dems a tad nervous: Obama might be the first Midwesterner as the Dem nominee since Humphrey and Stevenson before him. Neither won. Then again, considering how important the Midwest battleground is this time, Dems may have stumbled into a geographically strong nominee


*** Five big turning points: Yesterday, we began discussing some under-appreciated turning points in the Clinton-Obama race that put Clinton where she stands now: on the brink of elimination. Yesterday’s point was the role Illinois’ proximity to key primary battlegrounds;

today, it’s Chris Dodd and the October 2007 Philly debate.

While many remember that debate -- which set off a two-week media firestorm over Clinton’s answer to a question over driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants -- few remember the role Dodd played in it. In the lightning round portion at the end of the debate, Clinton was asked about a her statement that Eliot Spitzer’s plan to allow illegal immigrants to have driver’s licenses made a lot of sense. Following that, Dodd disagreed with the plan, and when Clinton said that she, too, didn’t agree with the plan, Dodd interjected, “No, no, no … you thought it made sense to do it.” That exchange then allowed Edwards jump in: “Unless I missed something, Sen. Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago.” Then came Obama: “I was confused on Senator Clinton's answer. I can't tell whether she was for it or against it.” And, voila, the aftermath paved the way for Iowa to be competitive two months later.

Remember, this wasn't a point in the debate that the media jumped on Clinton; it was her fellow candidates doing it, and that might be why it resonated.


*** Five big turning points: Continuing our look at how Clinton got to this point… John Edwards hasn’t endorsed Obama. In fact, for a while, the thinking was that if he’d endorse anyone, it would be Clinton. But in our latest installment of some of the big -- yet underappreciated -- turning points in the Democratic nominating race,

we look at how Edwards ended up greatly helping Obama, by deciding to stay in the race after New Hampshire and then exit it before Super Tuesday.

Throughout the Dem contest, this fact often was overlooked: Edwards won South Carolina in 2004. And four years later, per the exit polls, he narrowly beat Clinton among whites, 40%-36%, with Obama getting 24%. Obama ended up getting 78% of the African-American vote, which fueled his victory. But with Edwards and Clinton essentially splitting the white vote, that resulted in Obama’s overwhelming 55%-27% win over Clinton -- which was the biggest victory of the first four Dem contests. Had Edwards withdrawn beforehand, the results might have more mirrored the 55%-43% black-white split in the race, which wouldn’t have been as impressive a win for Obama and may have led others to echo Bill Clinton's inarticulate attempt at marginalizing Obama's South Carolina victory.


*** Five big turning points: In today’s installment of our look at the big -- yet underappreciated -- turning points in the Obama-Clinton race, we take a look back at the very beginning of this contest.

While in some eyes, the race began in earnest on January 20, 2007 -- the day Clinton announced her exploratory committee online (“So let the conversation begin”) -- Obama had actually unveiled his exploratory announcement four days earlier.

“For the next several weeks, I am going to talk with people from around the country, listening and learning more about the challenges we face as a nation,” he said in a taped message on his Web site. “And on February 10th, at the end of these decisions and in my home state of Illinois, I'll share my plans with my friends, neighbors and fellow Americans.” While that moment might not have been a turning point, per se, since it happened at the very outset, it signaled that it would be Obama -- and not Clinton -- dictating the pace of the race. “It sort of forced their hand,” an Obama source tells First Read. “We did it on our own terms. It caught everyone by surprise.”


*** Five big turning points: In the latest Atlantic Monthly, Josh Green profiles Obama’s record-breaking fundraising machine.

“[W]henever I think about the quarter billion dollars he has raised so far, the image that leaps to mind is Scrooge McDuck diving joyously into his piles of gold,” he writes.

But in our final installment of the big -- yet underappreciated -- turning points in the Obama-Clinton, we remind you about this: It was Clinton, not Obama, who had the fundraising edge heading into the 2008 contests.

At the end of last year, Clinton had nearly $38 million cash on hand. And although that amount included the $10 million transfer from her Senate campaign account, as well as lots of money that could only be used in the general election, it eclipsed Obama’s $18.6 in the bank.

But once we entered the New Year, the rest was history: Obama went on to raise a million (or more) a day, while Clinton, although still raising plenty of money, ran out of cash and is now more than $20 million in debt.

This turning point -- when Clinton went from money leader to being essentially broke -- can’t be overstated.

And it’s also worth noting that this is the second-straight cycle that the candidate who raised the most money heading into the nominating contests (Howard Dean won that honor in ’03) will probably not be the nominee.

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