Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin: how this plays with voters

Politicos often talk of voters along a 5-point scale in which 1's are loyalist Democrats, 2's are weak Dems, 3's are Independents, 4's are weak Republicans and 5's are loyalist Republicans.

Palin will help unite the GOP (in fact, she already has). As such, she will shore up McCain's support among the 5's (base Republicans who care about God, Gays and Guns) and will activate the previously weak support McCain received from evangelicals who's actual willingness to turn-up for the Republican in a Presidential election cannot be guaranteed.

On the other hand the Palin pick may well play poorly with 3's who value experience, national security and a moderate stance on social issues. If these voters are concerned about Palin's credentials to be a 'heartbeat away from the Presidency' how much more so the Hillaristas who will loathe her opposition from everything from a woman's right to choose to the use of contraceptives by married couples?

In other words, the Palin pick is not so much about women as it is about evangelicals. In this McCain has been clever, he has made a base-pleasing Veep camouflaged as an appeal to ex-Hillaristas.

This raises some interesting implications for the electoral map, especially in the evangelical-heavy areas of Ohio, Colorado and Virginia as well as Obama long shots like North Carolina and Missouri. I'd be interested in readers thoughts on that as I gather information for my next electoral vote analysis - thanks!

Friday, August 29, 2008

UPDATE: Palin: how the media playED this out

1) MSM surprise
2) 'Return of the Maverick'
3) 'Heartbeat away'
4) C-in-C test
Check (and check out who's even asking this!)
5) 'Alaska is next to Russia' response
Check (great picture JM)
6) Biden comparison
Seriously: check
Amusingly: check
7) Her nat-sec Veep portfolio is stripped

UPDATE: Questions for Governor Palin

- Is it true you've only met John McCain in person twice?
No – she only met McCain in person before she was chosen once.

- How many foriegn trips have you ever made?
Three: Kuwait, Germany and Ireland previously. She received her passport last year.

- How many trips to Iraq have you made?

- How many trips to Afghanistan have you made?

- When did you last meet with General Petreaus?
To the best of my googling, never – nor does she discuss Iraq matters with the head of the Alaska National Guard.

Still awaiting answers on:

- How many troops does the US have in Iraq?
- Who is the President of Russia?
- Should we admit the Ukraine into NATO?


Thursday, August 28, 2008

N.R.N.S. 2?

A bit of gossip from here in the press room: We are running 40mins ahead of official schedule and are gaining more time as we go - the reason, a hotly rumoured return of my musical favourite from Ohio 04

Update: Then again if this was intrade, sell the boss and buy Oprah

"Let me explain"

The Ticket on message

Roberts points the way

Sorry Kathy, I too was forced by polls to go with the white male

Last night's crescendo

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My end of day treat: A special guest for Joe

Bill is back. And after that even I absolve him.

Time for redemption?

Live from my new home on the floor with the Kansas delegation!

Why did Hillary stop the rollcall? Unity - sure, but also she no longer had the loyalty from a lot of her own delegates. WJC is set to tear into McCain tonight - it will have to be raw meat worthy of thegirlswhoateeverything to persuade many of us to forget his recent behaviour. Biden was still practicing his speecch at 1 am. Yep it's the night the boys try to win back my respect!

Marcus's morning with Mitt

Mitt Romney arrives at the DNC

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Le vrai lead female

>Header deleted in interest of party unity<

There is only one person who is angrier than the Obama campaign with WJC conduct in the last week, Hillary Clinton.
Also, the word is tomorrow's roll call vote will be suspended after NY, but no so much for the cause of unity but more due to the Clinton counters' belief, that now, they can count on fewer than half of their delegates.

Obama's national security team?

Per the insiders: Obama's top contender for secretary of defense is ex-Clinton naval secretary Richard Danzig, with ex-Georgian senator Sam Nunn also in the running. Robert Gates wants to stay in place but his chances are slim.
Long time Obama advisor, Susan Rice, is in pole position for the national security advisor with ex-Clinton NSA Tony Lake, a mentor to Obama, an outside bet.
For secretary of state, Biden had been a lock, but with the vice presidential choice, GOP senator Dick Lugar is a distinct possibility. However don't expect Dick Holbrooke or Jamie Rubin to get much - Lake vetoes Holbrooke and Rubin was far too anti-Obama during the primary.

Spring into action

Day 2 begins

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Roar

The lion is about to roar

Ted Kennedy arrives

"Happening now" or Wolf Blitzer please be quiet so I can blog

Quick headlines:
Michelle's practice speech was a blast - will be amazing tonight.
Mark Warner spends more time taking applause than speaking.
Hillary - Obama split: word is, unsuprisely, this is Mark Penn's fault.
Not unconnected WJC unhappy with national security speaking role - "not his priority", no suprise for those of us who remember Clinton I.
Speaking of which I may have some gossip on the potential Obama NSC.
Stay tuned.......

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Ticket

Roberts-Sebelius 2016?

Live from the floor!

On the plus side I am here on the floor surrounded by politicos and media stars alike. On the downside I have just found out that I am working with fox news this afternoon. Quite.

When all else fails...rollercoasters?

Yes, rollercoasters. The DNC took over the old Six Flags amusement park tonight and I drowned my Biden feelings in sheer drops, triple loop-the-loops and adrenaline rushes galore.

How do I feel now? Well, dizzy. But asides from that the Biden pick is settling in. It's a missed opportunity. It won't flip any states. It won't double down on our message of change, and it will distract at times from our anti-DC approach but there are some benefits: he'll win the Veep debate, he will be a great attack dog and I hope he will convince Obama to adopt the Biden-Gelb proposal for dividing Iraq.
I am now equipped with an iPhone (sooooo cool!) and so will attempt to blog from the Convention floor itself tommorow. Per John's request, I'm already looking into the state of play of our Colorado efforts. Let me know if you have other questions or curiosities.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The first disappointment?

As party loyalists gather in Denver, tonight should have been a night of unmitigated delight for us as we revel in a once in a generation opportunity for dramatic gains both Congressionally and Presidentially thanks to a ticket that inspires enthusiasm in our supporters and fear in our enemies.

