Groundhog Day for the Dems
Six more nasty weeks until Pennsylvania
Six more nasty weeks until Pennsylvania
Somewhere between Texas and Ohio on Tuesday night the Democratic political groundhog saw his/her shadow and decreed at least another six weeks of campaigning.
After crucial wins on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said she was staying in and Barack Obama, somewhat comforted by his lead in delegates, will have to wait a while before claiming his historic prize. And while he remains in a strong position to eventually claim the nomination, Obama had to contend, once again, with a Lazarus act from Clinton, who in recent weeks has been described as "fading" and "finished."
Now Obama must deal with questions about whether he can close the deal; and we will get to see him, for the first time since New Hampshire, wrestle with a setback.
Bottom line: The show goes on, and it's going to get nastier.
With her back against the ropes, Clinton pulled out wins in Texas and Ohio to end Obama's 12-contest hot streak and keep her campaign alive. She now has her hopes tied to derailing Obama in Pennsylvania on April 22. Over the past week, voters witnessed the classic do-or-die kind of politics we have come to expect from the Clintons. Obama had been cutting into her base in surprising places like Wisconsin and Virginia, and in Ohio, she put a stop to it.
Obama retains a significant advantage in the delegate count , but the six weeks to Pennsylvania will allow the beleaguered Clinton campaign to further test its kitchen-sink strategy against him. They will continue to play tough in the desperate hope that he says or does something stupid or ridiculous in response. This may be her only hope, as the numbers are decidedly against her.
For Obama, Pennsylvania is the chance to get that Big State win that has eluded him so far. Apart from him home state of Illinois and neighboring Missouri, Obama has yet to win in any of the big important battleground states, while Clinton can point to significant wins in states that will be crucial in the general election.
Clinton made exactly that case to her supporters last night, declaring: "If we want a Democratic president, we need a Democratic nominee who can win the battleground states, just like Ohio," she said. "We've won Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Michigan, New Hampshire, Arkansas, California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Tennessee!"
It is likely that the Clinton strategy will be to try to disqualify Obama, by raising questions about his electability. He, on the other hand, will be forced to respond more directly to the attacks, while making the case that it is exactly the kind of politics that he would like to put behind him.
For Democrats in general, and for Obama in particular, it may be fitting that the decisive battle will be waged in Pennsylvania. For one thing, despite their many similarities and shared borders, Pennsylvania is not Ohio. The Keystone state is more Democratic and may be entitled to a greater say in who the Democratic nominee should be.
Pennsylvania has been has been trending Democratic for almost two decades. It has voted for the Democratic nominee in the last four presidential elections, but not since 1976 have Democratic voters in Pennsylvania had a decisive voice in choosing the party nomination.
"There's no template for it in the state," U. S. Sen. Bob Casey told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday. "We've never had two candidates come to Pennsylvania so evenly matched."
So I predict an outbreak of sports metaphors that will spread from Erie in the west to Philadelphia in the East: the campaigns will go into overtime; they will unveil their short games; their will throw long balls; they will attempt Hail Mary passes; they will try to steal home, and of course, both sides will be looking for the knockout punch.
For Obama, black voters in Philadelphia will be crucial. But he will face obstacles there. The current, very popular, African American mayor, Michael Nutter, is a Clinton supporter. The current governor, and former Philadelphia mayor, Edward Rendell is also with Clinton.
But black voters have consistently defied leadership endorsements of Clinton in this campaign. Their choice in Philadelphia could amount, for each candidate, to the difference between winning and losing.
In 2000, when Al Gone won the state's 23 electoral votes, he beat George W. Bush by 204, 840 votes, a feat only accomplished because he had piled up a 348,000 vote margin in Philadelphia. In 2004, the story line was the same, Bush lost Pennsylvania by a mere 144,000 votes, and came out of Philadelphia down 412,000 votes.
For Obama, a similar strategy may apply; he needs to open up a big enough margin in the city, to cushion his losses to Clinton elsewhere. Short of that, we'll find ourselves in Denver in August still trying to sort out something we thought would be over in February.
Terence Samuel is deputy editor of The Root .