Debate liveblogging......Cuba first

Amazingly Cuba leads the debate. Obama restates his support of a position NDN staked out in 2006 - start with loosening travel and remittances so as not to punish the Cuban people and Cuban families here in the US for the Castro era itself. While at the same time working with the new Cuban government to help them begin to open up their closed society and make the transition to a 21st century modern state.

On the economy Clinton does a much better job connecting with the struggle of every day people. Obama is a little flat. Tired. A little sick perhaps.

Immigration. I am so proud of CNN for working with Univision on this debate. Jorge Ramos is one of my personal heros, and it is great to see him here on national English television tonight. It is not sufficient penance, however, for their promotion of crazy Lou Dobbs and even crazier Glenn Beck.

Clinton just committed to introducing Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the first 100 days of her Presidency. Of course NDN is for that. Good for you Senator Clinton. Senator Obama, by talking about clearing the backlog, just raised the bar on what has been a very wonderful back and forth on immigration.

For more on NDN's efforts to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform click here. Good for both Senator Obama and Clinton for holding firm on this tough issue.

Update: Obama is gaining steam after a slow start.

I worked with Jon King closely in the 1992 NH primary when he was the AP reporter covering the Clinton campaign. He has been the star reporter of this election season, offering better analysis than just about any other reporter in the business. He has done a great job tonight, and this team of Campbell Brown, Jon King and Jorge Ramos is the best we've seen in this debate season. Perhaps with the exception of Charlie Gibson who did a great job in his double debate night.

This debate has been so interesting because the reporters have gotten out of the way, tossed out the silly requirement to speak in 60 second bites and let these important folks speak their minds.....

Barack just had a big big moment. When he is good he is very very good. Inspiring even. He is beginning to take control of the debate in a way I've never seen before.

Update 2: They are mixing it up now. I have to say that I am with Obama on this health care issue, and interestingly, the organization that has done more to fight for universal health care than any other, SEIU, agrees. His plan is real and so is hers. And of course whatever they propose will get altered in the Congress next year any way. I have always felt that Senator Clinton's focus on the differences in their health care plans was a little, let us say, political.

Update 3: Senator Clinton has had a very good night. It has been perhaps her best debate - though I haven't seen all 19!

Senator Obama has also been better tonight than I have ever seen in these debates. It has been a good night for both of them.

But ending with Iraq is not a great way to end for Senator Clinton. And Barack is doing a very good job here....and has done an incredible job in this last riff on costs of the war.

Update 4: Oops. Another 30 minutes. Here we go. Senator Clinton ducked the superdelegate question well. Barack did a very a good job connecting the need to let voters pick the nominee to the necessity of a having a people oriented government next year.

Hillary's close was excellent. Her best moment of the whole night.

A good night all the way around.

New Post polls has Texas tied, Ohio closing

New Post polls show as the voters of Ohio and Texas get closer to making up their minds they are beginning to fall in line with national trends. In these polls Clinton leads in Ohio 50-43, and in Texas 48-47.

If the race in Texas stays this close, given the way the delegates are allocated, Obama will walk away with many more delegates than Clinton, and will be able to declare victory there. And as we all know, the Clinton campaign has said unless she wins both states it will be hard for her campaign to continue. Nail biting time.

Update: Check out this new poll from Gallup showing dramatic gains for the Democratic brand, and what can be only be described as a national collapse for the GOP.

Sunday Update: Two new polls have Ohio and Texas within margin of error, with Obama up one in Texas, Clinton up 4 in Ohio. Tuesday is shaping up to be quite a night.

Obama wins, Clinton struggles

I thought Senator Clinton's speech tonight was a notch below what she has delivered on other nights. She looked and sounded tired. Not a great sign for her campaign as it enters this next critical phase.

McCain is raising his game up. He was much better tonight than previous nights, and is growing in confidence and finding his voice.

20,000 people for Obama tonight in Houston. 20,000. He also seemed a little tired tonight, and a little long, but man the visuals of the event were great. He talked more about America's role in the world, and of the economy tonight than previous nights. His narrative continues to evolve.

Now 2 debates in the next week, and a two week all important battle for Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont.

Lots of stats tonight but the biggest one may be Obama's win with those who voted on the economy by more than 10 points. As I've been writing for some time if Obama were to win he would have retool his economic message, and better connect with the struggle of every day people. Winning on this issue has been the core strength of the Clinton campaign to date. Well tonight that changed, and this may have enormous implications for the March 4th contests. As CNN reports:

The exit polls showed 43 percent of Democratic voters said the economy was the most important issue in deciding their vote -- followed by the war in Iraq at 29 percent and health care at 25 percent.

