Friday, February 29, 2008

A Cathedral of Basketball

Speaking of the Palestra, a recent film by former UPenn basketball player Mikaelyn Austin on the history of the Palestra.

Built in 1926, the Palestra has become both a symbol of college basketball, and of an earlier age; built without the benefit of modern conveniences such as amped-in sound and luxury boxes, it nonetheless remains, with perhaps Cameron Indoor, as the classic on-campus basketball gym. From the unique lighting (currently only on one side of the court) to the sound-proofing (none, so all crowd noise rattles around the concrete-and-steel interior), walking into the gym is like stepping back in time.

The film works in both vintage footage from the 1950s and 1960s, together with interviews from some of the personalities who stalked the sidelines -- Chuck Daly, Rollie Massimino, and Bill Raftery, among others. The emphasis is clearly on the Big 5 rivalries, and the era in college basketball -- and Philadelphia civics -- that has come and gone.

The film points to the 1979 Magic/Bird NCAA Final as the death-knell for the Big 5, and hence the Palestra as the hub of basketball in Philly. But while that Championship Game did usher in a new era for the NCAA, the irony is that the Big 5 helped 'kill' itself:

* UPenn itself was a participant in the 1979 Final Four, the last Ivy team to advance past the first weekend (although in 1983, Princeton won two games, one of which was a 'preliminary' round.)

* Two years later, St. Joseph's knocked off the consensus #1 team, DePaul, in the Blue Demons' opening game (St. Joe's had to beat Creighton to have the right to play DePaul), and lost in the Elite Eight.

* Villanova, on the back of their own Elite Eight appearances in 1982, and 1983, pulled one of the great upsets in Finals history by beating Patrick Ewing's Georgetown Hoyas in 1985. (1985 also marked the expansion of the tournament to its current format, with 6 rounds and 64/65 teams.)

With the explosion in the popularity of the NCAA tournament, the value of the television rights followed. At-large bids to the "Big Dance", rather than bragging rights in the City, are what matters, because at-large bids turn into real dollars.

By 1991, CBS signed a 6-year, $1 billion contract for exclusive rights to the tournament. Currently, CBS pays over $500M per year ($6B over 11 years) for the exclusive rights to the Tournament.

One small point on the film: more could have been made about the Penn/Princeton rivalry; and while there is plenty of more modern footage as well, not all of it pleasant for Tiger fans.

Big 5 in Decline

The Globe's Mark Blaudschun notes this morning -- after summarizing the generally down year for men's college basketball in Massachusetts and New England -- that Philadelphia is also suffering. The City of Brotherly Love has a long tradition of great college basketball -- the city rivalries in hoops often surpass the local rivalries of the Beanpot -- through the "Big 5." The Big 5 has been around since 1955, and has always had at least one representative in the NCAA field.

This year, Villanova (17-10, #59 on KenPom, #64 on RPI) and St. Joe's (17-9, #63 Kenpom, #59 RPI) are on the outside of the bubble right now. Temple (15-12, #81 KenPom, #80 RPI), Penn (10-16), and LaSalle (13-13, #158 RPI) are dead, or in need a "Championship Week" miracle to make the Field of 65.

Ah for the glory days of the Palestra.

Where's the Daisy?

Hillary's campaign released a new 'comparative' ad this morning:

It's unclear whether there will be enough money behind it to 'burn it' in to the minds of Democratic voters, but it will undoubtedly get picked up in the blogosphere and analyzed.

The ad is apparently being played only in Texas, which may be a sign of the Clintons' desperation there; she trails by 2 points on a blended average basis (as opposed to Ohio, where she is still clinging to a small 5-point lead, according to RCP.)

(Hattip: TK)

Update: Playing the ad without the sound reminds one of an ADT ad.
Of course, maybe that was the point.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Where Did the 527 Go?

A week ago, it was announced (to great fanfare) that the Clinton campaign would soon be the beneficiary of an independent expenditure or "527" group, called American Leadership Project (ALP) in Ohio and Texas.

To date, there has been no news on whether the ALP has produced -- or aired -- any ads supporting Hillary.

The feel on the ground, according to NBC, is a 4-to-1 Obama advantage:
Obama's financial advantage: Watching local TV here in Ohio, it feels like Obama has a 4-to-1 advantage -- with SEIU, UFCW and Obama just blitzing the airwaves compared with Clinton. It's happening in all four states. In fact, per TV ad expert Evan Tracey, Obama has outspent Clinton $23 million to $14 million in the last 30 days. How is she expected to hold a big lead if she gets outspent this badly? The third party groups are like salt in the Clinton wound.
Meanwhile, an email sent on behalf of Bill Clinton (asking for money), said:
[L]et's show the Obama campaign that they can't win this race just by throwing more money at it.
Looks like ALP is MIA.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cong. Lewis Makes the "Right Thing" Official

Although predicted here close to a month ago, and rumored (although not confirmed) here a few weeks ago, Congressman John Lewis, confirmed the inevitable by formally confirming his endorsement of Senator Barack Obama yesterday.
'Something's happening in America, something some of us did not see coming,' Lewis said. 'Barack Obama has tapped into something that is extraordinary.'
Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, conceded that his district's decision to overwhelmingly support Obama led to his decision.

