Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Thoughts on Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas & Vermont

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 320

Hillary Clinton emerged victorious in some major contests last night, and that is big news if for no other reason than it is the first time anyone has been able to put the words "Clinton" and "victorious" in the same sentence in quite a while.

About the only conclusion that can be immediately drawn from last night's results is that the Democratic race has a ways to go before being settled (anyone in the room who didn't see that coming, go stand in the corner). The Clinton campaign can now draw its first breath since February 5 and turn its attention to what comes next. One gets the impression that when the Clinton campaign thinks "next," they mean Pennsylvania on April 22, but that ignores Wyoming's caucuses this coming Saturday and Mississippi's primary next Tuesday. Those two contests, while combining to offer just 45 delegates, are important in that they provide the winner with the chance to, in the Clinton version, build some momentum from last night's results and roll up some more "hey! wha' happun?" stories from the thunderstruck mainstream media, or, in the Obama version, diminish the atmospherics that now prevail after last night's voting and reinforce the daunting challenge Clinton faces in closing Obama's delegate lead, which remains little changed despite last night's outcome. The Clinton campaign has heretofore shown a tendency to look past small contests; we'll see whether that trend continues.

For the Republicans, or at least those Republicans who back John McCain, all is joy this morning: McCain numerically clinched the delegates required for nomination last night, and is scheduled to receive President Bush's endorsement in the White House Rose Garden this morning (for which gesture I, as a Democrat, am eternally grateful. John McCain standing side-by-side with George W. Bush, receiving the president's blessing to carry on with policies that have skyrocketed him to public approval ratings persistently below 30 percent? Now there's a Kodak moment!). Unfortunately for McCain, important segments of the GOP base still view him as little better than either of the remaining Democratic candidates, so the Straight Talk Express is facing a bumpy ride, not to mention an uphill one, going into November.

And for Barack Obama, the next few weeks present both challenge and opportunity. If Obama can recoup from last night with large-margin wins in Wyoming and Mississippi and roll out meaningful numbers of super delegate commitments, he can present the case that the delegate lead he enjoys leaves Clinton with no realistic path to the nomination, and renew his drive with the Democratic establishment to press for Clinton's withdrawal in the interests of party unity. In the event that Clinton remains in the race through Pennsylvania and beyond, the campaign is sure to continue its negative trend, and the challenge for Obama then becomes showing that he can take a punch and hit back effectively. Doing that without disillusioning those who look to him as the progenitor of a better political culture will be no easy feat, but if he can pull it off, it would enhance his image by adding an element of toughness to his change agent persona. That would serve him well going into a general election campaign against John McCain.

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