Fifty-five percent of those who cited the economy voted for Obama, compared to 43 percent for Clinton.

An overwhelming 90 percent of the Democratic voters polled said the nation's economy is either "not so good" or "poor."

If you are in DC tomorrow please do come by our event at 12:30 at the Phoenix Park Hotel. Joining me will be Joe Trippi, Amy Walter of Hotline and our own Peter Leyden and Andres Ramirez. It will be a spirited discussion on this historic election season.

Wed am Update: Early analyses focus on Obama's growing ability to blow apart the very effective Clinton strategic triad of women, traditional Democrats and Hispanics. Obama won 49% of the women's vote last night, and won those making under $50,000 by ten points. Given his enormous margins of late, and the 25-30 swing towards Obama in the national polls, it was inevitable that his dramatic gains had to start coming from her coalition. Given that the economy and the struggle of the middle class will be one of the two or three defining issues of the 2008 elections, if Obama can maintain his new connection with these voters it has very important implications not only for the Democratic nomination but for the general election itself.

John McCain is going to have a hard time getting back in the game on economic issues. The economic policies of the Bush era have left a typical American family earning less than they earned in 2000, and may be leaving McCain with a slowdown or even a full blown serious recession just in time for the general election. Despite McCain's early efforts, this election is not going to be about tax cuts and new found conservative austerity plans. It is going to be a much bigger conversation, one about our common economic future, about restoring broad-based prosperity in a much more global age, or as we say at NDN, about creating an economic strategy for 21st century America that makes globalization work for all Americans. The Democrats are increasingly talking this way. It is not even clear yet that as as a national Party the GOP - or their new leader John McCain - even understands - let alone has plans to address - what has happened to average Americans in this terribly disapointing age of Bush. No matter his history, if John McCain doesn't develop a compelling economic narrative that speaks to the concerns of the struggling American middle class he will not be President of the United States. Security alone will not cut it this year, not in this economy.

The Obama surge continues - he leads Gallup by 7

After Super Tuesday I wrote that given the trends of the time Obama would soon be up by ten or so points over both Clinton and McCain. The Gallup 3 day track has shown Obama up 7 points over Senator Clinton for 3 days now, showing a permanent structural change in the race. In this latest track he is up 49-42.

t is amazing to look back and see that Hillary led by 20 points just a few weeks ago. As I wrote then what this means is that Ohio and Texas are going to be nail biters, as these states over the next two weeks begin to more accurately reflect the big national trends, and see lots of the two candidates.

What makes these numbers particularly interesting is Clinton's strength in what her campaign has called the "quality" states of CA, FL and NY, whose people make up a quarter of the nation's population. Assuming she still is leading Obama in these states, it means that his margins in other parts of the country - as been born out in the election so far - is huge. In the Gallup track Clinton led 52-39 on Feb 5th. Since then the race has shifted by a net of 20 points. It will take a while for the state polls to catch up on all this, perhaps not till the end of this week or perhaps mid week next week. My guess is by mid week next week - even before March 4th - Obama will be up over both other Senators by ten points in national polls, starting a round of stories and analysis about whether he has become the frontrunner not just in the Democratic primary but in the whole election....

But in the next two weeks we have Wisconsin and Hawaii and two more debates. So there is ample opportunity for Senator Clinton to change the emerging narrative, but it is getting harder by the day.

Update: The new Gallup track has Senator Clinton pulling within one. A blip? Clinton attacks starting to take effect? Too early to tell.

Saturday roundup - McCain, immigration, the Senate and Superdelegates

Some am thoughts at this exciting time:

Picking a Democratic Nominee - I may be niave, but somehow I think the current process will end up picking a nominee without the Democratic Party having to do extrarordinary things. If one candidate emerges by mid-March as stronger than the other, the pressure on the weaker one to get out will be so great that the race could just end. The Superdelegates will begin to break towards the stronger one, ratifying the will of the voters. A deal with be struck to seat Florida and Michigan. Markos proposes a 50/50 split - not a bad idea. But we agree with Bob Kerrey these states should not have a voice in picking the nominee, and that the rules are the rules. In this year of all years - when we've seen unprecedented citizen involvement in politics - it is critical that the Party of the People not once again become the Party of the Smoke Filled Room.

For more on the history of how Democrats ended up with this crazy system read the Post's Ruth Marcus's excellent overview.

