Monday, March 31, 2008

The New Michigan Delegate Plan

The longer this drags out the more complicated the resolutions get. As Michigan and Florida have grappled with the DNC over seating delegates at this summer's convention, several plans have surfaced to deal with the stand-off. Despite rejections of do-over primaries (mail-in or in-person) and even distributions of the delegates between the candidates, some momentum remains behind the idea of solving this issue before it is arbitrated by the Credentials Committee at the convention.

The newest plan put forth by US Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) applies to the situation in Michigan. Under his plan all 156 of Michigan's Democratic delegates would be restored (I'm sure the DNC is already madly in love with the idea of their sanctions being thrown by the wayside here.), with basically half being allocated based on the January 15 primary and the other half based on the popular primary vote nationwide. The former appeals to Clinton because she won the Michigan primary and the latter to Obama since he will more than likely maintain his popular vote lead nationwide as the contest phase of the campaign wanes.

So how this thing ultimately breaks down will determine whether that conclusion holds. Let's do the math. Under the Stupak plan, Clinton would get 47 of the 83 primary delegates and Obama the remaining 36. Votes on these delegates would take place at the congressional district conventions April 19. But what about the other 73 (national popular vote) delegates? For the time being, let's assume that the margin Obama holds now in the category will be the margin once all the contests have been completed. That means (according to Real Clear Politics) that Obama leads either 49.5 to 46.9 without Florida and Michigan or 47.6 to 47.2 with them included (but excluding estimates of some of the caucus states). Those are the two extremes here; one where Obama is advantaged and one that is to Clinton's detriment. When we convert these to two candidate totals (reallocating the support of other candidates who have dropped out), the margins remain the same while the overall percentages now sum to 100 (See, I told you this had gotten confusing.). The two sets of possible popular vote numbers I'm working with here though are 51.3 to 48.7 favoring Obama or 50.2 to 49.8 also favoring Obama. Either way you cut it, Obama ends up with 37 delegates while Clinton gains 36. Adding the popular vote totals to the primary delegates gives Clinton a ten delegate advantage in Michigan.

That's fine, but what about the other problem child? What happens if we extend this same plan to the Sunshine state? Florida has 210 Democratic delegates that were stripped by the DNC. Using essentially the same breakdown, 110 delegates would be awarded based on the January 29 primary and the remaining 100 would be allocated based on the national popular vote from all nominating contests. The numbers aren't as tricky in the Florida case because both candidates were on the ballot. If the 17% of the Florida primary vote is reallocated evenly to each of the candidates, Clinton would have won 58% of the vote to Obama's 42%. From that Clinton would take 64 delegates to Obama's 46.

For the remaining 100 delegates (based on the popular vote), the same ranges that were used in the Michigan case will be used here as well (50.2 to 49.8 or 51.3 to 48.7). Again, one scenario helps Obama and the other helps Clinton. The difference though is only one delegate. Either the delegates would be split 50/50 or 51/49 in favor of Obama. The result is an 18 or 19 delegate advantage for Clinton coming out of Florida.

Overall then, between both Florida and Michigan, this plan nets Clinton 28 or 29 delegates at Obama's expense. And even that won't help erase the deficit unless she begins winning big in some of the remaining contests she's projected to do well in. So while the DNC may not go for this plan because it discards their sanctions, Obama's camp may actually be willing to listen since it won't change the current state of play (especially in view of the superdelegates who are siding with him--see here, here and here).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Caucus Question: Texas 2008

Last week I posed the caucus question; the idea that as the steps in the caucus process progress, the percentage of support for the winning candidate from the first step increases. Anecdotally at least, that has been the conventional wisdom on the subject for the post-McGovern-Fraser reform period. Of course, when the field of candidates is winnowed, the possibility of the winning candidate (in one of the early caucuses) gaining support increases substantially. When the environment remains competitive, as it has among the top two candidates on the Democratic side during the 2008 cycle, the likelihood of such a substantial increase is far smaller. In fact, the Colorado caucuses from this year offer some potential evidence of the opposite happening: a second place finisher gaining delegates as the process continues.

Yesterday, Texas Democrats held their second round contests; the state senate district conventions. In the Dallas area, Obama managed to maintain the same level of support in the second round in the area's five senate districts that he brought in from the first step on March 4. In El Paso County, where Hillary Clinton won, both in the caucuses and the primary, Clinton's support increased to around 94%. What that is up from is a bit of an unknown. The New York Times' Election Guide shows Clinton with a 3:1 lead in El Paso County with 58% of the precincts reporting. So, we know it is an increase, but just don't know by exactly how much. [UPDATE: Across Texas, we now have a better idea about how the most recent step in the Texas caucus system went. Obama seems to have bumped up his statewide total to 58% heading into June's state convention (Thanks to Paul Gurian for the link.).] If that number holds steady when the delegates are allocated at that convention, Obama would net 37 39 of the 67 delegates at stake in the caucus portion of the Texas delegate selection process. That margin would yield a three delegate lead over Clinton across both contests (despite Obama losing the primary). As it stands Clinton holds a 65-61 advantage in primary delegates, but that seven delegate margin in caucus delegates would put Obama over the top in Texas.

What both of these examples illustrate
is that there is another layer to be added to the explanation of the caucus question. To assume then, that the overall winner or loser of the contest's first step gains or loses support statewide becomes an issue of aggregation. Precinct-level winner continue to maintain support or gain in those areas as the process continues. It isn't enough to say that Obama won 37% of caucus support in the precinct caucuses in Iowa and then upped that to 52% in the county caucuses. The question becomes one of whether he maintained and increased the lead in the areas he did well on during the original caucus.

While we wait for Pennsylvania on April 22, the second step caucuses occurring in the interim are worth watching. With the delegate margin where it is (between 100 and 150 delegates), fluctuations in these pre-convention steps could alter the ultimate count of delegates that heads to the convention in August. Which states are we looking at then?

April 4-6: North Dakota state convention
April 5: Delaware state convention
Washington legislative district conventions
April 5-May 3: Mississippi congressional district conventions
April 12: Kansas district conventions
April 19: Washington county and legislative district conventions

[source: The Green Papers]

No matter which candidate we're talking about, every little bit helps.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is the Electoral College really an Argument Clinton wants to make?

