washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Matt Compton

The Democratic Cash Competition

On Saturday, after Sen. Clinton wrapped up her remarks at the Virginia Jefferson-Jackson dinner, her spokesman – Phil Singer — gathered reporters around him and released some fundraising numbers. Since Super Tuesday, he said, more than 100,000 of Hillary Clinton’s supporters had contributed more than $10 million to the campaign.
To this point, her money strategy had been aggressively traditional. Her fundraisers seemed to have successfully twisted the arms of every high dollar donor in the country. By December, she’d raised more early money than any other presidential candidate in history; but at the same time, many of her donors were had hit the contribution limit, or “maxed out.”
Then the real nomination contest actually started.
As people began voting, the campaigns increased their spending. Just before 24 states went to the polls on Super Tuesday, the Obama campaign announced that they had raised a jaw-dropping $32 million in the month of January. The next day, as reporters tried to sort through delegate counts, the Clinton camp quietly acknowledged that the senator had loaned her campaign $5 million the week before. If necessary, they said, she was prepared to put up even more personal cash to keep on going.
The national media quickly judged this as a warning sign. Facing a rough calendar between February 5 and March 4 (when Texas and Ohio seem like states where she will do well), some began asking how much she would be willing to spend and whether she would have the resources keep going if losses began to mount.
In her speech on Super Tuesday, however, Clinton did something new — she mentioned her website and asked voters directly to visit HillaryClinton.com. The combination of those two things — the seeming desperation of the personal loan and the explicit appeal to visit her website – appears to have triggered a small donor chain reaction. In the first 24 hours after Super Tuesday, the campaign reported a haul of a haul of $4 million. Since then, the Clinton camp happily tells us that this well of support does not appear to have bottom.
Some who watch the money race were astounded by this development, but frankly, there is nothing surprising in these numbers. The simple fact that a lot of smart people forget is this — Hillary Clinton’s supporters are just as passionate about their candidate as those of Barack Obama.
That essential truth has been reflected in every national and state poll in this race — even as Obama’s support climbs, hers does not waver. That’s been obvious on the electoral front, from NH to CA. But it’s also been manifested on the money front, where women and men all across the country have continued to see her candidacy as an inspiring, historic moment in American history.
In this click-to-give internet era, that is fundraising magic, as her rival has shown so well. All the new Clinton donors needed, it appears, was a reason to give. Somehow, with her traditional donor success and frontrunner status, Hillary Clinton was forgetting to ask these people to support her. But that moment of vulnerability seems to have changed all that — these small donors are buying into her campaign and making it their own. Unlike her old contributors, they are much less likely to abandon her if the campaign stumbles in Texas or Pennsylvania.
Barack Obama hasn’t released any numbers since Wednesday, when his staff said that the campaign had raised another $7.9 million. On a call with reporters over the weekend, they maintained that their fundraising totals were still ahead of hers. But just a week ago, it looked like Obama would have a decisive money advantage going forward. Now it’s likely that both campaigns will have the resources to keep going for as long as this race lasts. And if both money machines can somehow be merged, the eventual Democratic general election campaign is going to be exceptionally well-heeled.

Texas Curveball

With Super Tuesday having slipped into Sleep-Deprived Wednesday, everyone is pointing to March 4th as the next big Democratic president contest. Vermont, Rhode Island, Texas, and Ohio are all up for grabs for a total of 370 pledged delegates.
The conventional wisdom says that Ohio and Texas are Hillary’s to lose. In Ohio, she’s got a lot of establishment support, including the endorsement from Gov. Ted Strickland. In Texas, the large number of Latino voters seems to give her a demographic edge.
However, as Ben Smith of the Politico mentioned after an Obama campaign conference call this morning, Texas isn’t a conventional primary:

It’s a mixed primary and caucus system, with two-thirds of the delegates awarded through primaries and a third through caucuses open only to primary voters.