But of course this puts all eyes on the March 4th states of Ohio and Texas. If Obama wins both these states, or perhaps even one of them, I think he will win the nomination. If that night somehow Hillary ends up winning the night, either by winning one and drawing in another or winning both, she could be back in this thing. This next period - with 2 debates - Wisconsin. Ohio and Texas is for all the marbles. And with Clinton holding large leads in both the big March 4th states, the drama is can Barack - with his financial edge and the power of his personal appearances - catch up? For those of political junkies, the upcoming rallies, speeches and debates are going to be must sees CSpaners as both Obama and Clinton understand the make or break importance of these critical states and will giving it their all.

The Hispanic Vote so far - If you haven't read it, check out NDN's new study on the Hispanic Vote in 2008. It has some dramatic results, and all sorts of bad news for John McCain and the GOP. If you want to see the study's author in person, come to our event this Wed in DC featuring Joe Trippi, Amy Walter of Hotline and Andres Ramirez, the director of Hispanic Programs at NDN.

Will McCain quit the Senate? - Josh Marshall has been asking the question. I think McCain will quit the Senate and run his campaign from Arizona, right in the middle of the hugely important swing region of the Southwest. For McCain being in DC will complicate his life and make it even less likely he wins. The Democrats will use the Senate to tie him down, interrupt his fundraisers, make him take tough votes. He will have to work much more closely with the very failed Washington GOP, which has given him a recession, a declining middle class, the worst foreign policy mistake in American history, unprecedented levels of corruption and cronyism, and no progress on key issues like climate change, health care and immigration. The more tied McCain is to this era of American history the less likely he is to win, and my guess is that by mid-March he will be trailing the Democratic frontrunner by high single digits or more. So he will have to go, to change the dynamic of what may very wll be a losing campaign. And besides Arizona is a good place to retire to.

The interesting question is if McCain quits the Senate what will Barack do? Running for President from Washington is no easy thing, particularly in this year of "change."

McCain, Hispanics and Immigration - I've gotten questions from the press this week about McCain and immigration, suggesting that given his leadership on immigration reform won't he be able to get back to Bush numbers with Hispanics, and put the heavily Hispanic swing states - AZ, CO, FL, NM and NV - out of play for the Democrats.

There is no question that McCain was a leader on immigration reform. But in 2007 when his bill was brought back up by the a newly elected Democratic Senate (it passed a GOP controlled Senate in 2006) McCain was nowhere to be found. Spooked by his early primary stumbles, McCain distanced himself from his own bill, and forced Democrats to negotiate with GOP leaders like John Kyl who had opposed the bill in 2006. The end result of McCain's betrayal of his own bill was without the bill's author, the bill collapsed and progress on fixing our broken immigration system stopped. In a recent interview on Meet the Press, McCain even suggested he would no longer vote for his bill if it came up.

So can McCain claw his way back with Hispanics, given how far his Party has fallen with them? Perhaps, but given his betrayal on this critical issue, his connection to the deeply unpopular Bush, his lack of any real plan for universal health coverage and his strong support of the war (Hispanics are and have been more against the war than the public at large), I think the decision McCain made to walk from his own bill in 2007 to appease GOP primary voters managed to both get him nothing with the anti-immigrant wing of his own Party while at the same time tossing away any chance he had of getting his necessary share with Hispanic voters in 2008.

Update: MSNBC's First Read has a must read account of a conference call today with Harold Ickes of the Clinton campaign, where, among other things, he makes the case for why the election results in Florida and Michigan need to be counted even though as a member of the DNC he voted to strip them of their delegates thus nullifying the results of their elections.

Update 2: TNR's Jonathan Cohn also condems the Clinton Florida and Michigan play, and Josh Marshall captures the anger many feel at the recent wave of Clintonian threats to play games with the system.

A new meme tonight - time is running out for Senator Clinton

On MSNBC tonight Chuck Todd made the case that given the way the delegates are breaking that for Clinton to win now she will have to win more than 60% of the vote in all the remaining states beginning on March 4th.   He made the simple case - which I had not heard before - that it is starting to become hard to see how she can win. 

The media tonight seemed to be coming to terms with this emerging reality.  Mike Henry's resignation played right into this narrative (Mike Henry btw is one of the most talented political operatives in the country).   And to add one scary stat for the Clinton crowd - as Hillary spoke live from El Paso to a very Hispanic crowd -  it was reported that Obama won Hispanics in Virginia tonight. 

March 4th is three weeks away.  It is going to be a long and hard 3 weeks for Senator Clinton.  It is likely that during this period Obama will take a commanding national lead in the polls, and may even start leading in Ohio and Texas.  Will her money hold out? 

The two debates in this period will be very important for both sides.  