***Please see links to updates of these maps at the conclusion of the post or in the side bar to the right.***

Something that has bothered me
throughout the coverage of the race for the Democratic nomination is the idea that one candidate winning a state translates into general election success in that state. Both sides have used that argument in one way or another as a means of persuading superdelegates: Obama in claiming that he can be competitive in more states and Clinton in claiming she can win the big swing states necessary for Democratic success. On Sunday, Evan Bayh (Democratic senator of Indiana and Clinton supporter) brought the electoral college directly into this conversation:
“So who carried the states with the most Electoral College votes is an important factor to consider because ultimately, that’s how we choose the president of the United States,” Mr. Bayh said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
But is that really an argument that the Clinton campaign wants to roll out? Is it beneficial? Well, I wanted to find out, so I began looking at the state-level, head-to-head, general election polls (McCain v. Clinton and McCain v. Obama) to see how many electoral votes the candidates would have if those polls accurately depicted how the general election vote outcome would differ based on who was in the race. The data come from Real Clear Politics and their "Latest Polls" section. I averaged all the polls since Super Tuesday in each of the states to see which candidate had the lead. The number of polls ranged from one twenty-four of the states to nine in Pennsylvania. Obviously there are issues with using just one poll, but with few exceptions these are solidly red or blue states. In other words, the polls there are decent indicators of how the general election vote would turn out. However, since most of these one shot polls were conducted at the end of February, they don't account for either the 3am ad or the Jeremiah Wright flap.

The results are interesting and don't really support Bayh (or Clinton). In the McCain-Clinton contest, the solid and leaning categories give McCain a 235-179 electoral college vote advantage with 124 electoral votes falling in "toss up" territory. If you allocate those states' votes to the candidate with the leading average, McCain wins by a 90 electoral college vote margin, 314-224. To a large degree, the map looks similar to the map from 2004. The GOP gains Oregon, Washington, Michigan and Wisconsin while the Democrats take Ohio and Arkansas. These polls indicate that McCain would maintain Florida and Clinton would hold on to Pennsylvania. But even with Pennsylvania and Ohio in the Democratic column, Clinton loses the election.
Contrast that with the McCain-Obama map. The first impression is that there are far fewer solidly red or blue states and a lot more toss up states. Among those toss ups though are several typically ruby red states; both in the South and in the plains (South Carolina, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska). Factoring in the toss ups, Obama has a 199-174 lead over McCain with 165 electoral votes to close to call. Again, if those electoral votes are allocated to the candidate leading in the average of post-Super Tuesday state polls, Obama claims victory by a 273-265 margin. That's pretty close to the 2000 outcome. Of the red toss up states listed above, Obama manages a win in North Dakota.
Overall, there are 36 states that remain either red or blue no matter who the Democratic candidate is. Among the remaining 15 (DC is counted as a state since it has three electoral votes.), Clinton makes a difference in four (AR, OH, PA and WV) and Obama creates a shift from red to blue in 11 (CO, IA, MI, NV, NH, NM, ND, OR, VA and WI). Republicans then, may be right to hope for Clinton to emerge as the Democratic nominee, keeping the battlegrounds similar to 2000 and 2004. The battle shifts to new territory if Obama is the nominee. Also, as we discussed in our discussion group meeting yesterday, either outcome has real implications for the direction of the Democratic party (with Dean's 50 state strategy clearly on the line). If Clinton were able to win the Democratic nomination, it likely damns that strategy after an assured change in leadership of the DNC. An Obama win (and subsequent performance in the general election) seems to validate that strategy though, ensuring that Dean or someone like him will continue to lead the party. What then, does that say about Howard Dean's current rooting interests in this race?

See an update of the maps to account for poll changes over the last week (4/2/08).

...and a new set of companion maps (4/3/08).

Update for 4/9/08

Update for 4/16/08

Update for 4/23/08

Update for 4/30/08

What happens when the polls are weighted to give more emphasis to the more recent ones?

Update for 5/7/08 (weighted)

Update for 5/14/08 (weighted)

Update for 5/21/08 (weighted)

New Maps? (5/25/08)

Update for 5/28/08 (weighted)

Update for 6/3/08 (weighted)

[Many thanks to Paul Gurian, Del Dunn and Rob Shewfelt for their contributions to this post.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

10 is the Magic Number?

In a campaign season rife with various numbers of some significance to the race, why not make room for one more. We've had 2025 and 1191 for the number of delegates necessary to win the Democratic and Republican nominations respectively. For a while there during the post-Super Tuesday Obama streak, 100 delegates was the margin under which Hillary Clinton had to get to make an argument to superdelegates. As the reality of not being able to get the delegate count under that number though, the focus of the Clinton team has shifted. And with it, the decision making calculus of the superdelegates has changed as well.

In an earlier set of posts (here and here), I laid out the parts of that process in terms of knowns and unknowns. What we know is the electablility factor and the number of contests won. The number of contests is easy enough. Obama has already won over half the states. Of course the Clinton camp is focusing on what types of states those are (red) and contending that they won't be won by a Democrat anyway. On the electability scorecard, both Clinton and Obama seem electable enough, but the more the rancorous tone of March continues, the less able the two candidates and the Democratic party will be to bridge the divide and heal the wounds in a timely enough manner for the general election.

The superdelegates who remain undecided know that though, and that was added to the decision making calculus (ver. 2.0). They feel the pressure to wrap the nomination up, but also feel the countervailing force to not choose incorrectly. That pressure figures into the unknowns of upward ambition and a superdelegate's relationship with or personal feelings for each of the candidates vying for the nomination.

With the remaining contests looking to be split fairly evenly between Obama and Clinton and with Clinton, as a result, being unable to cut significantly into Obama's delegate lead, the superdelegates are once again viewed as decisive. A post this morning by Jim Geraghty on the National Review Online hints at one remaining consideration for the undecided superdelegates to factor into their decision: taking cues from the remaining big time superdelegates.

The new magic number then, is ten. These ten superdelegates are the ones who hold enough clout within the party to tip the scale in one direction or the other as the contest phase of the nomination season draws to a close.
1. Al Gore
2. Jimmy Carter
3. Nancy Pelosi
4. Harry Reid
5. Joe Biden
6. Steny Hoyer
7. Jim Clyburn
8. Jim Webb
9. Red State House Dems up for re-election
10. Donna Brazile

With the exception of red state Democrats (a group likely to remain undecided until everyone else has weighed in--Why choose when you can use the "The party chose them" excuse with constituents?), this list makes sense. If a majority of these folks opts for one candidate over the other then either Obama is looking good or the Democratic party is likely headed for a messy convention pitting party elites against the rank-and-file membership. Given Jimmy Carter's 1980 experience, you'd think he'd weigh in to attempt to avoid a repeat of the post-convention chasm between Carter and Kennedy factions that year. None of these ten (nor the rest of the superdelegates) wants to be on the wrong side though. And that means most will wait for the chips to fall before making a decision. In other words, maybe this superdelegate convention, Tennessee governor, Phil Bresden is pushing has some validity to it.

