Archive for the ‘2008 Presidential Primaries’ Category

Personal Memories of Campaign 2008

November 6, 2008
I first met Barack Obama at a sparsely attended press conference for Deval Patrick in October 2006. I saw him electrify an audience at the JFK Library and witnessed his first big appearance in New Hampshire in early December. I was there in Concord when Obama stood by his vow to meet the president of Iran during his first year in office. “We don’t need Bush-Cheney Lite,” he said as the crowd erupted in cheers. Even when this became an issue in the debates with McCain, nobody told McCain Obama ever said that.
I heard him implore Massachusetts to vote for him with Caroline Kennedy and Ted Kennedy at his side the night before the primary. He lost but he did not lose his cool.
I saw his last appearance with foreign policy aide Samantha Power. Obama seemed to love her energy but his staffers kept reeling her in.
I was one of the few writers to spend an extended period of time with Joe Biden, who gave me time after a book talk at Borders in downtown Boston. In an odd juxtaposition from four years earlier, I waited for Biden with the BPPA’s leadership team.
I attended scores of Hillary Clinton speeches and watched her campaign of inevitability devolve into desperation. I saw her fight back as the NH primary approached. I was in the room when two goons got up during one of her speeches shouting “Iron My Shirt! Iron My Shirt!”
I covered the Pennsylvania primary before Obama had figured out how to capture the votes of blue collar whites (or before the economy entirely went south.) I saw a Bill Clinton, reduced to giving 25 minute speeches in out-of-the-way venues, rev up the crowd in Millvale, PA. I interviewed Senator Casey of Pennsylvania who assured me Obama would win over enough Catholic voters to become president.
On the Republican side, I began by following Mitt Romney around New Hampshire. I saw Rudy Giuliani take brief interest and lose it in the Granite State. While he started to resonate in July, his big tour across Southern New Hampshire was a bust. The lasting image is of his gaggle of stilettoed press aides shoeing away the media, including David Broder who subsequently slammed Giuliani in the Washington Post.
McCain began his presidential campaign in Portsmouth at a highly orchestrated event right on the river with just one problem. The t.v. cameras could not shoot over the big speakers McCain’s people had set up. I called around NH when McCain hit his low point. McCain would win NH on his own, his supporters said. And they were right. I was with McCain the night he won NH and killed the campaign of Mitt Romney. The campaign blared Chuck Berry’s “Go Johnny Go!” How is this guy going to compete with Obama and his U2 “City of Blinding Light?” I thought.
I was there in Denver when Obama made everything in his campaign bigger and pulled it off.

McCain, Obama, Clinton — Tonight’s Results

June 4, 2008

John McCain did his best Bob Dole impression tonight. He had the war hero thing down cold, but his comments lacked Dole’s bite.

Having said that, I would caution Barack Obama’s supporters against making their January reservations at the J.W. Marriott. The Boston Globe had it right today when they published a story headlined “Trouble Signs as Obama Closes In.” Here’s what Scott Helman reported: “Over the last three months, the Illinois senator has won six of 14 contests, one less than the seven Clinton has won. (They essentially tied in Texas as she won the primary and he won the caucus.) A loss to Clinton in either primary today would underscore Obama’s relatively weak finish and make his narrow victory over the New York senator slimmer.”

Once again I’m troubled by the messianic tone by many in the media about Obama’s nomination. There is no question now that Obama took the requisite number of delegates to become the nominee. But from my vantage point, this has more to do with the phenomenal tactical plan of the Obama campaign, cleaning Clinton’s clock in the caucus states, than with any widespread annointing of Obama. Obama tonight, graciously, thanked David Plouffe for “building the best political organization in the country.”

Finally, I must say I adore Obama and his wife as a couple. They have held it together during a very stressful time.

Obama on Iran: Bush-Cheney Lite Sounds Great

May 27, 2008

Ben Smith’s got an item about how Barack Obama is backtracking on his pledge to meet with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad. You can watch that here.