While Obama pulled ahead of Clinton in this past week, he also seems to be pulling ahead of McCain.  Most polls out this week had Obama beating McCain by between 3 and 6 points.  Some polls had McCain down in the low 40s.  Soon, Obama may be ahead of McCain by a significant margin, and will all of a sudden be the frontrunner not just in the Democratic Primary but also in the general election against John McCain, who is struggling to put his Party back together. 

In Virginia tonight twice as many people voted Democrat than Republican.  30 percent of all those who voted Democrat tonight were independents or Republicans.  Obama's strength and McCain's weakness have become the dominant themes of this next phase of the campaign.

The new narrative - Obama surging, McCain struggling

We will wake tomorrow with a new media narrative - Barack Obama surging on the Democratic side, and John McCain stumbling on the Republican side.

With 60 percent in from Maine, Barack leads 57-42 in a state many thought Senator Clinton would win. His wins last night were in 3 different regions and by large margins. He was endorsed today by newspapers in Baltimore, Cleveland, Dallas, El Paso,and San Antonio. He continues to raise unprecedented amounts of money fueled by an unprecedented number of supporters. He leads John McCain in most early matchups. Today the message coming from the Clinton world was the firing of their campaign manager, and complaints about an NBC correspondent's words (however virtuous this effort is, it is not what a struggling campaign wants to be focusing on).

I explored the nature the Democratic race in this post yesterday.

The Republican story is one of weakness not strength. Mike Huckabee won 2 states last night, and perhaps a third, WA, which is having all sorts of difficultly explaining why it called the race for McCain before the votes were counted. Major GOP leaders like Tom DeLay, James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh have not agreed to support McCain if he wins. McCain has no money, no organization and is being hugged by Bush.

Yesterday, I offered more thoughts on all McCain's challenges here.

Update: Obama wins Maine by a large margin. His remarkable week continues.  And, incredibly, Senator Obama also brings home a Grammy.

Why is CNN showing FL, MI as Clinton states?

Florida and Michigan did not have legitimate elections this year. The candidates did not campaign, run ads, show up. Thus whatever happens with FL and MI, the one thing we know is that the election results this year will not be a factor in determining whether or how delegates get to participate in the Convention itself.

So, why then does CNN have them in the Clinton column tonight? They should fix this for Tuesday night and put them down as undecided states with no winners.

Sun am Update: ABC's This Week this am had FL and MI as uncommitted, as they should be.

Sun pm Update: The New Republic weighs in with a strong editorial challenging the Clinton campaign to quit playing games with Florida and Michigan. This editorial echoes a piece I wrote a few days ago.

Has the Democratic race fundamentally changed?

Some of the news reports following Feb 5th suggested that Clinton had blunted Obama's momentum, a momentum that had Obama gaining 15-20 points in the preceding 2 weeks. I wrote that night that I wasn't sure that this was true - has Hillary blunted the momentum and stopped Obama's forward progress?

Tonight it sure looks like that while Hillary did well last Tuesday night she did not blunt Obama mo. At this moment he is winning Nebraska and Washington, two states with almost no African-American populations by two to one. Two to one. He continues to dramatically outraise her, and continues to get many more significant endorsements from both newspapers and elected officials. A new poll of Virginia out today had him winning by 20 points.

The argument from the Clinton world is that she will rebound from a weak February with strong wins in TX and OH on March 4th. But why do we believe this is the case? If Obama is now equal or ahead in the national polls, and his strong night tonight is replicated on Tuesday, don't we believe that Obama will be even or ahead in Texas and Ohio by the end of the coming week? And don't we believe that if Obama wins these states if could be over? If one candidate begins to emerge as the frontrunner the pressure on the weaker one to end their candidacy will be very intense. At this point - given Obama's momentum and strong wins tonight - it is becoming easier to see a path for an outright Obama win than a Clinton one.

My gut is that this scenerio is becoming the most likely scenerio for resolving the Democratic race. In this year when we've seen record citizen participation in the political process it is hard to imagine the Democrats picking a nominee through the equivalent of a backroom deal. However it happens I believe that it will be the voters who end up picking the Democratic nominee, not the Superdelegates or a
brokered Convention, and right now the voters, ed boards and Democratic leaders are increasingly leaning Obama.

But then again each time Senator Clinton has seemed to be on the ropes she has come back strong. So on we go...

Update: I offer some additional thoughts on the primary process in this new piece by Frank Davies in the San Jose Mercury News.

Sun am Update: In a NYTimes op-ed today. Democratic consultant and process expert Tad Devine makes a powerful case for letting the voters - not a back room deal - pick the Democratic nominee.

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