In a moment of masochism, I pulled up the rules for the Texas nominating process. The two campaigns will be competing for delegates in 31 senatorial districts. There’s a formula for determining how those delegates are appropriated that gives equal weight to the district’s performance in the last governor’s race and presidential election:

Let P equal a given district’s percentage of the statewide Democratic vote in the last gubernatorial election, and let V equal that district’s percentage of the total statewide vote for the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election (district vote/state vote). ( P + V) divided by 2 = that district’s percentage of the total number of Delegates to be elected by the senatorial districts, as opposed to the number to be elected at-large..

That makes up 2/3rds of the pledged delegates. The rest are at-large, assigned through a caucus vote with its own set of procedures.
Obviously, Texas Democrats have a particularly complicated procedure for distributing their delegates, which lends itself to intensive organization. That’s always been on Obama strength, and last night, he absolutely dominated caucus elections — winning Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota. His margins overall were better than 2-1.
That sets up an interesting test in TX between Obama’s organizational strength and one of HRC’s most important demographic advantages. That’s yet another thing to watch as this amazingly close competiiton moves on to the next stage.

The Long Road Ahead

As Ed noted yesterday, there’s a whole lot of voting left in the Democratic presidential nomination contest after today’s Super Tuesday extravaganza. At present, there are 1366 pledged delegates who will be chosen in 15 primaries and 6 caucuses stretching from February 9 to June 3 (exact delegate counts may change due to “bonus delegates” awarded by the DNC for gender and racial balance purposes).
February 9: Louisiana Primary — 56 pledged delegates; Nebraska Caucus — 24 pledged delegates; Washington Caucus– 78 pledged delegates
February 10: Maine Caucus — 24 pledged delegates
February 12: Virginia Primary — 83 pledged delegates; District of Columbia Caucus — 15 pledged delegates; Maryland Primary — 70 pledged delegates
February 19: Hawaii Caucus — 20 pledged delegates; Wisconsin Primary — 74 pledged delegates
March 4: Ohio Primary — 141 pledged delegates; Texas Primary — 193 pledged delegates; Rhode Island Primary — 21 pledged delegates; Vermont Primary — 15 pledged delegates
March 8: Wyoming Caucus — 12 pledged delegates
March 11: Mississippi Primary — 33 pledged delegates
April 22: Pennsylvania Primary — 158 pledged delegates
May 6: North Carolina Primary — 115 pledged delegates; Indiana — 72 pledged delegates
May 13: West Virginia Primary — 28 pledged delegates
May 20: Kentucky Primary — 51 pledged delegates; Oregon Primary — 52 pledged delegates
June 3: South Dakota Primary — 15 pledged delegates; Montana Primary — 16 pledged delegates
Some of the delgate counts you see differ from this one because they include unpledged delegates–i.e., superdelegates, who aren’t and cannot be bound by any state’s primary or caucus results. Presently, about 400 of them are undeclared, and you could see some shifting in allegiances based on voting in the various states.
While a “brokered convention”–i.e., a convention where no candidate has a majority of delegates going in–remains unlikely in what has pretty quickly become a two-candidate race, the sheer number of superdelegates (totalling 796) could keep things mathematically in play even if one candidate has a solid lead among pledged delegates. So don’t get too tired of the nominating process tonight. There’s a long road ahead.
UPCATEGORY: Democratic Strategist