No word on whether Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), last seen on "Morning Joe" defending the 'native garb' photo leaked over the weekend, is also re-considering her endorsement; she remains one of Hillary's most vocal -- and vociferous -- surrogates, despite the likely outcome of the primary in the 11th District.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

C's Return Home

The Celtics staunched the bleeding of an 0-3 start to a Western Conference swing by winning Sunday in Portland, and again last night in Los Angeles (against the Clippers). Of course, both the Blazers and the Clips are on the outside looking-in at the Western playoff picture.

In the East, the Pistons have closed to within 2 games of the Cs for first place in the Conference (and home court until the NBA Finals). More importantly, on Sunday Detroit put a big hurting on the same Suns team that had man-handled the Celtics on Friday night, 116-86.

The Pistons come to Boston next Wednesday (March 5th) for what will be the teams last meeting until (perhaps) the Playoffs.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Walkin' in Memphis

Last night's (#1) Memphis vs. (#2) Tennessee game (won by the Vols, 66-62) had plenty of interest for the Ivy League basketball fan.

Memphis, as has been well-documented, has been running an extension of the "Princeton"-offense, called "Dribble-Drive Motion" by Coach John Calipari. DDM moves the center to the weak side, rather than to the high post, but the net effect is similar: opening up the lane for cuts (Princeton) or dribble penetration (DDM).

(Calipari earlier in the year was calling DDM "Princeton-on-steroids" although now he seems to be exclusively using the "DDM" terminology; no word on whether Calipari has attempted to trademark "DDM", as he did with "Refuse to Lose" at UMass.)

Tennessee, meanwhile, appears to incorporate some elements of the Princeton-sets into its quick strike offense (at least on those possessions where the Vols aren't fast-breaking), using guard dribble-exchanges and having the center backscreen to create opportunities for cutters. On longer possessions, Tenn sent their big men down to the low post, and resulting series of hook shots were reminiscent of Georgetown's Roy Hibbert.

But as important, last night's game featured two teams that could easily face the prospective Ivy champ, Cornell (with all due respect to Barack Obama's brother-in-law, whose Brown Bruins are 3 games behind). Sports Illustrated projects Cornell as a #14 seed, and ESPN has them as a #13; the RPI puts Cornell at #72 and KenPom rates them as #127.

But with the trip to Penn and Princeton upcoming in two weekends, Cornell has not clinched an undefeated Ivy season yet. The Penn/Princeton weekend has been traditionally difficult, and the pressure of closing out a 14-0 season will likely make both games hotly contested.

The Tournament Committee (and the RPI/KenPom computers) will punish Cornell for a late-season loss. If so, don't be surprised to see the Big Red at #15 (or worse), and playing (perhaps) Memphis or Tennessee.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Celts Hit the Skids

For more than three months, the Celtics have been the toast of the NBA, racing off to a league-best 41-9 record at the All-Star break.

But since then, the Cs have gone cold, losing their third game in a row last night to a revamped Suns team in a game that reminded at least one observer (commentator Hubie Brown) of a rivalry game from the rough-and-tumble 1980s, rather than the more recent trend of the kinder-and-gentler NBA where every player is "Fav 5s" with everyone else.

Last night's mano-a-mano battle between Kevin Garnett and Amare Stoudemire was reminiscent of Kevin McHale and Kurt Rambis:

But unfortunately for Boston fans, last night it was the Celtic (KG) who was knocked down; Amare went for 28 (don't forget, the Suns only scored 85 as a team) despite absorbing a flagrant foul (from Big Baby Davis) and dishing out a technical (for bumping KG after a vicious spin-dunk):

Despite a tremendous team defensive effort (including holding the Suns, the second-best scoring team in the league, without a field goal for more than one whole quarter), the Cs looked like a AAAA-level opponent playing in the major leagues. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were a combined 5-for-25, and more troubling they were held in check by a Suns that is not known (ex. Shaq) for defense (#25 in opponents' PPG).

GM Danny Aigne elected (so far) to stand pat with a team that is built to win now. Unfortunately, the other NBA title contenders are also looking to win this year, and some of them have gambled more than the Cs have to make it happen.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Venn Diagram

What's the Venn Diagram of "Princeton grads" and "guys-who-fought-Mike-Tyson" look like?

The "set" is one more than you might think:

That's Henry Milligan, Princeton class of 1981, as part of the 1984 Olympic Trials.

