May 05, 2008

Standoff in Indiana and North Carolina Primaries

After the American Century

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have just completed two weeks of frantic campaigning in Indiana and North Carolina. The polls suggest they will split these two states, with Clinton the likely winner in Indiana and Obama in North Carolina. It appears that North Carolina, with a large black population voting overwhelmingly for Obama, is likely to give him a much needed victory. The scenario seems to be that he will win the cities, she will take the rural counties (though not in the northeast where there is a rural black majority), and the victory likely will go to whoever carries the suburbs. Average out the polls, and Obama is leading by 7%.

There is a small chance that Obama could make it close in Indiana, where Clinton has a 5% lead. When I was living in that state for half of 2003, I was surprised to find a sizable peace movement there trying to stop President Bush from invading Iraq. However, the Black population is not large in Indiana, whose voters share many characteristics with Ohio, right next door. They are struggling economically more than many states. It depends on how well Obama does with those groups Hillary has been so good at winning over: blue collar voters, Catholics, older women, people without a college education, and pensioners. There are quite a few people that fit into those categories in Indiana, which is a rather conservative state, taking both parties into consideration. Normally, Obama would get some mileage out of being from neighboring Illinois. But Clinton can also claim midwestern roots. The state has many college students, who nationally tend to be pro-Obama. Finally while it may seem trivial, he does play basketball well, and that is Indiana's favorite winter sport. However, he has been hurt by Rev. Wright's public statements, which came at the worst possible time. Overall, expect him to do well in the largest city, Indianapolis, in Bloomington and Brown County, to struggle in the small industrial cities like Ft. Wayne, Muncie, and Anderson, and to have great difficulties with rural voters, with the exception of the Quaker population, who will likely support him. As for the many Mennonites in Indiana, I suspect that not many of them will vote. Taken all around, Hillary should win that one, balancing off an Obama victory in North Carolina.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Obama will still have the lead in total delegates on Wednesday morning. But will he have regained some momentum? Clinton has been on the comeback trail now for well over a month, since her victories in Texas and Ohio, reinforced by her victory in Pennsylvania. If nothing else, she has shown grit and determination. 

Clinton has also called for dropping the federal tax on gasoline for the summer, to help out ordinary Americans. This proposal was surely crafted after looking at a Gallup Poll which showed that of all the problems faced by the US right now, high gas prices are perceived as the worst. It certainly does sound nice to suggest that the federal tax be dropped, and that instead the oil companies ought to be taxed directly. Silly idea, however. It is rather like a card sharp moving the queen of spades around the table. The taxes are still going to be collected on gasoline, just at a different location. Raise the cost of doing business for oil companies and they will shortly pass it on to the consumers. 

Moreover, making gas cheaper will send American consumers the wrong message. It will say: no need to trade down to a smaller, fuel efficient car; no need to cut back on smog and pollution; no need to reduce oil imports; no need for consumers to change their wasteful ways. Clinton no doubt expects to win some needed votes through this irresponsible proposal, and to strengthen her grip on her core constituency. For the Gallup polls show that the poorer an American is, the more gas prices loom as the most important problem the nation faces. (not the war in Iraq.) Were Mrs. Clinton thinking about the long term, she would try to move the electorate toward reduced energy use. That would be good for the environment and good for the economy. Her proposal has been attacked by many economists, and rejected by Mr. Obama. McCain, on the other hand, has put forward a similar proposal. Once again, it would seem that Hillary has adopted the dangerous strategy of becoming McClinton, a female clone of the Republican candidate. As the campaign chugs on toward what may be the bitter end of the primaries in early June, it appears that serious discussion of economic policy has all but disappeared.