More on the gas tax

Dr. Robert Shaprio, Chair of NDN's Globalization Initiative, was quoted by Sam Stein in the Huffington Post on the gas tax holiday proposal. The article, entitled "Expert Support for Gas Tax Holiday Appears Nonexistant," comes on the heels of a Thomas Friedman column and New York Times editorial that both deride the proposal.

From the Huffington Post:

"Stated as clearly as I can," [Shapiro] wrote, "it's utterly misguided both environmentally and economically. Environmentally, it does actual harm, since it reduces the price of producing greenhouse gases. And economically it's trivial or worse -- by reducing the price of driving it encourages more of it, thereby increasing demand for gasoline, which inevitably pushes the price back up - the consumer gains nothing, and the oil companies and OPEC collect the extra bucks instead of the government."

On another note, the conferees on the upcoming farm bill agreed to reduce the subsidy for ethanol. Corn based ethanol has been blamed, among many factors, for the rise in food prices.

Ads focus on gas tax

The past two days have seen a back and forth from Senators Clinton and Obama on the proposal to suspend the gas tax for the summer. Green Project Director Michael Moynihan blogged on a Thomas Friedman column on the subject today, and the New York Times covered the debate yesterday. Now, both candidates have ads airing in Indiana on the subject.

Senator Clinton hits Obama:

Senator Obama's response:

Obama has said he was going to avoid going negative in the coming weeks, while Clinton has not shied away from her strategy. Both ads clearly reflect that, and stay on message: Clinton's of being a fighter and Obama's change in Washington argument. We will see if this issue can score points for either one.

Candidates talk energy policy

Americans have dealt with significant increases in their costs of living during the Bush administration. One of the most significant is rising energy costs, most visibly seen in high prices at the pump. This issue has suddenly found itself at the center of the Presidential campaign in the form of a proposal to suspend the gas tax for the summer, saving the average American, according to estimates, at most about $30 over that time.

From the New York Times:

As angry truckers encircled the Capitol in a horn-blaring caravan and consumers across the country agonized over $60 fill-ups, the issue of high fuel prices flared on the campaign trail on Monday, sharply dividing the two Democratic candidates.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.

While Mr. Obama’s view is shared by environmentalists and many independent energy analysts, his position allowed Mrs. Clinton to draw a contrast with her opponent in appealing to the hard-hit middle-class families and older Americans who have proven to be the bedrock of her support. She has accused Mr. Obama of being out of touch with ordinary Americans who are struggling to meet their mortgages and gas up their cars and trucks.

Mrs. Clinton said at a rally on Monday morning in Graham, N.C., that she would introduce legislation to impose a windfall-profits tax on oil companies and use the revenue to suspend the gasoline tax temporarily.

"At the heart of my approach is a simple belief," Mrs. Clinton said. "Middle-class families are paying too much and oil companies aren't paying their fair share to help us solve the problems at the pump."

Mrs. Clinton said the tax on the oil companies, which have been reporting record profits as oil prices soar, would cover all of the lost revenue from the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. She also said no highway projects would suffer.

Mr. Obama derided the McCain-Clinton idea of a federal tax holiday as a "short-term, quick-fix" proposal that would do more harm than good, and said the money, which is earmarked for the federal highway trust fund, is badly needed to maintain the nation’s roads and bridges.

Here at NDN, we are pleased to see the candidates addressing energy reform and discussing America’s weakening infrastructure. NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan recently wrote a paper about the need to invest in America’s infrastructure, and the Green Project has been promoting a long term solution to America’s energy needs. Going forward, we encourage the candidates to incorporate long term solutions these issues into their policy prescriptions.

So, after Pennsylvania, where are we?

I'm traveling this morning, so only could a quick post. Sorry in advance for any typos....

So, after Senator Clinton's impressive win last night, where are we?

In a post yesterday, I wondered whether Senator Clinton still had the power on her own to alter the dynamic of the race, a dynamic that currently has Senator Obama winning and her losing. There can be no question now that Senator Clinton had a big "win" last night, and initial fundraising numbers show her in the process of reloading her depleted coffers. So it is possible that last night was more than postponing the inevitable -- it was a new opening, a new opportunity for her to recast the race.

