Going Positive

According to Bloomberg news, this is just what Barack Obama is pledging to do at this juncture.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, attempting to regain his momentum after losing the Pennsylvania primary, promised to shun negative campaigning as his race drags on against Hillary Clinton.

Obama, 46, an Illinois senator, began his drive for the nomination with a message of unity and the pledge that he wouldn't run a typical political campaign. Today, Obama said he realized his campaign had strayed in recent weeks.

``I told this to my team, you know, we are starting to sound like other folks, we are starting to run the same negative stuff,'' Obama told a crowd of about 5,000 in Wilmington, North Carolina. ``It shows that none of us are immune from this kind of politics. But the problem is that it doesn't help you.''

This is a rather interesting proposition -- positive, rather than negative, campaigning (and I use that latter term to include not only attack ads but also so-called "contrast" ads that function as a hybrid between positive and negative campaigning).

Currently, there are a lot of folks saying that they think Obama needs to change his message, or that he needs to develop a new stump speech, or that he needs to tinker with his campaign in some other fashion. The thought behind this is that although he is still on the inside track to securing the Democratic nomination -- it is still difficult to conceive of a way of Hillary Clinton to put together the necessary number of delegates from those remaining to be taken -- the fact that Obama has not been able to put Clinton away to this point suggests that he needs to create a new narrative, to change the storyline.

Going all positive could potentially do that. And there is at least some anecdotal evidence to suggest that such a tactic can work (even if it is risky). Back in early 1996, there was a special election to fulfill the Senate seat vacated by Oregon's Republican Senator Bob Packwood, who was forced to resign in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal. The race featured two well-funded candidates -- then-Congressman Ron Wyden on the Democratic side and then-state Senate President Gordon Smith on the Republican side -- and saw a significant amount of third party expenditures as well given that the race was seen as a possible bellwether for the upcoming presidential and congressional elections (as well as an opportunity for the Democrats to win back at least one Senate seat ahead of the party's effort that fall to reclaim the chamber). Unsurprisingly, the campaign turned negative -- and very negative at that. In the wake of the back and forth and back and forth, it appeared as though Smith had the advantage and was heading to victory.

But then, Wyden opted for a novel approach: Going all-positive for the duration of the campaign. He began running ads touting his positive campaign, he held ice cream socials -- and in doing so put his opponent on his heels. While Smith looked overly negative and petty, Wyden came off as the bigger man, more Senatorial, more worthy of support. In the end, Wyden beat Smith by a 2-point margin, marking the first time a Democrat won a Senate election in the state since 1962.

Now of course this anecdote isn't a perfect or even particularly great match for the current race between Obama and Clinton. The Wyden-Smith race was a special election, not a primary; it was a inter-party contest rather than an intra-party contest; and it was a Senate election instead of a Presidential race. Perhaps more importantly, it was an all vote-by-mail election, and with the exception of the upcoming Oregon primary, no other contest will feature such a system. What's more, even if the 1996 race were more like the current contest, there's no indication that the previous results would be replicated today -- and in fact there are great potential risks to taking down negative ads, which include allowing one's opponent to define themselves while still enabling the opponent to attempt to define the candidate going positive.

Nevertheless, the Wyden-Smith contest is instructive inasmuch as it shows that a candidate can change the dynamics of a close contest by going positive. Polling indicates that in that race Wyden pulled drastically ahead in late balloting -- just those voters who saw him go all positive and Smith remain negative. (Here's more polling also suggesting this move gave Wyden a tangible advantage.)

So no doubt it would be a risky move for Obama to go all positive. And such a move would require not only the candidate himself to stay on message but also the campaign to refrain from running harsh contrast ads and negative mailers, something that I would have to see to believe (and I'm not holding my breath just at the moment). That said, if Obama is truly interested in changing the dynamic of the race for the Democratic nomination and is already leaning towards adopting a positive campaign stance, he might be well served by following in the footsteps of now-Senator Wyden by turning this race on its head, putting the ball in Clinton's court and saying I'm going to stop the negative campaigning at all levels of the campaign, will you too?

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Clinton Scores Endorsement of North Carolina Governor Easley

The Associated Press has the story:

Hillary Rodham Clinton has won the endorsement of North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, a surprise boost to her candidacy in a state where Barack Obama is heavily favored to win the Democratic primary.

