Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 4, 2008
POLITICS: Obamomentum - End-of-the-Primaries Edition

Now that the Democratic primaries are finally over, let's take one last look at the charts I have been running for some time now (see here, here and here) of the Democratic presidential primary popular vote totals for the months of March, April, May and now June. (Source: RCP, except I used CNN's updated figures for Montana) - "margin," of course, is Obama's margin of victory/defeat in each primary:

South Dakota6/343,72654,179-10,453
Puerto Rico6/1121,458263,120-141,662
West Virginia5/1391,652239,062-147,410
North Carolina5/6887,391657,669+229,722
Rhode Island3/475,316108,949-33,633

In other words, Obama ends the last 3 months of the primary season more than 600,000 votes in the hole, losing the popular vote decisively to Hillary over a stretch of 16 primaries in which 13 million votes were cast. In percentage terms, Hillary's 4.52% margin of victory for that period is larger than the general election margins of Bush over Kerry in 2004, Carter over Ford in 1976, Nixon over Humphery in 1968, Truman over Dewey in 1948, and just a point smaller than that of Clinton over Bush in 1992. He lost six different primaries by margins of 100,000 or more votes. All this during the time period when he should have been sealing the deal with Democratic voters after having taken what looked at the time like a decisive, momentum-tipping lead in mid-February. The final insult was losing South Dakota, a state he was widely projected to win and in which he led decisively in the few polls taken until the last day or two before the election, and which cast its ballots while the vultures were visibly circling Hillary's campaign.*

It's Obama's weakness in that period even within his own party that has to be troubling to Democrats pondering his chances in November. Recall that Obama faced virtually no serious scrutiny until he pulled within 20 points of Hillary in the national popular vote in mid-December in the immediate aftermath of Oprah's campaign appearances on his behalf (he didn't pull within single digits until after he won Iowa); it was only after he was christened the clear frontrunner that he started to take serious fire, beginning in late February and early March with Hillary's "3 a.m." ad, the Goolsbee/NAFTA flap, and of course the Rev. Wright story, and continuing with the accumulation his radical left-wing associations, his endless stream of verbal flubs, and his ever-growing list of friends, mentors and staffers cast under the bus. Jay Cost has a great series of posts (start here) on the demographic breakdown of how and where Hillary beat Obama; consider this, among his many charts, looking at the states Bush won in 2004 that the Democrats would have some hope (and, obviously, need) to pick off in 2008:


That there is not much of a winning coalition in most parts of this country.

Let's also wrap up my look at turnout, using the same baseline as before (the number of votes in 2006 for House Democrats in the state) - this time, I'll just run the chart just for the same time period (the full chart and explanation of sources is here), but leaving out Puerto Rico, where I used a different and ultimately inaccurate baseline to capture the relatively disappointing turnout:

State2006 House D VoteDateVotes*Turnout

Turnout started to tail off after the early May primaries. In general, through the primaries and caucuses (especially caucuses), Obama tended to do better in the lower turnout states, but we see here that at the very end, he did better in Montana, which had fairly robust turnout, than in South Dakota, where even adjusting for the fact that Stephanie Herseth's 2006 victory may set an unrealistically high bar for turnout, the turnout was quite low.

* - A tip of the cap to Conservative South Dakota blogger Ken Blanchard, who argued that the polls in his state were too optimistic for Obama and that Hillary would win.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 AM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

Among other things, Obama's success or failure in November is pretty likely to serve as a referendum on the caucus system. It seems indisputable that Hillary would have emerged as the nominee if all the states held primaries. Some people see merit in the party-building aspects of caucuses, but it seems to me a system that resembles the way people actually vote in November is more likely to select a candidate who can win then.

At any rate, the Democratic selection process is in a perpetual state of fighting the last war, so I'm sure they'll fix this with a new process that can find new and interesting ways to screw things up.

Posted by: Jerry at June 4, 2008 12:28 PM

Yeah, I argued against the caucus system on the GOP side for the same reason, and had a lot of arguments with Romney supporters in particular who didn't get why winning caucuses isn't highly predictive of electoral success.

Posted by: The Crank at June 4, 2008 12:33 PM

Great site you have!

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Posted by: Steve at June 4, 2008 12:51 PM

This article is a nice demonstration of how Obama limped across the finish line but it seems to highlight that the Dems had two highly attractive candidates (to their voters) while we had none. McCain looked like a tired joke yesterday; just play his and Obama's speech side by side -- or even his and Clinton's for that matter, and you can tell the Repubs are in deep trouble. And honestly, if McCain is the best we can do with his amnesty advocacy and his constant thumbing the eyes of evangelicals and his schizo realist then neo then realist foreign policy then it may not be the worst thing to let the Dems preside over the next 4 grim the hopes that it's one term and true conservatives can regroup and attack rather than defend. Bob Barr is getting my vote, McCain none of my money, and Obama my reluctant plaudits for demonstrating that the country isn't quite as racist as some of his die hard supporters believe.

Posted by: robert at June 4, 2008 3:05 PM

One problem with all the effort you put into those stats. What was Obama's strategy to win the nomination? I bet he played the part of the system that best favored his chances to win. Crank, what happened to you, long ago you post thoughtful stuff on politics. Your turning into the Malkin of baseball

Posted by: javaman at June 4, 2008 7:13 PM

"Lies, damn lies and statistics." If you are interested in looking at different data that presents a different picture, go to this link:

Posted by: Magrooder at June 5, 2008 12:26 PM

That's a national poll average. Polls have their uses, but they are always less useful than actual votes. Especially given how regularly Obama has underperformed both polls and exit polls.

Posted by: The Crank at June 5, 2008 12:35 PM

So if you eliminate February, Obama's best month, we should be able to tell how he is as a candidate?

Truth is, Hillary Country was back-loaded in the campaign...and she didn't care because she didn't think anyone would last past Super Tuesday...

Mountains out of Moehills, if you ask me.

Posted by: AstrosFan at June 6, 2008 12:34 PM

The Dems can afford to not play to win because it doesn't matter to them if they win or not.

Whether or not Dems win presidential elections (since 1968 7 Republican wins and 3 Democratic wins), policy has moved massively toward the preferences of progressive academia.

Law enforcement is still hamstrung.
Racial preferences are now the law of the land.
Against the wishes of like 70% of the public there are basically no border controls (on the Mexican border).
Gay marriage is now on the books in 2 states and will eventually be the law everywhere.
All sorts of new entitlement programs have been created (prescription drugs for Medicare recipients the latest)
ADA is still the law, regardless of the number of horror stories about compliance and bureaucracy you read about.

What has the Republican party wanted that has happened? I can think of two things:

1) Military buildup in the 1980s
2) The Iraq war

In exchange for (1) Regan gave away any federal fiscal restraint. In exchange for (2) Bush let the State Department have unprecedented power over the military. Commanders have to ask a JAG officer permission to attack a target. Basically we've learned that we can lose a war with an insurgency if the military isn't allowed to fight.

If McCain becomes president, expect immigration amnesty and judges like Kennedy on courts. Occasionally, McCain justices will stop progressive power grabs but they will never roll back progressive gains. Other than that McCain will do nothing as president.

Obama would appoint justices and judges that invent federal gay marriage, find racial profiling in policing unconstitutional, find long prison sentences unconstitutional, etc. All of these things will happen eventually anyway because the "right" just pauses the progressives and the progressives actually create new policy.

Anyway, if Obama loses progressives can go back to telling themselves that they're not the party in power. They seem to like that.

Posted by: Steve Johnson at June 7, 2008 9:38 PM
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