[For a long discussion of each of these decision making factors see the earlier posts linked above.]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Caucus Question

During the last (pre-hiatus) discussion group meeting, Paul [Gurian] brought up the idea that in typical (Super Tuesday era) nomination campaigns, caucus winners usually gain support as the number of steps in the process increase. There are a few issues at work here:

1) Some (or all) of the candidates, who won support initially, have dropped out of the race. By the time the second step rolls around, those free agents move over to the leader (or presumptive nominee).

2) If the nomination is still in doubt as subsequent caucus steps begin, the first step winner's supporters use that original plurality/majority to tweak the numbers for the next step even further in their direction. In a competitive environment then, this majority builds a modest level of momentum throughout the process, giving the original winner a delegate total greater than the projection following the first step.

As best Paul and I can ascertain, there really isn't any literature addressing this question directly, only anecdotal evidence from campaigns past. In the Super Tuesday era though, this hasn't been an issue because the field had been winnowed significantly ahead of any second step caucus meetings. This anecdotal evidence then would come from the elections after reform but prior to 1984 or 1988. In other words, the Carter vs. the field in 1976, Carter/Kennedy and Mondale/Hart match ups. Carter was a steady force throughout the 1976 nomination phase. After doing well early in 1980, Carter's support faded down the stretch as Kennedy made gains. Mondale, after having lost in early caucus rounds to Hart in 1984, gained delegates in subsequent rounds to take a significant pledged delegate lead into that year's convention.

There are two hypotheses that emerges from this:
1) The winner of the first step gains delegates in subsequent steps.
2) The frontrunner (but not necessarily the winner) gains delegates as to process progresses.
Both require controlling for either the level of competition or the amount of candidate winnowing that has taken place. And in the frontloaded era, that winnowing has been rapid enough that the second steps fell after the point at which a presumptive nominee had been determined.

[The question then becomes one of data collection and this is the tricky part, simply because the transparency of the caucus process is less than that of a primary election. The reporting just isn't the same.]

The 2008 campaign though, fits the pre-Super Tuesday era model in that the competition has extended beyond the massive, early clustering of state contests. Given Obama's success in the caucuses then, it stands to reason that he would gain even more ground in the delegate count over Clinton as the next steps are held. However, there may actually be some evidence to the contrary: that Clinton has made some gains in the lead up to the second step caucuses. The Monkey Cage (via Enik Rising) has shown that in Colorado, the post-caucus numbers have fluctuated some in the time after the precinct caucuses were held on February 5. This whole thing is speculative, but it is a means through which the Clinton campaign could make strides in the delegate disparity between the two Democratic candidates. In one state, flipping a delegate or two won't make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but if this is happening across all the caucus states, then those changes could become significant.

How then does this fit in with the research question posed above? Well, it adds another layer to consider. Things get more complicated as a factor like specific candidate strategy to protect or steal delegates as the process progresses. Much of this would depend again on the competitiveness of the race and how each candidate is positioned in relation to the other. That we have witnessed a virtual tie in the 2008 Democratic race is something of an anomaly compared to races past (even competitive nomination races). And that is where the extra layer--the possibility of delegate shifting--originates. If it is perceived that the options are still open, then delegates are as a result more likely to entertain the idea of shifting. Whereas, if the race was signaling the emergence of one candidate over the other (no matter how small that lead), delegates would be less likely to move.

This is an interesting question that even just a case study of how the 2008 race (in caucuses) would provide some enlightening answers.

Friday, March 14, 2008

1980 vs. 2008

I've been in the "lab" this last week working with dissertation data and noticed a bit of a quirk in the nomination calendars of past cycles. [Yes, the exciting life of a person who examines delegate selection event positioning. Ooh and technical jargon, too!] The calendar for the 1980 cycle and the one for this current cycle are exactly the same. No, I don't mean that California went on June 3 during both years because California definitely doesn't have another presidential primary planned for this year [...that I know of]. The actual yearly calendars for both years are the same though. So it was interesting to look at where states were then versus where they have gone or will go this year.

Pennsylvania drew my attention to this. I looked and saw that the Keystone state held its nominating contest on the same April 22 date in 1980 that they will hold their contest on this year. And seven other states fit the same category in one way or another. Indiana, North Carolina (both May 6) and Oregon (May 20) are holding primaries for both parties on the same dates they did in 1980. Nebraska (May 13) and Idaho (May 27) Republicans are also holding primaries on the same dates they did twenty-eight years ago. Both are state funded primaries that Democrats have opted out of. Nebraska Democrats just this cycle abandoned that third Tuesday in May date for a caucus the weekend after Super Tuesday. Idaho Democrats have long shunned the state primary in favor of a caucus (every cycle from the 1980 onward). And though Montana Democrats (June 3) have switched back and forth several times between holding independent caucuses or state run primaries to select delegates, they have opted to employ the first Tuesday in June date on which the state's primaries are typically held. Finally, Kentucky has frontloaded its primary for 2008 versus 1980; moving up a week from May 27 to May 20 over the course of those twenty-eight years.

The question is: What stands in the way of these states moving like all the rest? Well, all of these states with the exception of Indiana have moved since 1980. North Carolina and Kentucky moved up for the Southern Super Tuesday in 1988. [Actually Kentucky switched to a caucus for 1984 and was a part of a Southern Super week. Following Alabama, Florida and Georgia's second Tuesday in March contests, Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi all held caucuses on the Saturday after.] The legislation in both cases called for temporary moves. Oregon moved to mid-March in 1996 and Pennsylvania moved to early April in 2000 before immediately returning to their traditional dates. And even though Idaho, Montana and Nebraska have maintained the same state funded presidential primary dates throughout this period, one party has consistently shown the willingness to opt out and hold a caucus independent of the state.

Why then is Indiana different? Part of the reason is that Indiana holds their presidential primaries simultaneously with its state and local primaries. Moving entails either moving all of the primaries or creating an all new election; both of which have costs. Incidentally, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania all are in the same boat. Both Alabama and Arkansas were in similar situations before both severed the bond between presidential and state/local primaries to hold a separate presidential primary in 2008. Those moves underscore a couple of trends that have emerged. First, more and more states have been willing to split primaries over this period. There has also been a movement away from temporary moves toward more permanent moves. I would argue that as the frontloaded/Super Tuesday model became normalized, states shifted from temporary moves to test the waters of the new process to permanent moves to be a part of the established system or be left on the outside looking in.

