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The Lesson of the Ring.

Well, it’s sometimes seemed to have more endings than Return of the King. But, tonight, it looks like the primary season is finally, really, truly at an end, with Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois our duly chosen Democratic nominee. In the days and weeks ahead, it’ll behoove all of us, however hard, to let the primary bygones be bygones and to help reunite the party against our real foe, John McCain and the GOP. But, before we let the healing begin, I do have one more word to say about the Clintons, who above all else this campaign season has proven the truth of the old adage: “Choose your enemies wisely, for you will become them.

Now, I’m not going to recite the full litany of grievances against the Clintons’ behavior of late one more time. I’d say that ground is already pretty well-covered in the election archives. But I will say this: It has become increasingly fashionable in the press and elsewhere to esteem Sen. Clinton — regardless of her other political transgressions — as gutsy, tenacious, a fighter. Say what you will about her methods, this line of thinking goes, she goes there. She does what needs to be done. In fact, argues otherwise discerning political observers such as friend and colleague David Greenberg, she is exactly the kind of fighter the Left has said they’ve been looking for. (Of course, she and her husband have been AWOL when it counted over the past seven years, but that’s neither here nor there in this view.)

Well, simply put, this is all hooey. Sen. Clinton’s behavior over the past six months and change has been exactly the wrong lesson for Democrats to draw from the politics of the last decade. I’ve said it here several times before, but, in a nutshell, here’s why:

You don’t wear the ring. You destroy the ring.

Or, in other words, the key to beating the Republicans is not by acting Republican. It’s by rising above their tendentious garbage and working to restore reason and sanity to our politics. At the very least, a Democratic nominee for president shouldn’t validate the base tactics of the GOP by wallowing in their wretchedness. For what shall it profit a woman, if she shall gain the whole world, and lose her own soul?

Nevertheless, seemingly blinded by ambition, Sen. Clinton very quickly chose the wrong path. (In the place of a Dumb Lord, we would have a Queen…) She embraced the Rove playbook and dabbled in Al Qaeda hysteria. She validated John McCain and threatened to obliterate Iran. She called her opponent elitist and derided the “elite opinion” of the reality-based community. She played nice with Limbaugh, Scaife, and FOX. She flirted dangerously with the race card and lauded hard-working whites. She, for all intent and purposes, became the Republican candidate in the Democratic primary. She, and her husband, became part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

To repeat something I said after Wisconsin in February, the night when Sen. Obama’s primary victory basically became mathematically inexorable: “If you’ll forgive the lapse into LotR metaphors, the treason of Saruman, once the noblest and wisest of our order, is almost subdued. The Battle for Middle-Earth is only beginning.” So, as we move forward after tonight, I’ll try as much as anyone to tone down the internecine fighting around here, and start focusing fire on our true opponents over on the Right. (That is provided, of course, that Sen. Clinton chooses to diminish, go into the West, and remain a Democrat.)

But let’s also draw the appropriate lesson from the Clinton candidacy of 2008. The Clinton era is over, and this general election is now a chance for we as Dems “to show our quality.” We are not Dubya-Rove Republicans, and adopting their scorched-earth idiocies in a “tenacious” attempt to get elected is most assuredly the road to political, civic, and spiritual ruin.

Florida and Michigan, Resolved.

With architect of the DNC rules turned Clinton apparachik Harold Ickes playing dead-ender to the hilt, the Rules & Bylaws Committee decides to seat Michigan and Florida as half-delegates. (However irate the stark raving Clintonites, even the former President has suggested recently — in private — that this compromise made the most sense.) For those keeping score, this makes the new delegate threshold 2118, which, if all goes well, puts Obama in striking range to end the primary season officially on Tuesday night (in Montana and South Dakota.)

Helping him pass the threshold, of course, will be the superdelegates, who have continued their trend toward Obama during my moving week. Since the last update, according to DemConWatch, Obama has picked up fifteen supers to Clinton’s four, and word is the rest of the “undecideds” are just waiting for the word to break for our nominee. At long last, it’s over, folks.

Jeepers Veepers.

