2016 Democrats, Debates, Strategy, Uncategorized

Debate Prep: Welcome to Flint, MI

March 6, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders return to the debate stage tonight at 8pm Eastern on CNN from Flint, Michigan. The Clinton team pushed for the specific location, wanting to highlight the water crisis.

Losing heavily African American states in the South by more than he won mostly white states elsewhere already has Sanders at a disadvantage. The delegate math is daunting. Hillary leads by more than Barack Obama did at the same point in 2008.

That’s on the earned delegate side. She has an enormous advantage among super delegates who have already announced their preference. They can shift, Obama changed plenty of minds 8 years ago, but that was with an edge among earned delegates to show the way.Mississippi votes on Tuesday too. If Bernie exceeds expectations, she’ll only win by 50 points. The hole is deepening. Hillary is up by 20 in the Real Clear Politics average in Michigan.

It’s too late for him to close the gap with a single good debate. Hillary is extremely likely to win on Tuesday, regardless of what happens tonight. She’s a strong debater, and incredibly unlikely to say anything to turn off thousands of Clinton-leaning primary voters.

Worst case, she says a couple things a Republican can capitalize on later. Not an issue now. With Trump still the most likely GOP nominee, and Hillary still seen as the more electable, Democratic voters have another reason to stick with her.

So why are we even thinking about the debate? Why bother watching? If you have something better to do, perhaps better to DVR it, or wait for a replay in case it turns out to have mattered.

The significance is in being Bernie’s last chance to reformat his approach while there is still time before the March 15 votes. Winning without Michigan is highly difficult, but at this point, it is what it is. There are enough remaining delegates for him to catch up if he went on a big winning streak.

Not if he gets swept on March 15. Hillary is going to win Florida. This isn’t the time to go into the specifics, but it’s delegate damage control for Bernie, not opportunity.

Same thing in North Carolina. He can hope to make it closer than South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, all of which were 30 points plus for her, all of which border the state.

Missouri is his best opportunity, followed by Ohio and Illinois in some order. Each of these states have African American voters in smaller quantities than Alabama, larger than Kansas. He doesn’t need to win a majority, but continuing to lose 80 to 90 percent is a mathematical dead end.

Beyond the math, it’s an optical problem. Without African Americans, Democrats don’t win national elections. A large portion of the Democratic establishment is African American. Many of those individuals represent majority African American districts.

It’s a problem for Hillary if she continues to struggle with white voters under 40, especially under 30. It’s an impossibility if Bernie continues to get completely shut out among African Americans over 40. One of those groups votes more than the other.

Hillary began the contest with a big edge. The biggest way a Biden entry could have improved Bernie’s chances was through dividing this vote with Clinton, creating a real contest to assume the Obama legacy.

Many on the Sanders team assumed his economic message, particularly pushing for a $15 minimum wage, emphasizing insane rates of unemployment among African American youth, and talking about sentencing reform would help.

It hasn’t. Flint is a great example of why. Hillary flew there two days before the New Hampshire primary. She won the endorsement of the mayor, and showed her face locally when the crisis was at it’s peak in the national news.

That’s her formula. Show direct, targeted concern for a specific group of affected individuals. Gain the support of local officials. Blame Republicans for the problem. Erase Bernie from view.

It’s prevented him from gaining traction. The candidates have now done several debates, and several town halls. They have a town hall on Fox News tomorrow, one Bernie forced her to participate in to avoid looking afraid.

There’s another debate in Florida on Wednesday. It’s not like this is the last time voters may give Bernie a look before the 15th. But he’s not going to win the necessary voters over in a single debate.

He needs an upgraded message, one fleshed out tomorrow in front of a smaller audience, and repeated in the next debate. If he’s not ready to go with it today, it won’t magically appear then.

There is a key word missing from much of Bernie’s rhetoric. Jobs. It’s not that he never mentions it. When he talks about rebuilding infrastructure, it’s followed by saying this will create 13 million of them.

