Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Now Oregon is the End of the Trail

The Hatfields and McCoys in West Virginia came out to vote today in big numbers for Hillary Clinton over the presumptive nominee Barack Obama. Hillary is winning a stunning 67% for Hillary to 26% for Barack, a landslide 40 point margin of victory. If that weren’t embarrassing enough, I’d say Barack owes Hillary a big thank you for staying in the race, as it would have been even more embarrassing if he had lost big to a candidate who had just dropped out (Edwards is winning 7% in West Virginia, and he dropped out months ago). The Hatfields and McCoys will vote again in Kentucky on May 20 and we should expect a similar result. If Hillary keeps this up, she could still overtake the presumptive nominee. But first she has to get past the storied Oregon primary, also on May 20.

Oregon was the first state to establish a presidential primary in 1910. A reform movement led by Teddy Roosevelt established 12 primaries for the 1912 election. Before these first primaries, nominations were decided at national party conventions with delegates picked at the state level by party insiders. Teddy had been President from 1901-1909 and was succeeded by fellow Republican William Howard Taft. But Teddy quickly grew disaffected with Taft and hoped to buck his support among Republican Party insiders by appealing directly to the people. Teddy won many of these primaries but failed to stop Taft for the Republican nomination, so he formed an independent third party, the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party. Taft finished third in the 1912 general election, Roosevelt finished second, and that split made Democrat Woodrow Wilson the winner.

The Oregon primary became a key battleground in 1968, by voters who wanted to stop the nomination of Robert Kennedy. In those days, voters were allowed to vote in either primary, without regard to their party registration. My family lived in Oregon in 1968 and my father, a lifelong Republican, has often spoken in family circles of taking the Democratic ballot in 1968 to stop Kennedy (my mother keeps her own counsel on her own vote). It was a dilemma for Republicans in Oregon, as there was also a movement to stop the Nixon nomination on the Republican side by voting for Nelson Rockefeller. Robert Kennedy lost the Oregon primary, and it was the first election loss for a Kennedy. But much of the glee of stopping the Kennedy machine in Oregon was taken away when Robert Kennedy was assassinated one week later in California. I have often wondered who my father voted “for” in order to vote “against” Kennedy - that part of the story was always a little vague. I see from looking up the results that the man who beat Kennedy in Oregon was anti-Vietnam War candidate Eugene McCarthy. My father voted for Clean Gene.

What will happen in Oregon on May 20? Obama is leading in the polls and should win given the progressive politics of the state. And these days only registered Democrats can vote in the Oregon primary. But there have been a large number of re-registrations leading up to the April 29 registration deadline, so there may be a stop Barack movement afoot. If Hillary unexpectedly wins in Oregon, that could change everything. If she loses big, that’s the end of the trail.

Delegate watch: Barack needs just 144 more delegates to clinch the nomination (328 delegates to shut Hillary up about Michigan and Florida). The first number is probably in the bag with superdelegates who haven’t announced yet and a minimum showing in the remaining states.

Clinton watch: Could Hillary follow Teddy’s Bull Moose lead and form a Mad Cow Party? Or is perhaps her plan just to spend all her husband’s money on these last primaries to get even for his past transgressions? Connect the dots: She didn’t really start smiling until February when she starting dipping into the Clinton piggyback to loan her campaign money, estimated to be $12 million so far with doubtful prospects for getting paid back if she loses. Last week she rebuffed an overture to have Obama cover her campaign debt if she would drop out. And her husband has done his best to scuttle her ability to go forward at key moments.

Obama watch: Barack really needs to hire some people who can relate to middle America. One ad in West Virginia featured Barack standing in front of a backdrop showing multiple logos for “The Chicago Council on Global Affairs” speaking about restoring America’s place in the eyes of the world (how about restoring West Virginia’s place in the eyes of San Francisco?) and another with talking about Barack being a god-fearing church-going Christian (and who would be giving the sermon in that church?). His Oregon ads look good, though.

Bush watch: First daughter Jenna Bush was married this past weekend to Henry Hager by Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell, a United Methodist minister from Houston who is black. (Apparently not every minister in the black church is a Reverend Wright.) Kirbyjon publicly endorsed Barack Obama in January. Jenna pointedly declined to endorse John McCain during a recent appearance on Larry King Live. Could Jenna be a secret Obama supporter?

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