This split primaries issue is the basis of one of my dissertation chapters, the roots of which can be found in this paper from SPSA 2007.

Florida, Florida, Florida...and Michigan

It has been fitting that much the news this week (spring break at UGA) has centered on the Florida do over situation. And there have been some great links piling up. After last week's plea from the governors of Florida and Michigan to seat the states' delegates, the focus began to shift from contests to the ongoing delegate battle on the Democratic side; mostly to do with Florida and Michigan and the party's superdelegates.

I was pleased earlier this week to see Paul Gronke, an expert on early and alternate voting methods, weigh in on the possibility of a mail-in do over vote in Florida. The main problem in Florida is that cost is going to be an issue no matter which way this goes. And that was the least of the worries when the state's congressional delegation rejected the idea and it then became apparent that no method of verifying voter signatures existed.

So Florida Democrats are up the creek without a paddle. That may be true, but one idea that has received little attention and may eventually rescue Sunshine state Democrats is an appeal to the Rules and Bylaws Committee to have the state's delegates seated. And as The Swamp over at the Chicago Tribune reports, that appeals process is underway. The catch is that the argument may not be about seating the delegates but instead may focus on the harshness of the DNC's sanctions against the party. And that is an interesting argument. Remember that the party's official punishment is that a state violating the timing restrictions set forth by the party lose half its delegates (Rule 20.C.1.a&b), but the Rules and Bylaws Committee opted to make an example of Florida and stripped them of their entire slate of delegates. Does that argument hold water? Eh, maybe not, but it would shift some of the pressure back on the DNC if Florida Democrats brought that argument to the forefront.

And what about Michigan? Well, if the mail in do over vote won't work then a legislature approved do over primary in early June may be the only way to go. [Now I'm going to have to recheck all my Michigan legislature links again.] Then Michigan will have had the third and last contests on the Democratic side. What? Oh yeah, that one on January 15 didn't count.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

M.I.S.S...Oh, it's time for Mississippi (...before the long layoff)

Well, off we go again for the last time before the Pennsylvania primary rolls around on April 22. With no debates scheduled and obviously no contests to be waged, it will be an interesting time in this race. Not since before Iowa on January 3 have we had such a span between events (...and even then it was in July 2004. We can thank North Carolina for having an extended court debate over congressional districts for pushing that primary-turned-caucus to that late date. So, at least the wait won't be that long).

It will be an interesting stretch simply because the frontloaded system wasn't suppose to allow for this sort of contest. Super Tuesday had proven the decisive primary day since at least the 1996 cycle. [And one could argue, as I have, that, even though the race wasn't wrapped up in the way that McCain finished things off in Texas and Ohio last week, the nominations for the GOP in 1988 and the Democrats in 1992 were all but over on Super Tuesday.] As we go forward then, both the campaigns and those political junkies following them will be in for a different sort of battle. The "backloaded" system of cycles past yielded breaks more like what we saw between Wisconsin and Texas-Ohio than what we will witness from Mississippi to Pennsylvania. Of course, the campaign started in late February instead of early January then, so that accounts for the six weeks to be endured starting tomorrow. In other words, there is quite an unprecedented void to be filled.

Tonight we have Mississippi on the menu. As we saw in last week's post, the state fits the profile of the other deep South states that have gone thus far (and have gone to Obama).
The average margin of victory in those other contests (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina) was a hair more than 25%. That is the number to keep your eye on tonight. If Obama clears that hurdle then it is on to Pennsylvania with an argument of "He was supposed to win that one" from the Clinton campaign. If she can get the margin under 25 or even 20 points then she may be able to say that she did better than expected. Granted, that's a tough argument to make when that type of margin will yield a pretty big disparity in the delegates won from Mississippi. However, there's a long time until Pennsylvania (Have I mentioned that yet?) and the Clinton folks could try out that line of argument. The polls (via Real Clear Politics) are indicating that something under 20% is possible for Clinton. The average of the five polls taken since last Wednesday is a bit more than 15 points. Turnout was expected to be lighter than what it has been in other states this cycle. Much will depend on how much of the electorate tonight is comprised of African Americans. The bigger that percentage, the better Obama is going to do.

Early on (8:22pm) no results have come in from the Magnolia state (polls closed at 8pm eastern).

Speaking of results, Obama managed another caucus win in Wyoming over the weekend. There's nothing too shocking about the win. However, some of the results were interesting. No, not the 10-10 vote tie in Niobrara County. Teton County in the upper northwestern part of the state (just under where Yellowstone is) began its meeting at 4pm (mountain time). This was after nearly 90% of the caucus results were in (and reported--leaning toward Obama). And how did Teton County come out? It was an 80-20 split for Obama; by far his largest margin and in the county with the third highest vote total. Now I know how those Californians feel on presidential election night. We'll call it the west coast (of the Yellowstone River) bias. That may not have been the cause (Hey, Jackson Hole is in Teton County.), but that is a pretty drmatic shift in what had been a 55-40 race to that point. That pushed Obama over 60% across the entire state, giving him an extra delegate at Clinton's expense.

Still nothing out of Mississippi at the 8:40pm mark. Time to check the exits over at the Drudge Report. From the AP report, Obama won the black vote 9:1 with that group making up about half of today's voters in Mississippi. That's a recipe for success but also one that speaks toward a racial division within Democratic primary voters. Obama does do well in red states, but in the South, the racial polarization could potentially hurt efforts for the Democrats to make inroads there. In other, more homogeneous red states Obama does well also (among the select few who caucus), but will that be enough to make gains in those states? Those are the questions that Clinton's wins last week planted in the minds of Democratic primary voters (at least those who haven't voted) and as long as the narrative continues along this path, the longer the race will remain at a stalemate.

8:48pm: I've got to stop following the results on the New York Times site. There's something to be said about being cautious about making a call, but at the same time, everyone else has already (presumably at 8:01pm) call it for Obama.

What does that seemingly inevitable result mean for the race?
"He was supposed to win there."

"But remember the delegates."

And so it goes on the march to the Keystone state.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Wyoming Democrats, You're Up!: An Examination of Event Scheduling

It is interesting that the Wyoming Republican party moved their caucuses to January 5 and got lost in the shuffle; stuck between Iowa (Jan. 3) and New Hampshire (Jan. 8). Cowboy state Democrats, on the other hand, opted to wait it out and adhere to their scheduled March 8 caucus date, and they will end up receiving more attention than the GOP contest in Wyoming despite the move. Bill Clinton stumped for Hillary in the state on Thursday and both Hillary and Obama were in the state yesterday (see for a map of the stops).

