Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Next Stage of the Campaign?

In discussing Clinton's new ad (which can be seen at this link), Todd Beaton writes:
Turning her focus on John McCain is really smart for a couple of reasons. Obviously it's best for all involved for her to turn her fire away from Barack Obama, perhaps most importantly for her so she doesn't scare off wavering superdelegates who fear she'll ruin Obama and the party's chances in November if he's the nominee. But also, it actually behooves both Clinton and Obama to focus on criticizing McCain because if this nomination is going to hinge on electability, as it seems it just might since ultimately the nomination will be left up to the subjective judgment of the superdelegates, letting the supers see just how they intend to go head to head against McCain, seeing sort of a preview of coming attractions -- whether through ads or just rhetorically on the stump -- is actually a really important part of this stage of the campaign, which, as sad as it is, is largely about wooing the superdelegates.
This reminded me of a theory I'd had, so I went digging through old emails and found the one from February 6th, the day after Super Tuesday. The text is below, and clearly it hasn't played out this way so far, but I wonder if it isn't still possible, at least to some degree. The aforementioned post made me think it is, but we'll see how this all plays out in the coming weeks and months. Anyway, here's what I originally wrote:

From what I've read, it seems as if to win the nomination flat-out through the rest of the primaries and caucuses, either candidate would need to win something like 80% of the remaining delegates, which doesn't seem likely. I haven't put much thought into this, but it occurs to me that having a Republican nominee and an extended Democratic primary, to be decided by superdelegates or some sort of back room deal between Clinton and Obama, could actually be a blessing in disguise. Since nothing like this has ever occurred in modern American politics, there has been discussion of this possibility as a nightmare scenario for Democrats, but I think it could also offer an unexplored and unmentioned upside.
This (increasingly likely and entirely unprecedented) scenario could offer two advantages. First, for better or worse, the nomination would be in the hands of party insiders, be they powerbrokers who try to arrange some sort of deal, or superdelegates who are all either elected or party officials. While this might seem undemocratic, it also offers an opportunity to have a more substantive campaign. Unlike the voting public, these insiders are all in some sense professional political operatives. Many of these individuals know and personally work with both Senators Clinton and Obama. They have first-hand experience with these people and would be less likely to be swayed by media coverage. Rather, they would have a much greater interest and ability to demand a specific policy agenda from the candidates. Picture a group of populists in the Senate led by Sherrod Brown offering their vote in exchange for a more populist economic platform, or Senator Feingold negotiating for a group whos primary interest in civil liberties, in exchange for their support. They are much more familiar with the issues being discussed in the campaign than the average voter, and less likely to be swayed by demagoguery and pandering. This could lead to a much more substantive discussion, which would in turn be less divisive since, as is often noted, Obama and Clinton aren't all that far apart on policy.
Second, imagine the following: a single Republican nominee running a general election against two popular Democrats (three if you count Bill...) simaltenously. Clinton and Obama have shown that they're capable of having substantive policy discussions without attacking each other. Imagine if they were able to keep that up, while simultaneously going after the Republican nominee?

The Republican nominee's attention and attacks would have to be divided to parry and attack multiple targets, while the Democrats would essentially get to tag-team the Republican. Since McCain, Clinton and Obama are all guaranteed to get lots of press coverage, it would be virtually impossible for the Republicans to go after either Democratic candidate while ignoring the other. On the other hand, knowing who the eventual Democratic nominee will be up against could allow both Clinton and Obama to focus on their eventual adversary. If (and its obviously a big "if") the campaign were to play out this way, it would also offer Democrats a unique insight into who the better nominee would be between Clinton and Obama. Every political junkie has their own theory about who would fare better in a general election, but this would actually allow an opportunity to SEE how they would run against a Republican in the general election, not just speculate about it.

This is obviously entirely hypothetical, but I think its possible.

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