We will know more about that in the next few days. Things to look for are the national poll numbers (which have been trending heavily against her in recent days), both her fundraising and Senator Obama's, the polls in the next round of states and whether she can raise her own game up and start crafting a more positive vision for the country. Her recent spate of brutal attacks on Senator Obama have dramatically increased her own negatives. So while it may have kept him from getting too close in Pennsylvania, it has cost her in the rest of the country. She will have to take on the growing unhappiness with the tone of her campaign (an issue I discussed a while back) that is beginning to permeate the chattering classes, if she is to have any chance of winning the nomination and going on to win the Presidency.

As for Senator Obama, I offered some thoughts on the state of his campaign on Monday. His job is a different one from Senator Clinton's. Among the things I might suggest is that he needs to re-orient his campaign around the economy (his closing Pennsylvania ads did not directly address the economy, both the number one issue in the race and Senator Clinton's greatest strength), more adroitly indict - not attack - his opponent, dramatically improve the paid advertising of the campaign, which has yet to produce a single memorable piece of video or demonstrate that it can move numbers in key states and address his perceived weakness with Hispanics.

From my conversations with reporters yesterday, the idea that "he can't close" is taking hold in the media, and I think is a serious and important notion for his campaign to address. It speaks to many things - his inexperience, his toughness, his leadership skills and his ability to play the game.

Just as I wrote that the six weeks after March 4 would be tough for Senator Clinton, these next two weeks will be a truly important test for Senator Obama. He needs to prevent erosion, keep his supporters excited, address some long overdue weaknesses in his campaign and show that he has the kind of grit, toughness and wisdom to be an effective President.

So did last night alter the dynamic of the race? It is too early to tell. After March 4, Senator Clinton seemed to drift, lose focus. Senator Obama seemed to raise his game. So one never knows. But these next two weeks are going to be an extraordinary thing to watch, and very important in both picking the nominee and preparing that nominee for a tough battle in the fall.

The Pennsylvania Primary and the future of the Clinton campaign

In the last few weeks, a new fundamental dynamic for the Democratic nomination has emerged. It is now clear that Senator Obama is winning the race, and Senator Clinton is losing.

The big question tonight is whether even a significant victory by Senator Clinton alters this fundamental dynamic. I am increasingly of the belief that it won't.

To review, Senator Obama has won more states, more votes, more delegates, is about to catch up on super delegates, has built a far superior and modern campaign, has dramatically outraised his opponent and is ahead in all national polls, in one by more than 10 points. He is doing much better than Senator Clinton with Independents. If current trends continue, he will end the primary season less than 100 delegates from the amount needed to win, meaning that it won't take much to put him over the top. Based on the new FEC reports, Senator Clinton is also functionally out of money or in the process of going deep into debt. And as I wrote recently, even the argument that Senator Clinton has won more important states doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

Which is why her often repeated argument that she will be a stronger general election candidate is silly. If you get beat by your opponent fair and square, how can you claim to be a stronger candidate?

As Noam Scheiber just wrote, I have long been saying that this six-week window between March and April 22 was going to be a very bad period for Senator Clinton. It allowed the Party elites and the media enough time to actually figure out what was going on in this confusing nominating process. This slow period allowed it to become understood that Senator Obama was in fact winning and Senator Clinton losing, Period. No mulligans. No changing the rules midway through the game. By the end of March, all understood that Senator Obama had all but locked this thing up.

In this period, it also became clear to some that Senator Clinton no longer really had the power, the ability, to alter this dynamic. She couldn't win enough of the states left to get back in the game. She can no longer win the popular vote. The super delegates have broken heavily against her. The Party has kept its word, and, despite over-the-top efforts by the Clinton campaign, properly disallowed the Florida and Michigan results. Her chief strategist, her campaign manager and a top political strategist have left, and her new campaign manager, while respected, has virtually no campaign experience. Her money has dried up. The Tuzla story, for those who paid close attention to it, showed that she had the capacity to strategically lie, repeatedly, recklessly, about something of great importance. And now her relentless attacks on Senator Obama, by dramatically raising her own negatives, have weakened her own candidacy more than it has damaged him, leaving her in a more precarious national position.

I have never believed that if Senator Clinton knew she was going to lose that she would continue on past the point at which it was becoming ruinous to her very bright future. Smart politicians, as the saying goes, know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. And the Clintons are smart politicians. When that moment - the moment the candidate decides to drop out - comes in a campaign, it is never simple. But it often has to do more with money than with honor. And right now, the thing to watch is whether the outcome tonight is enough for her to keep raising the $20 million or so a month she needs to keep going. If not, the race could be over quickly. If she does have a strong and convincing win, and can quickly raise enough money to keep her supporters confident that she still has a shot, perhaps this will go on to mid-June. There will be shouts of "Comeback Kid, 3!" - but I am no longer convinced that even this scenario is possible any longer.