A Cool $32 Million

This morning, on a call with the nation’s political reporters, the Obama campaign said that, once again, the senator had managed to raise a ridiculous sum of money. This time, it was $32 million, every cent of it collected in January — in 30 days besting the campaign’s previous 3-month record.
Just in the year 2008, Obama’s campaign has added 170,000 new donors. Since he began his presidential bid last year, he’s seen 650,000 people give money to his campaign. Even when Howard Dean was breaking fundraising records four years ago, his campaign managed to pull just 250,000 donors. The size of the Obama donor base just dwarfs anything else in history.
It’s also worth pointing out once again that the vast majority of these donations are well below the maximum $2,300 contribution limit. Obama himself likes to tell the story of an envelope from a voter that came with a check for $3.01 and a Bible verse. For the most part, his donors are ordinary people, and their small contributions often mean they can contribute more in the future.
Of course, getting people to buy into the Obama campaign and contribute money has never been his problem. As he did in Iowa and South Carolina — and failed to do in New Hampshire and Nevada — Obama has to both get people to the polls and encourage them to vote for him.
Already, Obama has advertising on the air in all but two of the Feb. 5 states. On the call today, the campaign announced that they would use this new cash to begin showing ads in Louisiana, Washington, Nebraska, Maine, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C — all states with primaries after February 5th.
No matter what happens on Super Tuesday, the strength of this haul will give Barack Obama the resources to keep fighting for delegates. But even if he loses the nomination, his fundraising from small donors (and for that matter, Hillary Clinton’s, which is less dramatic but still enormous by historical standards) will provide a model for Democrats in the general election and beyond.
UPCATEGORY: Democratic Strategist

Edwards Departs

Back in March, John Edwards held a press conference with his wife, Elizabeth, to discuss the reappearance of her cancer. At the time, there was widespread speculation about what Edwards would actually say. Hours before the event, a source told The Politico that the senator would suspend his campaign, then Matt Drudge put up the sirens, and for a moment, it looked like Edwards was done.
Today, Sen. John Edwards is dropping out of the race. After disappointing losses in the early caucuses and primaries, that really doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But it is worth stopping to note that between March and now, Edwards has made a real, tangible impression on this campaign for president.
The mere fact of Edwards’ withdrawal makes the assumption that everyone has made now inevitable—the next Democratic nominee for president will either be the first woman or the first African-American. By quitting the race now, and doing so gracefully, he does his part to ease the country into this historic moment.
Edwards will make his announcement today from New Orleans—the same place he kicked off his campaign for president. Through the course of this election, Edwards, more than anyone, has made poverty an important theme in the race. Following his lead, Obama and Clinton both announced elaborate plans to fight hunger and disease and raise personal income levels. It is now a central part of the agenda for the next Democratic president.
In fact, Edwards is responsible for driving much of the ideas debate in this primary. Before his rivals, he released sweeping, detailed plans to achieve universal health care and to fight global warming. They had little choice but to be just as bold and meticulous in their own policy prescriptions. His health care plan was particularly good example of fundamentally solid public policy. It was innovative and smart, describing specific roles for individuals, corporations, and the government. When Clinton released her plan in the fall, it shared much of the same architecture.
Five years ago, Edwards gave a speech at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. It was called, “In Defense of Optimism,” and its message became the theme of his first campaign for president. It was immediately hailed as a success, and many pointed to that message of hope as a reason for his surprising second-place-finish in Iowa in 2004. But that wasn’t the theme that Edwards chose to campaign around in this election. He ran as a fighter, a crusader, someone who could take on the big corporations and entrenched interests. But it’s hard to be an angry, hopeful populist. This combative message just did not get voters (liberal or otherwise) to show up for him at the polls. It’s hard to call the Edwards failure a rejection of populism outright, but it does lend some doubt to the idea that this kind of rhetoric can be a successful platform for a president.
Now, the question is what he does next. Most reports indicate that Edwards will not endorse another candidate at his rally this afternoon. We know for a fact that he met privately with Hillary Clinton after the last Democratic debate. On Saturday, Robert Novak reported that the Obama campaign had been talking up the idea of Edwards as Attorney General. There is also some question as to whether the Edwards camp harbors some residual resentment of the decision by his former strategist David Axelrod to support Obama. Personally, I think the opinion that matters most to Edwards is that of his wife, and any endorsement decision matters heavily on how she weighs in.
Edwards’ effect on the candidate competition from this point on is still up in the air. But his impact on the policies for which the ultimate nominee will fight is certain, and hard to overestimate.