After Sen. Clinton gets toxic and ridiculous over Michigan and Florida — In a clear attempt to poison the well (and fire up the smoke machine), she compared the DNC’s decision to adhere to the rules she herself agreed to (when it suited her) to Election 2000, Zimbabwe, and the civil rights movement — her aides, fundraisers, and husband try to foist Sen. Clinton as Obama’s veep. But Rural Votes’ Al Giordano says hold up: “The Field can now confirm, based on multiple sources, something that both campaigns publicly deny: that Senator Clinton has directly told Senator Obama that she wants to be his vice presidential nominee, and that Senator Obama politely but straightforwardly and irrevocably said ‘no.’ Obama is going to pick his own running mate based on his own criteria and vetting process.

In the meantime, regarding delegates: Obama picked up two more Edwards delegates and supers Pilar Lujan (GU) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (CA) crossed paths switching (Lujan to Clinton, Cardoza to Obama.) Also for Obama since the last update: Rep. Jim Costa (CA), Rep. Joe Courtney (CT), and DNC members Scott Brennan (IA), Jenny Greenleaf (OR), and Wayne Dowdy (MS). (In the meantime, Clinton picked up 2 more UADs from Ohio and Massachusetts.) Thus, the most recent tally: Obama +7, Clinton +2. Sen. Obama is now 57 delegates away from the (current) magic number of 2025.

Bill gets frantic | About that poll…

Meanwhile, over in his corner of the campaign trail, Bill Clinton does what he can to poison the well further, saying — now that chances of a re-do have come and gone, of course — that the Obama campaign was “desperate to disenfranchise Florida and Michigan.” Sigh…at this point, you have to wonder about the man’s mental health. Well, since the former president insists on continually behaving like an asshat, with no regard whatsoever for the Democratic party or his historical legacy, it bears repeating once more:

  • Clinton supporters helped kill the Florida re-vote, as her campaign didn’t actually want another contest, just the illusory potential for one.

  • Once again, here’s Sen. Clinton on Michigan, last October, before she decided it’d be advantageous for her to count the state: “It’s clear: This election they’re having is not going to count for anything.

    And, if we really want to talk about disenfranchising voters, perhaps it’s time to revisit the Clinton team’s casino caucus lawsuit in Nevada, and Bill Clinton’s open shilling for it back in January.

    Honestly, it’s like they’re trying to beat us into submission through sheer, brazen, and unyielding idiocy. Mr. President, you will not be returning to the White House — deal with it.

    Update: Today’s poll about disgruntled Clinton and Obama supporters is getting a lot of run. Now, one one hand, this illustrates the problem with the Clintons’ “audacity of hopelessness.” Their continued spewing of often-ridiculous vitriol, even despite the fact that everyone from David Brooks to Obama Girl now knows its over, is only breeding more angry and aggrieved dead-enders among the Clinton ranks. (Then again, have the Clintons ever put the good of the party before themselves? Nope.)

    Still, to keep things in perspective, let’s look at the presumed defection rate in 2000: “In March of that year, the Pew Center for the People & the Press released a report titled ‘Bush Pays Price for Primary Victory.’ Following Bush’s victory in the 2000 primaries and McCain’s exit from the race, the Pew survey found that 51% of those who backed McCain during the primary campaign would vote for Gore in the general election. Only 44% of his supporters said that they would be casting their votes for Bush.” That purported 2000 defection rate is considerably higher than those causing consternation today. But, obviously that number didn’t hold up, or Gore would have been elected overwhelmingly in 2000.

    The point being, this poll doesn’t tell us anything about the situation in November, only that tempers are running high here in March.

  • Breaking News: The Obvious.

    “The irony to all of this, of course, is that while the mechanics of the Democratic nomination fight overwhelmingly favor Obama, the media is giving Clinton a huge lift. And this comes after a year of Clinton complaints that the media was doing them more harm than good.” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd argues that the press may be the only thing keeping Clinton in it (and that the supers may not much like Clinton anyway.) Gee, you think?

    In related news, the NYT’s Adam Nagourney argues Clinton’s path to the nomination has gotten harder, now that Michigan and Florida don’t appear to be revoting. “If there is a road to victory for Mrs. Clinton, it is a fairly narrow one.” Emphasis there on “If.” But, hey, at least they’re starting to figure it out. Update: CNN also gropes toward the math.