So even if Senator Clinton wins big tonight, it does not mean she will have the power or ability to win the nomination. She perhaps will have staved off defeat, but not recovered enough to be back in this thing. Of course, technically, she could win. But for her to win now requires an extraordinary event, one that would have to essentially end the Obama candidacy, something that, after his adequate management of the Wright and bitter moments, I no longer think she has the power herself to bring about. For her to win, it will require a political miracle, an Obama stumble of monumental proportions. Possible? Yes. Likely? No way. So why go on?

Perhaps, perhaps, what she is seeking is not a victory then, but what she and her husband have been seeking with such ferocity since the beginning of this campaign - a better and more honorable ending to what has been our promising, exhilarating, prosperous, productive and occasionally deeply disappointing long, national relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

And as long as there is a chance, even a small chance, of that coming about through this process, the battle may indeed go on - as long as the money holds out.

Monday morning observations

The Education of Obama - Both the Times and the Post have stories today about Obama "sharpening" his attack against Senator Clinton. My view on this is this tougher rhetoric is long overdue from the Democratic frontrunner, for politics is both about making your own case while effectively indicting your opponent. One of our great strenghts in the 1992 Clinton campaign was our ability to indict President Bush without sounding too partisan and mean spirited. To win in the fall Obama will have to make a powerful and very public indictment of Senator McCain and the failed government of this era. In no way does this cut against his "bringing everyone together" narrative, and simply another tool in his tool box he must develop if he is to win, and to govern.

As I wrote recently I still think Senator Obama should have used the "bitter" flap as he did the Jeremiah Wright controversy. He should have taken the opportunity to give a major speech about the struggle of every day people, demonstrating he both understands how the lack of an adequate government response to globalization is making it harder for people to get ahead, and that he has a comprehensive plan to do something about it. His economic argument is still too political, too focused on attacking Senator Clinton over her NAFTA position than on offering a compelling argument on how he intends to raise the standard of living of all Americans. The inability of the Obama campaign to organize themselves around the struggle of the middle class has been, and continues to be, one of the great strategic weaknesses of this year's remarkable campaign.

For more on this read John Heilemann's excellent new essay in New York Magazine which features some commentary from the head of our globalization initiative, Rob Shapiro.

Not a big fan of McSame - Some of the early arguments coming from the Democratic/ progressive side attempt to make McCain into Bush. But I think this approach is bound to fail. McCain is his own man. He isn't George Bush. They may have worked together to bring about this disasterous conservative era. They have similar beliefs. But McCain isn't Bush. He has a powerful and compelling personal narrative. His take on Iraq is different. His economic plan is different. His position on immigration is different. It is time for those who have opposed Bush to let go of him as a man, and begin making the indictment against his beliefs, his government and the mess he and his team - with McCain's help - have left us. The country has written Bush off, and is turning the page. It is time for the progressive movement to do the same.

To that end I think the new DNC Ad is a good one. It takes McCain's own words and ties them to the performance of the conservative economic strategy now embraced by the Arizona Senator. An editorial in the Post today further disembles the inanity of McCain's emerging economic arguments, providing much more new material for those of us who have opposed the bankrupt and failed economic approach of the modern conservatives.

For more on McCain be sure to read yesterday's frontpage WaPo story on McCain's temperment, something that has been a constant discussion item here in DC chattering classes since the campaign began.

McCain and Immigration - Our very own Andres Ramirez has an excellent new post reminding everyone that during the heat of his primary battle John McCain abandonned his own immigration reform bill, and now repdudiates it on the campaign trail. It is an extraordinary example of McCain's maturation in recent years from virtuous outsider to hollowed-out, craven pol, willing to say and do anything to get elected.

A big test for Obama

There can now be little doubt that Senator Obama's recent comments in San Francisco have become a major test for this candidacy. The ad Senator Clinton launched yesterday on the subject is one of the most powerful ads of this election cycle, and will require a sustained and significant response from the Obama campaign.