Alas instead we are bedward bound with talk of Biden.

As one clued-in DNC-er put it: "this is a clear declaration to the electorate that Barack is under foriegn-policy adult supervision." And that's only the start of the backlash against the senior senator from Delaware. Complaints continue citing: his failure to help the ticket electorally (Biden will not flip a single EV); his emphasis on foreign policy for an economy-oriented electorate; his predilection for personal grandstanding.

This is the first major decision of Barack Obama, Nominee and there is a real fear amongst Democrats that he has screwed up picking a media-friendly Veep who supposedly helps him with the next 70 days but helps little with the 8 years thereafter.

There's still time for us all to be surprised with a last-minute 'fooled-ya!' from Team Obama but the odds are looking bleak this evening. I head to bed lighting a candle for Kathy. And for change I can believe in.
On a happier note I can heartily recommend Vesta Dipping Grill in downtown Denver. Their venison is particularly exquisite and their Zinfandels are excellent for washing away the taste of Iraq-war authorising Washingtonians.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


In a few hours time I'm off to Denver for the Democratic Convention. I'll be blogging intermittently from the DNC press shop and indeed, the Convention floor itself. Let me know if you have particular convention questions or curiosities and keep your fingers crossed for Kathy as we head into the final hours of K-watch 2008!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Confidence in numbers

Come November 4, the electorate will be markedly different from the 2004 composition of evangelicals, white males and national security-concerned voters that held the White House for George W. Bush.

This is particularly important when one considers the narrowness of the Republican's victories over the Democrats in the key battlegrounds of Virginia, Colorado and Ohio. In Virginia, McCain starts with an inherited Bush majority of 262,217 votes, in Colorado 99,523 votes, and in Ohio with 118,599 votes. Thus, it is immediately apparent that a collection of small changes in the make-up of the electorates of these key battlegrounds can have a decisive effect upon the outcome.

Compared to 2004 and given the scale of Obama's ground game in terms of voter registration and, later, Get Out The Vote operations, his performance amongst key demographics in the primaries and the changed political climate as a whole the following general predictions as to the 2008 electorate's composition are now offered:

- Under 30's: up
- Over 65's: down*
- Hispanics: up
- African American: up
- Evangelicals: down
- National security as No. 1 issue: down
- Economy as No. 1 issue: way up
- Cultural issues: way down

Each of these electorate changes is to the benefit of Obama at a cost to McCain.

Furthermore, current polling, especially those that utilise a Likely Voter screening model as opposed to a Registered Voter polling model, generally tend to under-sample these categories (for example, this poll which shows under 30's as just 6% of the electorate instead of the 17% they were in 2004) and as a whole thus skew Republican. Because these target groups that are particularly susceptible to voter registration and GOTV efforts they are likely to be underrepresented in pre-election polling as opposed to their actual Election Day strength.

Sound familiar? That's because it is. This is the same model the Obama campaign employed to such great effect in Iowa. As such, the majority of polls failed to call the race accurately, as they predicted that the Iowa caucus-goers composition would be broadly similar to 2004 whereas in truth it was transformed by the new caucus-goer registration efforts and the subsequent GOTV operation.

Herein lies the importance of the unprecedented scale of Obama's field operation. This election may well prove to be Iowa writ large.

* = whilst the absolute number of over 65 year old voters may be up, as a percentage of the electorate as a whole it is likely to be down.

Alea jacta est

Poblano's superb 538 offers a sophisticated model of electoral prediction through statistical projection. Rather then emulate that let me offer my own far cruder take on the election that should illustrate my underlying confidence in Obama's odds of winning.

As we've seen, Obama is in a strong position to lay claim to at least 264 electoral votes (the Kerry states + Iowa + New Mexico), leaving him just 6 short of victory. Based upon battleground state polling where Obama and McCain are running neck-and-neck, Obama has basically a 50/50 chance in Ohio, Virginia and Colorado. He needs only one of them to break his way to win the White House.

In probability terms, think of it this way: roll a dice 3 times: if it comes up 4, 5 or 6, Obama wins as he has carried the neccesary state to reach 270 EVs. The reverse is the case for McCain: he needs the dice to come up his way on each and every occasion. (John, naturally, informs me that the odds of rolling a 4,5 or 6 at least once out of three attempts stand at 87.5% whereas the chance of three consecutive 4, 5 or 6 rolls is somewhat harsher at 12.5%.) And this is before we even consider the Yahtzee-like scenarios that include Nevada + Nebraska EV, North Dakota + Montana, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, Georgia etc.

All in all, not a bad position to be in prior to: naming your running-mate, having your Convention (in Colorado), facing off in the debates and unleashing your General Election financial and field advantage.

Polling normalcy returns: Capt. Mainwaring is advised not to panic

Asides from Veepstakes, the dominant political discussion this week is on the state of Obama's polling - all the polls show a decline in Obama support, but I believe that has far more to do with the internal dynamics of the polls then a collapse in Obama support.

The biggest single change between the polls of last month and the polls of this month is the return of political normalcy to party identification in polling. Simply put, the party ID number is the breakdown given by pollsters the different proportions within their sample to be taken up by self described Democrats, Independents and Republicans. At the height of Obama's national popularity, the difference in party ID was in the realm of double digits. At the time, I believed this number to be false - too many Democrats, too few Republicans: the GOP brand was so damaged as to have affected the actual honesty of poll respondents on the issue of party identification.

In considering the recent 'change' the state of the race, the party ID number is highly informative. Take as an example this key poll that is currently helping to drive the media narrative of a "tightening of the race": the LA Times national poll shopwing Obama at 45% and McCain at 43%. The LA Times this week states that the party ID breakdown is as follows: Democrats:34, Independents: 29%, Republicans: 29%. The previous LA Times poll, conducted in June showed a party ID split of: D:39%, I:27%, R:22%. A similar change has occured across the range of polls.

