RealTime: Epic Showdown Not Going Away

Emily Douglas

CNN called tonight's primary contests in Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island "an epic political showdown." And it's still unclear who can declare him or herself the victor.

CNN called tonight's primary contests in Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island "an epic political showdown." And it's still unclear who can declare him or herself the victor.

"You have to admire the gumption of Hillary Clinton," said Jeffrey Toobin, citing her cliff-edge recovery from two and now perhaps, just perhaps, three "political near-death experiences." Clinton has won Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island; Vermont, the only state Tuesday in which a majority of voters chose Iraq as their priority issue, went strongly for Obama. Obama is leading in the Texas caucus, a separate event from the primary.

Obama in San Antonio and Clinton in Columbus both gave stirring speeches. Obama assured his audiences, "We will not stand for the politics that uses religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon." Clinton addressed hers: “For everyone in America who has been counted out but refused to be knocked out, and for everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up and for everyone who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you!" But as the NYT Caucus blog pointed out, Obama looks unusually grim tonight. It's a rare occasion that a Clinton speech causes my heart to thud more heavily than an Obama speech, but tonight is one of those time. A few pundits have used the "mo-" word for Clinton — some say she has it, some say she doesn't, and still others point out that momentum or no momentum, delegate counts don't lie.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, it's all wrapped up! After defeating Mike Huckabee in all four contests, John McCain took his party's nomination. “No one has ever gotten this far with such limited resources,” Huckabee said in his concession speech.

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With Primary Wins, Clinton Is First Woman to Become Presumptive Nominee of Major Party

Ally Boguhn

Celebrating her victory at a rally in Brooklyn Tuesday night, the former secretary of state pointed to the historic nature of her campaign. "Thanks to you, we've reached a milestone: the first time in our nation's history that a woman will be a major party's nominee," declared Clinton.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared herself the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for the 2016 presidential election after a string of Tuesday night primary victories and a survey of superdelegates conducted by the Associated Press (AP).

Celebrating her victory at a rally in Brooklyn Tuesday night, Clinton pointed to the historic nature of her campaign. “Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone: the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee,” declared Clinton. “Tonight’s victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.”

Going on to praise rival Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for “the extraordinary campaign he has run,” Clinton pointed to the shared goals of the two campaigns. “Let there be no mistake, Senator Sanders, his campaign, and the vigorous debate that we’ve had about how to raise incomes, reduce inequality, increase upward mobility, have been very good for the Democratic party and for America.” 

Clinton went on to pivot to the general election, criticizing presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump as “temperamentally unfit to be president and commander in chief.” Clinton then spoke of the road ahead: “The end of the primaries is only the beginning of the work we are called to do,” she said. “But if we stand together, we will rise together, because we are stronger together.”

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Tuesday’s presidential primaries boosted Clinton’s delegate lead over Sanders, with wins in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. Sanders won both Montana and the North Dakota caucuses. NBC News reported that night that, projecting a win in California, Clinton had secured more than half of all pledged delegates in the Democratic primary:

Based on initial vote reports from California, NBC News has allocated 140 delegates to both Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders. That gives Clinton 2,043 delegates, more than half of the pledged delegates up for grabs throughout the primary season.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue, whose organization endorsed Clinton in January, reiterated the organization’s support for the former secretary of state in a Tuesday night statement. “Secretary Clinton’s victory tonight is a victory for all women because she is the model of a true champion for reproductive freedom,” said Hogue. “NARAL will be out in force to make sure Hillary Clinton is our next president—not Donald Trump.”

Clinton has been a vocal supporter of reproductive rights while on the campaign trail, though the Democratic candidate has also signaled her support for restrictions on some later abortions.

The former secretary of state reportedly spoke of the historical significance of a potential win Tuesday night during a campaign stop in California, prior to reports that she had become the party’s presumptive nominee.

“My supporters are passionate. They are committed. They have voted for me in great numbers across the country for many reasons,” said Clinton Monday according to the Washington Post. “But among the reasons is their belief that having a woman president would make a great statement—a historic statement—about what kind of country we are, what we stand for. It’s really emotional.”

Tuesday also marked the eight-year anniversary of Clinton’s speech conceding the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, which similarly mentioned the progress her campaign had made for women. “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it’s got about 18 million cracks in it and the light is shining through like never before,” said Clinton that night, urging her supporters to back her rival in the race for president.

AP first projected Clinton as the presumptive nominee Monday after conducting a “count of pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses and a survey of party insiders known as superdelegates,” ultimately concluding that the Democratic candidate had the required 2,383 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Sanders and his supporters swiftly condemned the media for calling the race before Tuesday’s primaries results were in. “It is unfortunate that the media, in a rush to judgment, are ignoring the Democratic National Committee’s clear statement that it is wrong to count the votes of superdelegates before they actually vote at the convention this summer,” said Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs in a Monday statement.

“Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination,” continued Briggs. “Our job from now until the convention is to convince those superdelegates that Bernie is by far the strongest candidate against Donald Trump.”

As the New York Times’ The Upshot blog explained, this is not the first time a count including superdelegates was used to declare a presumptive nominee. “The news networks projected that Mr. Obama was the presumptive nominee in the 2008 Democratic primary based on the same rules for tabulating superdelegates,” noted writer Nate Cohn Tuesday.

Politico reported last week Sanders would need “to persuade nearly 200 Hillary Clinton superdelegates to bolt from her camp” in order to win the nomination—a difficult feat given that thus far no superdelegates have made that switch and only about 30 changed candidates in 2008.

