HBO’s “Recount”: Hindsight is 20/20

Watched HBO’s “Recount” tonight, the cable network’s retelling of the 2000 legal battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush for the presidency of the United States.

It was a roller-coaster ride that brought back a slew of memories — the start-and-stop recounts in Florida, the hanging chads, the recounting of the overseas military ballots, the purging of 20,000 voters from the rolls (most of them not convicted felons), the possibility of the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature deciding who would get the state’s 25 electoral votes if the popular vote could not be discerned by the December deadline, the state Supreme Court’s ordering of the recounting of statewide undervotes, only to be overruled by the federal Supreme Court at the 11th hour — it had all the makings of a great novel, and we all lived through it. It is a wonder why it took so long to tell the tale on film.
I remember feeling the same way as I believe the majority of us felt at the time. It had been more than a month since the election. The United States, the shining beacon of democracy for the world, had descended into a level of bickering over an election that was unbecoming of our status as the world’s first true democracy. We wanted to just get it over with. Who cared if Bush led by only 154 votes, or 537 votes, or 930 votes, depending on who was keeping tally. Even though there were tens of thousands of votes at play, and Bush’s initial 1,784 vote lead had been steadily dwindling the more votes were recounted, we just wanted it to be over already.
Now, with nearly eight years of hindsight, more than 4,000 of our troops and untold tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, the economy in the dumps, gas prices creeping past $4 a gallon and our standing in the world rivaling that of the Soviets in the late 1980s, it doesn’t seem such a bad idea to have waited a little longer to find out for certain who really won that election.

Obama basically calls it

As has been expected for weeks based on unnamed campaign sources, Sen. Barack Obama has subtly declared that he is now the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency. From today’s New York Times:

“We have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by
the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic
nomination for president of the United States in America,” Mr. Obama
said, standing in front of a moonlit Capitol in Des Moines.

even as Mr. Obama moved closer to making history as the first black
presidential nominee, he stopped short of declaring victory in the
Democratic race, part of a calibrated effort in the remaining weeks of
the contest to avoid appearing disrespectful to Mrs. Clinton and
alienating her supporters. Instead, he offered her lavish praise.

The conventional wisdom is that Clinton will continue to claim she has a chance at the nomination until the end of the month, when a Democratic party committee decides whether to allow the delegates from Michigan and Florida to be seated at the convention. But considering those states were punished by the party itself for holding their primaries early without permission, and that Obama did not actively campaign there and was not even on the ballot in Michigan, those delegates are nearly assured to be forced to stay put and watch the August convention from their living room couches.

Once that decision is made Clinton will likely capitulate. But until then Obama will continue to proceed delicately, avoiding outright declarations of victory while wooing Clinton supporters behind the scenes.

That jibes with what USC professor Kareem Crayton told me on May 7:

Whatever support Obama will get from
Clinton superdelegates will not happen in a wholesale fashion, and will be timed
so as not to be embarrassing to the Clinton campaign.

I suspect there will be an orchestrated
transition in the next few weeks from a hard-fought primary to a
transition of support for the nominee.

Pelosi: Superdelegates should go to popular winner

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just voiced what many political observers have been saying for months: If the superdelegates vote against the candidate who goes into the convention with the most pledged delegates from the state primaries and caucuses, the Democratic Party will be damaged politically.

Pelosi, who made the comments in a taped segment of ABC’s “This Week” as reported by CNN’s Political Ticker, seemed to be saying that she will cast her vote as a superdelegate for the popular leader of the Democratic nominating contests. Currently, that person is Sen. Barack Obama.

According to the AP, Obama currently leads Clinton by about 142 pledged delegates, a lead that would remain in place going into the August convention unless Clinton takes landslide victories in the remaining primaries and caucuses — an unlikely scenario.

Pelosi’s words carry great weight and could influence many of her fellow superdelegates — Democratic members of Congress, state governors and other high-ranking party officials who get their own votes at the convention. Clinton currently leads the superdelegate county, 249-213 according to the AP.

If they follow Pelosi’s lead, the roughly 700 superdelegates in the party would easily tip the nomination toward Obama.


