Barack Obama passed another key threshold Tuesday. He has now won an absolute majority of the delegates earned in the primary and caucus season. With two weeks to go in this marathon Democratic race, he has bested the strongest brand in the Democratic Party — the Clintons — and an impressive field of, frankly, more experienced figures.
In the process, Obama, thanks both to a network of elite fundraisers drawn to his cause and, more importantly, an unprecedented Internet fundraising operation, has shattered all presidential primary fundraising records. He has raised three times as much money as the presumptive Republican nominee, America’s most famous Vietnam War hero, the estimable John McCain, who is a quarter century older than the tyro senator from Illinois.
On Tuesday night, Obama won big in Oregon, the largest state left in the Democratic contest. And he lost bigger in Kentucky, where Hillary and Bill Clinton essentially camped out for much of the past week.
Obama’s victory in Oregon, 58% to 41%, is impressive. I know the state well. In some ways, it is a second home state for me, given my late war hero dad’s wanderlust ways. Lots of small town folks there, nearly all of them white. Most don’t drink white wine. It’s much more of a beer state. Yet I knew Obama would do well there, given his post-partisan change framing and environmental rhetoric, which plays in nicely to the the classic Beaver State: “Don’t Californicate Oregon.”
Obama did surprise me when he drew a record 75,000 to his Sunday rally in Portland. God only knows how many he will draw to general election rallies, when the Dems are again united.
But Obama, in my view, made a mistake in not campaigning at all in Kentucky. While Hillary Clinton, a very strong candidate — let’s recall that, for all her campaign’s whining today about the media, she was “inevitable” to all but a few of us in the press virtually all of last year — was always going to win the Bluegrass State, she didn’t have to win it 65% to 30%.
Demographics, and branding, are proving to be destiny in the hard-fought Democratic race. Kentucky, like West Virginia, is heavily white and among the lowest ranked in America in college education, both bad indicators for Obama.
And the Clintons, no matter what they may tell themselves, and fitfully issue forth through their increasingly skeptical advisors, are on a glide path. No more attacks on Obama.
But while they are on a glide path, Obama is on a sort of cruise control.
And cruise control, in the end, does not win elections. Not when you are running against so likable and formidable a character as John McCain.
Obama should have gone into Kentucky, even though he doesn’t need to win it to beat McCain, and started addressing some obvious concerns about him. Namely, that he is too aloof, too elite, etc.
Roll up his sleeves, roll into diners, roll with folks who are unlikely to vote for him but do need to respect him if he is to be the president.
He didn’t do that.
And that was a mistake.
Obama and Chicago, as his high command is known, are betting on big dynamics in this election. They have been right as they have inexorably defeated what was supposed to be the most awesome national Democratic political machine in history, the Clintons.
The wind is certainly at their back as Democrats in what should be a bad year for Republicans. But Obama still has a lot to prove. And he didn’t go out of his way to prove it in the past week.