As Senator Obama demonstrated in the recent flap over Jeremiah Wright, every attack is an opportunity to offer a very public response. For the Obama campaign those words will never be able to be taken back, but what his campaign can do is to view this as a moment to better address the core of what is being discussed here - his understanding of the struggle of every day people, and to better clarify his plan to raise improve the lives of those facing increased struggle and hardship in an era when the standing of the middle class has deteriorated. As I have written many times, I have long felt this whole area has been a weakness for Senator Obama and his campaign. This moment is in essence an opportunity to correct a major structural weakness in his candidacy and thus if handled successfully could be a moment of great opportunity for the Senator.

Campaigns are a series of tests, some small, some big. For Senator Obama a few words spoken in private have begun to drown out the millions of words he has spoken throughout this long and grueling campaign. But that is politics, and this new test may be among the most consequential and important faced by Senator Obama so far.

Debunking the Clinton claim to having won more "important states"

In the last few weeks Clinton spokesman after Clinton spokesman has made the claim that Senator Clinton had won more important states than Senator Obama. I have tried hard to figure out what this claim means and simply cannot.

The Rasmussen electoral college analysis lists 13 states as being up for grabs this fall (with EV counts): Florida (27), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), Michigan (17), Virginia (13), Missouri (11), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Iowa (7), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5) and New Hampshire (4).

Obama has won Virginia, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa and won more delegates in Nevada. 6 states, 60 Electoral College votes. Clinton has won Ohio, New Mexico and New Hampshire. 3 states, 29 Electoral College votes.

Florida and Michigan did not have legitimate elections, and PA has not voted yet.

That makes 6 states for Obama, 3 for Clinton, 1 in dispute, 2 not legitimate and 1 not yet voted, with Obama having won twice as many states and Electoral College votes than Senator Clinton. So how exactly has the Clinton campaign won more critical states than Obama?

There are good arguments to make for Senator Clinton's candidacy. The "important state" one is not one of them.

Obama surging in the national tracks

Both the Rasmussen and Gallup national daily tracks are showing significant and sustained new movement for Obama.

Gallup now has him up by 10 ponts, 52% to 42%, a net change of 17 points in the last ten days. Rasmussen has it 47% to 42%, and McCain 47% Obama 44%, McCain 50% Clinton 40%.

For reasons I don't really understand the Clinton campaign seems to have to lacked a real game plan since its strong showing on March 4th. Much of what is breaking through in for the campaign in the national media are process stories, and increasingly those stories are now a variation of the road ahead is a hard one. It has been a very bad few message weeks for the Clinton world.

The last time the Clinton camp found themselves in such a sustained message trough they launched the 3am ad, which seemed to fundamentally alter the dynamic of the race, for at least a few critical days. If the trends in these new tracks continue into the early part of the week expect the Clinton campaign to launch a dramatic new ad or launch a major new assault on Senator Obama. They cannot afford to let Obama surge too far ahead, or claw his way back into contention in Pennsylvania. Will be important to watch the PA polls this week to see if Obama's sustained campaigning there along with this new national movement is making that state closer than ten points.

Richardson to endorse Obama

The Washington Post has reported that Bill Richardson will endorse Senator Obama.

As I wrote a week ago, this long lull 'til Pennsylvania is a very dangerous time for Senator Clinton. It is giving people time to look deeper at the campaign, and what they are seeing is that Senator Obama is winning, and given the delegate math will be very hard to beat. Expect more calls for Senator Clinton to end her candidacy in the coming weeks. Adam Nagourney reviewed this emerging dynamic in the NYTimes yesterday.

The Richardson endorsement will no doubt help Senator Obama address one of the most important weaknesses of the campaign, his standing with the Hispanic community. For more on the importance of Hispanics and the Southwest, see this new article in the American Prospect by Tom Schaller, our recent essay, The 50 Year Strategy, or our new analysis of how Hispanics have voted so far in 2008.

It will be interesting to see how Obama's speech on race earlier this week played into Richardson's decision to endorse.

Update: TPM reports that Senator Clinton ended February in debt. In debt.

Has anyone else noticed that Senator Clinton sort of disapeared this week? That the only stories she got into were process ones about FL and MI, passports and attacks?

Update 2: A new essay in the Politico strongly makes the case that Obama has already won the nomination. Without a primary for the next 4 plus weeks and the Wright controversy behind us for now, the press will need something to focus on. It appears as if for the next week or so the focus will be on whether Barack Obama has already won the nomination, challenging the Clinton campaign to come up with a better rationale for why they are continuing the race. The pressure on her to end her campaign and endorse Obama is going to mount in the next few weeks ushering in a very new dynamic in the campaign.

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