Thursday, January 31, 2008

Obama closes in on California

By Frank D. Russo

You can see it in the late breaking polls, feel it out on the street, and in conversations with neighbors, relatives, and political insiders, and even the last minute endorsement of elected officials and the state’s newspapers. There’s some serious shaking going on in California and once firm predictions that Hillary Clinton will win the primary in this state have become a lot more tentative.

Polls only get you so far with predicting state primaries, as we have learned in recent days. Elections are determined by those who come out to vote and as this race tightens in the golden state, field operations, ground level enthusiasm, and excitement matter. Polls can’t explain what causes volunteers to stand in the drizzle in the early morning traffic rush, such as those pictured above just a few minutes ago in Oakland. They sure did get quite a few honks as cars streamed by.

The well respected California based polls, the Field Poll and Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, have shown Clinton to be ahead by 12% and 15%, but tracked opinions of what they considered to be likely voters for the week ending January 20 and are now 11 days out of date.

Even here, there were signs of movement as Clinton’s advantage in the Field Poll dropped from 30 points in August to 25 in October, 18% in December, and 12% where they left off. The same is true in the PPIC’s survey which showed a 24 point Clinton lead in December which had shrunk to 15 points when they stopped polling.

The latest poll from Rasmussen released yesterday showed Clinton with a very narrow three-percentage point lead over Obama, 43% to 40%. The survey was conducted two days ago, Tuesday, January 29, 2008, in the hours immediately following Florida's Presidential Primary and before John Edwards dropped out of the race. It was of 807 likely Democratic primary voters and Obama is actually within the 4% margin of error of the poll.

And there is more evidence from tracking polls that the race may be even tighter as San Francisco Chronicle political reporters Matier and Ross wrote yesterday: Two surveys of 400 likely Democratic voters each—Sunday and Monday—by the No on 94-97 proposition campaign had Obama leading Clinton 35% to 32%. As they report, however, these numbers must be interpreted with caution: “A prominent political consultant following the numbers emphasizes that while a single night's tracking isn't considered statistically reliable, it does show movement and direction.”

The Chronicle also has a story about the race on the front page this morning “And then there were two—Edwards bows out,” where Mark DiCamillo, the head of the Field Poll , tells us that the data indicates Edwards’ withdrawal gives Obama another 2% advantage on Clinton.

Early on in California, with the “inevitability” argument being made, Clinton wrapped up an impressive list of endorsements amongst California’s Democratic elected officials, many of whom wanted to back a winner. But in the month of January, in addition to the blockbuster endorsement by Senator Ted Kennedy and other national figures, there has been a surge of California elected Democrats supporting Obama.

Endorsements do not generally win elections, certainly by themselves, but one can see the swing here towards Obama.

Obama clearly has the edge in grass roots support. He has 18 field offices in California, double the 9 offices opened by the Clinton campaign. Obama’s offices have that energy with many young volunteers who are organized in all 53 California Congressional Districts. The campaign also has a network of over 50,000 Californians who have signed up online. Well over a million phone calls have been made by volunteers to registered voters this month including an early focus on decline-to-state votes who are not registered with a party but may vote in the California Democratic primary.

Obama also has, for whatever it is worth, the lion’s share of endorsements by newspapers in the state—at least across the state from the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News to the Sacramento Bee. You can’t even find on the Clinton California campaign site a list of newspapers in the state who have endorsed her.

The candidates are now in the state, preparing for tonight’s debate—which itself could be very important to Californians and gives us and the nation the opportunity to focus on just the two of them and see what appeals to the 20% or so who can vote in the Democratic primary who are undecided—and those who may even switch in this fluid race.

Five days out, this part of Super Tuesday is turning into an interesting battle between parts of the establishment within the Democratic Party and fresh enthusiasm from an insurgency. What matters is that voters here care about the Democratic nomination and hopefully this stew of excitement will bring out a large vote, whoever wins the primary and whatever share of our delegates. We matter and that counts as well.

Posted on January 31, 2008
From California Progress report
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