Candidate stops are only part of that equation though. Clinton made two stops in Wyoming yesterday while Obama stuck to where he's been successful--college towns--with a stop in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. But that doesn't differ from the number of visits the Republican candidates made. Fred Thompson was in the state soon after he announced in September and Mitt Romney made three stops in the state on November 18 (see again the map linked above). So Republican visits actually outnumbered those of the Democratic candidates (Of course you'd have to control for the number of candidates still in the race at the time...if you were to use this as a measure of attention. More Republicans were in the race at the time of their Wyoming caucuses than there are Democrats now that their caucuses are being held.).

Media attention figures into this as well. Media attention though, is largely a function of candidate attention to a state. So why are Wyoming Democrats getting more "attention" now than their Republican counterparts in the state got in early January? Much of it has to do with timing. Both contests were the only events on their respective dates, but the Republican caucuses were sandwiched between Iowa and New Hampshire on the same day as bookend New Hampshire debates for both parties. In other words, the Wyoming GOP did not have a recipe for success. That the Democrats in the Cowboy state do, is more a function of the competitiveness of the Democratic race at this point than the state party's decision to hold a March 8 caucus. [Plus being between Texas-Ohio and Mississippi is a lot different than being between Iowa and New Hampshire.]

Typically, demand for calendar dates is frontloaded. So having a contest that is the only event on a particular date or week is a much more difficult proposition early on the calendar than later. The tradeoff though, is that those "only event" contests (those not named Iowa or New Hampshire) are, more often than not, on dates that come after the point at which the nomination(s) has (have) been decided. The outcome then is that attention wanes because the state is not decisive. Let's use Pennsylvania as an example. The late April primary date in the Keystone state has been outside of the "decisive zone" during the Super Tuesday era. So while the state is rich in delegates, it is not in decisiveness. Since the contest is still competitive for the Democrats this cycle and almost guaranteed to be when Pennsylvania rolls around on April 22, the state should receive more attention than is usual. In fact, you could argue that since both the Clinton and Obama camps are after Philadelphia ward leader endorsements this weekend, attention is already greater than it has been in the past.

Wyoming Democrats then are getting a bit more attention than you would otherwise expect this year. Caucuses got under way there early this morning with the last one commencing at 4pm (mountain time) this afternoon. Results may trickle out as the day progresses like they did for the Republicans in January, but won't be fully in until later this evening. There are already reports that (surprise) turnout is high at at least one caucus. Seven of the states 18 total delegates are on the line today.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Superdelegates: The Deciders [March Edition]

Since it has been a few weeks, I'll bump this post back to the top. We've endured the Obama surge and the Clinton counter, and now the focus is shifting back to the superdelegates as the decisive faction of delegates in the Democratic race (not necessarily the way the DNC would have wanted things to play out). Ohio senator, Sherrod Brown was on NPR this morning talking a bit about the calculus that superdelegates go through in making their decisions.

In the post linked at the outset of this one, I go through some of the steps in this calculus. It had changed somewhat as Obama made his surge over the last few weeks, but as Clinton rebounded on Tuesday, the race was pushed back into doubt. That, in turn, brought the superdelegates and their decision making calculus back to the fore.

One thing that we can add to this calculus is that since the race has continued a month beyond Super Tuesday, the pressure to wrap this nomination up has intensified. That pressure though, is counterweighted by the desire among superdelegates (and perhaps the DNC) to avoid the perception that they are the ones making the decision.

The DNC may need to change how this superdelegate discussion is playing out in the media though. Instead of allowing the superdelegates to be portrayed as instruments of the party that have been given the power to potentially overturn the will of the people, they need to begin talking about the superdelegates as the arbiters of the various Democratic primary and caucus voters. If they begin talking about how the race is a tie and will continue to be through June, then it becomes necessary for some individual or group to break the tie. Well, they have a trusted panel of 796 individuals in place to make such a decision. Does that line of argument hold water? Maybe, maybe not. But the superdelegates as unfair institutional quirk, is not working for the DNC. The complication here is that the superdelegates too, may be unable to effectively break the tie. But that's a story for another day.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Clinton End Game Strategy

If you haven't caught this story yet, be sure and pop over to The New York Times and check out the end game scenario from the Clinton camp. You have got to love a discussion of primary states in a general election (almost electoral vote) context:
"Campaign advisers said they believed Kentucky and West Virginia could ultimately be in play."

Florida and Michigan: The Elephant(s) in the Room

As Clinton's victories plunged the race for the Democratic nomination back into doubt yesterday, the Florida/Michigan question was brought up yet again. Ever since the two states held non-sanctioned primaries ahead of the February starting point for all states not named Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the idea of a do over contest has been floated as a possibility, albeit a far-fetched one. [FHQ should take this opportunity to remind its readers that this is an issue on the GOP side as well. Republican rules called for any state holding a contest awarding delegates before February 5 to lose half its delegation. And that includes New Hampshire, Wyoming and South Carolina. Iowa and Nevada were exempt because no delegates were at stake during the first rounds of their caucus processes.] The tension on the issue was ramped up further today as the governors from both Florida and Michigan (Republican governor Charlie Crist-FL and Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm-MI) issued a joint statement calling for their states' full slates of delegates to be seated at their respective conventions. This plea didn't fall on deaf ears at the DNC, where chairman, Howard Dean, was quick to issue a response. Essentially, his argument was that the states both held contests in violation of the national party rules and that they had until June 10 to submit and carry out a new delegate selection plan.

Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Let's break this situation down from the perspectives of each of the parties involved (The status quo takes this issue all the way to the convention and becomes another issue altogether, so our focus here will be on weighing the pros and cons of a do over caucus or primary for each group.):

1) The national parties:
(Pros)--With the hard line the DNC is taking, a revote is the best case scenario for them. Delegates are seated, voices are heard, rules are followed and you have a slate of convention delegates willing to participate in any rule making session involving the 2012 cycle. Oh and a convention fight is averted. Also, the candidates get to spend time in both states, building important organizations for the general election.
(Cons)--Does this solve the other problem facing the party--an near equal division of delegtates between the top two candidates vying for the nomination? No, probably not.