Obama's position a month ago was considerably stronger in the polls thanks in large part to the great advantage he had from party ID. As normalcy has returned to politics the following has occrured: 'false' Democrats have gone back to describing themselves as Independents 'false' Independents have gone back to describing themselves as Republicans; 'silent' Republicans have regained their voice.

The McCain campaign deserves credit for reactivating the Republican party but in truth that is all that they have done. There are still more Democrats then Republicans and there may even be more Independents then Republicans. As such the old electoral maxim remains: elections are won and lost in the centre. As long as Obama can maintain party loyalty - or even increase it - amongst Democrats and hold his edge over McCain amongst genuine Independents, he still has the psephology of this election locked up.

For those who are still worried check out these excellent chicken-little inoculation shots:
- A Socratic dialogue on the state of the Obama campaign
- The advantages of Obama's perceived 'underdog' status

Monday, August 18, 2008

Studying the battlefields...

From the view at 270 EV’s to the view on the ground, to understand strategy in this election is to see both the whole board and the pieces that will deliver the Obama victory. To that end I’ve compiled a collection of useful links that lay out the superiority of the Obama campaign’s actual strength across the battleground states. Afterall, the national polls don’t deliver victory, the battleground states do. In this respect, the key factors, usually largely ignored by the TV media are field offices to organise Get Out The Vote operations, voter registration, early voting and in-state ad buys. With this in mind, let’s consider the state of play, with an emphasis on the field game.

Lastly, if people have more information on the field offices, voter registration efforts, ad buys etc. in any of these states please drop me a line! Thanks.

Obama field office advantage

Resource advantage

Obama’s early organising model

Operationalising the Obama field plan

Early voting leads the way

Governor Strickland on Obama’s ground game

The ground game

Overwhelming force

Field office strength

Obama’s McCaskill model

Obama field staff deployment

North Carolina
BHO game plan

Issues and ground game

New Mexico
Field office strength

Obama’s ambition,8599,1815194,00.html

Field office advantage

3 scenarios for how Obama can carry Georgia

Georgia & Indiana
Choosing the battlegrounds

Ambinder’s impressed

Field office strength

Voter registration

Obama’s air-war


Colorado field office information is scarce, please share any information you might have on this key matter.

Field office strength

Friday, August 15, 2008

Veepstakes: high noon approaches...

From seasoned DC hands, to curious Convention Delegates, the last 24hrs has seen me handling a number of concerned enquires as to the strength of the silver haired wonder of Kansas against the dangerous approach of the N.S.W. males. To calm nerves all round let me state the calculus clearly:

Bayh = angers base
Kaine = poor comparison with Warner
Biden = public declaration of Obama nervousness

As such, this blog's official crush on Kathleen continues. Faith manages.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2012: because it's NEVER too early!

Today's remarkable attack by former Arkansas GOP Governor Mike Huckabee on his ex-08 nomination rival Mitt Romney marks the starting gun in the race for for the Republican nomination of 2012.

Huckabee's criticism of Romney's as potential McCain Veep and his willingness to cite Romney's alleged weakness with so-called "values voters" was not just a warning shot on behalf of evangelical dissatisfaction with Romney, but also a clear indication of the far greater problems that would await McCain should he act on his hinted willingness to go with pro-choice ex-PA Governor Tom Ridge. This should in turn push McCain away from the logical electoral choice of Romney and towards his own likely personal pick of Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty.

More generally, since the end of the GOP nomination battle I have been fascinated by the two's very different attempts to curry favour with the GOP faithful in advance of 2012. Romney swallowed his pride and took up the baton of party loyalist, falling into lockstep behind his once deadly rival John McCain. His hope: win the nod of the party elders for sterling service in the cause of a doomed campaign. Hucakbee, true to his style and the nature of his Iowa upset victory over once-favoured Romney, has taken the path of party building (i.e. fundraising for down-ballot GOPers) at the grassroots level.

Historically, the GOP has rewarded it's silver medal loyalists - think Reagan in '76 and then in '80, Dole '76 then '96, G.H.W. Bush '80 and '88 and indeed McCain '00 and '08 - with a later gold in a subsequent nomination fight. This points to Romney's move being the more sure path to the 2012 GOP nod. Huckabee's less orthodox route fits better with both his personality and his circumstance given the loathing he engenders from GOP gatekeepers like the anti-tax Club for Growth.

Lastly, what do both Romney and Huckabee have in common? Simply put, I reckon if you put them on sodium penathol both would admit they hope that Barack Obama, not their supposed party standard bearer, wins the White House...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Veepstakes: Sovietology...

Perhaps it was the fact that I was up half the night reading an analysis of Soviet approaches to Clausewitz but this morning's tea leaves all look positive for my girl Kathy.

Here's why:

1) Mark Warner named Keynote speaker in Denver: if Kaine is the biggest threat to Sebelius (and I am sure he is), then is Obama really going with back-to back Virginians? And, more importantly, is he going to have Kaine follow Warner on Wednesday night inviting unflattering comparisons of both their records, their popularity and their rhetorical gifts?

2) Kathleen Sebelius' speaking slot: "Unlike Claire McCaskill, Mark Warner, Ted Strickland, or Hillary Clinton, the Democrats are not yet ready to assign her a specific slot". It's been confirmed that she will get one but "The exact time and day is TBD." So, as my friend John put it, "exactly when in prime time on Wednesday night will she speak?"

3) Kathleen Sebelius (in her capacity as Convention Co-Chair): "Every potential vice presidential choice also has a speaking slot". Where are the slots for Kaine and Bayh? The Obama cmapaign will have to announce these soon to head off too much joining-of-the-dots like that which this very post is attempting.

4) Lastly, Poblano makes a great point about the symmetry forming here for the Convention if she is the Veep: "You would have, essentially, three "couples" speaking: Michelle and Barack to bookend the convention (the present), Hillary and Bill in the middle (the past), and then Warner and Sebelius (the future), who aren't a couple, but who hit many of the same themes."

Full disclosure: I have put my money where my blog is and invested online in Kathy. Either my faith will be rewarded or I'll lose more then face...


