February 18, 2016
Nevada is now close. South Carolina is not. We don’t know exactly what’s going on in the Silver State, but two of three polls released this month have Hillary and Bernie virtually tied. She leads in South Carolina by 18 to infinity points.
This isn’t by accident. Though Nevada was thought Hillary-favorable territory, due to a relatively high percentage of non-white voters, it’s not the perfect opportunity for her to draw a line in the proverbial or actual sand.
It’s a caucus state. That favors a more motivated supporter base. It’s a relatively youthful state. Perhaps most importantly, the non-white voters are a mix of Hispanics, African Americans and Asians, as opposed to South Carolina and many of the March 1 states, which derive most of their ethnic diversity from African Americans.
Since New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton has run for President of Black America. She won the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus. John Lewis, as venerated a civil rights movement icon as exists anywhere in the world, is campaigning for her.
Hillary is campaigning with the mothers and other loved ones of several victims of police shootings. She did a high profile event in Harlem, site of her husband’s post-presidential office, with ex-congressman Charlie Rangel and other local luminaries. Her speech focused on institutional racism among other things.
You get the idea. This is working. Bernie is not making much progress in South Carolina. PPP polled the 12 states holding Democratic primaries between March 1 and March 8. Hillary leads 8 states by 20 or more points, Michigan by 10.
Oklahoma is a toss-up. Vermont loves their senator. Massachusetts leans Bernie. All 8 heavily Hillary states are part of the Old Confederacy. All have much higher than average quantities of African American voters. So does Michigan.
Tonight, Clinton and Sanders participate in yet another town hall event. This one is on MSNBC at 9pm Eastern. Moderators are Chuck Todd and Jose Diaz-Balart. Latinos will make up a more than respectable percentage of the attendees and audience questioners.
At this point, the Democratic Party is a collection of various interest groups. In parliamentary systems, this isn’t as common. Third, fourth, fifth, ninth-parties spring up to promote the interests of particular groups. Major parties are often based on fairly consistent ideological principles.
The New Deal Era Democrats mixed together a diverse coalition, but it was built around some core principles that applied to most of their voters. This program collapsed in the 1960s, when civil rights legislation pushed away Southern Democrats and Vietnam alienated liberals.
In the 6 presidential elections between 1968 and 1988, Democrats won one. Narrowly. Jimmy Carter won a close election over the guy who pardoned Richard Nixon after Watergate and kept falling down stairs.
Democrats survived on the congressional level by focusing on majority minority districts and more liberal sections of the country. After many frustrations, Bill Clinton won two elections as a centrist, triangulating, New Democrat.
Winning was great, but there was no mandate for a liberal agenda. A couple steps in that direction were rebuked by the electorate in 1994, as Republicans won their first House majority in 40 years and regained the Senate.
Fast forward to 2008. Candidate Barack Obama found a way to take advantage of changing demographics to build an electoral coalition that did not require him to run or govern as a centrist. He couldn’t figure out how to make this work in midterm years, so he faces a GOP Congress, but it worked for him.
Before Bernie happened, Hillary was likely to try to repeat the same. Every four years, the Obama Coalition of progressives, LGBT, Millennials, Hispanics, African Americans and single women is a larger and larger part of the electorate. If she could retain most of it, the presidency was hers.
At first, it looked like Bernie was just peeling away the Bill Bradley group of overly educated white people. Not a problem. This wasn’t enough to nominate Bradley in 2000. The demographics are even less favorable now. Then it looked like Sanders was doing better with blue collar whites.
Not ideal. These voters supported Hillary in 2008 but were now against her. However, Obama didn’t have those voters either and managed to beat Hillary. Back then, Hillary led with Latinos, Obama with African Americans. Trading her blue collar voters for Obama’s black voters was at worst a draw.
Then everyone noticed how well Bernie was doing with voters under 40. Obama did well with them too, but not like this. Younger women have turned their backs on Hillary. So the choice was made to focus on South Carolina, March 1, and African Americans.
There is a risk. If Hillary wins all of the Old Confederacy states, each of which vote between February 27 and March 15, she will build up a delegate lead. But Bernie will not go away. There are a whole lot of other high profile states. It appears Sanders has made notable progress with Nevada Latinos.
If this carries over to places like Illinois, New York and California, Hillary still has a problem. Right now, she can claim Bernie is a regional candidate. His win was New Hampshire and it’s possible he can only add Vermont and Massachusetts to this over the next couple weeks.
However, Nevada is still up for grabs. So is Colorado, which caucuses on March 1. Oklahoma is a good bet for Bernie. Even Michigan is far from out of the question. PPP has her up 50/40. They’ve leaned towards Hillary in Iowa and New Hampshire. He got a majority of undecided voters in both states.
Carry both of those trends out and they’re effectively tied. This is after Hillary made a big push on the Flint crisis. If things go well, she can say Bernie can only win in New England. If they go badly, Bernie can say she can only win in the Old Confederacy. Iowa was a tie. Nevada will likely wind up very close.
Those are swing states, as is New Hampshire. The states Hillary is going to win are not. They vote Republican. Does Clinton continue to focus 98% of her attention on African American voters and risk abandoning or alienating the rest of the Obama Coalition?
Younger black voters are already more open to Sanders. In states outside of the South, the average age is a little lower. She risks leaving herself cornered. Sanders is not running as an interest group politician. As we all know, he’s running against Wall Street, Citizens United and special interests and for democratic socialism.
If younger African American voters decide this is more their thing, she’s done. I personally think John Lewis is an American hero. Well before his skull was cracked open on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, he spent several years as a leader in SNCC, the student-led group responsible for many of the successful sit-ins in the South, as well as many other key movement victories.
When he and they other key figures in SNCC were getting rolling, they struggled with the slower pace set by civil rights leaders multiple generations ahead of them. Even MLK sometimes moved slower than they would have preferred. I’m not sure a 23-year-old activist is real concerned with who John Lewis is endorsing, any more than the 23-year-old John Lewis cared what A. Phillip Randolph wanted.
This is a very long way of suggesting Hillary may want to pivot a bit back toward Latinos tonight and for the remainder of the campaign. If you are going to play interest group politics, you have to count very carefully and make sure the groups you are pandering to add up to more than those you are ignoring.
Time is on Bernie’s side. If he can survive past March 15 without an unrecoverable delegate deficit, voters will have increasingly more time to get to know him. Many of the contests are caucuses where he’ll have an edge. After years of building a coalition of interest groups, older Democrats don’t immediately feel comfortable with the Sanders approach.
This is why super delegates don’t think he’s electable yet. Give it 6 to 10 weeks and they’ll start changing their tune. Hillary’s current approach is not popular with swing voters who have more broad-based concerns. Her favorability ratings in key states like Virginia are continuing to erode.
The numbers look good for the firewall, but if Hillary wants to build a real edge, she needs Nevada and Colorado. This requires a change in tone. Does the campaign have the confidence to start tonight?