Even as Tuesday night’s results came in, Sanders pledged to continue his fight for the Democratic nomination. “Next Tuesday we continue the fight in the last primary in Washington, D.C. … And then we take our fight for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” said Sanders during a rally in California.

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With College’s Price Tag on the Rise, Democratic Candidates Aim for ‘Debt-Free’ Higher Education

Andrea Grimes

States across the country continue to reduce their public investment in education. With that in mind, Democratic presidential candidates are tackling the question of how to make college affordable (again) for American students.

The price of higher education is on the rise: The cost of attending a public four-year college rose by 39 percent between 2003 and 2013, and states across the country continue to reduce their public investment in education. With that in mind, Democratic presidential candidates are tackling the question of how to make college affordable (again) for American students. The big buzzwords: “debt-free” and “tuition-free.”

Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton released what her campaign is calling a “New College Compact,” while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed his own version of a completely retooled public higher education mechanism in May. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley detailed his own “debt-free” plan in July.

While Clinton’s plan is currently garnering the most buzz, the three most visible Democratic candidates’ ideas are roughly similar: They would all significantly step up the role of the federal government in funneling money to states to assist students with tuition costs at public schools. In some students’ cases, this money could potentially cover tuition entirely—as long as university and college systems meet certain accountability standards.

This, experts say, reflects the downturn in public funding institutions have received over the last few decades, as states funnel taxpayer dollars away from higher education.

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“There’s a recognition that one of the reasons why prices for students have gone up so dramatically over the past ten, 20, 30 years is that states have been disinvesting from higher education systems,” said Rachel Fishman, a policy analyst at New America, a nonprofit think tank that, according to its mission statement, specializes in “impartial analysis.” She said that because of tight recession budgets and mandated spending on items like health care, states have significantly dropped their spending on post-secondary education.

Fishman called the general tenor of the plans a kind of “new federalism for higher education,” with candidates trying to figure out “how to get states to reinvest back into their systems of higher ed.”

Clinton’s proposal, for example, focuses on that reinvestment throughout its major tenets. For states that “halt disinvestment in higher education” and “ramp up that investment over time,” according to Clinton’s proposal, the federal government would issue grants to cover tuition costs based on the enrollment numbers of low- and middle-income students.

It would also continue President Obama’s plan for tuition-free community college; cut student loan interest rates; dedicate money specifically for “modest-endowment private colleges,” especially those which “serve a high percentage of Pell Grant recipients” and which historically serve students of color; implement income-based loan repayment plans across the board; expand Americorps and services provided under the GI Bill; and extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Clinton’s plan has an estimated cost of $350 billion over the next decade—parents and families are expected to pick up an income-proportional cost of tuition—while Sanders’ plan has an estimated cost of $750 billion for the same time period and would effectively offer two free years of college to everyone, not just community college students.

While all three candidates’ proposals so far involve refinancing existing student loans, a popular idea that’s garnered bipartisan support, Fishman cautioned that refinancing doesn’t ultimately address the wider problem, which is the overall cost of schooling.

Refinancing, she said, “would certainly benefit some students, but it doesn’t buy a lot” because “the overall savings for the student is not really high.” Lower interest rates would be an advantage mainly, she said, to “those who borrowed the most, and who are most likely to graduate.”

“The question is, ‘What is your policy priority?'” she said. “If it’s degree attainment, we need to concentrate on low-income students and student loan interest rates are not the way to do it. But that’s what the middle class and upper middle class are really into.” Instead, says Fishman, it’s that state-federal partnership that’s key to giving states an incentive to keep tuition low so that low- and middle-income students can succeed.

Ditto for the tax credit, said Fishman—it’s another advantage that largely benefits middle- and upper-income student loan borrowers.

But the cost of tuition isn’t the only concern for America’s growing population of college students.

Gov. O’Malley’s plan also focuses specifically on implementing services like child care that could assist many students in maintaining enrollment and graduating.

That’s important, said Fishman, because the typical college student doesn’t look so much like the traditionally imagined 18-year-old who’s “going to the lovely campus with grass and sitting on the lawn and reading and then going back to the dorms.”

Forty percent of today’s college students are attending community college, she said, “which kind of blows people’s minds.”

“They’re commuting, and around 30 percent of community college students have children,” she said, which means they need more support outside of the classroom. Services like child care and assistance finding benefits like SNAP are essential. Otherwise, said Fishman, “for students, especially low-income students who have lives outside the classroom who are taking care of others and are the breadwinner for the family, it’s just not going to work for them.”

So far, no Republican candidate has proposed anything like the detailed plans from the Democratic side, though that may change once what Fishman called the “noisy field” of the GOP quiets some. But Fishman doesn’t expect conservatives to embrace the debt-free angle.

“I don’t see any of them saying, ‘Let’s do debt-free college,'” said Fishman. “They’re going to have a counterpoint.”

Nevertheless, Fishman said she was encouraged that conversations about solutions to state disinvestment are happening at all.

“If you’d told me a year ago we’d be having this discussion about federal-state partnerships,” she said, “I’d be surprised that so many candidates have come out to focus on this.”

But in any discussion about the rising cost of college and attendant student loans, she said, real solutions will have to address the disinvestment issue, as all three Democratic proposals do.

“The fear students are feeling over loans has everything to do with price they’re facing,” said Fishman. “Until you address the price question, the solutions you come up with for student loan problem are ad hoc.”