He acquits himself better than did Marvis Frazier:

But of course, as Tyson himself once said (channeling nineteenth-century Prussian soldier Helmuth von Moltke), "Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth."
(Hat-tip: SportsProf.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Halfway through tonight's Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton proposed a freeze on interest rates:
So I would put a moratorium for 90 days, to give us time to work out a way for people to stay in their homes, and I would freeze interest rates for five years. Because these adjustable-rate mortgages, if they keep going up, millions of Americans are going to be homeless. And vacant homes will be across the neighborhoods of Texas and America.

There was another American politician with national stature who once proposed a freeze on wages and prices.

(And a young attorney, just commenced on a "35-year" career of service, worked on the impeachment of that very politician.)

Of course, that was during a time of high inflation and high unemployment. "Stagflation" they called it.

Not like today.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hillary for...Majority Leader?

Somewhere in the warren of the Clinton campaign offices in Arlington, Virginia, a small office should be working on a contingency plan for Hillary's future -- one that does not involve the White House.

(For Hillary's sake, this office should be different than the one in charge of post-Super-Tuesday strategy, which has been disastrous, and allowed Obama to win 10 contests in a row. Symbolically, Hillary failed to seat a full delegate slate in the potentially key state of Pennsylvania, although that gaffe will be corrected thanks to the PA Governor (a Clinton supporter) extending the deadline. Oh, and her campaign was out of money after Super Tuesday.)

Hillary now has a choice to make. She ran the first negative television ads in Wisconsin (attacking Obama for failing to debate for the 19th time - a somewhat silly argument), raised specious 'plagiarism' charges, and opened herself up to a tough counterattack on "going negative.". Then she got thumped, both in Wisconsin and Hawaii.

In her "concession" speech, for the second week in a row, Hillary failed to congratulate Obama, or acknowledge her own supporters in the states that had voted. The former omission allowed Obama to step on her speech by walking out into the Toyota Center in Houston just 15 minutes after Hillary started - her retooled speech (complete with teleprompters for the first time this primary season) was lost to all of those who were not sitting in the Youngstown (OH) high school gym with her. (Obama's 44-minute stemwinder was the first rhetorical clunker of the campaign; however the net effect was to prevent any of the cable networks from covering Hillary.)

Tomorrow night's debate puts Hillary in a box: either sharpen the rhetoric, attack Obama directly, and drive her negatives up, which will accelerate the trend of male voters abandoning her for Obama. Or have a repeat of the Los Angeles debate, which helped Obama by muting the differences on health care and allowing an extended discussion of Hillarys Iraq War vote.

The Clinton campaign is still spinning a Hail Mary strategy of winning both Ohio and Texas, decisively, to turn the momentum around. The reality is that she is now fighting a two-front war, and her pre-Super Tuesday advantages -- name recognition generally, especially among early and absentee voters (who helped her hold off Obama in CA) -- is rapidly evaporating. (Early voting in Texas, for instance, began only this week.)

Another sign of a campaign on the brink: unauthorized leaks, like yesterday's one that Hillary was considering targeting 'pledged' (rather than super) delegates to close the gap with Obama. It was bad politics, reeked of desperation, and allowed Obama to again raise the theme of 'whomever-wins-the-most-pledged- delegates-is-the-rightful-nominee' that works to his advantage.

And if you doubt all of that evidence, the final piece to the puzzle was John McCain's victory speech last night: despite his own need to unify the Republican party (Mike Huckabee, with 36.9% of the Wisconsin vote, did almost as well as Hillary's 40.7%), McCain did not take the opportunity to mention Clinton's name; rather he referred to "an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history."

The truth is that Hillary was by all accounts, and will be, an effective Senator. She pays attention to details, gets along with colleagues, and understands the legislative process. Current Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid is 68 years old; current Majority Whip Dick Durbin has been a stalwart Obama supporter and could move up to an Administration.

She may not be the first woman President, but being first female Majority Leader would also be making history.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Funny...and Things That Make You Go "Hmmm"

Congressman Rahm Emanuel is known as being one of the savviest pols in Washington. Last night (February 14th) he spoke at the Washington Press Club Dinner. A few of the best one liners, from someone in attendance:

* “Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I want to mention a woman who’s here with me tonight and the love of my life — Nancy Pelosi.”

* “I tell my wife I love her — she says I’m likable enough.”

* “Valentine’s Day is when Dick Cheney fantasizes about waterboarding.”

* Of the Clinton Days: “Back then, stimulus and package had a whole different meaning.”

* ”I’ve spent more alone time with Bill than Hillary.”

* On fellow speaker John Cornyn: “If you called central casting and asked to send a senator, they’d send you, John. If you asked for a terrorist, they’d send me.”

* Fred Thompson: “He had an interesting take on No Child Left Behind. He married one.”