Per Al Giordano, Sebelius has now been given a speaking slot on Tuesday alongside Arizona Governor (and, in my opinion, likely Obama Attorney General) Janet Napolitano. Sebelius and Napolitano are both both not quite the most shall we say inspirational of speakers, so the loss of one wouldn't neccesarily hurt too much... Besides, the fact remains that Kaine suffers in the shadow of Warner and by the time the annoucements are finished it's likely that all of the potential Obama Veeps will have been given so-called speaking assignments. I'm keeping the faith for Kathy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

McCain's Veep: risk, reward and playing it safe

McCain's choices are simple: attack Pennsylvania, attack Michigan, or defend existing territory.
Prior to the outset of the General Election-proper post-Conventions, the strongest indication we will have of McCain's choice in these respects is his choice of Vice President.

Pennsylvania should be out of reach for McCain but he could chose former PA Governor and ex-Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. Ridge is a moderate Republican on social issues (including his pro-choice stance on abortion) and national security hawk who is still popular in his home state. Ambinder laid out the strengths and weaknesses of such a choice here. This would be McCain's biggest gamble, risking his existing Republican support to bring over enough Democrats and Independents to turn the Keystone state red.

However, Ridge's abortion position is likely a deal breaker. As such, if McCain is minded to play attack elsewhere, his best alternative is his own once-fierce rival Mitt Romney. The Fix lays out the pro-case here and the anti-case here. Romney would help McCain with fundraising, shore up McCain's support on the Right whilst also playing off his Michigan roots as the son of popular ex-MI Governor George Romney. His slick communications skills and strong business background would be further assets to a candidate weak in both those areas.

Should McCain eschew his best chances to optimise an attacking strategy he would likely go with with Tim Pawlenty, the Republican Governor of Democratic Minnesota. The Fix lays out the case for Pawlenty here and the case against Pawlenty here. Of all his options, McCain has the best personal chemistry with Pawlenty.

My instinct tells me that McCain will go with his own personal comfort choice of Tim Pawlenty. This will have little effect on McCain's chances in Minnesota and thus the choice will reveal a McCain strategy predicated upon defence of existing Bush states. Furthermore, he will defend himself on issues, on communications and on age by having a bright, articulate, young Governor with whom he has a strong rapport at his side constantly. Such a move will be a mistake, but it is a mistake I think McCain is likely to make.

McCain should choose Romney but he will choose Pawlenty.

Monday, August 11, 2008

McCain's only hope: l'audace, l'audace, l'audace

As our examination of the electoral maps shows, McCain is simply faced with too much pressure by too many Obama offensives on too many fronts. He can either seek to retain the negative object through perfect defences of, at minimum, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia or he can change strategy completely.

In this respect I think McCain's situation is somewhat analogous to Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville. There Lee's 45,000 Confederates were roughly outnumbered two-to-one by Union troops. Rather then await destruction by Union attack, Lee opted to throw caution to the winds and attack himself, splitting his army in two in order to do so. The result was what historians from Shelbe Foote to David McCollough have described as "Lee's perfect battle."

McCain can await defeat in the South West, the Rustbelt and the South East Coast or he can take the offensive, seize the positive object and go all out to try and turn blue states red.

His best opportunities lie in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

In New Hampshire, McCain can draw upon his strong in-state popularity there as the Primary winner of both 2000 and 2008 as well as the failure of the Obama campaign to overcome Senator Clinton in the earliest days of the Primaries.

In Pennsylvania, the Obama versus Clinton contest laid bare the demographic divisions within the Democratic Party providing a detailed roadmap for the McCain campaign to strike at Obama weaknesses in the state.

But it is in Michigan where a combination of factors may offer McCain his best chance. There he can play off the state's poor economic condition after years of Democratic party state rule, the recent jailing of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the Dubya-esque unpopularity of Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm and lingering Democratic difficulties from the state's discounted Primary. In the case of Michigan, 538's scenario analysis puts the Democrat's chances of winning the election having lost Ohio and Michigan at 4.21% (the Pennsylvania number would assuredly be lower).

The map, and thus the electoral mathematics, dramatically changes if McCain flips a major state to red and in all three states there are Democratic vulnerabilities. Therein lies the genius of the offense: by attacking, McCain can challenge Obama either into ignoring his attack and risking the loss of a key state or force him to redeploy defensively, allowing McCain to pursue his own offense.

So how does McCain best channel Lee? Where should he make his Chancellorsville-like stand: Pennsylvania or Michigan? Based upon the evidence laid out thus far, it would seem Michigan is the obvious choice and this would indeed be the case were it not for the interesting question of Republican VP choices and it is to this that we shall turn our attention to next.

Friday, August 8, 2008

McCain's map: mission impossible?

"To defend everything is to defend nothing" - Frederick the Great

As our previous discussion of the Centre of Gravity shows, McCain faces staggering challenges to winning the election. These begin with the electoral maps which demonstrate the electoral college value of each state (or subset of states in the case of Maine and Nebraska). Courtesy of the ever-impressive 270towin, let's look at these to get the full visual impact of McCain's daunting task.

First, here's the 2004 result:
As you can see, starting from this all Obama needs to do is flip Ohio to win the election. But his actual paths to victory are far more varied than that.

Here's the 2008 starting position, based in large part off of 538's polling snapshots. States in grey (or purple to mark the one electoral vote in Nebraska that may go to Obama) are currently undecided - meaning neither candidate has a lead of 5% or more. (Also included are the states of Georgia and North Dakota where insufficient polling currently exists but commentators have agreed Obama is making a strong effort as well as one electoral vote in Nebraska, a state which now divides its electoral votes.)

Very simply, providing Obama holds Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire (each far more likely than the reverse) and takes New Mexico (where he is strongly favoured) he is then just six electoral votes away from the magic 270. As such, Democrats need just to win just one of the following: Nevada + Nebraska's 1 EV; Nevada + Montana; Nevada + North Dakota; Montana + North Dakota; Colorado; Missouri; Indiana; Ohio; Virginia; North Carolina; Georgia; Florida. Even given the Democratic Party's history of screwing things up, winning one out of twelve scenarios is do-able.