Easley was expected to announce the endorsement Tuesday morning in Raleigh, the state capital, one week before North Carolina's primary on May 6, according to people close to the governor and to Clinton. The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because the formal announcement was pending.

[...]

Clinton has benefited from the support of other governors in key primary states, including Ohio's Ted Strickland and Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell. Political observers say Easley, while relatively popular, does not sit atop a massive political operation in North Carolina.

Easley is scheduled to leave office next year after serving two terms as governor. Both Democratic candidates vying for the nomination to replace him have endorsed Obama.

As noted in the AP article above, the Easley endorsement isn't everything; the two candidates running to replace him, Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore, have not only endorsed Barack Obama but even competed to prove to voters which one more strongly supports Obama. What's more, with just a week to go before election day, there isn't necessarily a whole lot that the political machine of an outgoing governor could do to tip the scales.

That said, Easley's endorsement is easily the biggest in the state at this point, and the biggest possible endorsement in the state, outside of that of John Edwards (and perhaps Elizabeth Edwards). While the endorsement will not necessarily put Clinton in the running to take the state -- recent polling puts her behind Obama by a solid double-digit margin (see both Pollster.com and Real Clear Politics) -- tomorrow should likely be a day of positive coverage for Clinton throughout North Carolina. And because we're getting so close to election day, who wins each news cycle does matter. So no doubt, this is a big pick up for Clinton.

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Democratic Registration Continues to Surge

There are some reported downsides to the ongoing race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination -- the fact that many voters say they are simply tiring of the process, as are some in the individual campaigns; the possibility that a bruising primary battle will weaken both Democratic candidates, potentially inhibiting the party's ability to win in the general election. But leaving aside the speculation as to what may be the case, hard numbers show that there is a real upside to the ongoing primary battle as well.

The past seven states to hold primaries registered more than 1 million new Democratic voters; Republican numbers mainly ebbed or stagnated. North Carolina and Indiana, which will hold their presidential primaries on May 6, are reporting a swell of new Democrats that triples the surge in registrations before the 2004 primary.

That's rather remarkable. One million new Democratic voters and no new Republican voters in the past seven states -- states that include Pennsylvania and Ohio, which are key to either party winning the White House in November. As The Washington Post's Eli Saslow, who did the reporting in the quoted article, notes, this trend is continuing in the upcoming states of Indiana and North Carolina as well. (You can read more about the swell in Democratic registration in the Tarheel state in this MyDD post from earlier in the month).

The trend also continues in Oregon, a state I know quite a bit about from having lived there most of my life. As of March (.pdf), the state had 803,042 registered Democrats and 685,469 registered Republicans, a Democratic advantage of 117,573 voters. This is the largest Democratic advantage in voter registration in the eight years for which the state has posted registration numbers, and very possibly the Democrats' largest lead in the state in recent memory.

Update [2008-4-28 14:17:3 by Jonathan Singer]: I didn't see it, but apparently on Saturday The Oregonian ran down the registration numbers in the state as well. As of Friday (and the numbers apparently aren't yet up on the Secretary of State's website, accounting for me missing the April numbers), there were 826,984 registered Democrats in the state and 685,344 registered Republicans, a 141,640-voter advantage. Not only does this represent the Democrats' greatest lead in recent memory (and perhaps ever), I'm fairly certain that this is the most Democrats ever registered in the state, which is of course a great sign. And for whatever it's worth, The Oregonian also reports: "According to local elections officials, the Obama campaign appears to have been more active in registering voters than the Clinton campaign."

At the time of the last statewide election, in November 2007 (.pdf), the Democratic registration advantage was 753,212 to 684,285, or just 68,927 voters. The numbers in November 2006 (.pdf) were similar, with the Democrats holding a 62,351-voter edge (763,301 to 700,950), as were the numbers from November 2004 (.pdf), when the Democrats posted a 62,758-voter edge (820,602 to 757,844), and in November 2002 (.pdf), when the Democrats had a 45,537-voter advantage (726,187 to 680,650). At the corresponding point in the 2004 campaign (.pdf), the Democrats' lead in voter registration in the state was just 52,680 voters (734,199 to 681,519). So not only is the Democrats' voter registration lead over the Republicans in Oregon nearly twice what it was in Novembers 2006 and 2004, it is 135 169 percent larger than it was back in April 2004. ([editor's note, by Jonathan Singer] Numbers and percentages on this last tally shifted to reflect the latest numbers out of the state.)