It was one of the most memorable moments of last summer’s campaign, one that many thought would torpedo Obama’s chances.

Here’s what Smith quotes Obama as saying now: “‘There’s no reason why we would necessarily meet with Ahmadinejad before we know that he was actually in power,’ ” he said. ” ‘He’s not the most powerful person in Iran.’ ”

Smith rightly points out that Obama stood by his answer well into the primary season, calling it “an effective point of contrast with Hillary in the primary.”

Having spent much time up in New Hampshire last summer, I remember Obama taking it even further.

Last July, I drove up to Concord’s Eagle Square to see Congressman Paul Hodes endorse Obama. Here at, I observed “there’s no question that Obama’s willingness to meet with the despots of Iran, Syria, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela is electrifying the progressive grassroots, particularly in New Hampshire.”

Reporting for The New York Sun, I noticed that Obama not only stood by his pledge, he upped the ante on it. His direct quote, using the word dictator, reinforces the fact that he was specifically referring to Ahmadinejad.

“It is no longer sufficient to trot out the old formulas, the old tired phrases. If we want fundamental change, then we can’t be afraid to talk to our enemies. I’m not afraid of losing the p.r. war to dictators,” Mr. Obama said to prolonged applause. “I’m happy to look them in the eye and say what needs to be said… I don’t want a continuation of Bush-Cheney. I don’t want Bush-Cheney lite, I want a fundamental change.”

In presidential politics, it’s long been commonplace for candidates to move leftward to win Democratic primaries and caucuses and then tack to the center to win general elections. But it’s not exactly a new kind of politics. It’s the same kind of politics we’ve always had.

Edwards and Obama

May 15, 2008

John Edwards endorsement of Barack Obama raises the immediate question of an Obama-Edwards ticket. I don”t buy it.

While plenty of structural reasons militated for yesterday’s endorsement, such as the fact that both Edwards in ’04 and Obama in ’08 relied up strategist David Axelrod, Edwards likely won’t be on a Democratic ticket with Obama.

Edwards was not an asset to John Kerry, whose top supporters still carry resentment towards the lawyer who couldn’t carry his home state of North Carolina. Edwards can’t help Obama in the South, where John McCain will win. And he hasn’t won white voters since 1998.

If shoring up Obama’s shortcomings on military affairs and foreign policy weren’t such an important need, I’d expect Obama to turn to a politician who could help with them. Prime candidates include Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Jim Webb of Virginia.

Hillary Clinton: Mountain Momma

May 14, 2008

Hillary Clinton just trounced Barack Obama in West Virginia. She’s giving a fired up speech from Charleston. And she’s not going anywhere.

I’m struck by the crowd in the background, all white except for an African American dude in a doo-rag. They’ve also got some kind of doofus in a windbreaker holding a bowling pin aloft.

I’ve admired Clinton’s fighting spirit for much of this campaign. On stylistic grounds, it’s almost bordering on self-parody.

As for Barack Obama, he’s certainly not finishing this race in strong fashion. I’m not sure if that will hurt his chances in November. But it can’t be good.

Gitell on NECN: DiMasi, Clinton, Obama and McCain

May 13, 2008

I appeared on NECN’s NewsNight tonight along with Rep. Frank Smizik of Brookline, Peter Torkildsen of the state GOP, and Casey Ross of The Boston Herald. The primary topic was Sal DiMasi’s fight to preserve his speakership. Watch it here.

Gitell on NECN: McCain v. Obama

May 12, 2008

Watch me cap off Mother’s Day, speaking to NECN’s Mark Sudol about the new phase in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Thoughts on Clinton v. Obama: Indiana and North Carolina

May 6, 2008

Even if Hillary Clinton wins both North Carolina and Indiana today, which is highly unlikely, all relevant metrics still point to his nomination. This could be a shock for some people, including white blue collar voters, who will have seen Clinton surge over the last two months, while Obama has flagged.

