Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An Interesting Strategy

I happened across this article, and I wondered what to make of it. I have a couple of theories in mind, which I'll expound on (don't I always?) after the break:
More than just a trip to his Kansas roots, Sen. Barack Obama's visit to his grandfather's home town Tuesday is part of a broad and unorthodox strategy to build support in Republican-dominated states.

In Kansas and Idaho, Utah and Alaska, Obama's goal is to win delegates on Feb. 5 and to convince voters that he can compete where Democrats normally cannot.
OK, fair enough strategy: show voters in states after Feb. 5, states like Texas and Ohio, that Obama has support in red states that normally would skew Republican.

Too bad that's not what he's doing. Think about it, get past the bull, and ask yourself: why does a guy go to states that he wouldn't likely win in the general election, and push to win them in the primary? Kansas hasn't supported a Democrat for president since Johnson won his sympathy election in 1964 and the only Democrats to win Kansas were Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Bush won 62% of the vote there in 2004, and had a 25 point plurality over Kerry, who barely carried two congressional district statewide. Kansas has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932.

That said, in 2006 Kansas re-elected a Democratic Governor, Kathleen Sebelius (who is widely expected to endorse Obama) with 58% of the vote. Democrats also picked up six seats in the Kansas House of Representatives, and Democrat Nancy Boyda defeated conservative Republican Congressman Jim Ryun in the 2nd Congressional District.

Still this is a staunchly conservative, staunchly and proudly Republican state. Obama will not win a majority in a general election.

Sounds like a fool's errand, particularly in a red state that's, well, mostly white. You'd think he'd be pushing his case in Alabama and Mississippi. Unless...

A few possible explanations pop out:
1) Obama has, in the back of his mind, all but conceded the race to Hillary Clinton, who is dominating him in states with sizable delegate counts, like New York, California, Texas, Missouri, and New Jersey, while Obama has tied her in Connecticut and the Kennedy endorsements likely will give him Massachussetts (and not much more, possibly Rhode Island). The bounce Obama expected from South Carolina and the Kennedy endorsements simply hasn't showed itself, neither has the Oprah endorsement. Therefore, he's running to show he is more than an Illinois/black candidate, and running for Veep.

Not likely, true. The bad blood and animosity between the two camps (particularly with respect to the Big Dog himself) has all but made a Clinton/Obama ticket impossible. Still, politics makes strange bedfellows.

2) The strategy of campaigning in Kansas for delegates might be a stalling tactic, a slash-and-burn to keep Hillary from reaching the necessary 2,025 delegates before the convention, thus forcing a brokered convention. This would make more sense if Kansas was a "winner take all" state, but it's proportional. It's possible that Obama's camp has done the math and realized a minimum number of delegates they need to win to force the brokering, and that in Kansas, they come up a little short.

3) Obama could be positioning himself for a run in either 2012 or 2016, depending on if Clinton wins. By making a strong showing on the momentum of the Democratic victories in 2006, he could be shoring up a machine, similar to what the Clinton's established in New Hampshire in 1992, which will pay dividends for decades. An Obama endorsement, regardless of whether he is the nominee this year, could pay broad and deep dividends in the next twenty years for Democrats.

4) Which brings me to my last point: kingmaker. Obama's expressed admiration for Ronald Reagan...I know what you Obamites will say, so let me qualify that statement...his expressed admiration for Reagan as a political animal is probably in his mind. Reagan was the go-to guy for Republicans from the end of his election in 1980. Anytime a Republican was in trouble, they wheeled out the Gipper. He won more than he lost, to be sure, but the country was turning more conservative anyway.

Obama might sense what I sense: the country is tired of hackneyed, "look behind you" thinking, and is ready to move forward. By leading the party in that direction, Obama can ensure himself a lush retirement after he (eventually) wins the Presidency.
I want to stress that all these alternative explanations should NOT be interpreted to mean that Obama has completely given up hopes of beating Hillary. It is, however, a monumental undertaking he's set out on, and a smart politician always keeps the options open that can gracefully let him back away from a losing battle (which is one way we know Bush is not a smart politician).

It's true, for example, that Kansas' delegates could make or break the nomination, if the battle gets that close. Think of how Karl Rove fixed the Florida vote in 2000 or the Ohio vote in 2004, and you'll see a textbook example of anticipating an outcome and planning ahead.

Obama and Clinton both have the funds to fight this right down to the wire, to be sure, so every vote might count. Still, by the end of next week, Hillary Clinton will be about halfway to the nomination and Barack Obama will still be pulling off his warm-ups, even if he sweeps all the red states. That kind of momentum, as Rudy Giuliani's idiotic strategy shows, can backfire big time.

So why IS Barack Obama campaigning in Kansas so hard?

UPDATE Not to toot my own horn too much, but just remember, you heard this here first.

Next time, Senator Edwards, e-mail me. I'll be happy to run your winning campaign for you.