2) The state parties:
(Pros)--Delegates are seated, voices are heard.
(Cons)--$$$$. Where is the money to pay for an all new contest going to come from? The cost of the primary was a point of contention when the bill to move Michigan's primary was being debated in the state legislature there. I doubt with the economy heading south, that the legislature, the governor or their constituents will be willing to fork over the necessary cash to pull this thing off. That leaves the state party with the tab. They also have to swallow a bitter pill when having to basically cave to national party rules. [Of course they could continue the game of chicken and wait for the Rules and Bylaws committee to blink first before a floor fight breaks out at the convention. That falls in the "don't play with fire, Scarecrow" category though.] I'm not as clear on the economic situation in Florida, but the price tag for a do over would be considerable in a state of that size; big enough to scare off a GOP-controlled state legislature from acting. UPDATE: Now I have a better idea of the situation in Florida, thanks to The Caucus, via the Miami Herald. The state legislature won't be paying for a new contest there:
"Pointing to the state's grim economic outlook, state legislative leaders, all Republicans, ruled out paying for another primary. The Jan. 29 vote, which also included other statewide and local issues, cost about $18 million.

'There is no money this year,' said House Speaker Marco Rubio, the West Miami Republican who spearheaded the idea of moving up the primary date to increase the state's clout."

For the latest from Michigan, here's a story from the Detroit News (via The Caucus).

3) The candidates [This is a tough one because it differs from candidate to candidate.]:

(Pros)--For Obama, it means actually being on a ballot in Michigan. For Clinton it means getting a chance to actually beat Obama instead of the "artist formerly known as 'uncommitted'" in Michigan and to beat him again in Florida. Also, Obama likes caucuses. With Wyoming on Saturday set to be the last caucus before Puerto Rico in June, another series of caucuses would potentially be a welcome sign. For Clinton though, she'd have time to gear up for these contests in areas where she has some natural advantages (retirees in Florida and union members in Michigan).

(Cons)--For Clinton, if the contests are caucuses, it means going toe to toe with Obama in caucuses. But for Obama, it means that her campaign would have time to prepare. Also, as with the national party discussion, this doesn't necessarily solve the delegate division problem, which opens the door to the possibility of a convention battle.

What does all of this tell us then? Money and pride are standing in the way of all three parties coming together and hammering out a solution. That's not like politics at all. The state parties and Clinton know that they can take this as far as they want to knowing that the national party in no way wants this decision to go to the convention for fear of the ramifications in the general election. Of course that could cast Clinton in a selfish light; putting her personal good ahead of the good of the party. On the other hand, the national party and Obama (How's that for a team after Clinton appeared to be the establishment candidate before the contests started?) know that if Clinton prevailed in such a scenario, she could be at the head of a dysfunctional family known as the Democratic party; not an enviable position to be in for a general election. The compromise on this, if there is one, is going to prove somewhat elusive. As the Democratic party is apt to do, fairness will be included in this somehow. And that means making the sacrifices as near equal as possible for all parties concerned.

On to Wyoming! To Mississippi! To Pennsylvania!

Perhaps I should add a "WOOOOOO!!!!" at the end of the byline and finish off the "Dean scream" speech analogy. I'll pass.

Now that Texas and Ohio (Fine, Rhode Island too.) have sent the Democratic nomination race back into undecided territory, the focus shifts to the next round of states. [Didn't I lament the tendency to do this in my Nevada caucuses post-post-mortem?] Let's have a look at the particulars for Wyoming, Mississippi and Pennsylvania (A tip of the cap to is warranted here. The information is from them.):


Event Type














Given the table, what are the first impressions of these contests? Well, as I said in the post earlier this morning, at first glance Wyoming and Mississippi appear to be in a group that can be considered Obama's bread and butter. Wyoming is a caucus and as we saw last night in Texas, Obama's power in those types of contests cannot be questioned. [Incidentally, Wyoming's is the last caucus of the 2008 cycle with the exception of Puerto Rico which brings up the rear on June 7. In other words, that well is drying up for Obama.] He has won all the caucuses but Nevada, but he got more delegates out of the Silver state than Clinton. Real Clear Politics doesn't have any polls up yet for either Wyoming or Mississippi and I wouldn't wait around on those. There are seven delegates that are directly awarded in the first step of the caucuses on Saturday, five more at the state convention in May and six superdelegates at stake in Wyoming.

Mississippi's contest is like many of the other contests across the deep South: the electorate is heavily African American tilting the state in Obama's direction. He won those states by an average of twenty-five percentage points (AL +14, GA +36, LA +22, SC +29--source: NYT Election Guide). The focus for the Obama camp will be on turning out the vote in the state's 2nd congressional district where most of the African Americans are and thus the largest piece of the delegate pie (7 delegates. The other four districts have five delegates each.). Applying the 25 point margin to Mississippi would give Obama a roughly nine delegate advantage coming out of the state which would get back a third of the net delegates he lost to Clinton during yesterday's contests (according to the AP delegate count). So while 40 delegates (minus seven superdelegates) seems like a drop in the bucket and can bolster the delegate advantage he holds currently.

The one quirk in Mississippi is that the contest is an open one. Now that the GOP race is over, could some Republicans cross over and vote for a candidate they feel would not stack up well against McCain? And could it amount to a difference in the outcome? Outcome, as in statewide percentage breakdown, slightly. Outcome in terms delegates netted, certainly. And the delegate count matters because things are so close.

But that leads to Pennsylvania. The six week charge to the Keystone state after Mississippi would be an intense one (One that party insiders may like to avoid. Could superdelegates intercede? Obama and the DNC may hope so, for different reasons.). [I find it interesting that Pennsylvania insists on being called a commonwealth, yet the commonwealth's nickname is the Keystone state.] That time span between contests becomes as important, if not more so, than the contest itself. I can't imagine a scenario where the tensions between the two campaigns doesn't turn extremely negative. It won't be a McCain-Huckabee affair. And that negativity could affect Pennsylvania in ways that no one could even begin to predict (Well, someone could try, I suppose.).

What I believe we'll begin to see though is that the candidates will begin to micro-target some of the congressional districts where the most delegates are at stake. The distribution of delegates within those nineteen districts ranges from three to nine. Over a six week stretch, you'll begin to see more attention paid to those delegate-rich districts. Another thing that has not been mentioned is that this stretch allows for a return to retail politics; negative retail politics, but retail politics nonetheless. Six weeks is a long time. And with only seven contests remaining after Pennsylvania (plus Guam and Puerto Rico), it isn't far-fetched to imagine an awful lot of focus on the commonwealth.

