For the last couple of weeks Ive noticed a few of you seem to have noted a particular bias on my part towards Barack Obama. Ive never tried to disguise the fact that Im pro-Obama and probably do show some prejudice towards the junior Senator in my reporting. I dont think that makes my overall assessments any more or less valid, but still, for the sake of fairness let me set this column off on a positive note for Hillary Clinton. For what its worth, you have to admit that Clintons campaign is amazingly resilient. Obamas taken the last eight races in a row; shes lost her campaign manager, her deputy campaign manager, and has had one of her most important endorsements become equivocal in her support, and still she perseveres in the face of nearly fanatical enthusiasm for her opponent. Not only is she persevering, but she is still the forerunner in this race.
Last time I spoke of how important the Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania races would be in this primary season, and in those states she holds very, very, very strong leads. True, the momentum curve is decidedly in Obamas direction, but the big question is does he have enough time to get those numbers to flip. One thing that the media forgets to mention is that for Obama to get the lead in elected delegates (lets put aside the Super Delegates for a moment-who, unless they want the Republicans to win in November, will do everything possible to avoid having to vote against the populace) he cant just neglect the smaller states and hit the big ones. Hes got to take those to keep the heat on Clinton, while Clinton has the advantage of skipping ahead and making her stand with the large states.
Ive mentioned some of the positives Obamas looking at going into the last leg of the campaign, but lets not forget what Hils got going for her. Assuming that the poll numbers remain static, she will get a huge boost in delegates from the aforementioned states. While Obamas challenged her argument that hes inexperienced he hasnt fully defeated it, and among Hillary supporters that I speak to, experience remains their number one reason to support her (followed by her historical advocacy for universal health coverage). Furthermore, the more aggressive Obama supporters become, the more they will drive Clinton supporters further into Clintons arms.
While all of these points wont create new Clinton supporters it does help her to consolidate her electorate. Finally, his unwillingness to debate Clinton is a bad look that shes been willing to exploit in a new series of attack ads. Im not certain how effective these ads will be, but its the right move for both camps. Obama, stylistically, isnt as good of a debater as Hillary, and considering that they share too many policies, a debate between them will be in Hillarys favor, something that both sides acknowledge. There will be one more debate between them; but, assuming Hil takes Ohio and Texas, it will be before Pennsylvania as Obama throws the Hail Mary and tries to grab the last big state in play. [*Ed note-Last night, despite aforementioned ads in Wisconsin, Obama won convincingly, bolstered by support from Wisconsins governor who blasted the ads two nights before. He cut into Hilary bulkheads of working class voters and white women. Obama also won the Hawaii Caucus. McCain also took decisive contests in Washington State and Wisconsin]
From a political wonk standpoint, one has to be amazed at Obama skill at playing the game, as he continues to find creative ways to bring new voters into the fold using an astonishing political jujitsu. As Obama used the last CNN debate to try out his Being Right From Day One slogan, he also tried out attacking McCain to see how he would look as a general election candidate. It turns out that he liked that look and this week hes advanced that strategy, attacking McCain again in his victory speech after the Potomac primary:
"When I am the nominee, I will offer a clear choice. John McCain wont be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the beginning. Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House.
McCains response was a little less than inspiring:
"To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude."
This exchange was more than telling; rather, this will be the argument come fall should Obama become the Democratic nominee. (Oh, and McCain is the GOP nom: Huckabee is still in the race but it would take divine intervention for him to win, as that it is now mathematically impossible for him to win. Good thing he believes in God.) McCain and Obama will face off as the pragmatist versus the dreamer; surging versus withdrawal, hawk versus dove, and while I wont presume to say who will win (hey, I would have bet real money on Kerry in 04) I will say that this is a battle that Obama should win. On its most visceral level its old against young, and put them next to each other and your fall match up looks like Tyrese against the Crypt Keeper. But beyond that, McCain is pinning all of his hopes on the surge and as Ross Douthat notes, regardless if the surge is working or not, no one knows about it.
The polling numbers on the war havent changed significantly in months and they wont unless the media reports it; but the war, for better or worse, is old news and has been relegated to page 5, only to resurface when something bad happens, because if it bleeds it leads. In this dynamic the general population will always think of the Iraq as a negative so if McCain wants to loop that noose around his neck, Obama will be more than happy to find a tree.
Things to look for this week: Primaries in Hawaii, Washington State, and Wisconsin, and Hiillary will be more vocal in calling for a debate with Obama, and the name Tony Rezko will come up more often as his trial approaches. Look for There Will Be Blood to take best picture at the Oscars, and when it does one candidate will make a milkshake reference.
The Wolf runs a blog on political matters at www.wordofthepeople.blogspot.com. His first novel, The Intellectual Prostitute, will be dropping this Fall