Thursday, January 31, 2008 - Learn about the DNC Super Delegates

It’s looking increasingly likely that the race for a nominee in the Democratic party will take some time to settle out… and the “super delegates” may actually have a hand in deciding who the Democratic nominee is.

If you don’t know what a “super delegate” is, don’t worry – a lot of people don’t. Each state has a number of “pledged” delegates – these are the delegates chosen during the primary or caucus. (I’m simplifying, but that’s more or less the case.) In the Democratic party, those delegates are awarded on a proportional basis – if a candidate gets 50% of the vote, they’ll get 50% of that state’s delegates (Again, there’s a bit more to it, but for purposes of this discussion, that’ll do.)

In addition to the 3200 pledged delegates, there are another 800 delegates who are “unpledged”. Made up of elected officials (Senators, Representatives, former presidents) and party officials (state chairs and the like), these so-called “super delegates” get a vote at the convention, and make up 20% of the vote. In past years, these super delegates basically get a ticket to the convention to participate in the formality of “choosing” a nominee… but the nominee became a de facto nominee by winning so many primaries and caucuses that noone else had any mathematical possibility of getting enough delegates to win the nomination.

As Barack and Hillary continue in their race for delegates, one thing is certain: they both have the money and infrastructure to continue for quite some time. (Barack raised $32m in January alone, from 170k new donors. Wow!) And neither has a clear advantage in the delegate race: they need 50% + 1 of the delegates, and if they continue at their current pace (in the 40-45% of the vote), they’ll both have a lot of delegates, but not the 2000+ needed to secure the nomination.

Which is where the super delegates come in. If a candidate secured enough superdelegates in addition to 40-45% of the pledged delegates, they’d stand a good chance of wrapping up the nomination. Right now, one third of the super delegates have pledged their support to one candidate (180 or so to Hillary, 80 to Barack). Super delegates can change their mind at any time, and many haven’t expressed a preference.

In an attempt to shed some light on this process, I built a site over the weekend – Starting with a terrific list provided by the guys who maintain DemConWatch, I started filling in a little info about the super delegates and linking to their endorsement (if given). After finding a great extension to MediaWiki (KMLExport, in case you’re interested), I was also able to add in geo coordinates (latitude and longitude) to the delegate pages, so that you can see the delegates in a Google Earth layer.

The data is far from complete, but that’s by design: this is a wiki, and the site will succeed only if others decide to contribute to it. It takes just a couple minutes to do some quick searches on Google to find basic info about the delegates, and entering in the basic info on a delegate is simple:

{{Endorsed Barack Obama|Latitude|Longitude}}

That will auto-categorize the delegate’s page, and add the necessary mark-up to ensure that the delegate is accurately mapped in Google Earth. (A Google Maps mapplet is on its way, maybe later tonight.) In any event, I’d love to see more people contribute to this. While it’s clearly a Democratic-focused project, it’s something that will benefit the party as a whole, not necessarily either candidate. My hope is that we provide a bit more transparency to the process, and develop a useful service that will help people better understand how we may end up picking our next nominee (and President!).

Let me know what you think. More importantly, take a few minutes and head over to the site and add in some info so that it’s more complete. Thanks!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Barack - a resounding victory

Barack’s victory was far broader than even the talking heads are reporting:
  • Among non-blacks under 30, he won 52% of the vote.
  • Among all voters under 65, Barack won over 50% of the vote. (18-24: 65%, 25-29: 70%, 30-39: 62%, 40-49: 61%, 50-64: 51%). Only among those 65 and older, Hillary beat Barack 40%-32%.
  • Barack won 54% of all men and 54% of all women.
  • When asked who can best beat a Republican in November, Barack was favored 48% to 36%.
  • Barack received more votes today than all votes cast in the 2004 Democratic primary in SC.
  • Barack received more than twice the votes as Hillary.
  • Barack received more votes in South Carolina than any two candidates from either party.
And his speech was his best yet. Showed a backbone and a fighting spirit.

Yes, we can.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Around and around we go

I honestly have no idea how Super Tuesday will play out. Given that many of the Super Tuesday states (for Democrats, at least – no clue on the Republican side) are states in which delegates are allocated proportionally (instead of winner take all), it seems likely that both Barack and Hillary will pick up a number of delegates but neither will win outright. If there’s a site that lets you map out the likely outcomes (by guessing at voting percentages and the like) I’d love to see it… would definitely help get a handle on what the possible results will be on Tuesday.