The rules in these three states are not unlike what we've seen in earlier primaries and caucuses, but the timing of them on the calendar leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

Is Clinton Back? Delegates, delegates, delegates

And the race goes on. As James Carville said on Meet the Press on Sunday--speculating about what Clinton wins in Ohio and Texas would mean for the race--it helps her rewrite the narrative. And it does. Whether it was the ads or backlash against Obama or sympathy for Clinton doesn't matter. What last night's results mean is that the Democratic primary voters are still almost evenly divided as to who their presidential nominee should be. The Obama campaign's contention is that it still maintains a sizable lead in the delegate count and that the results from the four primaries last night do not significantly affect that lead. However, with the wins she managed yesterday, Clinton now has something to back up the argument that all Obama does is win in small and/or red states. All the while she's winning the states that are important to the Democrats in November.

The race now shifts to Wyoming this weekend and Mississippi on next Tuesday. On paper, both look like Obama territory. Wyoming is a caucus state and Mississippi has a high African American population on par with other states Obama has won (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina). But there is a catch. And for Clinton, it easily extends this race to Pennsylvania. [Well, I suppose the press is largely discounting Wyoming and Mississippi anyway; already having shifted the focus to the April 22 contest in the Keystone state.] Those are states and the fact that Obama should win them fits the newly crafted narrative of this race. He wins caucuses, small states and red states. She wins the big prizes. And that can't be welcome news for the Obama camp. If Wyoming and Mississippi are discounted, then his chances of shifting the tenor of this race [again!?!] are diminished in the process. So while Obama may have the delegate lead still, his campaign is now on the defensive.

Oh, and I suppose the supedelegates come into the picture at some point. If the contests between now and next Tuesday can't help Obama, then the report that surfaced yesterday that some number of superdelegates may break for him in the near future might. That becomes a contest of its own; one (and maybe only) that may possibly assist Obama in countering the Clinton wins from last night.

All the while, this race has devolved to certain point of negativity and is unlikely to return. And that brings us back to divisive primaries. If this Democratic race continues the slide into negativity, that affects the party's ability to heal those divisions before the convention and in the time between then and the general election. So McCain sits back and smiles, having wrapped things up officially last night. And who can blame him? The longer the Democratic race strings out, the better his chances in November seem to become.


Rhode Island


I'll be back later with a look ahead to the rules in Wyoming, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of looking at polls of Wyoming Democrats.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

This Used to be Super Tuesday: Results from Texas, Ohio and the Northeast

And we're off. Could the Democratic race enter the end game Barbara Norrander (2000) discussed in her JOP article? Today's primaries could prove decisive for the Democrats and should put McCain over the top for the GOP nod.

10:34pm: This is going to go on for a while. I'm off for now, but will be back in the morning with a wrap up. In the meantime, keep up to date online with the live blog over at The Caucus.

10:30pm: Things are tight in Texas. Ohio is giving Clinton a slight edge with many of the state's urban areas yet to report. And President Bush is set to meet with John McCain tomorrow and endorse him. McCain may want to avoid too many photos with the president. Of course, those may not matter in November if Clinton and Obama continue to tear each other apart.

9:55pm: As we approach the 10 o'clock hour, we can begin to reflect a bit on the night so far. McCain has wrapped things up on the Republican side. Exit polling out of Ohio (according to The Fix) is showing a very tight race there. As you begin to look at the Election Guide maps (Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, Vermont) on The New York Times site, you see a lot more purple (Clinton) than green (Obama). Of course, land doesn't vote, people do.
...unless those people are being "actively disenfranchised."

9:24pm: Huckabee concedes the GOP nomination to McCain. The last of McCain's challengers are out of the race now and he can officially shift gears toward the general election and toward unifying the Republican party behind him. Oh, I suppose he could continue to browbeat the Democrats too while he's at it.

9:23pm: The streak is over. Clinton has won in Rhode Island.

9:17pm: A conference call by the Clinton campaign to highlight the problems in Texas was overrun by an Obama lawyer who claimed they were only complaining because Clinton was losing. You can't make this stuff up. This is why I'm a political scientist. This night has shown one thing (Well, two if you count John McCain officially wrapping up the nomination.): if the Democratic race stretches beyond tonight/tomorrow, it will get ugly and potentially threaten the party's chances in November. That is on the table now.

9:06pm: McCain has been projected the winner in Texas by CNN. Oh, and they also mention that he's sealed the deal on the GOP nomination too.

9:01pm: The complaints have spread south, The Caucus is reporting:
Clinton Complaints: The Clinton campaign is holding a conference call right now to report irregularities in Texas, where they say voters are being “actively disenfranchised.”

Among the complaints, they say that at “numerous locations,” Obama supporters “have taken over the caucus and locked out Clinton supporters.”

Yeah, this race could get ugly if it stretches on past tonight.

: Polls are closed in Rhode Island. Now the Texas caucuses are the only event in town. Everyone else is counting votes.

8:55pm: Rhode Island is up next as are the counties held open longer in Ohio and the Mountain time zone's areas of west Texas. All at the top of the hour.

8:40pm: Politico is the source for some juicy speculation. First they broke the story that Clinton may go after Obama's pledged delegates and now they report that Obama has silently lined up a slate of superdelegates who are set to announce their support in the near future. This slate may prove moot if Obama wraps things up tonight. That story remains to be told.

8:38pm: Polls have been held open longer in the Cleveland area to accommodate for the high turnout there today.
---from via the Obama campaign

8:32pm: I missed it earlier, but the caucuses got under way in Texas at 8:15pm. Party business first or presidential preference? What will they do? Here's hoping for the latter. Otherwise, it could be a long night.

8:23pm: Ohio, we have a problem. Well, this is hardly scientific, but the counties are being shaded in on the Democratic map of Texas on the New York Times Election Guide. Ohio remains completely colorless. The Caucus via the AP is reporting that the Secretary of State in Ohio has asked for court permission to keep polling locations in Sandusky County, Ohio open until 9pm (see their 7:54 post)..

8:13pm: Ooh, The New York Times has moved the pretty maps from the state by state Election Guides up to the front page for tonight's contest.

8:06pm: Here come the lawyers. Both Democratic campaigns are complaining about voting problems in Ohio. See, I told you Ohio couldn't buy a break. If you recall the divisive primaries post from last week, you may want to mark tonight down as the official point at which competition changed to divisiveness. It has been brewing since the debates, but may boil over after tonight if the outcome is still undecided.

8:00pm: Polls are close in Texas (Well, the polls in the eastern time zone at least.).