And, just for fun, this is what happens if McCain loses each and every defensive battle he is being forced to wage.

And that quite simply is the crux of McCain's dilemma: he can either defend everything and risk losing it all as well or he can pick where to make his stand and see himself outmaneuvered by the Obama campaign with their vastly superior resources.

So is there any way for John McCain? Yes there is, but it involves a radical change of strategy and that's what we'll be looking at next.

(PS: my thanks to Paul Crawford for his help in the Opening-the-Kitchen-Door Dept. that made this post possible.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The centre of gravity = the campaigns (AKA "the forces in the field")

"The centre of gravity is the campaigns themselves - which include their messages, fundraising, ground staff and the time of the candidates" - John Emerson, strategist

The Trinity: unlocking the centre of gravity
Clausewitz's Trinity holds the key to determing the centre of gravity. The Trinity begins by stating that the three elements which determine war are passion, probability/chance and reason. Clausewitz offers an example of this when he states that passion is represented by the people, probability/chance by the commander/army and reason by the government. In my political model of this passion is represented by the electorate, probability/chance by the campaign and reason by the candidate. (I'll be delving into all of this in a future posting).

To draw a more direct parallel: the people = the electorate, the commander/army = the campaign and the government = the candidate. As such, the forces in the field (the army), which in traditional Clausewitzian terms is the centre of gravity in war, is represented by the campaigns themselves.

The campaigns, as noted above, are considered in this model to represent such vital components as fundraising, ad buys, voter registration, voter identification, get out the vote operations, key constituency outreach, message, the use of the candidate's time and far more besides. In short, the mechanics of the campaign in their totality.

How to locate the centre of gravity
Having answered what (for both campaigns) the centre of gravity is, the question then turns to where it might be found. Clausewitz reminds us to look to "where the greatest mass of matter is collected". In '08 terms, this means that each side will observe carefully where their opposiiton deploys their best field staff, the size of their organisational effort, the amount of money spent in a given area, the scale of ad buys, the amount of time spent in that area by the candidate etc. Such observation will reveal the concentration of forces that represents the centre of gravity and it is against this centre that the campaign will strike with their own concentration of forces.

As we assess where the centre of gravity may prove to be found, it is important to remember that it is not set in place and time until the actual clash between campaigns takes place. As such we'll be keeping a close eye on how the two campaigns choose to concentrate their forces as the election unfolds. For now, here's our look at the lay of the land.

The theatres

As I have previously noted, Clausewitz leaves the door open to the idea of the centre of gravity being determined but not realized until the moment of “decision” (decisive battle) actually arrives. The key potential theatres for these concentrations include: the South Western theatre (Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona), the Rustbelt theatre (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana) and the South Coast theatre (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida or Georgia) with additional targets that could bring about electoral college success to be found in the Highlands theatre (namely, Missouri), the Big Sky theatre (namely, Montana) and the Prairie theatre (namely North Dakota, South Dakota or even an electoral vote in Nebraska).

Overall, the advantage in these matters clearly lies with Obama who is pursuing the positive object (attacking states) with a far more secure negative object (defending states) then McCain. Obama can threaten to seek decisive battle in either the Rustbelt or the South West or indeed even the South Coast theatre. Within that spread (and taking into account his probable victories in Iowa and New Mexico) Obama needs flip just one major state to win the election: Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia or Florida or win a combination of small states such as North Dakota and Montana.

Whilst the defence is stronger then the attack, McCain must successfully defend so much more then Obama, and Obama's resources have the potential to be so much greater then McCain's, that there is a strong possibility that McCain is likely to spread his defence too thin allowing Obama to defeat him even where he is strongest.

The states
"We think, therefore, a theatre of war, whether large or small, with its military force, whatever may be the size of that, represents a unity which maybe reduced to one centre of gravity. At this centre of gravity the decision must take place, and to be conqueror here means to defend the theatre of war in the widest sense." - On War, Book VI, Chapter 27

Having narrowed down the theatres, it is thus neccesary to consider the individual battlegrounds within which decisive battle will be fought.

Once again, John illuminates: "In time I think these 'forces' will mainly be deployed in the rustbelt. McCain has to defend Ohio and best opportunities to attack, (PA and MI), are also there. While Obama does not need to win the rustbelt he also cannot completely lose it. Together with the need to attack McCain's COG, Obama will also be drawn to the rustbelt." In sum, "McCain's CoG is Ohio. For McCain,the loss of Ohio makes victory highly unlikely, as getting to 270EVs without Ohio is extremely difficult, (538 puts his chances at about 5% if he loses OH)."

For McCain, the problem is far more complicated because Obama's resource advantage, which Clausewitz would quickly identify as "superiority of numbers" will likely allow him to deploy strong forces in more then one theatre, which begs the question: does Obama even have a single centre of gravity?

The answer is no. Obama's strength is such that come November 4th Obama will likely have roughly equal concentrations of force in Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. Of these, the greatest single concentration will most likely fall in Ohio which offers the biggest electoral vote prize. Thus, in very simple terms, McCain must repel an attack on Ohio whilst also holding onto Colorado and Virginia. The loss of any one of these will likely turn the election to Obama. As such, Obama can wait, watch to see where McCain concentrates his forces and then can choose either to engage there or seek decisive battle elsewhere.

This leads us to the vital question: how on Earth can John McCain actually win this election?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"I love Kathleen Sebelius" - Barack Obama, July 1, 2008

Kathleen Who?

The 44th Governor of Kansas is a post-partisan Democrat in deep red Kansas whose deft political skills and low-key operating style has delivered on liberal goals like education reform and women's rights. Sebelius opposes gay marriage bans, supports gun owner rights within the context of gun control laws and has vetoed efforts to expand coal power plants in her state. She was named by Time magazine in 2005 as one of America's five best Governors. All of this fits perfectly into the frame of Obama's campaign themes of change and unity.

But where's the chatter?