* Rudy Giuliani: “He bypassed Iowa. He bypassed New Hampshire. He bypassed 2008!”

"Quality" Wins

The latest Mark Penn spin -- namely that Obama doesn't have (to use a phrase that we will be hearing in a few weeks on Selection Sunday) any "quality wins" -- has gone over about as well as would be expected in the blogosphere.

But the MSM is making a mistake in thinking about attributing value to anything other than what matters at this point: namely, pledged (or earned) delegates.

Who won which state, or who is doing better with which Democrat voting bloc, or whether caucuses or primaries are a better test of voting, are all flawed. Take the last point, for instance.

Caucuses exist because they are cheap for the states. No polling places, no contested results, no mess. The local parties pay for their own facilities (caucus places) and they decide the rules.

Caucuses, from a campaign point of view, are expensive. They require relentless organization and effort. They are hard-to-predict. They usually (especially in Iowa) reward experience party operatives, and those people are heavily courted by presidential campaigns.

Sometimes, like John McCain did in 2000, and to a lesser extent this year, campaigns will make a strategic decision to write off the (Iowa) caucuses as being too "costly" both in terms of candidate time and money, but that means that the campaign has decided to invest in other locales. Or can't afford to play. Or both.

But it is usually the insurgent candidate that makes the decision to write off caucuses. The argument that the Clinton camp is currently making, saying that caucuses shouldn't count because they disadvantage Clinton supporters, should laugh-out-loud funny because it is Hillary, not Obama, who is the candidate of "institutional" support.

The fact that Obama has rung up wins in most of the caucuses following Iowa (where he won a truly contested caucus) is not an argument for discounting them; rather, the mismanagement of Clinton campaign resources (both organizational time and money) has allowed Obama to dominate the caucuses, which has been the real source of his current (and perhaps unsurmountable) delegate lead.

At the end of the day, to paraphrase another Democratic nominee, there is only one valid test for being the Democratic nominee: to accumulate more delegates than the other candidates.

Win, or Win Big?

James Carville (speaking in Orlando), as relayed by Mike Allen:
"She's behind. Make no mistake. If she loses either Texas or Ohio, this thing is done."

Trouble in Big D

Turns out that Devean George i$n't the only problem in the proposed Jason-Kidd-back-to-Dallas deal.

Jerry Stackhouse apparently said yesterday that if the trade went through, there's still a good chance that he would be bought out of his contract by the Nets and end up (after a 30-day wait) coming back to the Mavs for the playoffs. (Reminiscent of the Celtics trade a few years ago involving Gary Payton and Antoine Walker.)

But by talking about it openly, Stackhouse may have killed the golden goose:

'If Stackhouse had kept quiet, the league wouldn't have been able to prove anything,' one Western Conference executive said. 'Now, it's obvious that he talked to Mark Cuban about coming back to the Mavericks.'

The salary cap ramifications of the deal -- and the prospective buyout of Stackhouse by the Nets -- may make the trade too fragile to survive these repeated storms. Only time will tell.

If the Dallas trade falls apart, then the Utah Jazz's trade for Kyle Korver (which gives them a reliable outside threat off the bench) becomes the #3 impact trade; the Jazz are four games back in the loss column (to surprising New Orleans) for home court advantage in the West.

A Blind Squirrel?

As predicted a week ago, the pressure that must be growing on Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) to switch his support at the DNC from Hillary to Obama is starting to have an effect.

The Jeff Zeleny and Patrick Healy in the NY Times reported this morning that "Lewis said Thursday night that he planned to cast his vote as a superdelegate for Senator Barack Obama in hopes of preventing a fight at the Democratic convention."

Lewis was quoted as saying:
'In recent days, there is a sense of movement and a sense of spirit,' said Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who endorsed Mrs. Clinton last fall. 'Something is happening in America, and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap.'

Although his spokesman apparently tried to "walk" the statement back, the reality is that Lewis, was a national civil rights leader when Bill Clinton was still playing in the high school marching band. For him to be part of the rejection -- and it would be a rejection if Obama leads in pledged (or, a word the Obama ought to be using, "earned") delegates going into the Convention -- of the first credible African-American presidential candidate by the Democratic party is untenable.

The reality is that Hillary needs significantly more than a simple majority of the delegates (2,025) to win; there are many superdelegates currently pledged to Clinton whose district -- or state -- has supported, or will likely be supporting, Obama. Moreover, if Hillary wins the nomination but does not win the general election, her political career (at least at the Presidential level) will be over. Obama is a young man, and will have a future (despite Michelle Robinson Obama's past statements to the contrary.)

For John Lewis to be vote #2025 for Hillary in Denver is hard to see.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Arming Up in the West

Although the Celtics remain atop the NBA standings, with a 40-9 record, the Western Conference is still the most likely to produce the eventual league champ.