7:44pm: I should note that McCain also won in Vermont (see story below on the Obama projection there). Vermont is a solid winner-take-all, so McCain takes all 17 of those delegates, inching closer to that 1191 mark he needs.

7:33pm: McCain is the projected winner of Ohio. With the system there winner-take-all both in congressional districts and statewide, his share of the 88 delegates at stake in the state should get him about half way to the 177 he needs to break the 1191 barrier and win the nomination.

7:30pm: Polls are closed in Ohio.

7:21pm: Ohio closes up shop here in just under ten minutes. I doubt we see such a rapid projection of the winner in the Buckeye state. Flooding caused some polling places to be moved to accommodate voters in the southern part of the state. Ohio just can't seem to buy a break during election time. Officials there certainly hope this isn't foreshadowing of things to come in November. Of course, that is the story USA Today ran last week: stating that higher turnout like the 2008 primaries, could mean problems once the general election rolls around.

7:00pm: Polls are closed in Vermont. Best to just get another win out of the way. Before you could blink, Vermont went, as expected to Obama. The Drudge Report is indicating that the exit polls in the other three states are deadlocked. That's to be expected to some extent, but if your the Clinton camp, you have got to be hoping that what once seemed like a done deal in Rhode Island doesn't end up being the last nail in the coffin tonight when polls close there at 9pm. Change is apparently the winning theme in the exit polls as well, pushing experience on the back burner. Again, the Clinton team better hope that they have been able to co-opt some of that change message that Obama has used effectively to this point.

Primary Day: The Texas-Ohio Edition [Vermont and Rhode Island too]

Welcome to this, the 14th round of Primary Season 2008. With a week off, the contests in Texas and Ohio have received a ton of scrutiny from all angles. So much so, that there has been a kind of calm before the storm (Well, not between the top two Democratic contenders.) as today's contests approached. The media have said what they're going to say about the rules in Texas and changes in voting method in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. With so much time (and so much is a relative term here) the void has been filled by Clinton attacks on Obama. That has been the new story/news story. And the momentum seems to be with Clinton on this; her campaign has planted the seeds of doubt on Obama. Oh sure, the source there is her campaign, but the polls that have come out in Texas and Ohio the last few days back that up.

The Real Clear Politics poll averages in those states showed movement toward Obama late last week in both states. In Texas, those averages gave Obama a slight advantage (within the margin of error) after having been down double digits just two weeks prior. Now, while the Texas race is still a dead heat, the recent polls are giving Clinton that slight edge there (still within the margin of error and still susceptible to Obama's caucus success during the state's delegate selection night cap). In Ohio, Clinton's double digit leads shrunk to as few as four percentage points late last week. With the exception of the most recent Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll (showing a tie), the most recent polls in the Buckeye state stretch the Clinton advantage back to around seven percentage points. So while claims that the infamous "3AM ad" (and that link has a further link to the 1984 phone ad that Mondale ran against Gary Hart as well) is the reason for the momentum shift may be spurious, on its face at least (and in the media) it appears to have had an effect.

Is all the momentum talk moot anyway? That's the contention of the Obama camp; which is claiming that narrow victories by Clinton in these states doesn't get her any closer in the pledged delegate count. The expectations game has been played by both sides on this one and how these contests and their results are perceived will depend to a large degree on how the media reports things tonight.

For those following at home the night will progress like this: Vermont's polls close first at 7pm (all of these times are Eastern). Even given the scant polling that is available from Vermont, it looks as if Obama will kick the night off with an easy win. Ohio strikes next with voting being cut off there at 7:30pm. Call it a hunch, but I doubt this one gets an immediate call/projection from any of the networks. What you might hear is, "too close to call." The polls in Texas close next at 8pm and will most likely resemble the Ohio situation from a half hour earlier. An hour later, voting in Rhode Island stops. Now this one looks like a Clinton win, but what Rhode Island does is keep the media paying attention to results. All the while, the Texas caucuses will have been going on. And Texas Democrats have adopted a system similar to the one used in Iowa to get "unofficial" results from the caucuses out in a quicker fashion. Whether those "results" come out before or after Rhode Island or in relation to the Texas/Ohio projections is a matter that will be solved tonight. Either way you look at it, with these contests potentially proving decisive on the Democratic side, it will be a fun night to follow.

[UPDATE: For those of you like me out there--without suitable cable is streaming coverage of the returns tonight online. None of the three major networks is allotting any time to coverage of the presidential races tonight, yield to regularly schedule programming. ABC is awfully nice to give the online-only class a shot at actually seeing something on a primary night not named Super Tuesday.]

Monday, March 3, 2008

Texas Revisited

I was just alerted to a new layer in the Texas primary/caucus situation (Thanks to Dan Reed for the heads up on the column in the Houston Chronicle.) that may have some interesting ramifications for the Democratic race in the Lone Star state tomorrow and beyond. Sure the news out of Texas and the Clinton campaign has been that a challenge to the results of the primary/caucus could be imminent if they didn't appear be on the up and up (A Clinton win in the popular vote but an Obama edge in delegates won, for example).

Normally, I'd draw parallels between the Texas situation and the challenges brought by the Clinton camp over the casino caucuses in the lead up to the January Nevada caucuses. Texas, though, is different. [I know, a groundbreaking statement there.] Texas, like so many other states across the South and a few other districts across the country, must submit to a preclearance from the Justice Department under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now, I'm assuming that the state Senate districts that have been the basis for dividing up the delegates available from the state, have been cleared by the Justice Department. While there may not have been close elections in presidential primaries, there undoubtedly have been close contests those state Senate seats and thus the potential for a challenge to the way those districts have been drawn. [No, competitive elections are not necessarily the root of these challenges, but they could trigger one--at least from the candidates' perspective.]

The primary then is not the problem. The caucus is. And that is where the questions arise here. Is the Texas caucus subject to these voting rights act challenges? Some party (individual/group not political party) could bring suit but it would be against the Texas Democratic party and and not the state itself. And that is where the Texas situation falls back into the same area that the Nevada challenge fell. Caucuses are party functions used to decide delegate allocation for the purposes of selecting the parties' nominees. The courts have a history of yielding to the parties (as they did in Nevada earlier this cycle) on these types 0f decisions, citing that the decision is one of party business. A Clinton challenge, if it comes to that, would have to result from an irregularity in the primary results and not the caucus.

From the looks of it DOJ will be in the Houston area monitoring polling places during the primary tomorrow. Sadly for Clinton though, those areas contain many of the African Americans that will be supporting Obama and thus not fertile ground for a challenge.