What's more, not only is the entire state becoming relatively more Democratic than Republican, key corners of the state are as well. Clackamas County, in the eastern suburbs of Portland, has long been a Republican holdout, with the GOP maintaining a small, though consistent voter registration edge. However, for the first time in at least eight years (and likely much longer than that), Democrats now outnumber Republicans in this key swing county. The same goes for Washington County, heavily populated county on the western side of Portland which has consistently had more Republicans than Democrats registered but now, for the first time in recent memory, has more Democrats than Republicans. In other words, the Democrats' edge is not limited to Multnomah County, the most populated in the state which largely encompasses the city of Portland, but is spreading around too, a fact that augurs very well for Democrats' hopes of growing their slim (31 to 29) and new (first since 1990) majority in the state House of Representatives this fall.

So while there are compelling reasons why a lot of folks would like to see this race over sooner rather than later, there remain some very compelling reasons as to why it's not such a bad thing that the contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continues.

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Polling Indicates Continued Tight Race in Indiana, Even Post-PA

From the looks of it, the results out of Pennsylvania this past week have had little to no effects two states over in Indiana, which will be holding a Democratic presidential primary of it's own on Tuesday May 6th. Two new surveys out of the state -- one of which was in the field mostly before the Pennsylvania results were known to the world, the other of which was in the field entirely after the primary results were known -- both show an extremely tight race in the Hoosier state:

Selzer & Co., 534 Dem LVs, April 20-23, MoE +- 4.2%

Barack Obama: 41 percent
Hillary Clinton: 38 percent

Research 2000, 400 Dem LVs, April 23-24, MoE +- 5.0%

Barack Obama: 48 percent (46 percent in early April)
Hillary Clinton: 47 percent (49 percent in early April)

Neither Pollster.com nor Real Clear Politics has seemed to update their trend estimate or poll average, respectively, but a simple averaging of the past five polls out of the state shows Hillary Clinton leading 44.0 percent to 43.6 percent over Barack Obama -- or about as close as these things come in politics. Four of the past five polls in the state have shown the race to be within the individual margin of error of their poll, with only a single SurveyUSA two weeks ago putting Clinton up by 16 points (though a subsequent SUSA poll commissioned by the Downs center had Obama up 5 points).

The numbers may yet move in Indiana, but for now this contest, which has been put forward by many political players -- including folks in the campaigns and even perhaps the candidates themselves -- is about as evenly matched as they have come this primary season.

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Reid: Race Should Be Over in June

A week ago I noted that both Clinton campaign chair Terry McAuliffe and key Clinton congressional backer Barney Frank were talking about the race for the Democratic nomination being over in June, seemingly agreeing with the sentiment of many in the party that the primary battle should not extend all the way to the convention in the hopes of maximizing the party's ability to win back the White House in November. It looks like you can add Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean to the list pushing for the process to end when balloting finishes in June.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that three of the party's most influential figures might join to convince Democratic superdelegates to make up their minds on which presidential candidate to support.

Reid said he, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean might write a joint letter, or individual letters, to superdelegates after the last primaries in early June, "unless something comes up."

Reid rejected suggestions that the nominating fight may extend to the Democratic Convention in August, and expected superdelegates to make up their minds before the beginning of July.

"I've said for several weeks now that this matter will be over by sometime in June, or no later than the first of July. I still believe that that's the case," he told reporters.

Some Clinton supporters online are unhappy with the news that there might be an end in sight to the nominating process. However, this end (though not necessarily with these means) is exactly what some in the upper echelons of the Clinton campaign were calling for just this month. As alluded to above and discussed at greater length here, Congressman Barney Frank, a strong Clinton supporter, said recently that he believed the candidate with "no practical chance of winning the nomination" should drop out by June 3rd, at the latest, and "probably sooner" than that. Even Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said last week that he thought "it will be over in June."

So, it seems, a consensus is building -- the race for the Democratic nomination should be over long before the convention in late-August, probably as early as June, a few weeks from now.

There's more...

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