Monday, March 03, 2008

More campaign flyers; speculation on the Clinton strategy in Texas

Tomorrow is the primary here in Texas, and I'm still receiving flyers. Previously I blogged about the first flyers I received from the Clinton and Obama campaigns (I haven't received anything from the McCain campaign yet). Flyers came in late last week as well, and they're still fascinating. I think that Clinton's flyers in particular indicate something about her Texas strategy; more on that below.

Last time I blogged, I noted that Obama's campaign had sent two flyers to me, both clearly laying out Texas' primary+caucus system and encouraging people to attend both. Clinton's flyer had focused instead on early voting and didn't mention the caucus.

Since then, I've received the following flyers in this order:

Clinton campaign: Predatory credit card interest rates
This one came in on Wednesday, I think. The picture has a woman, seated, pointing to what is presumably a credit card statement and looking at her husband in stunned disbelief. I half expected a LOLcats caption, something like WTF WE IZ PWND BY CHASE. Instead, the headline says:
Barack Obama voted AGAINST protecting American families from predatory credit card interest rates of more than 30 percent.

As an aside, I don't have a deep well of sympathy for people who don't bother to read the fine print on credit card applications -- we cut up our credit cards years ago -- so this ad didn't do much for me.

The reverse summarizes Obama's position and, weirdly, has a nice picture of him smiling. No Clinton pictures. At a glance, I actually thought this was an Obama flyer.

As with the previous Clinton flyers, this one doesn't contain any instructions on the primary+caucus system.

Obama campaign: End the War
The next flyer came on Thursday. Like the previous Obama flyers, this one is poster-sized and folded. You can tell that Obama's campaign has more money right now and that it's willing to spend that money. Also like the previous Obama flyers, this one has clear instructions on how to negotiate the primary+caucus system (called the "Texas Two-Step" here). The cover lays out three points in Obama's platform:
  • "End the war"
  • "Cut health care costs and cover every American"
  • "Cut taxes for working families by $1,000"
Not a word about the Clinton campaign here. Again, most of the verbiage is about the "Texas Two-Step."

Clinton campaign: Health care
Finally, on Friday I received a flyer with the title "Which of these people don't deserve health care?" The black and white photo features several people of different ages, sexes, and ethnicities staring into the camera as if to say, why aren't you going to provide us health care, you callous voter?

On the reverse, we again see Obama's picture -- the same friendly smile -- along with some negatives about his health care plan, which "leaves 15 million Americans without coverage." And again, no information on the caucuses.

I speculated earlier that the Clinton campaign was planning to address the caucus system in later flyers. That hasn't happened -- in fact, the later flyers are exclusively focusing on trying to drive Obama's negatives up. They don't distinguish the caucuses at all. And, frankly, Texans generally don't know about the caucuses (I didn't until this election cycle, and I've lived in Texas all but five years of my life).

So what are they up to?

One hypothesis is that the Clinton campaign is simply not competent. Although there is abundant evidence for this hypothesis, I don't think it is correct in this case.

A second is that the Clinton campaign has essentially given up on the caucuses and is focusing on the primaries alone, hoping to generate a large enough margin to overcome the 1/3 of delegates selected in the caucuses.

A third hypothesis, and I think the most likely one, is that the Clinton campaign is trying to maximize the differential between the primary and caucus results. If they can win the primaries and lose significantly in the caucuses, they can make the case that the system is inherently unfair. They've laid the groundwork for this by floating the notion of a lawsuit over the Texas Democratic Party's election rules.

That strategy would also explain the Clinton campaign's instructions for supporters to "take control of caucus sign-in sheets and vote tallies especially 'if our supporters are outnumbered.'" If Clinton people are in charge of sign-in sheets, they are well positioned to serve as witnesses in a possible lawsuit and in the media. All they have to do is to tell the truth: that Obama supporters turned out in far greater numbers in the caucuses than in the primaries (which is what will most likely happen). That makes a lot more sense than the current hysterical speculation that Clinton's rank-and-file supporters are going to alter caucus results, something that would take a massive conspiracy executed by generally honest and politically engaged Texans. As Machiavelli pointed out, conspiracies are notoriously difficult to hold together.

Update 2008.05.28: The strategy comes to fruition.

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