March 20, 2008

Clinton Bets Her Stake

As we watch Clinton try to keep her hopes alive in the minds of the press and the superdelegates, you have both admire her persistence, and shake your head about the train wreck to come.

She had to win on March 4th, take both Texas and Ohio in the primary, and win one of them reasonably big. March 4 was do or die day. She could not afford to think strategically, at all. She had to find a way to take Obama down no matter what it took, and so she adopted the kitchen sink approach. This meant hauling out tactics that would win the OH and TX contests, without regard to what that would mean on March 21. The worst of her positions, the ones that would not stand scrutiny over time, were pulled out on the weekend before the primary.

So, just before the primaries, she pulled out the NAFTA card, with a boost from the Conservative Canadian cabinet. She doubled down on the 35 years experience business, making specific claims about foreign policy initiatives she claimed to have been involved with. Also, if you were in comments sections that weekend you saw what looked like proponents with talking points that included a claim that she was Bill's real Vice President, referring to a metaphor Gail Sheehy used in a Vanity Fair article.

Taken individually, these are all weak arguments. To attack NAFTA was to attack the Clinton administration that she claims as her virtual incumbency. The foreign policy claim was ridiculous; she was not even cleared to read secure cables coming in from embassies around. The nearly VP claim was absurd,especially given the unprecedented role Gore played in the Clinton administration.

One by one, they arguments all kinda suck But taken together, these things were even worse, because she had to claim to be inconsequential on NAFTA, while terribly consequential on Kosovo and that Gore spent his time in office on the equivalent of playing golf with Dan Quayle.

The campaign recognized these were bad arguments, and they dropped them immediately, switching to "ZOMG he's BLACK" and therefore can't win, pitching to the press and to the superdelegates that his race made Obama fundamentally flawed. This was done using surrogates, and does not in the least bit imply that Clinton, or her most prominent surrogate, Geraldine Ferraro, is racist. Clinton was prefiguring the coming race, getting a boost from the cable television constant looping of the Wright content. (Chris Bowers confirms that Clinton is pushing the Wright story.)

Obama's Unity speech ended that attack, at least for now, and answered questions superdelegates had about Obama's capability under fire. However, polling indicates that she has raised doubts among key demographic groups in PA. Obama may not be able to repeat his past performances of closing an initial polling gap to either win, or lose narrowly.

We are in danger what several commentators have called the worst case scenario, a candidate selected in a less than transparent way, or a candidate with lagging, even negative momentum. A lot depends on how Obama's big speeches this week play out in the media over the next week.

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