    Florida/Michigan: It’s not Happening.

    “We researched every potential alternative process — from caucuses to county conventions to mail-in elections — but no plan could come anywhere close to being viable in Florida.Florida announce it won’t do a do-over, and Michigan looks headed the same way. On one hand, this means Senator Clinton can continue to try to spin the beauty contest results as definitive, as I’m sure she will. Given her campaign’s reliance on a strategy of continued uncertainty, however, the closing of doors in Michigan and Florida is likely bad news for her (particularly when Clinton’s top Michigan surrogates are arguing that a re-vote “wouldn’t make much difference” anyway.) Update: The Michigan do-over is pronounced dead.

    The FL/MI Smoke Machine.

    “Contrary to the gullible media’s belief that ‘time’ is a ‘powerful ally’ on Clinton’s side, in fact, Clinton’s only ally is uncertainty. The minute it becomes clear what will happen with Michigan and Florida — re-vote them, refuse to seat them, or split them 50-50 or with half-votes, as some have proposed — is the minute that Clinton’s last ‘path to the nomination’ closes. The only way to keep spin alive is to keep uncertainty alive…Penn can claim that there is a path to the nomination, but under any possible actual resolution of the uncertainty, there is not.”

    TAP’s Mark Schmitt explains Clinton’s FL/MI strategy: prolong the chaos. “[T]he specific resolution doesn’t matter, because whatever it is, it will introduce certainty and finiteness, and without the comfort of ambiguity, the Clinton spin-campaign cannot survive. The Clinton campaign began — unwisely — by spinning inevitability; it ends, equally unwisely, by spinning cosmic uncertainty. In between the two spin campaigns, they apparently forgot to give people enough of a positive reason to actually vote for Senator Clinton.

    Update: It’s out of this same desire to muddy the waters, says Al Giordano, that the Clinton camp is now trying to put the brake on the Texas caucus results: “Only by generating smokescreens can it obscure from everybody’s view that Clinton has ceased to advance in national convention delegates while party leaders – from the national to the local – continue to converge in a near-consensus that Obama is the nominee that has earned it, that the voters most support, and that they view as most able to defeat McCain in November.

    Fair is Foul, and Foul Fair.

    “The results of those primaries were fair and should be honored.” Speaking of rogue states, the Clinton campaign continues its gamesmanship in regard to the beauty contests held in Michigan and Florida. (As reported yesterday, Florida’s House Dems — four of nine of whom are Clinton supers (two are Obama voters) — already stepped on the idea of a do-over.)

    As for those “fair” primaries being seated as they are, that’s obviously ridiculous if the contest is still in doubt, particularly given that Sen. Obama wasn’t even on the ballot in Michigan. But, don’t take my word for it — Here’s Sen. Hillary Clinton on the question back in 2007: “It’s clear: This election they’re having is not going to count for anything. I personally did not think it made any difference whether or not my name was on the ballot.

    Return to Sender.

    “The (pro-Clinton) Florida Democratic Party leadership has floated a mail-in primary as the best-case-scenario for its candidate (after all, senior voters are less transient will receive mailed ballots in higher numbers than student, youth and minority voters), and the Obama campaign seemed even willing to go along with that proposal to allow Floridians a legitimate say. But, alas, there is the sticky wicket of The Law.

    Rural VotesAl Giordano explains why the mail-in plan for a Florida revote is illegal. “At this late date, time is running out. The continued gaming of the system demonstrates that they don’t really want a solution, mainly because the results would certainly be different than those of the January 29 beauty contest. But scratch the surface, and this is really about some Democrats now using GOP style voter-suppression tactics…That’s not only ethically indefensible. It’s stupid politically, as it takes away the state party’s moral standing to contest the inevitable GOP voter-supression tactics coming to a Sunshine State near you next November.Update: Florida’s House Dems nix a do-over.

    Back to Reality | A Peek at the Ground Game.

    “I’d love to carry Texas, but it’s usually not in the electoral calculation for the Democratic nominee. Florida and Michigan are.” Uh, Texas doesn’t matter? And, just like that, Sen. Clinton dispels all the warm fuzzies she attempted to earn with her reverse Muskie nostalgia moment last night. Sadly, it seems the evidence of a “reality check” among Sen Clinton and her campaign was misleading, and they’re instead indulging in the “false hope” they can still steal this thing, vis a vis Michigan and Florida.