There’s an interesting dynamic playing out: Barack seems to be running explicitly for the General Election while Hillary is digging in to be the Democratic nominee. His praise of Reagan (praise I happen to agree with in case you were wondering) is just the latest example of his willingness to avoid polarization for the sake of polarization and instead try to get at the heart of what unites the country – that unity being the foundation on which he hopes to build his administration.

Both candidates have the money to make the race for the Democratic nomination a long, drawn-out affair. And barring the unforeseen, that seems to be where we’re heading. But here’s an odd thought to toss out: if Hillary is the nominee, could Barack run as an independent? He has the fundraising ability, he has the cross-over appeal to Republicans and Independents, and such a run would be ideologically consistent with his “post-partisan“campaign themes.

Ross Perot got 21% of the vote in 1992, which ensured Bill Clinton’s victory. A credible third-party candidate – who draws equally from both parties, doesn’t have the same negatives as Hillary does, and has more credibility with the Democrats than any Republican in the field – seems like that could be a winning formula.

I still think he’s got a shot at winning the nomination, but the polls in the primaries do seem to favor Hillary right now. Yet the national polls among likely contenders still seem to show Barack as the strongest candidate against the Republicans. Just a thought.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What a long, strange trip it's been

Nine years and a few days ago, I found Google. At the time, Erik Heels and I co-authored an online legal research column for Law Journal Extra, and periodically reviewed sites that we thought legal researchers should know about. One of the things I admire about Erik is the fact that he does a good job of keeping his old data (I do not), and it was a thrill to see this e-mail get re-sent to me nine years after I sent it (thanks, Erik!):

From: “Richard P. Klau” <>
To: “Kathleen Jackson” <—>
Cc: “Red Street Consulting” <>
Subject: site review:
Date: Wed, 6 Jan 1999 17:56:36 -0500

by Richard P. Klau

A few weeks ago I looked at a number of search engines, and decided that HotBot was the best. Maybe I judged too soon.

Back in the early days of the web, the real interesting thing to watch was how sites built links to each other. Indeed, it was this very idea of links hat the word “Web” was used. And though many of the most popular search engines have done a good job at indexing most of the words on most of the eb sites, they haven’t really done a very good job of analyzing whether or not the search pages are in fact what you’re looking for. Sure, they use meta tags to identify key words, and sure they try and evaluate relevance, but the bottom line is that they’re not very good.

Enter “Google” ( Google indexes not only words on a web site but links on the web site, and then  uses the links to evaluate relevance. For example – do a search on “internet law” and Google will return 8000 hits, but will rank them according to both the frequency of the words and the number of links to that site. (The logic here is that a site with more links to it is more likely to be popular, and therefore useful, than one that nobody links to.)

In the results page, you see a number of things that appear differently than they do at the other search engines: a red bar that, if you click on it, will show you all the sites that link to this site. With many sites, you can click on something that says “Cached (fast!)”. Following that link pulls up “cached” copy of the web page – from Google’s domain instead of from the actual site itself. While the data may be out of date, you avoid seeing those 404 Errors if a page no longer exists – a really nice feature.

Another nicce touch is including your search terms in boldface in the results – rather than a keyword description or just the first few sentences of the text. This allows you to see whether or not the “hit” is in fact relevant to your query.

Overall, I found Google to be quick, effective, and much more powerful than its cousins. While I can’t say that it’s as thorough (only time will tell that), this is a great new tool that should, at the very least, lead to some nice improvements in other search engines. Competition is a good thing.

Holds up pretty well, actually.

Friday, January 11, 2008

We sold the house

Anyone following me on Twitter saw my update yesterday that Robin and I have signed paperwork on an offer we received Tuesday night. We’re elated. But there’s some backstory that’s interesting to share.

Apparently the editor of the Naperville Sun still reads my blog, and when he saw my post about the house still being on the market (and the requisite price drop), he had a reporter give m a call. Paige and I chatted for a while on my drive back from San Diego, and she had a photographer head over to the house. The result? A front page treatment in the Business section (and an abridged version of the article which ran in the next day’s Chicago Sun-Times). The print version had a big picture of our house, and included our address.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Two offers came in that night, both from locals who were familiar with the neighborhood. Eight months on the market, and the two offers came in the same day we got a ton of attention in the local paper. John Harper, a Realtor out here in California, wondered whether newspapers sell houses and remarked that the trend is for Realtors to shift much of their marketing budget to online sources away from offline sources. One example doesn’t make a trend, but I think the results in my case speak for themselves: Craigslist, Zillow, Trulia, – none of them produced our buyer. Interesting.

(Separate lesson learned: when a journalist asks for your wife’s age, politely decline to answer. I have it on good authority that that would have been a wise move. Ah well. Next time.)