Three different contenders have made moves in the past 10 days to 'upgrade':

1. Dallas. In a deal that has yet to be finalized, the Mavs were set to ship Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, Maurice Ager, and Devean George for Jason Kidd and Malik Allen. George has (as of this writing) vetoed the deal based on a provision in his contract, although the bet here is that the teams will find $ome way to get George comfortable with the potential move to New Jer$ey.

Assuming the deal gets done, the Mavs have made a major move in a very competitive conference. The move would be a return to Dallas for Kidd, who was drafted out of Cal by the Mavs management (pre-Mark Cuban), and was Rookie-of-the-Year (along with Grant Hill) before being shipped to Phoenix. Although getting long in the tooth at age 34, he would provide Dallas with a 'true' point guard who might help the Mavs fill the slot that has been empty since 2004-05 when another point guard was shipped from the Big D to Phoenix.

2. PHX. The Suns, meanwhile, rolled the dice a week ago by trading Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for the Big Diesel. At age 35, Shaq has even more miles on the treads than Kidd (or, for that matter, Indiana Jones), but he offers the Suns something that they have not had in years: a low-post presence.

Since 1999, only one team (the 2004 Pistons) have won an NBA title without either O'Neill or Tim Duncan in the middle. The Suns, who have tried to win with a European-style fast-strike offense that has bogged down in the playoffs in each of the past three years. Despite the brilliance of back-to-back MVP Steve Nash, the Suns weren't going to win with this group.

Suns GM Tim Kerr rolled the dice with Shaq, and like Dallas, the "future is now."

3. LA Lakers. The Lakers, having seemingly settled the differences with Kobe Bryant, made their own move by acquiring Pau Gasol for his brother (Marc) and a collection of marginal NBA talent.

P. Gausol is just 27 years old, and has already been named the MVP of the FIBA World Championships (in 2006). Although the move helps the Lakers now, it also makes them contenders for the next few seasons.

The Suns and Mavs, however, can't think about tomorrow. They have to win now.

Pat Forde Discovers the A-10

A shout out to ESPN's Pat Forde, who caught up with the fact that the A-10 is having (so far) a BCS-style season.

Since Saint Joseph's was ranked No. 1 and made a run to the Elite Eight in 2004, it has been lean times for this league. But the A-10 is cycling up right now, having a year similar to Missouri Valley's breakthrough 2006.

The A-10 has a .647 nonconference winning percentage, its best in 14 years and the fourth-best since the league was founded 31 seasons ago. The conference RPI ranks seventh nationally, after being 10th last year, 11th in 2006 and 15th in 2005.

Let's hope that the NCAA Selection Committee also is paying attention.

That's "Mister Chairman", By the Way

Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee testified side-by-side, and one (or both) of them may have put himself into legal jeopardy by making false testimony to Congress.

Meanwhile, here's how not to interact with a Member of Congress who's summing up a full day of conflicting testimony that apparently got quite heated:

Looks like there's a new face of steroids in baseball, replacing Barry Bonds (hat-tip: ME) and his name is "Roger Clemens." But on the other hand, Mr. McNamee is no one's idea of a star witness.

The Alamo or the Battle of Wisconsin Heights?

There are already indications that the Clinton campaign is re-thinking its strategy of ceding Wisconsin to Obama.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported this morning:

After sending out mixed signals about its seriousness here, the Clinton campaign took several steps Monday that it said underscored its commitment to the Wisconsin contest. It launched its first TV ads, almost a week after Obama went on the air. It announced that former President Clinton will campaign Thursday in Wisconsin. It announced that Sen. Clinton will be in the state from Saturday night through Tuesday morning, the day of the primary.

Will the Clinton forces retreat to a last stand in Texas (shades of the Alamo) or try to duplicate the successful raid known as the Battle of Wisconsin Heights?

The End of the Beginning?

With decisive wins in all three "Potomac Primaries" last night, Obama may have moved past the equilibrium among Democratic party constituents that seemed to exist in the days after Super Tuesday: he had young voters, African-American voters, and upscale voters; Hillary had Latinos, older voters and women.

But last night in Virginia, which is a large, diverse state, Hillary did quite poorly. As one observer wrote, her performance was like Mike Huckabee's -- only performing in the rural, less-populated counties near West Virginia and Tennessee.

Now the calendar starts to work against Hillary. There are no events until next Tuesday (Feb 19th) when Wisconsin and Hawaii vote. Moreover, Hillary has indicated that she has written off both states, choosing to "Stand and Fight" (to coin a phrase) in Texas and Ohio, which are 20 days from today, on March 4th. Obama's momentum in the meantime will continue to grow.

But if Hillary allows Obama to continue to cut into voters who are lower on the education/economic scale, as he did last night, neither Texas nor Ohio will save her. And she has to do more than re-tool, she has to re-load.