Portantino loses chairmanship

The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert blog is reporting that Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, has been stripped of his chairmanship of the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

This appears to be the first sign of fallout from Portantino’s failed candidacy for the speakership. Back on Feb. 28 we speculated on what kinds of repercussions Portantino — and by proxy, the Valley — might face after Portantino lost his challenge to Speaker Fabian Nunez’s handpicked successor, L.A. Assemblywoman Karen Bass. Losing speakership candidates have faced similar punishment before, but we hoped the relatively peaceful nature of the Nunez-Bass transition might have proved benign to Portantino and other challengers.

Apparently not so. Capitol Alert is reporting that besides Portantino another challenger, Hector De la Torre, has also been removed from the head of the powerful Assembly Rules Committee. It seems that both assemblymen were part of an opposition group of Democrats that had joined to try to thwart Nunez’s attempt to have Bass selected as speaker through a procedural maneuver. But De La Torre and Portantino weren’t the only ones involved in opposing Bass, so it is unclear why they were the only ones singled out so far.

Will Portantino’s loss of clout in Sacramento affect the Valley’s already meager chances of attracting state funding in an already dismal fiscal climate? My guess is yes. Higher Education is an important committee, and first to be affected may be our local community colleges like Pasadena, Citrus and Mt. SAC, as well as other universities and assorted students and faculty, whom have just lost a powerful local advocate in the capitol.

‘Critical Tuesday': What did Hillary actually win?

Here is a good roundup by the AP about the delegates that were at stake Tuesday and how they were divvied up between the candidates:

There were 370 Democratic delegates at stake in Tuesday’s contests,
and nearly complete returns showed Clinton outpaced Obama in Ohio, 74-65, in Rhode Island, 13-8, and in the Texas primary, 65-61.

Obama won in Vermont,
9-6, and was ahead in the Texas caucuses, 30-27. Ten of the dozen that
remained to be awarded were in Texas; the other two in Ohio.

So as we said earlier, it looks like Obama could take the Texas caucus, pretty much negating Hillary’s primary win there. At this point, with those 12 delegates still to be apportioned, the total delegate count is 1,562 for Obama and 1,461 for Clinton — roughly the same 100-delegate lead Obama carried into the Critical Tuesday primaries.

Again, this is all bad news for Hillary and her supporters. Her victories in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island are little more than morale-boosting, psychological wins, as opposed to actual, statistical ones.

Hillary’s firewall holds

Clinton wins Ohio and Texas, achieving her campaign’s oft state goal of stopping Obama’s momentum with wins in those two large states. So what does this really mean?

Back on Feb. 14 we noted that Clinton would have to win the big “Critical Tuesday” primaries by relatively large margins to really eat into Obama’s delegate lead. She won Ohio by a good 10 points. But Texas is another story. With 98 percent of the vote counted Clinton has a narrow 3 point lead, and in the Longhorn State’s weird “primacaucus” contest she is actually behind Obama by 3 points in the caucus portion of the contest, with about 40 percent of ballots counted.

Unlike California Texas does not automatically award a big chunk of the delegates to the overall winner, so even if she wins the caucus by the same margin as the primary (or if Obama holds his slight lead in the caucus) then they are pretty much gonna split the state’s nearly 200 delegates. Not good for Hillary.

As this article by the AP points out, splitting the vote with Obama at this late point in the primaries does not help Hillary, since Obama still maintains the overall delegate lead:

…even if she wins every contest left, Clinton still would have a hard time overcoming Barack Obama‘s pledged delegate lead. In fact, her task got even harder because even though she won Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island Tuesday night, she didn’t do much to close the delegate gap and with every contest that passes, the number up for grabs drops.

Obama focused on the math while addressing supporters in Texas. “We have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning and we are on our way to winning this nomination,” he said. 

My take? Unless Hillary wins Pennsylvania by a landslide — even with that she may not be able to catch up in the pledged delegate count — she is pretty much finished. Obama will likely hold on to a (however slight) lead going into the convention, and the superdelegates will have to roll over to whoever the popular winner is at that time. Obama wins the nomination.

McCain takes Ohio, Vermont; close to clinching nomination

To piggyback on our previous post, here is the latest update from the AP:

“McCain added first Vermont, then Ohio
to his column in the Republican race, and moved to within about 130 of
the delegate total needed to clinch the nomination. Aides readied a
giant banner bearing the magic number 1,191 to serve as a backdrop
for an anticipated victory celebration in Dallas.”