Bypassing the Filters

One of the standard observations made about the Democratic presidential nominating contest is that Barack Obama’s rhetorical skills often have an amazing impact on people who hear him speak—but that these skills are less relevant to the kind of broad-based, national contest he faces on Super Tuesday.
A case in point: After winning the South Carolina primary, Barack Obama made one of his signature speeches, lyrical and soaring; responsive to the critics of his campaign while promoting the broader themes of healing America’s divisions and bringing a new generation of voters into the process. It was a home run with runners aboard.
But he made that speech at about 9:00 pm EST on a Saturday, a time when relatively few Americans are watching television, much less television news. This is such a dead time for TV that the networks often spend it airing old reruns. Eight years ago, Obama’s speech would have been regarded as a tragic waste of eloquence.
Today, however, we live in an age of multi-media video, and Obama’s speech is getting the kind of secondary exposure that would have been unheard of in the recent past.
Minutes after Obama finished thanking the people of South Carolina, his campaign had uploaded the speech in its entirety to YouTube. As of today, it’s been viewed 323,534 times, and as I’m looking at it now, eight more people are watching it with me. That’s the most of any news clip today. Including me, 1,445 different users YouTube have made the video a “favorite”– the most of any clip of any kind in the last 24 hours—which gives it additional exposure. So far, it has won 14 different honors on the site.
In some ways, it seems remarkable that close to a third of a million people would choose to watch a 20 minute political speech on their computers. But Obama’s campaign has counted on people doing just that, and it’s one of those hidden factors that could affect the nominating contest down the road.
Today, Howard Kurtz writes about how Obama’s media team has made a conscious effort to avoid the kind of media cycle gamesmanship that has become the hallmark of campaigns durng the last two decades. David Axelrod — Obama’s chief strategist — told Kurtz, ” What we don’t do is spend six hours a day trying to persuade you guys that red is green or up is down… what’s powering this campaign is a rejection of tactical politics.”
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal described how the Obama campaign avoided playing the “street money” game in South Carolina. He made a conscious decision to avoid putting local political leaders in the payroll in order to get support from their voters. Instead, the campaign brought in organizers and built a new organic network of supporters and volunteers.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the Obama campaign was building a new community of supporters online, bypassing the existing Netroots infrastructure almost entirely.
These are all examples of how the Obama campaign is doing something new: leveraging technology and community organizing to reach people one on one. It is avoiding the traditional and even nontraditional filters — the conventional media, the leaders of the blogosphere, and the Party establishment — to speak directly to voters. Both online and in the two states where Obama spent the most time (Iowa and South Carolina), that is paying off and people are responding to him.
The question remains, however, whether that strategy will continue to work when the playing field expands into a nation-wide contest — one where Barack Obama simply does not have the time or resources to court his voters so personally. His real hope is that voters use the new infrastructure he is helping to build to come find him. And no matter who wins the Democratic presidential nomination, Democrats should learn from his campaign’s experience in developing a media strategy for the general election.

McCain’s Conservative Problem

The national media have pretty clearly decided that John McCain is now the front runner in the GOP primary. With strong performances in New Hampshire and South Carolina, he has won two of the three traditional, nominee-deciding states. That fits a narrative that is easy for journalists to describe and analyze.
And it’s not just journalists projecting a McCain victory — Sen. John Edwards raised the specter of running against McCain in the last Democratic debate, and the McCain camp is reporting that they raised more than $7 million dollars in the month of January. To me, that looks like lots of Republicans are buying the hype as well.
But if you’re a McCain booster, there are some underlying issues that have to make you worry.
For starters, the nominating process is a race to win delegates, and McCain isn’t actually ahead. In fact, he’s well back in third place — the Arizona senator has 36 delegates, while Mike Huckabee is second with 40 and Mitt Romney leads the pack with 59.
At this point, Huckabee’s appeal is probably limited to his core group of evangelical supporters, and more importantly, he’s out money. He’s probably done. But Romney has been strong everywhere, winning contests in Michigan and Nevada, placing second in Iowa and New Hampshire (both of which added to his delegate totals). Earlier in the month, his campaign reported that they’d managed to raise $5 million, and of course, the multimillionaire can always give his campaign another infusion of cash.
As Ed has said before, there is a history of deep-seated distrust for John McCain among the GOP establishment. McCain has been a champion of campaign finance reform, outspoken critic of torture, and he acknowledged the threat of global warming when many said it was a myth. For whole lot of conservatives, no amount of stumping for Bush or speaking at Liberty University can make up for his earlier sins.
That conservative uncertainty has definitely played itself out so far in the election. After the New Hampshire Primary, former Sen. Rick Santorum was interviewed on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, and two questions in, he launched into criticism of McCain:

[O]n the economic side, he was against the President’s tax cuts, he was bad on immigration. On the environment, he’s absolutely terrible. He buys into the complete left wing environmentalist movement in this country. He is for bigger government on a whole laundry list of issues. He was…I mean, on medical care, I mean, he was for re-importation of drugs. I mean, you can go on down the list. I mean, this is a guy who on a lot of the core economic issues, is not even close to being a moderate, in my opinion. And then on the issue of, on social conservative issues, you point to me one time John McCain every took the floor of the United States Senate to talk about a social conservative issue. It never happened.

After South Carolina, when there was serious discussion about rallying around McCain as the most electable candidate in the GOP field, Rush Limbaugh launched into a diatribe:

We are supposedly damaging the conservative movement. We should just shut up. Just sit by and watch all this stuff and let it happen and just be quiet. What is the point? By the way, it’s aimed at people in talk radio. Why should we in talk radio “just shut up,” and start supporting the front-runner of the moment? Especially when you realize that’s what the Drive-By Media wants! Why should we in talk radio sit here and take our marching orders from the Drive-By Media and others in our movement who write what they write, for liberals in the Drive-By Media. Why should we do that. McCain, frankly, has shown conservatives little but contempt over many years.

At this point in the race, there is still deep opposition to McCain’s presidential campaign in the Republican Party, and it’s not just among opinion leaders, either.
John McCain has yet to win a majority of self-described conservatives. In New Hampshire, he lost them by 7 points to Mitt Romney; in Michigan, he lost 23 to 41, again to Romney; in South Carolina, it was 26 to 35, this time to Huckabee. McCain’s victories, when they’ve come, have been delivered by self-described moderates and Independents, and it’s no coincidence that both his wins have been in states with open primaries. He has also received a huge boost from the fractured state of the GOP field, but his success has served to drive his rivals out of the race.
For Republicans, the last test before Super Tuesday is Florida, and it’s a closed primary — if McCain is going to win, all of his supporters will have to be registered with the GOP. Immediately after South Carolina, polls there showed him ahead. Now, Romney has serious traction, and going into this weekend, it’s anyone’s guess who’s actually in the best position to win.
If McCain loses, his candidacy is in serious trouble. It will be an indication that he can’t compete without additional support from independents. And on Super Tuesday, that could spell disaster in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, and West Virginia — where the primaries are all closed.
If McCain can’t solve his conservative problem, then the person with the most money and the best organization will become the GOP nominee, which will leave Democrats running against Mitt Romney in the fall. And like many conservatives, most Democrats would be happy with that contest.

