Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Seems The Clintons Had No Plan B

At least, not one that anyone would recognize as fair and clean politics.

Overall, Barack Obama has won 23 of the 35 matchups between him and Clinton. "

"NYT: Obama’s triumphs capped a week in which he went undefeated in states across the country, in many cases by big margins, over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. And his strength on Tuesday sliced across nearly every major demographic line, with one element standing out: in Virginia and Maryland, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls, he beat Mrs. Clinton among women. "

"CNN Projects Obama Now Ahead of Clinton in Total of Pledged and Superdelegates"

The Clinton campaign is still touting a last "Alamo" stand in Texas and Ohio, but as I noted in my blog the other day ,there are really two campaigns going on in each state and nationally: one for the perception battle and one for delegates. Obama is leading in both as of today, February 13.

It is far too early to declare a winner in the race for the Democratic Party Presidential Nomination, but it is likely that Obama will win both Hawaii and Wisconsin next Tuesday. (Like Iowa, Wisconsin is contiguous to Illinois and the Obama campaign can send volunteers up from Chicago. It's just a short drive to Milwaukee and Madison.)

At that point, the momentum factor, the large margins that Obama is winning by, his encroachment into Hillary Clinton's base, will all likely snowball. Even if Clinton were to "win" Texas and Ohio, Obama might pick up enough delegates in each state to stay ahead. Furthermore, the superdelegates and Clinton donors are no doubt starting to worry about Clinton's viability.

Whether one supports Clinton or Obama, a few political realities have become clear over the past couple of weeks.

First, the Clinton campaign hierarchy consists of insiders from the '90s who have not adapted to changing campaign tactics. They ran with an "inevitability Rose Garden" strategy and had no plan "B." Since February 5, when Hillary had said it would all be "wrapped up," they have been frantically improvising. Obama risked his campaign on a consistent and unwavering message; the Clinton campaign has tried on several of them, discarding them when they didn't have resonance.

In short, the Obama narrative ended up beating -- as of now -- the Clinton narrative. As more people are exposed to the Obama narrative -- whether you are turned on by it or not -- more people have backed him. The Clinton narrative has been choppy and ad hoc since Super Tuesday, and has paid a price for it.

Secondly, one of the major themes of the Clinton campaign has been that the New York Senator is "battle-tested" and better prepared to take on McCain and the right wing attacks. But that has been turned on its head by the fact that a junior Senator from Illinois has ended up putting the Clinton campaign on the ropes. It's hard to argue that you can demolish John McCain when you can't decisively defeat an opponent who came from nowhere, with no national name recognition, in your own party's primary. That is just common sense.

Modern politics has a lot to do with brand awareness and identity. That is why Nixon was able to come back in 1968 and win the presidency, after losing to JFK in 1960 and losing the governorship of California a couple of years later. Our national political leaders are -- in our over-marketed society -- brands. Brand Clinton has as close to a 100% recognition factor in the United States as a name can get. And most people have decided one way or another about how they feel toward brand Clinton.

Obama, on the other hand, had to launch a whole new brand. He stayed disciplined to his message -- even when in tight spots -- and has run a modern, highly effective national campaign against an opponent who has been campaigning with her husband and on her own for some 30 years. That Obama is sweeping primary after primary and eating into Clinton's fixed base of support makes it extremely difficult for Clinton to claim that she can run a more effective campaign.

Thirdly, the Democrats have for decades been looking to expand their base and break out of the Red State, Blue State gridlock. Obama, whatever one thinks of his narrative, has shown that he can pull in Independent and Republican voters and expand the Democratic voter base, particularly among young people (who are not just supporting him, but showing up at caucuses and to vote.) Clinton has won the delegates that she has based on a fixed voter base of traditional Democratic support. Party leaders and superdelegates want someone who can pull in new voters and expand the party's power through coattails. Obama has shown that he can do that.

Perhaps, Hillary Clinton, who rarely makes a gaffe and is an enthusiastic and well-honed campaigner, finally revealed one of the key reasons that the Clinton campaign is faltering. As we noted in another blog, when asked her reaction to Obama winning so many states over the weekend (including Maine, where once she was way ahead, as she had been in most states), Clinton responded that caucuses aren't representative because everyone knows that they are dominated by "activists." Such an attitude is so self-destructive to a party as to be almost suicidal. Any campaign wants to energize activists, not dampen them down. It was the first major mistake that we have heard from Clinton this campaign. It could have just been a way of trying to explain away the worrisome problem of losing so many states by such wide margins. But caucuses are the most transparent forms of democracy, in which people are the ballots. Her statement revealed a certain hubris about grassroots campaigning and bringing in new voters. In essence, the Clinton campaign against Obama would rather rely on a fixed base of "New Deal" coalition voters than expand the numbers of people in that base.

As one of our favorite lighter side contributors, Don Davis, satirically wrote: "Hillary: ‘Obama Has Built-in Advantage in States That Vote’"

Finally, on a different note, one of the axioms in politics is if you are ahead, you try to avoid too many debates. If you are behind, you try to have as many debates as possible and call your opponent "scared" if he or she refuses your challenge. Right now, the Clinton campaign is demanding a whole series of debates, even though there has just been a whole series of debates. It's the surest sign yet that the internal polling in the Clinton campaign is trending south.

It's been, as we said, an unpredictable primary. Surprising things can still happen. Only a fool would declare a winner of the nomination at this point.

But it's clear that things are not going well when you're rallying cry becomes, "Debate!"


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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

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