    Well, if these (admittedly anecdotal) peeks at the Texas ground game are any indication, one can see why that screw-Texas spin is already starting to kick up now. First, Sen. Obama’s team, by way of dKos: “Today I talked to a reporter working on a piece on the Obama movement, who had just returned from Texas to see the Obama ground game close up. I asked if it lived up to the hype. He said that he had gone down there cynical, not expecting much, but had been utterly blown away…[H]is volunteer-driven ground game is blowing whatever meager operation Clinton has completely out of the water.Update: Here’s another positive testimonial about Obama’s TX organization.

    And for Clinton? Read this sad tale: “Although the Clinton Campaign has been telling the press that they have the ground operations to pull off a win in Texas, those ground operations have not been in evidence when I’ve traveled to small towns to see how Bill Clinton is doing on the Texas stump. Wednesday evening in Victoria, down in the southeastern part of the state, incipient chaos threatened to overwhelm the ‘Early Vote’ Rally precisely because there was no ground operation…’It’s a clusterf**k! Just a clusterf**k!’ the Corpus Christi producer for a local news affiliate shouts into his cell phone.

    Update: A Clinton endorser in the Rio Grande Valley confirms trouble in Texas: “I made a commitment to Hillary Clinton and I must maintain it. I gave my word. However, as an observer, it appears to be increasingly evident who is going to win.

    Update 2: Someone with Texas skillz has made a revised delegate projection for the Lone Star State based on recent polling. It’s not good for Sen. Clinton.

    Some More State of the States.

    Electability update: In case you missed the recent state poll findings showing that at least nine swing states choose Obama over McCain and McCain over Clinton (totalling 100 electoral votes, if you throw in Michigan below), the polling firms have crunched some more numbers. Here are a few more where the party winner doesn’t change, but the margin of victory/defeat is considerably better for Sen. Obama:

  • Kansas: McCain beats Obama by 6 (50%-44%), McCain beats Clinton by 24 (59%-34%).

  • Michigan: Obama beats McCain by 8 (47%-39%), McCain and Clinton are tied (44%).

  • New York (yes, Sen. Clinton’s home state): Obama beats McCain by 21 (57%-36%), Clinton beats McCain by 11 (52%-41%).

    The only state examined thus far where Sen. Clinton outpolls Sen. Obama by a significant margin is Florida. (McCain beats Clinton by 6 (49%-43%), McCain beats Obama by 16% (53%-37%)) That margin seems to have a bit to do with the Florida delegate fiasco, however: “Most notably, just 55% of Sunshine State Democrats say they would vote for Obama over McCain.” One would presume that figure would change after the convention, and after Sen. Obama has a chance to campaign in the Sunshine State.

  • Losing Ugly.

    As I noted last night, the delegate math would now appear to be out of reach for Sen. Clinton. But, from setting up an anti-Obama 527 to launching a new website aimed at changing the rules to the candidate’s “new” “time to get real” speech, the Clinton campaign looks to go down swinging. In related news, John McCain says pass the popcorn. Update: That 527 has its first ad ready to go in Ohio.

    Second-Class Citizens.

    “‘Superdelegates are not second-class delegates,’ says Joel Ferguson, who will be a superdelegate if Michigan is seated. ‘The real second-class delegates are the delegates that are picked in red-state caucuses that are never going to vote Democratic.‘” More bad news for non-Clinton-voting states: You’re not only insignificant to Mark Penn, a Clinton campaign co-chair thinks you’re second-class. Also, to the 2004 red-states of Ohio and definitely Texas, I’m afraid this pretty clearly includes you as well. Sorry, but, as always, please vote Democratic regardless.

    MI and FL: The Broker States?

    “What has not been widely reported or discussed is how this decision by the Democratic Party changes the dynamics of the nomination process. They have reduced the total number of available delegates by 341 from 4049 to 3708. If they keep the required magic number of delegates to win the nomination at 2025 (50% +1), they have effectively required a successful candidate to garner 55% of the available delegates to win the nomination (2025/3708).