The Fix kicked off this year's Veepstakes by ranking Sebelius in the number one slot in the Veep field. What's more, Sebelius is considered enough of a threat to provoke a pre-emptive strike by retiring Prince of Darkness, arch-conservative Bob Novak and is held in high esteem by no less a Clintonista then James Carville and indeed, former Presidential candidate General Wesley Clark, who publicly supports her joining the ticket.

And let's not forget the all-important chemistry that is needed between a Presidential candidate and their Veep pick. Here we can let Obama speak for himself: “I love Kathleen Sebelius. I think she is as talented a public official as there is right now. Integrity. Competence. She can work with all people of all walks of life."

What about the nice, safe, white males?

Obama's campaign is about change. And his bet is that the election is about change. That alone argues against a conventional pick as an African American and a woman would symbolically lock up the change mantle in such a way as to make it irretrievable for McCain - no matter who he might pick.

On the flip side, it is possible that that's too much change in which case an N.S.W. male would be in order, but Kathleen's top competitors aren't a match for her appeal to the Barack-star.

Biden: too mouthy and showy. His foreign policy heft if needed can be better brought in by making him Secretary of State (where mouthy-ness and showey-ness is vital when facing off against the Pentagon). Besides, the whole purpose of the Obama world tour was to demonstrate to the electorate that Obama is in and of himself a credible Commander-in-Chief.

Bayh: He might help in the cause of turning Indiana blue but the demographics and economics of Indiana this year are so similar to those of Ohio that if Obama wins the Hoosier state he is likely to have won the Buckeye state (and thus the election) anyway. Fatally, however, As The Fix has noted, Bayh could well prove to be "a charisma drain. He would break up the logic of the ticket, turning Obama into a conventional candidate in a year when out-of-the-box appeal is the hot commodity."

Kaine: As I previously suggested in my definition of potential results, I think the Kaine buzz is a feint. Could he help with Virginia? To some extent although his lack of major accomplishments
and 46% approval rating (with 30% disapprove and 24% undecided) would curtail his VA bounce. Beyond that, Kaine continues to compare unfavourably with Kathleen as she has more years of public service then him (6 years as a Governor compared to 3) and a real record of gubernatorial accomplishment (see above).

So when's the big day?
If I'm right, then tomorrow will be a grave disappointment for Bayh-fans. The Washington Post's tea-leaf reading Dan Balz (who probably had a tip from the Obama campaign, as evidenced by the story's subsequent headline treatment on The Page) suggests that Obama's Veep pick will likely come in about a fortnight's time, after he has returned from his Hawaiian holiday and as the Olympics are drawing to an end. This gives Obama a good week's run-up to the Convention and a chance to spend the bulk of his $5mn in Olympic advertising to control the speculation just enough whilst on introducing his Veep to the nation. The Balz and Halperin trailing of a later Veep pick is important as it allows Team Obamasimultaneously building up the Indiana coeverage, much like that which occured last week with Kaine. Thus, they get good press in Indiana and don't burn their bridges with national political reporters.

Am I right? Is Kathleen the best choice? Will Obama announce her in two weeks time? Do weigh in!

Veepstakes! The story so far and the Obama shortlist...

Whilst the serious, academic discussion of the centre of gravity continues, it's only fair that we have some fun as well and few things make for better political silly-season during newsless Summer then the quadrenial parlour game of DC salons and Upper East Side talking shops that is...VEEPSTAKES!

For Obama, here's the story so far...The Beltway punditocracy wanted Hillary and they were sure she could get it. Well, they won't get her. Then they explained this by saying that Obama would use his pick to lock down a battleground state: they 'knew' it would be Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He bowed out as did feisty Virginia Senator Jim Webb. Lately, they've argued that Obama needs an experienced Washington hand. I don't think that's going to happen either.

Obama will make his own choice based on his own criteria which have far more to do with governing then winning elections and I believe he'll make it from the following short list: Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine or Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

And so with out further to-do, here's the must-reads on the contenders after which I'll offer my own views on who should and likely will get it.

Kathleen Sebelius
As the doyen of Veepstakes watching, Marc Ambinder has noted: "Sebelius has governed from the center, but she is not a conservative Democrat: she opposes the death penalty, opposed a same-sex marriage-banning constitutional amendment, opposes concealed carry laws, and is pro-choice." And she's done all of this in a state in which Republicans outnumber Democrats 2:1. Huffington post ran a great profile on her. Meanwhile the distinguished Washing Post blogger, Chris 'The Fix' Cilliza offers great pro and anti cases for the Governor: The case for Kathleen Sebelius and the case against Kathleen Sebelius.

Evan Bayh
Indiana Senator (and former Governor) Evan Bayh is a DC insiders dream: foriegn policy experience, red state senator, former governor, Clinton loyalist. And he's currently the hot gossip. If Obama does go with Bayh, he'll likely make the annoucement tommorow. Once again, The Fix makes the case for Evan Bayh and against Evan Bayh.

Tim Kaine
Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is the last VA Dem standing after uber-popular ex-Governor Mark Warner took himself out of the game before it even began by running for a virtually guaranteed Senate seat and combative ex-Republican Jim Webb withdrew his name. The latest round of Veepstakes rumours were kicked off by last week's Tim Kaine buzz. Here's The Fix on the case for Tim Kaine and against Tim Kaine.

Joe Biden
Delaware Senator and foriegn policy eminence grice Joe Biden was the winner of the well-respected MSNBC veepstakes competition. Biden hasn't been judged by The Fix but is considered a strong contender because of his ability to add national secuirty gravitas to an Obama ticket. The downside is his history of difficulty with holding his tongue.

On the other hand...

we could just look at Obama's own handwritten Veep shortlist.

Monday, August 4, 2008

What are the '08 centres of gravity?

So what is the centre of gravity for McCain? What is it for Obama?

