Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Big State and the Machine

There's a good bit in one of the NY Times blogs about how Clinton might have been able to take Wyoming.

By all accounts, that didn't happen. But it does raise that oldest of points: the fact that Clinton has been able to take big Blue states (and, yes, Texas, though only by a hairsbreadth and only by sacrificing a LOT of smaller states), whereas Obama has been taking smallish red-to-purple states, particularly those with caucuses. The Clinton Machine has been crying foul over that, saying "this shows he can't carry big states!"

Well, maybe not in the primaries. But I do think that the validity of that charge is a little weak.

Remember, it's about movements vs. machines. Obama's organization is pretty good, but the core strength of his movement is that it behaves like a social movement: there's a lot of excitement there, tons of volunteers, the energy of youth, etc. The Clinton Machine it's up against is, however, the democratic machine. Clinton has a lot of friends in a lot of high places that owe her and her husband a lot of favors. The people who are the "movers and shakers", the ones who keep the Democratic party running and funded... they're the backbone of the Clinton primary machine.

They're also the ones who bet the farm in 2006-2007 on Clinton being president in 2008. "Where you stand depends on where you sit", and a lot of Dems have seated their future careers on the Clinton bandwagon. Obama really must be like a nightmare for these folks. He wasn't supposed to happen, and they're willing to do almost anything to ensure that he doesn't happen.

If you keep that in mind, the current situation makes perfect sense. Big Democratic states are going to have big machines. There's going to be lots of careerists and patronage cases who bet their futures on Clinton. They're going to pull out all the stops to get Clinton nominated. The smaller the state, the smaller the machine, and the more likely it is that the Obama movement will be able to break apart the gears of the machine. The bigger the state, the less likely it is that the machine will have its operation disrupted by the insurgent Senator's people.

For machine Dems, I imagine it doesn't even matter so much if she wins the general. If she loses, they'll be fine: they're in states that Dems dominate, or in states big enough that the Dems have a presence somewhere. It could be far more of a threat for Obama to become president, because he could use that position to root out the members of the Clinton machine that opposed him. If he does try to do that, then I think he'll really be in significant trouble. It seems unlikely to me, though.

Barring that, what this also suggests is that Obama's trouble with large states is probably not a big deal. Leave aside the racist Dems who simply won't vote for a black man; he'll still pull in all the committed machine Dems who had backed Hillary, because first and foremost they're Democrats, and it's pretty unlikely they'll hop the party line. They aren't likely to encourage their followers to do so, either, because if said followers aren't told to vote a straight Dem ticket, it makes it more likely that they'll flip downticket as well. That could cost these guys jobs.

They're loyal to Clinton, but they're not that loyal.

Instead, what seems likely is that the big state machines will back the presidential candidate no matter who it is. Barack Obama will be able to enjoy the support of the machine that had supported Hillary, and that of his own more volatile "movement" backers.

So, no, I'm not terribly worried about Obama and the big states. Their machines will go on, even without Clinton to marshall them. Unless Clinton really is going to scorch the earth and denounce a victorious Obama, it's a wash.

(One other thing... "What about the Latinos", you say? Think about it. Are they really going to hop to McCain and his party? No, of course they aren't, the Republicans ditched any hope of meaningful Latino support a long time ago. They might stay home, but they're far more likely to vote that (D) ticket. I really doubt that it will lose him any states that he had any hope of winning, or any real fear of losing.)

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