Obama and the Blogosphere

As predicted by the much-questioned final Des Moines Register poll, Barack Obama won Iowa on the strength of unprecedented support from independent voters and first-time Caucus-goers.
But well before the Caucuses, on blog sites like Talk Left and Firedoglake, questions were being raised about an Obama candidacy based on what sometimes seemed like excessive efforts to reach beyond the Democratic base.
For many bloggers, the problem with Obama was—and is–that he’s been playing into a much-derided “triangulation” meme in appealing to voters without traditional Democratic credentials. As Ezra Klein said last Tuesday, Obama was using “old politics of centrist caution and status quo bias.” Markos Moulitsas walked back from his announced intention to vote for Obama, saying “you have to have your head stuck deep in the sand to deny that Obama is trying to close the deal by running to the Right of his opponents. And call me crazy, but that’s not a trait I generally appreciate in Democrats, no matter how much it might set the punditocracy’s hearts a flutter.” Matt Yglesias tempered his former enthusiasm for the candidate as well, writing “while there’s a lot I like about Barack Obama, if he wins Iowa it won’t have been by running hard on the things I like best about him.”
In truth, Obama hasn’t been afraid to strike back at all his critics with whichever tool best fits the job. Whether criticizing Hillary on health care or questioning John Edwards on the Iraq war, his campaign throws an effective punch. When he announced his intent to seek the presidency, there were real questions about whether Obama had the toughness to win — no longer. But to his online critics, Obama willfully ignored a crucial tenet of blogosphere doctrine — they accuse him of using right-wing talking points to criticize his opponents. And in their eyes, there is no greater sin than validating a GOP frame.
The great irony here is that, ostensibly, the thing that gives so many bloggers pause about Barack Obama is the very thing that they hate about Bill Clinton’s presidency. In fact, the strategy of using “centrist caution” to reach out to swing voters and Independents has been called Clintonism for a long time now. But many of those uncertain about Barack Obama have a lot invested in an alternate strategy of hyper-partisanship, of one-upping the conservatives, of constant confrontation, and when Obama says he does not want to pit Red America against Blue America, you can almost hear them asking, “Why not?” Obama’s real problem in the blogosphere, however, might be about something much bigger than his talking points.
The progressive blogosphere was born in the wake of the Dean campaign four years ago and MoveOn.org before that. In that time, that movement has engaged thousands of people, poured millions of dollars into politics, and given birth to a new slew of progressive stars. The leaders of the movement came into this election fully expecting to have a major impact on the result of the nominating process.
It’s hard to imagine anyone doing more to earn the allegiance of netroots leaders than John Edwards, whose campaign rhetoric has often come right out of the Crashing the Gates playbook. But for all their misgivings, the blogosphere is hardly immune to the appeal of Barack Obama. Kos, Matt Yglesias, and others have all said they would vote for the guy. After watching Obama’s Iowa victory speech, Ezra Klein was almost rapturous: “[Obama] is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.” But Obama has never courted the online leaders, he never used to their movement to fuel his candidacy, and that as much as anything, makes the vanguard of the blogosphere nervous.
Instead, Barack Obama has built his own, wholly original activist movement. Online, outside the blogs, his campaign has built an infrastructure that reaches hundreds of thousands of people, instantly. More than half a million people have given money to his campaign, and thousands more have volunteered their time. Indeed, this movement appears to be a central component of Obama’s post-partisan vision of America. In his instantly-famous Iowa victory speech, Obama referred to his supports again, and again — “You have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do…You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington…I know you didn’t do this for me. You did this – you did this because you believed so deeply in the most American of ideas – that in the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.” For Obama, the key to his political success has been to transform his candidacy into something bigger than himself, and bigger than any party faction, and he has done it without much help from the Washington establishment or the blogger insurgency.

A Strategic Moment of Silence

It’s a truisim that on the presidential campaign trail, policy pragmatism takes a permanent back seat to candidate positioning and differentiation. And that’s been particularly true of John Edwards, who’s made a big deal out of his “fighting progressive” credentials and his contempt for the kind of legislative compromises–especially those that reach across party boundaries–that he describes as endemic to a “corrupt” Washington establishment
That’s why a sudden moment of silence from Edwards on climate change legislation in the last couple of weeks has been especially significant.
In a column in this week’s issue of Time, Eric Pooley explains:

You can tell when the politicians are getting serious about an issue: they stop taking cheap shots at one another and suddenly become pragmatic. Amazingly, that’s happening right now on global warming. Just as the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of “abrupt and irreversible” damage if we don’t take immediate action, a serious piece of climate legislation is beginning to pick up speed in the U.S. Senate.