Let's start by seeing what The Great Man had to say on the subject more generally:

"Thus, therefore, the first consideration in the combination of a plan for a war, is to determine the centres of gravity of the enemy's power, and, if possible, to reduce them to one. " - On War, Book VI, Chapter 28

“A certain centre of gravity, a centre of power and movement, will form itself, on which everything depends; and against this centre of gravity of the enemy, the concentrated blow of all the forces must be directed.” – On War, Book VIII, Chapter 4

"By seeking out constantly the heart of the hostile power, and staking everything in order to gain all, that we can effectually strike the enemy to the ground." - On War, Book VIII, Chapter 4

"As the centre of gravity is always situated where the greatest mass of matter is collected, and as a shock against the centre of gravity of a body always produces the greatest effect, and further, as the most effective blow is struck with the centre of gravity of the power used, so it is also in war. " - On War, Book VI, Chapter 27

"We think, therefore, a theatre of war, whether large or small, with its military force, whatever may be the size of that, represents a unity which maybe reduced to one centre of gravity. At this centre of gravity the decision must take place, and to be conqueror here means to defend the theatre of war in the widest sense." - On War, Book VI, Chapter 27

With these remarks in mind, I'd welcome thoughts on what the centres of gravity for McCain and Obama might be. Options might include: Particular demographic groups, fundraising, field efforts, electoral votes, a particular theatre, a particular state, a campaign message and, I fear, more besides.

Are we looking for the equivalent of the "forces in the field" that Clausewitz so often ascribed the centre of gravity to or is it something completely different? I confess to finding this a most fascinating puzzle...

Making strategy

Over the course of the next few posts, excluding interruptions for more random musings, I'll be exploring the application of my brand of Clausewitzian strategic thinking to the race for the White House.

From war to politics, this is how I break down the steps in analyzing the formulation of strategy:

1) Establish the political object (the overall purpose of the conflict)
2) Establish the 'military' object (the 'military' purpose of the conflict)
3) Establish the negative object (that which is currently possessed that must be protected)
4) Establish the positive object (that which is not currently possessed that is sought)
5) Identify the centre of gravity: is it a traditional search for the equivalent of the "forces in the field" or is a more complex search for some kind of political goal (hearts and minds, a single leader, an economic resource etc?)
6) Brainstorm on the many and varied elements of strategy
7) Group the elements into a small number of broad angles of approach, heeding the concerns of both the positive and negative objects.
8) Manipulate the angles of approach so as to combine their effects in such a way as to smash the centre of gravity, thus delivering the political object.

In 2008, the political object is the winning of the White House, the 'military' object is the struggle for 270 votes in the electoral college, the negative object is the retention of the 2004 states and the positive object is the gaining of new states. That leaves the question of identifying the centres of gravity for the two campaigns. This must be dealt with before the other issues of elements, angles and the achievement of the positive object (also known as, victory) can be explored.

Thus, the focus of my next post with which I hope to spark something of a discussion, will be the question of identifying the centres of gravity in the 2008 Presidential election.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Definitions of strategy I: combining Clausewitzian concepts with the Presidential election

A fellow politico friend of mine loves to remind me that his boss would get out of his chair and leave the room whenever one of his subordinates asked for a definition of a term.

I sympathise with this stance but can't escape the feeling that discussions of strategy, politics and Clausewitz are aided by some definitions. Needless to say, the following are not offered in any sense as definitive definititions but rather as a jumping off point for greater accuracy in due course. I've started by offering my definitions on some of the terms that subsequent postings will be using.

The political object
"The political object is the goal, war the means" - On War, Book I, Chapter I

The supreme purpose of the conflict. In the case of the US Presidential election, the political object is quite simply the winning of the White House.

The 'military' object
The chief means of achieving the political object. In the case of the US Presidential election, the 'military' object is the securing of 270 Electoral Votes so as to win the General Election.

Negative object
The defence or retention of that which is already possessed. In '08 terms, this could equate to each party's retention of those states won in 2004.

Positive object
The securing of a goal (usually a territory) from the enemy, In '08 terms, this is exemplified by the McCain campaign's efforts to win Michigan or the Obama effort to win Ohio.

Elements of strategy
The myriad of elements from the minor to major that make up strategy as a whole.

Angles of approach
The combination of the different elements of strategy into a small number of groups, which I term angles of approach. These angles are then manipulated so as to combine their effects in smashing the centre of gravity, thus delivering the political object.

In '08 terms, angles of approach might contain the sum of all turnout efforts or the candidate's overall campaign message.

Centre of gravity
“A certain centre of gravity, a centre of power and movement, will form itself, on which everything depends; and against this centre of gravity of the enemy, the concentrated blow of all the forces must be directed.” – On War, Bk. VIII, ch. 4

The identification of the centre of gravity is the first step in creating a war plan as from this decision all further choices flow. In '08 terms, the challenge lies in selecting from such various options such as Ohio for McCain or the Rustbelt theatre as a whole for Obama.

Potential results
"Possible combats are on account of their results to be looked upon as real ones." - On War, Book III, Chapter I

Much like in chess where one creates potential attacks which though not necessarily executed nonetheless force one's opponent to expend resources in defence have power so in politics, where threats and feints can have real impact.

The sudden build-up of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine as a potential Obama running mate has all the hallmarks of a classic feint. Not only did it dramatically boost Obama campaign coverage in this key battleground state it has already forced the McCain campaign to seriously consider a counter-candidate, Virginia Congressman Mikey Cantor. Likewise, this weekend's chatter about Indiana Evan Bayh seems strikingly familiar to the Kaine gambit.

"Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction" - On War, Book I, Chapter 7.

Here Clausewitz tackles the difference between theory and reality. The concept has been immortalized pithily from Eisenhower's "no plan survives contact with the enemy" to Rumsfeld's somewhat cruder "stuff happens."

In politics, friction plays out daily from candidate mis-speaks like Obama's "bitter" remarks to poor event organising such as frequently displayed by the McCain campaign.

Clausewitzian genius is not just high intelligence but rather sang froid in the heat of battle, combined with an ability to stick to the plan and see it through whilst contradictorily being capable of adjusting the plan where neccesary to adapt to changed realities. Clausewitzian genius often lies in being able to tell when to stick to the former, and when to change to the latter.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's insistence in the run-up to the Super Tuesday primary on sticking to the agreed delegate-pursuit strategy in states like Idaho and Utah even when Obama himself was pressing for a shift of focus to California to score a psycological victory against Senator Clinton is a fine example of Clausewitzian genius.