Read the complete story here.

Election Countdown accused of partisanship

I was dreading the call, and had anticipated it enough to post the following entry back on Feb. 14. But despite any disclaimers, it was only a matter of time before we received a complaint that our blog was displaying a left-leaning slant in its coverage of the presidential nominating campaigns.

There is nothing but Democrats on your political campaign page,” said reader Diane, who identified herself as a registered Republican, in a message left on my voicemail. “It would be nice to see some coverage of the Republicans, and even independents for that matter.”

Well Diane, we appreciate your concerns. But as I mentioned before, the Republican nominating race has been locked in for a while, with Sen. John McCain able to officially capture the nomination today if he wins enough delegates in the Texas and Ohio primaries. But the Democratic race is still very much alive. After all, the term “Critical Tuesday” that has been coined for today’s Ohio and Texas contests refers to the Obama-Clinton fight. I doubt McCain is looking over his shoulder at Mike Huckabee with anything other than curious amusement.

Journalists (and the public, for that matter), like to concentrate on unfolding developments, not foregone conclusions.

That being said, if today’s races settle it for the Democrats, readers can be assured that they will be hearing a lot more from the GOP at Election Countdown as McCain ramps up his campaign against whoever ends up being his actual Democratic rival come November.

Romero stumps in Texas for Obama

Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, who represents parts of the west San Gabriel Valley, was in Texas over the weekend as a surrogate to Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Romero is a member of Obama’s National Latino Leadership Committee.

Obama’s use of Romero in Texas makes sense. She is a woman and a Latina, the two demographics that have been traditionally in Clinton’s camp but which Obama has been increasingly able to woo to his side. And it looks like his heavy targeting of Latinos is working: CNN’s latest poll has Obama with a statistically insignificant lead in Latino-heavy Texas, a must-win state with 228 delegates as stake. In fact the Longhorn State is the largest delegate prize remaining, and has been described by Clinton’s campaign as a “firewall,” along with Ohio, where the New York senator plans to stop Obama’s increasing momentum.

It is safe to say that a loss in Texas and Ohio for the former first lady pretty much ends her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Bass beats out Portantino for speakership

The Sacramento Bee
is reporting that Karen Bass of Los Angeles has put together enough
votes to win the Assembly speakership, beating out a crowded field that
included top candidates Anthony Portantino of Pasadena and Kevin De
Leon of L.A.

The deal was apparently reached last night, with exiting speaker
Fabian Nunez helping Bass, his top lieutenant, secure the votes.
Assembly Democrats will caucus in closed session this morning before
officially voting for Bass as speaker in once the regular session
starts at 9:30 a.m. She will be the first African American woman to
lead the chamber.

Portantino gave it a good run, raising lots of money and generating
a fair amount of buzz, with the Sac Bee’s Dan Walters saying as late as
last week that he was the top candidate for the spot. But he apparently
could not beat the strong, L.A.-centric coalition put together by Bass
and Nunez, or come up with a Willie Brown-style, bi-partisan coup
despite his deftness at coordinating with Republicans (he was the only
Democratic member of La Canada Flintridge’s City Council and did just
fine there).

What San Gabriel Valley residents have to consider is whether this
will actually hurt the area’s already poor prospects at securing state
funds. According to Brown’s book, “Basic Brown,” the Assembly has
always been a harsh place, with the losers always suffering for their
perceived impertinence by the winners. Brown was crammed into the
smallest office in the Assembly after voting against then-anointed
Speaker Jesse Unruh and was marginalized after losing a speaker fight
to Leo McCarthy before he himself meted out justice to Charles Calderon
and the Gang of Five, stripping them of their committee chairmanships
when they tried to force him out of the speaker’s seat.

Just as Portantino might have steered more money to the Valley as
speaker, will he have a harder time providing for his constituents for
having challenged Bass? It doesn’t seem that this was a particularly
nasty fight, with most Dems falling in line behind Bass and Portantino
praising the L.A. assemblywoman in an L.A. Times article, saying she
will do a “great job.”

Hopefully things have changed from the rough and tumble Capitol days of the 70s and 80s and any backlash is minimal.