Sens. Joe Lieberman and John Warner are sponsoring a bill to create a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990 levels over the next 43 years. They’re calling the legislation America’s Climate Security Act, and it is expected to make it to the Senate floor soon.
Environmentalists have been split on this legislation, a somewhat watered-down version of cap-and-trade proposals that Lieberman earlier sponsored with John McCain. Some activists think it doesn’t cap emissions at a low enough level, while others are upset that the bill gives away too many pollution “allowances” instead of auctioning them. Until quite recently, Edwards was firmly in the negative camp, calling the bill “corporate welfare” and publicly challenging other candidates, most notably Hillary Clinton, to oppose it.
Before Thanksgiving, at an environmental forum, Edwards had the perfect opportunity to ratchet up the pressure on this issue and use it to reinforce his general attack on HRC as a “corporate Democrat” and an equivocator. But as Pooley notes:

Edwards decided not to take that swing. He didn’t attack Clinton or the bill. Why not? Because the politics of climate change are moving so fast and in such a pragmatic direction that he didn’t want to get caught out. His campaign had been hearing from key environmental groups, says an Edwards adviser, “and the consensus was that they don’t want to trash this bill. They want to strengthen it, not kill it.”

Edwards is running for his life at this point. He has to take down Hillary Clinton if he has any chance of winning the presidency. Here’s an issue that fits those themes perfectly, and he let it pass him by.
Tactically, that might seem like a mistake. But on a higher level, it is significant. Throughout this Democratic nominating process, John Edwards has been the candidate driving the public policy debate. No one was talking about poverty until Edwards made it a campaign issue. He was the first candidate to release a detailed plan to provide universal health care. He’s made bold calls for climate change legislation in this campaign before.
This move, though, represents a different kind of leadership. The possibility of a Democratic presidency is still more than a year away, and action on climate change is urgent. It’s to Edwards’ credit that he understand this is one issue on which the perfect should not become the enemy of the good.

Jena and the Internet

At the start of school last year, a black freshman at Jena High School in Louisiana asked his principal if he could sit beneath a tree, which was reserved by tradition for white students only. The administrator told the student he could sit where he pleased, and the freshman and his friends ate their lunch in the shade. The next day, three nooses hung from the tree, and ever since, the small town in LaSalle Parish has been ripped apart.
Things came to a head when six black teenagers were arrested and charged with assault and then attempted murder after a fight with a white student. Last week in Jena, more than 10,000 people, some of whom drove throughout the night, showed up to protest the arrests.
You’ve probably heard about Jena by now. But when the story first broke, there was little or no mention of it in the major precincts of the progressive blogosphere (including, just to be clear about it, this one). At Facing South (the blog for the Institute for Southern Studies), Chris Kromm did a post last Thursday, the day of the Jena march, that notes the lack of comment. His quick survey looked like this:

* DailyKos features a handful of posts about injustice in Iraq today — but not a single entry on its main page, or even its user-generated “diaries,” about this important case.
* TalkingPointsMemo, a favorite of the DC wonk set, is similarly incensed about foreign policy, but apparently not about racial justice in the South — nothing there either.
* Long-time progressive blogger Atrios doesn’t have a lot of posts up, but found time to touch on Paul Krugman, Iraq and the state of the Euro — but not this major issue.
* Surely TalkLeft — which has positioned itself as the leading progressive blog about criminal justice issues — would have something? Think again — not a single mention, not even in the quick news briefs!
* What about another progressive favorite, FireDogLake? A rant about Republicans being “little bitches,” but nothing on the Jena 6.
When the Jena 6 does make an appearance on progressive blogs today, it’s little more than a passing nod. Huffington Post has a blog post buried below the fold; ThinkProgress gives it a two-sentence news brief.