The defence is stronger then the attack
“The defensive form, with a negative object, is the stronger form, the attack, with the positive object, the weaker” - Notice from Carl von Clausewitz.

One of the most important yet oft overlooked components of Clausewitzian strategy explains why Clausewitz attached such great importance to understanding the negative and positive objects and their effect on strategy.

In US election terms, this plays out through the respective strengths of McCain and Obama in the states carried by their parties in 2004. Despite all the disadvantages facing the GOP this year, the challenge Obama faces in flipping red states to blue is an excellent illustration of this concept.

The single german word that covers the english words politics, policy and polity. It's versatility and utility is illustrated in the title of this blog.

The main areas of the conflict in which geographically distinguished major operations occur.

Fivethirtyeight considers the theatres of the Presidential race to be New England, Acela, South Coast, Gulf Coast, Highlands, Rustbelt, North Central, Prairie, South West, Big Sky and Pacific.

Their breakdown is as follows: New England (Massachussets, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont), Acela (named after a regional train service: New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington DC, Delaware), South Coast (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina), Gulf Coast (Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi), Highlands (Montana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohklahoma, Arkansas, West Virginia), Rustbelt (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana), North Central (Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa), Prairie (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota), South West (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada), Big Sky (Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska) and Pacific (California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii).

Levels & Dimensions of strategy
Working off a number of Clausewitzian concepts, the noted modern strategist Edward Luttwak has defined the following as the levels of strategy: technical, tactical, operational, theatre strategic, grand strategic.

Technical refers to equipment and mechanics, for example voter identification technology; tactical refers to small engagements, such as daily media clashes; operational to large engagements, like the Presidential debates; theatre strategic to the actions concerned with the struggle for a particular theatre, such as the Rustbelt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana; grand strategic to the use of any and all means, political, cultural, economic and more right across the board for the purpose of victory.

Understanding the interaction between the levels (the vertical dimension) and within each level (the horizontal dimension) is vital to understanding strategy as a whole. In other words, the choice of voter ID system may well impact upon the choice of daily media message, the use of that message in a debate, the effectiveness of that debate performance in a theatre and the consequent role of that theatre in the grand strategy.

Escalation is inherent in war
Clausewitz considered this idea to be absolutely crucial to any understanding of war. he believed that escalation was the natural course of conflict and dedicated much of his work to exploring why this was the case and how escalation could be controlled.

Escalation asserts itself in the Presidential race with each and every exchange of negative ads. A punch usually leads to a counterpunch and so forth, each in turn is often made with increasing force.

Despite escalation, and at times even because of it, action can sometimes be suspended in strategy when both sides judge that it is in their interests to "wait for a better moment before acting."

Like escalation, the seemingly simple concept has profound implications for strategy. For example, both campaigns likely view the three week period of the Olympic games, when voters minds are decidely elsewhere, as a prime opportunity for suspension. However, one side may choose to strike during this period of suspension with a Vice Presidential pick. This would in turn provoke a significant response from their opposition as escalation reasserts itself.

The Trinity
One of Clausewitz's finest contributions to strategic thought, the idea of a Trinity of passion, chance and reason is often characterised as the interplay of the people, the army and the government. The idea is that war is framed by these forces and moves closer to a particular element and away from others depending on the relative strengths of each part of the Trinity.

An '08 analogy would be the relationships between the electorate, the candidate and their campaign. Thus, the election's fate is determined by their interaction. In this respect, the unusual individual popularity John McCain is a key determinant in overcoming many of his campaign's serious structural problems as well as the electorate's general antipathy for the GOP brand.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

So why the Clausewitz?

Carl's unfinished masterpiece 'Vom Krieg' ('On War') has long fascinated me. During my Masters at Kings College, London I specialised in Clausewitz and strategy. From escalation in war to friction in operations to determining the centre of gravity when making strategy I am convinced that Clausewitz is a powerful prism through which to understand modern politics.

Take the battle for the White House: a Clausewitzian approach begins with identifying the centre of gravity: is it a state? the campaign message? fundraising? Get Out The Vote ops? The electoral college? The popular vote? That decision determines everything else so you'd better get it right. (I'll offer my own thoughts on this one in a few posts time.)

These are the kind of ideas that I want to directly and indirectly explore with this blog.

US political websites

One of the most common requests I get from my friends back in Europe is for advice on which websites are best for following the US elections.

I have two crucial biases in my subsequent recommendations:

1) I strongly support Barack Obama;
2) Even more then 1), I value sites that add value to coverage.

With this in mind here's my list:


Mark Halperin's The Page is a 'Drudge Report' of US politics and should be checked hourly. Halperin used to edit the formerly fantastic 'Note' at ABC News. He tends to overcompensate for what he views as historical liberal media bias by giving the Rebublicans the benefit of the doubt on most matters of spin.

Matt Drudge may be a vile rightwing muckraker but he can sure break a story. Besides, his coverage this year has been notably pro-Obama (or perhaps just anti-McCain) - well, he is good at picking winners...

Ignore their blogs and op-eds and stick to their summary charts and graphs fopr an instant overview of the polls and state-of-the-race.

Best bloggers:

From the inside track on what both candidate's senior staff really think, to adding real insight on both the horserace and the campaign as a whole Ambinder is outstanding.

Ben Smith offers good, solid reporting on the state of the Democratic effort.

Jonathan Martin does the same for the Grand Old Party.

What the blogosphere should be:

The crown jewels of electoral analysis. Poblano (aka Nate Silver) slices and dices the numbers every which way to offer up polling, demographic and statistical breakdowns second to none. His support for Obama doesn't intrude upon his commitment to accuracy. If you want to know the future before it happens, go to fivethirtyeight.

Al Giordano offers pro-Obama analysis and smackdowns of chicken-little Democrats that's as fun to read as it is informative.

A choose-your-own-adventure approach to the 2008 election. Play around with the map and send me your predictions!