    Uh oh…A commenter over at Salon explains why the Michigan-Florida delegate issue might not go away anytime soon. Indeed, it may ensure — and determine the fate of — a brokered convention. “As explained above, in the democratic race, Edwards is siphoning off enough delegates to prevent either Barack or Clinton to sew up the nomination. The 341 unseated delegates from Michigan and Florida (8% of the total delegates) strengthen this effect considerably. The combined total of Edwards and the unseated delegates from Michigan and Florida is roughly 22% of all delegates leaving only 78% for Clinton and Obama to split. The loser will have to fall to 28% to leave 50% remaining for the winner.

    If this math is correct, and the race stays close in the weeks after Super Tuesday, it sounds like Michigan and Florida may well have to schedule do-overs. Or there’ll be blood on the floor at the convention, no matter how the MI-FL controversy shakes out. Update: This math, of course, is now moot…for obvious reasons.

    The Truth Will Out.

    “I am a gutter-ball bowler.”Sen. Hillary Clinton, observed while (not) campaigning in Florida last Sunday. Hey, Sen. Clinton, you said it. The WP‘s Dana Milbank puts her comment in context: “The remark…was no doubt meant literally; she was standing outside Lucky Strike Lanes in Miami Beach. But in politics, too, Clinton has recently been putting some questionable rotation on the ball.” (As partial evidence, Milbank points to Clinton’s “ersatz victory partyin Florida last night, which he deems “a political stunt worthy of the late Evel Knievel.”)

    The Sun Shines on McCain.

    “My friends, as I said the other week in South Carolina, there is nothing in our country that is inevitable. We can overcome any challenge as long as we keep our courage, and stand by the principles that have made our party and our country great.”

    Florida votes, and Arizona Senator John McCain is the big winner and — arguably — now the prohibitive frontrunner for the Republican nomination (much to the consternation of the conservative base.) Given that he’s easily the GOP candidate with the most crossover appeal, that’s bad news for the Democrats, particularly if we decide to get behind the one person on this earth (well, two people, counting her husband) who could manage to reunite the abysmally fractured GOP.

    Speaking of which, Senator Clinton handily won on the (meaningless) Dem side — prompting much rejoicing and e-mailing by the Clinton campaign. (Although, in a bit of a shocker, it turns out she actually tied the delegate count with Mike Gravel.) Seriously, though, given that Florida is particularly choice demographic territory for Clinton, she’d probably have won the Sunshine State in any event. (As George Will and Slate have both recently pointed out, Florida is known as “God’s Antechamber” for a reason, and, as has been the norm, voters over 60 — 39% of the voting Dems — went for Hillary 59%-24%.) But, given that this ended up being basically the name-recognition primary, and that no delegates came of it, I’m not too concerned about the results. On to Super-Tuesday.

    Update: Looking over the CNN exit poll numbers for the Dem side, this would seem to be the key stat in viewing both tonight and the road ahead:

    When did you decide who to vote for?

    Today: (10%): Clinton 34%, Obama 30%
    Last 3 Days: (7%): Obama 46%, Clinton 38%
    Last Week: (7%): Obama 39%, Clinton 31%
    Last Month: (16%): Obama 47%, Clinton 40%
    Before That: (33%): Clinton 63%, Obama 27%
    Absentee/Early Voter: (26%): Clinton 50%, Obama 31%

    So, among voters that have decided since the campaign took off in Iowa, Obama does rather well. It’s the long-time deciders and absentees — 60% of the electorate — where he seriously fell behind. This would indicate name recognition definitely played its part today, and that actual campaigning in Florida could’ve made a significant difference. Good to know, as we move forward.

    Thank You, New Hampshire?

    “Courting voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, last August Sen. Hillary Clinton signed a pledge not to ‘campaign or participate’ in the Michigan or Florida Democratic primaries. She participated in both primaries and is campaigning in Florida. Which proves, again, that Hillary Clinton is a liar.” Back in New Hampshire, the Manchester Union-Leader isn’t too happy about Clinton’s breaking of her Florida pledge. “Clinton coldly and knowingly lied to New Hampshire and Iowa. Her promise was not a vague statement. It was a signed pledge with a clear and unequivocal meaning…New Hampshire voters, you were played for suckers.