Where to go? Matt Cooper (who is married to Clinton adviser Mandy Grunwald), suggests Social Security:
I don't know why the campaign hasn't done more with Obama's saying that he was open lifting the taxable income cap on Social Security above its current $97,000. That's a huge tax increase for people who don't think they're rich. It's a place to start.

It's also consistent with Clinton primary history. In 1992, Bill Clinton hammered Paul Tsongas in the Florida primary with the (very questionable) claim that Tsongas would cut Social Security benefits and "harm Israel." Tsongas responded with the weaker -- but historically accurate -- barb of calling Clinton a "pander bear."

Don't be surprised to see Hillary take a page out of her husband's playbook on Social Security, especially in Ohio (if Camp Clinton doesn't reassess its chances in Wisconsin first).

But Obama is in a much stronger position -- financially and politically -- than Tsongas was in the spring of 1992. Like Bill Clinton then, Obama is now the front-runner, and leading the delegate count.

And if Hillary can't win Ohio and Texas -- and convincingly -- then we may be seeing, with reference to the words of one statesman, not the end of the beginning, but rather the beginning of the end.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

With Friends Like This...

The Clinton campaign has done a good job of lowering expectations going into today's "Potomac Primary" (VA, MD, and DC) and giving themselves two more weeks to prepare for the 'firewall' of TX and OH.

But at least one superdelegate apparently didn't get the "full memo":

“She has to win both Ohio and Texas comfortably, or she’s out,” said one superdelegate who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment. “The campaign is starting to come to terms with that.”

Friday, February 8, 2008

A-10 in the Top 25

A little more college basketball: a conference that you (probably) haven't thought about this year is having a very good season, at least according to the (much-maligned) RPI. Here are the Atlantic-10 standings:
Through games of Thursday, February 7
Overall / Conf / Overall
W-L / W-L / RPI
Xavier 19-4 / 7-1 / 15
Saint Joseph's 15-6 / 6-2 / 45
Rhode Island 19-4 / 5-3 / 23
Richmond 12-9 / 5-3 / 102
Temple 11-10 / 4-3 / 79
Charlotte 13-8 / 4-3 / 89
Dayton 16-5 / 4-4 / 14
Massachusetts 15-7 / 4-4 / 22
Duquesne 14-7 / 4-4 / 91
La Salle 8-12 / 4-4 / 190
St. Louis 11-10 / 3-5 / 122
Fordham 7-11 / 2-5 / 180
St. Bonaventure 7-14 / 1-6 / 235
George Washington 5-13 / 1-7 / 254

4 teams in the top-25 RPI is nothing to sneer at, although the season is still young. The A-10 is not getting much respect from AP voters, with just one school (Xavier, #13) in the top-25, and two others (Rhode Island, St. Joes) ARV. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Rhode Island in, and St. Joes out, of the NCAA Tournament.

Thanks for the Memories

A year ago, LSU Coach John Brady was coming off a Final Four appearance, and was returning Glen (Big Baby) Davis, a pre-season All-American.

Last year LSU fell back to a disappointing 17-15 (5-11 SEC) record; Davis meanwhile, became a cautionary tale, falling from a possible lottery pick in 2006 to the second round (#35 overall) last June.

Brady, meanwhile, has apparently been fired as head coach of LSU; he will coach his final game tomorrow against #7 Tennessee.

Patience is not apparently a virtue, at least in Baton Rouge.

Deadline: May 2nd

Here's a date that may be relevant in this year's Presidential primary calendar: May 2nd.

In Georgia, that's the last day for qualifying to run in the "General Primary", to be held on July 15.

While the average voter may not be aware of that date, it's a good bet that Democratic office-holders, like Georgia's John Lewis, are.

Lewis is a legend of the civil rights era: he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); he spoke at the March on Washignton in 1963, he marched in Selma in 1965, and is currently serving his 11th term as a Congressman from Georgia's 5th congressional district, which is comprised mainly the city of Atlanta. He is also a superdelegate who endorsed Hillary Clinton in October.

Georgia went for Obama by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Fulton County, which is essentially the city of Atlanta, went for Obama by a 3-to-1 margin. (Results for the 5th CD are not available; just by county.) Finally, exit polls indicate that African-American voters in Georgia supported Obama by close to 9-to-1 margins.

So should John Lewis be worried about a primary challenge? Probably not. After all, he's a icon of the Civil Rights movement, and has decades of good-will built up with the community. But he is probably not happy about having to explain a 'vote' that 75% to 90% of his constituents not only disagree with, but actually went to the polls and voted on.

Nor is he the only high-ranking African-American office-holder who has endorsed Hillary. Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs (OH) endorsed in April; Sheila Jackson-Lee endorsed in May; and Maxine Waters endorsed just before the California primary.

