Hunt Where The Ducks Are, But Figure Out Where They’re Going To Be First

Today’s WaPo offers an analysis that suggests Obama’s strategy of seeking delegate votes from traditionally Republican-voting areas will weaken him in the general election. The analysis is interesting in that it points out that Obama has managed to make gains because Clinton has ignored certain areas. For instance, Idaho Democrats have given 3 delegates to Clinton, but 15 to Obama (according to the WaPo). The suggestion is that Obama’s lead in delegates comes pretty much exclusively from such places.

The question is, what chance does Obama have of getting Idaho to vote Democratic in the general election? None, of course. So the WaPo implies that Clinton’s is the better overall strategy because she is focusing her efforts in delegate-rich states which are also either Democratic strongholds or battleground states.

I disagree. Not with the idea that you hunt where the ducks are, but rather with the WaPo‘s unimaginative assessment of where the ducks really are. A delegate from Idaho casts a vote with the exact same weight as that of a delegate from California or Pennsylvania. And since in the more rural Republican states, Democrats tend to cluster in the capital city and the college towns, reaching out to them is relatively easy and cheap. There may be fewer delegates to be had in Idaho than Ohio, but the number is greater than zero.

Clinton simply expected those delegates to fall in line behind her — even after Obama mounted a stronger-than-expected challenge to her ascension. Idaho Democrats were probably unhappy with being ignored by the national candidates year after year. Then, Obama actually asked for their votes. People like to be asked. Is it such a great surprise that they responded? I think the strategy of reaching out to get those delegates is pretty damn clever, especially if Clinton is foolish enough to have not invested in any machinery whatsoever there even after it becomes clear that this is the margin of her defeat. The Alexrod/Plouffe strategy has the immediate benefit to Obama of an advantage in the delegate count.

It also will help build up the party in those states, which produce superdelegates as well as elected delegates, who are not stupid and will realize that the buildup of the party is responsible for their own re-election or status as local powerbrokers. And it’s a compelling argument to a superdelegate that whoever earned the most delegates in the primaries should get their support anyway. Since the convention is going to be brokered, Axelrod/Plouffe gives Obama ammunition going in to Denver.

What’s more, Obama’s work in places, even like Idaho, will resound to the long-term benefit of Democrats. Democrats in Idaho have to feel a little bit like Republicans here in California — so hopelessly outnumbered as to be impotent in state politics and unable to influence anything the state does. But both as a primary strategy and as a way of building up the party, this is nothing but good. Idaho will vote for McCain in 2008, and likely for the Republican nominee in 2012, too. But a sufficiently charismatic Democrat could be elected to state office in Idaho, maybe even Governor. Axelrod/Plouffe is a better long-term strategy for the Democrats than simply abandoning places that don’t seem likely to vote Democrat in eight months.

Good politics is about not just taking what’s traditionally yours but reaching out into new areas and growing your base of support. That’s how Republicans got on top in the South back in the sixties. That’s how Democrats got on top in New Mexico and how they’re getting on top in Nevada right now. That’s what Obama is doing. That’s not what Clinton is doing.

Obama is coming from an ideological position somewhat to the left of Clinton, but has produced a more moderate policy platfom than one might otherwise have thought he would have. He’s trying to bridge two ideological wings of his party, and realizing some success at it. He’s reaching out and building up the party for the future. Clinton, on the other hand, is beating the same drum that Democrats have been beating on for eight decades — a great way to beat Herbert Hoover, maybe, but that’s not the task she actually confronts.

Obama has figured out a way to reach out beyond his own natural ideological base. Clinton has not. That’s why Obama is better for the Democratic party than Clinton.

Which brings me back to a drum I’ve been beating on for a while now. What are the Republicans going to do to counter this? A party of gun nuts, moatdiggers, and Baptists will win in Blount County, Tennessee, but that coalition isn’t strong enough to beat the Democrats in Florida. Clinging to the strategies of the past is going to get you only so far; we’re not running against Walter Mondale here and we shouldn’t act like we are.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.