The often unsaid reality of the 2008 campaign is that the deck is stacked against white, working class voters due to the Democratic Party’s distribution of delegates. In Pennsylvania, Clinton rode the support of these voters to a victory by a margin of 214,224 voters. Despite her win there, she gained only 10 more delegates than Obama.

Obama, by contrast, won by a sounder margin in the Idaho caucuses. He defeated Clinton: 16,880 to 3,665. Thanks to this 13,000 margin, Obama garnered 12 delegates. Although Clinton won Pennsylvania by a margin that is 16 times greater than the margin Obama won by in Idaho, she received two fewer delegates.

Obama won more delegates in Idaho because of the high percentage of his victory there. It’s all the more puzzling because the state is practically irrelevant to a Democratic win in November. In Pennsylvania, Obama’s losses were mitigated because his success came in urban areas, which carry more delegates than less populated and less Democratic areas.

A similar analysis of Ohio demonstrates analogous results. In Texas, where Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote in the primary by more than 100,000 votes out of almost 2 million, she ended up losing five delegates to Obama. Again, this was due to Democratic delegate apportionment and Obama’s success in a caucus there when less than 43,000 participated.

Just because Obama has the delegate advantage, doesn’t mean it’s fair. But this is politics.

I’d watch the fallout here as the Democratic Party attempts to come together as the Democratic National Convention approaches. 

Keller in the Wall Street Journal

May 5, 2008

I often take a moment to reflect upon the trajectories taken by local writers and political pundits. One political analyst who continues to elevate his game is Jon Keller of WBZ-TV. Keller began the process when he published “The Bluest State” last year. He followed up on that success with a thoughtful essay in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday. In it, he revisited the similarities between Governor Patrick and Barack Obama.

“Education may be the one area where Mr. Patrick could have done the most to demonstrate that he is indeed a new man of the left. Fifteen years ago, the state enacted strict testing requirements for both teachers and students and passed reforms that encourage the creation of charter schools. The result: Massachusetts consistently places among the top performers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Sticking by these bipartisan reforms – or even expanding them to help minority children in poor areas – would seem to be an easy call.

But to the delight of education unions, Mr. Patrick instead appears to be laying the groundwork to dismantle these reforms. He appointed antitesting zealot Ruth Kaplan to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, where she repaid his confidence recently by disparaging the college preparation emphasis of some charter schools. She said these schools set ‘some kids up for failure . . . Their families don’t always know what’s best for their children.’

S. Paul Reville, chairman of the education board, has also drawn attention for his willingness to water down certification testing requirements for aspiring teachers. Under the guise of trying to overcome a teacher shortage, the administration wants to allow applicants who have failed the test three times to teach anyway. When pressed on the issue, Mr. Reville said publicly that the certification test ‘isn’t necessarily the best venue for everybody to demonstrate their competency.’ “

Hillary Clinton: “We’ve Got To Elect A President Who’s A Fighter”

May 1, 2008

Hillary Clinton has really hit her stride with this Hillary as a fighter motif. That explains why she would appear with vocal critic Bill O’Reilly

The mystery of this campaign is that Clinton is peaking as Barack Obama is at his worst. By every measurable standard, Obama should be the nominee. Yet Clinton is lapping him at the end. She’s even been wearing a garish magenta-accented outfit, which along with the return of big hair is causing the Fabulous Dana to suspect is poll-driven to draw blue collar votes.

Much has been made of the anger that many of the voters Obama has brought into the system will express if the super delegates choose Clinton as the nominee (as Politico reports many have already decided). But could there be an equivalent — or even greater — sense of frustration from those who have witnessed Obama take a dive over the last several weeks. That’s what the recent Suffolk poll of Pennsylvania suggested.

This means that if and when Obama becomes the presumptive nominee any sense of peace among the Democrats will hinge on Clinton and her supporters. If Clinton chooses, it could be ugly.