It's considered 'bad form' for any incumbent Congressperson to face a primary challenge. Moreover, the challenger usually has trouble raising money, and faces the argument that the district will lose the seniority and clout in Congress that has been built up by the sitting Representative.

In 2000, Congressman Bobby Rush was completing his 4th term in Congress. Another leader in the Civil Rights Era (although a few years younger than Lewis), Rush had been a member of SNCC from 1966 to 1968 and was a co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party in 1968. He also was a Chicago Alderman for 8 years. (Rush himself had unseated an incumbent Congressman, Charles Hayes, in a Democratic primary in 1992.)

But in late 1999, Rush faced a challenge in the Democratic primary from a rising young star. Rush had the support of the party, including then-President Bill Clinton; in 1991, Rush had been the first Illinois elected official to support then-Governor Clinton. The challenger entered the race in September, 1999, six months before the primary, but campaigning was halted by all parties (including a third female candidate) in mid-October, when Mr. Rush's 29-year-old son was shot, and after four days in a Chicago hospital, died. As an observer noted, “That incident seemed to wash away any bad feelings that voters had or might have had about Bobby Rush.”

Bobby Rush survived that challenge in 2000, winning in the end by a comfortable 61-30% margin.

His opponent that winter? Then State Senator Barack Obama.

Footnote: Just last week, calling it "one of the most difficult decisions" he's made in politics, and after endorsing one of Obama's opponents in the 2004 Senate primary, Rush endorsed Obama for President. Said Rush:
We come from the same neighborhood and represent the same constituency, and I'm going to be with my constituency and Sen. Obama.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Total Votes Cast

Good data out of on cumulative votes cast for the two Dems yesterday, but was frankly surprised to not see the running total last night on either MSNBC or the self-proclaimed "best political team on television."


Clinton: 50.2% (7,347,971)

Obama: 49.8% (7,294,851)

Super-Size Me

The MSM is catching up with the fact that if neither Hillary nor Obama can knock the other out over the next few weeks, we are heading towards a brokered convention, or at least one where the so-called superdelegates (generally elected officials) will have the deciding vote(s).

A few thoughts:

* Expect very few super-delegates to commit in the next few weeks, and those that are 'announced' are probably merely making public those decisions that were made days or weeks ago.

* Strength at the top of the ticket. Undecided super-delegates facing tough election challenges will be trying to figure out who will best help them get re-elected.

* Money matters. Another good way to get re-elected? Raise a lot of money. Obama may have a subtle advantage because he has raised more money from small-dollar donors and those who are otherwise new to the system. Hillary's support is from known, established contributors; Obama's are more likely to be 'friends we haven't met yet.'

* States' rights. Obama has won more states than Hillary, although she has won more of the larger states. If that trend continues, there may be a small advantage to Obama because just as small states are relatively more powerful in Congress thanks to the federalist system, small states are 'over-represented' among superdelegates.

* Michigan and Florida. Hillary won the 'majority' of the delegates for both Michigan and Florida, albeit in un-contested primaries. Expect a big push from the Clinton camp to get these delegations seated, although Obama will fight to the end to keep these swing delegates from affecting the outcome.

* The Edwards delegates. John Edwards was awarded approximately 26 delegates before dropping out, which is the equivalent of 1% of the total needed to be nominated, or a small-sized state like Connecticut. In a race that appears to be heading for a tight finish, both camps will be fighting for these delegates.

Holding Serve

The current state of the Democratic primary may be best analogized to a tennis match. Hillary was 'serving' last night, with Obama having a chance to 'break' her in the symbolic states of Massachusetts and California, and to have a close result in New York. None of those occurred, which means that Hillary held.

This weekend has a somewhat uncertain expectation game in Louisiana, where the first presidential primary since Katrina (with all of its attendant population movements) will be held, together with caucuses in Washington State and Maine.

It's then on to the 'Chesapeake Primary' next week (Maryland, Virginia, DC) all on February 12th, which is at this point, seen an Obama 'serve.' But Hillary will be back on serve on March 4th, when Ohio and Texas vote, both seen as natural states for her because unions and Latinos, respectively.

The Ghost of Ronald Reagan

Elections, we are told, are about the future. But so far, the 2008 Presidential election has been very much about the past -- and the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

John McCain, fighting to get control of the fractious Republican party, will later this week dust off old black-and-white photos with the then-Governor Reagan taken shortly after he was released from captivity in Hanoi:

Mitt Romney has spent much of the past month attempting to lay claim to the mantle of "the Reagan legacy" himself, albeit without much success. (It should be noted that neither McCain nor Romney has observed Reagan's 11th Commandment.)

On the Democratic side, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama famously engaged in a squabble during the South Carolina primary about whether Obama supported Reagan's politics, and whether Reagan was "transformative" political figure.