    Campaign Contortions in the Sunshine State.

    “Her arrival is Sarasota was timed so that she could be photographed with palm trees behind her. ‘It is a perfect day here in Florida,’ declared a bemused candidate who officially was not campaigning in Florida as she posed for the classic Florida campaign photo.” According to The Nation‘s John Norris, Hillary Clinton has broken the spirit of her pledge and is now actively campaigning in Florida. (“She arrived in Sarasota taking care to abide by the details of the agreement, because events in Sarasota and later in Miami were not open to the public. With a wink at the deal, Clinton carefully staged her arrival so she left her airplane with palm trees in the background for photographers.”) As Matt Yglesias put it, once again the Clintons — like the GOP — have shown they think elections in America are just a no-holds-barred game of Calvinball.

    The Clintons try to Cheat on Delegates (Again).

    It’s getting hard to keep up with the Clinton outrages these days. (I’ll leave Bill Clinton deciding to praise Obama as ‘articulate’ alone for now, as — perhaps — that was just a poor choice of words.) As telegraphed by their moves after Michigan, the Clinton campaign is now explicitly trying to change the rules and get the Michigan and Florida delegates seated (a move which has brought Bill Nelson into the Clinton camp.) Says TPM’s Josh Marshall: “[Y]ou don’t change the rules in midstream to favor one candidate or another. This is no more than a replay, with different factual particulars, of the attempt to outlaw the at-large caucuses in Nevada after the Culinary Union endorsement made it appear they would help Barack Obama.” Adds the Prospect‘s Ezra Klein: “This is the sort of decision that has the potential to tear the party apart.

    Clinton’s Detroit Hustle.

    Sigh…what manner of shadiness is this? As with the Nevada caucus lawsuit, it now seems Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign is threatening to change the rules in Michigan. Last September, when Michigan and Florida tried to jump the gun on their primary process, all major candidates — including Clinton — pledged not to campaign there, and the DNC later stripped both states of their delegates. In accordance with the pledge, Barack Obama and John Edwards removed their names from the ballot (as did Joe Biden and Bill Richardson)…but Hillary Clinton did not. And so, today Michigan voters had the chance to vote Clinton or “Uncommitted” in a theoretically meaningless primary.

    But now Senator Clinton seems to be looking to alter the deal. (Pray she doesn’t alter it any further.) From Salon‘s Tim Grieve: The Clinton camp now “seems to be hinting that it may fight to have delegates from Michigan and Florida seated at the convention after all. ‘The people of Michigan and Florida have just as much of a right to have their voices heard as anyone else. It is disappointing to hear a major Democratic presidential candidate tell the voters of any state that their voices aren’t important…Sen. Clinton intends to be president for all fifty states.‘” Once again, when in doubt, change the rules. One hopes the DNC stands firm on this issue, or this convention could get nasty.

    Update: Speaking of the Nevada caucus lawsuit, President Clinton embarrasses himself further by vocally backing the attempt to remove casino caucus areas. Said the president: “Why ‘make a special rule only for these workers. For the rest of you other workers, tough luck. I think the rules ought to be the same for everyone,’ he said.I repeat: “Going back to last spring, every presidential campaign was involved in setting up the unusual casino caucus sites while state party officials and the Democratic National Committee ironed out the details.” Where was this outrage in the many months before the Culinary Union’s endorsement of Obama? Unbelievable. Update 2: Clinton also referred to Obama as the “establishment” candidate (in this union case) who’d only provide the “feeling of change.” Sigh…I’m getting the feeling of more of the same.

    Update 3: Some angry teachers respond to the suit filed by their union: “These at-large locations were approved back in March of 2007, and no one raised any concerns about them for nearly a year…This lawsuit is all about politics…[T]hey’re using our union to stop Nevadans from caucusing for Senator Obama.” Meanwhile, the DNC files a motion to intervene on behalf of the State Party (i.e. against the suit), and Sen. Reid remains conspicuously silent. Update 4: Bill Clinton angrily backs the suit again…while offering misleading statements about it. (The problem with the “five times”…uh, obfuscation…is explained here.)

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