So… Naperville Sun: you’ve been very good to me. You endorsed me when I ran for local office in Naperville. After I moved, you helped sell my house. To Tim and Paige, I raise a glass from a few thousand miles away. Let me know how I can return the favors.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Obama is a man of substance

In the comments to my last post, Allison (a good friend who lives in NH) shared her thoughts on why she thinks Hillary won:

1) I think Obama overplayed his hand. Sorry Rick, but we’re not big on vague here, and he wasn’t selling anything specific. Yes, people want change, and they want hope, but they want details and he was woefully short on ‘em. He is very inspirational, but towards the end much of the talk centered on the perception that he has not actually done anything but talk. It wasn’t enough. He also seemed to get a little bit of a swelled head after Iowa. (emphasis mine)

I’ve heard variations on this theme over much of the last couple weeks. Democrats on the fence about supporting Obama see him as an empty vessel. Over at Andrew Sullivan’s blog (where some of the most eloquent discussion about Obama’s campaign is happening, IMO), a writer had this to say:
But Hillary is doing a better job of conveying substance, and that resonates with people for whom her policies will have an impact on their everyday lives. For the most part, these are people who don’t spend their time on their laptops all day —- they’re busying holding down one or two jobs, taking their kids to school, maybe trying to get a college degree at night —— and they certainly don’t have time to Google a bunch of white papers, or read blogs. They get their info from speeches, ads, magazines, debates, and the mass media generally.

This seems to be a big challenge for Barack. The irony is that the knock on him in Illinois when he ran for Senate in 2004 was that he was a policy wonk, too enmeshed in the minutiae of the legislative process to really appeal to much more than a sliver of the Illinois electorate. We know how that turned out.

Late in 2006, I ran across a remarkable post at Obsidian Wings, which to this day holds up as the best summary of Obama’s legislative abilities. Written  by someone who (at the time, at least) was not an Obama supporter, it simply goes through his brief tenure in the Senate to show his approach to legislation, his ability to dive into details, and his often creative efforts to strike a balance that stands a chance of actually getting passed. I can’t recommend the post highly enough; you should read the whole thing.

Andrew is right: if you want detail from Barack, there’s plenty of it to be found. That said, it’s clear that he needs a better way of communicating those details without sacrificing the sweeping rhetoric that has so inspired millions around the country. Here’s hoping he finds a way to thread that needle before 2/5.

Update: Big thanks to Gabe Wachob, who pointed to this article by Daniel Koffler in The Guardian, talking about the substantive differences between Obama and Clinton (and Edwards for that matter). It’s a fascinating article, and well worth your time if you really want to know whether Barack’s all sizzle or not. Here’s a good excerpt:

In other words and in short, Obama’s slogan, “stand for change”, is not a vacuous message of uplift, but a content-laden token of dissent from the old-style liberal orthodoxy on which Clinton and Edwards have been campaigning. At the same time, Obama is not offering a retread of (Bill) Clintonism, Liebermanism, triangulation, neoliberalism, the Third Way or whatever we might wish to call the business-friendly centrism of the 1990s. For all its lofty talk of new paradigms and boundary shifting, the Third Way in practice amounted to taking a little of column A, a little of column B, and marketing the result as something new and innovative. Obama and Goolsbee propose something entirely different – not a triangulation, but a basis for crafting public policy orthogonal to the traditional liberal-conservative axis.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Thank you Iowa!


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(Click through if you can’t see this in your reader.)

We were driving back from San Diego, listening to CNN on XM Radio (my kids were thrilled). When Blitzer called Iowa for Barack I nearly drove off the road. I’m elated.

Quickly, here’s my predictions for NH: Barack Wins, Clinton places second (but a distant second). On the Republican side, Romney squeaks by McCain, salvaging his campaign and putting McCain on the ropes. The Republican establishment comes out hard against Huckabee, which leaves him well behind the front-runners.

Beyond that, who knows. I think the Dem nomination is Barack’s to lose. And the only Republican with a shot at challenging him in November is McCain, but I don’t think he can pull off the nomination.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Insanely great Naperville house, now even cheaper

Yes, that’s right: I still own a house in Illinois. No, I’m not happy about it. Yes, I want to sell it to you. The price is now down over 20% from where we listed it in May – and we were underpriced for our neighborhood back then!

Details are all over at the realtor’s site. If you know anyone looking for a house in Naperville, send ‘em my way, won’t ya?! (Update: As of 9:15 pst tonight, the price update hasn’t taken effect on the website. It’s now listed at $399,900.) Naperville is the 2nd best city in the country to raise a family. Barack Obama has eaten in this house, fercrissakes. Raise your kids there and impress your friends with the house’s connection to history!