But the real parallel may be with Reagan's 1976 campaign for the nomination. Like Obama, Reagan was running against a virtual incumbent (Gerald Ford), at least in the eyes of the party, but one who had never been elected. Like 1976, the field was a two-person race (Reagan was actually almost knocked out of the running in the early primaries, rallying in North Carolina.) And like 1976, it appears that Obama will chase Hillary all the way to the convention, where Reagan gave one of the most famous concession speeches in modern political history.

And a speech that pointed the way to the Reagan sweep in 1980.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Debate Patty-cake

After the fireworks and hard feelings that surrounded the South Carolina primary, last night's Los Angeles debate -- the last one before Super Tuesday -- was like a game of patty-cake.

From the opening moments, when Obama politely held Hillary's chair for her, to the final image, where the two had a quiet joke before turning to shake hands with the panel and greet the crowd, the tone was civil and -- one might say -- senatorial.

After close to $200 million dollars raised, and attacks on both sides, as a wag might say, Where is the outrage?

It is a rare two-person debate where both candidates believe that a polite exchange serves their interest. Usually, the front-runner wants a gaffe-free debate, knowing that only a large mistake -- or a Quayle-moment -- can make a huge difference. And the underdog needs to 'shake things up', letting the chips fall where they may.

Hillary (and her staff) clearly believed that she leads in most national polls, she needs to improve her "likeability", and that a non-contentious debate served her interests. And Obama (and his staff) clearly believed that her lead is shrinking overall, and in the first two-person-only debate, he would gain stature (and exposure and therefore support) simply by standing side-by-side with her.

One of the candidates is correct, and one is not.

As for the substance, Obama decided to get out ahead of Hillary's strength, health care. He also handled immigration well, until he stumbled into her previous "co-sponsorship" of "comprehensive immigration reform."

But is was Iraq, in the second hour, where the differences were made clear. Perhaps because of the conversational tone, Hillary decided to try explain -- rather than gloss over -- her 2002 vote for authorization, claiming that she received "personal assurances" from the White House that force was just a threat.

I believe that it is abundantly clear that the case that was outlined on behalf of going to the resolution -- not going to war, but going to the resolution -- was a credible case. I was told personally by the White House that they would use the resolution to put the inspectors in. I worked with Senator Levin to make sure we gave them all the intelligence so we would know what's there.

As Wolf Blitzer put it, such reliance could be seen as "naive."

Obama then closed the argument: Hillary says she will is experienced, and will be ready "on Day One." But the question is who will be right on Day One.

As noted before, it's unlikely that Super Tuesday will decide much of anything. Both candidates will gain delegates, and neither, it seems will get to that magic majority. This contest will move well into the spring, and it appears that even though Hillary has more institutional support, her chances of winning have peaked. Her best chance now is to "survive" Obama's primary challenge.

Pac-10 Hospitality

With the midpoint of the college basketball conference season upon us this week and next, the jostling for conference position and potential at-large bids to the NCAA tournament is well underway, but remains shrouded in the fog of parity among teams. The Big East, for instance, most closely resembles the Indy 500 under a yellow flag.

One distinction that always seems to enter the discussion around Selection Sunday is how teams have performed on the road. But the supposed test of a team's ability to perform in a hostile environment has a qualitative aspect as well. Let's examine the cumulative home records for each of the top 9 RPI conferences (through January 31):

W L Pct Diff from Avg RPI
SEC 24 11 68.6% 5.3% 5
MVC 34 16 68.0% 4.7% 8
B East 44 21 67.7% 4.4% 3
Big 12 22 11 66.7% 3.4% 4
ACC 23 14 62.2% -1.1% 1
Big 10 27 17 61.4% -1.9% 6
A10 25 16 61.0% -2.3% 7
MWC 17 11 60.7% -2.6% 9
P10 20 20 50.0% -13.3% 2

Total 236 137 63.3%

8 of the 9 conferences have home winning percentages between 60-70%, while the Pac-10 is a huge outlier at 50%. So, even with the advantage of a Thursday/Saturday schedule and significant travel distance, home teams only break even on the Left Coast. If that statistical pattern continues, it will mean that a "bubble" Pac-10 team (say, with a 10-8 conference record) will have about one more "good" win than their competitors in other high-RPI leagues for NCAA at-large spots.

Will it matter, and just as important, should it matter? I can see an scenario in which there are comparisions between Syracuse (1-3 road record in Big East) or Villanova (1-4 road record in Big East) and USC (3-2 road record with wins at UCLA and Oregon). I'm not sure, however, that committee members will correctly weight the abundance of road wins available in the Pac-10 this year for all teams.

The good news is that research shows that road performance is not one of the top six "highly important" determinants of at-large selection. Don't think for one minute though that Dan Guerrero won't have the road argument lined up for his fellow Pac-10 institutions when the selection committee goes behind closed doors.