But he talks about wages more than jobs, going to college more than the careers that will follow. It’s a hole in his argument and one that prevents some voters from believing in the outcome if he was given the chance to attempt it.

Bernie must connect the dots. If providing free college education will reduce the African American youth unemployment rate, he needs to draw a direct line. Yes, college can’t hurt, but with everyone talking about the limited post-college opportunities for new graduates, it’s not an end in itself.

A higher minimum wage will help working families, but it will also reduce job opportunities. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. You can argue as Bernie does that someone working 40 hours per week should be able to support themselves.

There is a trade-off, and he can’t get away with ignoring it. He needs to link it to trade policy. He talks about being against everything from NAFTA to TPP, while Hillary was at least once in favor.

Bernie needs to say it’s forced a choice between low-wage jobs or no jobs at all for many working Americans, African Americans in particular. Only then can he leverage this with his argument about Hillary taking money from Wall Street and the billionaire class, the same people often pushing for trade agreements.

Sentencing reform is an economic issue if he directly draws the line. People get sent convicted of felonies for non-violent, drug-related offenses and then find themselves ineligible for many forms of employment.

Yes, he was concerned about this when Hillary’s husband was passing the crime bill than contributed to it, but re-litigating the 1990s is less effective in a Democratic primary. He’s not going to get to 50% in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois by implicitly or explicitly criticizing Bill Clinton.

If he can say, this is what I stand for, this is what I’ve always stood for, implementing these things will provide more jobs, reduce racial inequality, along with overall income inequality, and here’s how, plenty of voters in semi-diverse industrial states will listen.

Hillary has an adjustment of her own to make. She’s beginning to pivot to the general election, taking advantage of her lead and Bernie’s reluctance to adjust to try out various themes.

She now wants to “make America whole again.” This is a bad slogan. Donald Trump mocked her for this in his press conference/victory speech last night. He will continue to because it’s a good target. It sounds like something a bored focus group signed off on.

Tonight is Hillary’s opportunity to start sounding presidential. This is different from more presidential than Bernie, or more presidential than Trump. For many Democrats, Sanders is an exciting insurgent. They don’t like him for his presidentialness.

Trump’s fans like him because he doesn’t take any shit. The best way Clinton can finish locking the nomination down on March 15 is by making Democrats relish the idea of seeing her on the debate stage in the fall.

In order to defeat Trump in the fall (or Ted Cruz), she’ll need to convince the voters that don’t like her or her opponent that she’s the far lesser of two evils.

Hillary isn’t going to inspire anyone beyond those already in the tank for her. She has no future as a national healer-in-chief. The goal is tough, capable, confident. A way to show this is by making a tribute to Nancy Reagan during the debate.

This isn’t 1992, when Hillary was helping her husband run for office and Nancy was still something of a controversial figure. It’s not 2008, when Hillary was still trying to move past the shadow of her time as first lady.

I always advise the candidates, show, don’t tell. Want to remind everyone you are more of a leader than Bernie, more suitable for the Oval Office than Trump? This is how. Talk about her service to America, her service to her husband.

She shouldn’t hesitate to say their methods were different, their goals similar. There’s actually a way to turn this into a feminist argument without slamming Nancy. She can talk about how first ladies have often provided important service to the country, but opportunities have now improved.

She can say Eleanor Roosevelt never had the chance to do what she is in the middle of attempting. That her presidency will help ensure no woman beginning her career now, no girl just beginning school will ever have to wonder what they can accomplish.

These aren’t new concepts for Hillary, but framing them with the service Nancy Reagan gave the country is a different way to approach them. She isn’t going to convince anti-Trump Republicans and Independents to vote for her by slamming the GOP.

A strong, magnanimous shout-out to Nancy is a start. You can’t make America whole if you can’t say bipartisan things the day Ronald Reagan’s wife finished her journey back to him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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