Hillary's Last Stand
A huge week in presidential politics, which may see the end of the Hillary Clinton campaign, though the goal line has been moved back a few times of late. Big must-win-big contests on long favorable turf in Texas and Ohio, as well as Vermont and Rhode Island on Tuesday. And on Saturday, the Wyoming caucuses.
A month ago, Clinton led Barack Obama by more than 20 points in Ohio and Texas, two states presented by her ever insistent high command as extremely favorable turf for her, and strong "firewalls" in the event of problems on Super Tuesday and after. Clinton consigliere Terry McAuliffe, who had earlier pledged she would win the nomination on February 5th, then promised that, should the campaign continue that long, March 4th would be the ultimate clincher for Clinton.
Now the polls have her huge edge in Ohio whittled down to the single digits. And in Texas -- the state where the Clintons got their starts in politics as co-coordinators of the McGovern campaign, appointed by Gary Hart in his pre-neoliberal mode -- Obama has closed up Clinton's giant lead so much that he may just be a bit ahead.
Vermont is an easy win for Obama. Rhode Island looks like an easy win for Clinton, but her edge there, too, has been cut by more than half.
This is all a huge problem for Hillary Clinton, whose aides said they would erase any deficit in earned delegates coming out of February. But the gap is now such that even the huge Hillary landslides on Tuesday, which almost certainly won't happen, would make little more than a dent in Obama's 160-odd delegate lead, given the proportional representation rules of the Democratic nomination contest.
Meanwhile, a key source with John McCain's campaign says the Western senator will clinch, or, I should say, further clinch the Republican nomination on Tuesday with still more primary victories. Their focus is increasingly on the Democrats, notably Obama, who is repeatedly engaged by McCain on Iraq and Al Qaeda. President Bush, slammed by Obama for his Iraq policies, stepped into the fray by blasting Obama for saying he would talk with Cuba's new leader, Raul Castro. Obama fired back at Bush, upping the ante by blaming him for America being in a recession.
The Republicans clearly believe they will be running against Obama in the general election, and are out to engage him now. Hillary Clinton? They're not as concerned about her.
But the Clinton campaign showed signs of continued relevance, with officials saying that she has raised $34 million in February that can be spent in the primaries.
Oddly, however, it doesn't feel like she has those sorts of resources to bring to bear in the March 4th primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont. And Obama almost certainly raised far more than Clinton. She is being outgunned by Obama's campaign both on the air, and, anecdotally at least, on the ground. And that's not counting what the Service Employees International Union and United Food and Commercial Workers are doing, with millions in labor spending suddenly being deployed on Obama's behalf, in open revolt against the Clinton's longtime leadership of the national Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, the anti-Obama/pro-Clinton 527 independent expenditure campaign called the American Leadership Project, much ballyhooed for weeks and dominated by California Democrats, passed last Friday in quiet fashion. The committee's president, Roger Salazar, acknowledged to me that the deadline for any meaningful buying of the long anticipated media time in the Texas and Ohio primaries had finally passed. The figure touted was $10 million. I'm told the group struggled for 1/20th of that.
Needless to say, the Clintons are trying many things to halt the Obama tide from inundating their latest long prized redoubts.
First, they attempted to adjust expectations downward.
A few weeks ago, the Clinton line was that Hillary would close the delegate gap on March 4th, powered by big wins in the Texas and Ohio primaries. Now the new line, from a Friday morning campaign memo, is that in order for Obama to succeed, he must win not only Texas and Ohio, but also Rhode Island and Vermont. Which translates thusly; if Clinton wins only one state, she is the day's winner. I feel the room spinning: "The media has anointed Barack Obama the presumptive nominee and he's playing the part. With an eleven state winning streak coming out of February, Senator Obama is riding a surge of momentum that has enabled him to pour unprecedented resources into Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.
"The Obama campaign and its allies are outspending us two to one in paid media and have sent more staff into the March 4 states. In fact, when all is totaled, Senator Obama and his allies have outspent Senator Clinton by a margin of $18.4 million to $9.2 million on advertising in the four states that are voting next Tuesday. Senator Obama has campaigned hard in these states. He has spent time meeting editorial boards, courting endorsers, holding rallies, and - of course - making speeches.
"If he cannot win all of these states with all this effort, there's a problem."
Then they decided to run against Obama by citing Hillary's supposed superiority in a national security crisis, running an ad all across Texas called "3 AM," which is playing on New West Notes. That Clinton's aides were unable to cite, on a media conference call over the weekend, any instance of her ever responding to a national security crisis certainly did not add to the somewhat fanciful notion that she has any more credentials in the area than the inexperienced Obama.
Next, run against the press. All last year, the press touted Hillary's "inevitability," calling her extremely well-prepared to be president, with a great campaign. Now the line is that she is losing because the press is against her. So Hillary Clinton appeared on Saturday Night Live to promote her claims of press bias against her. I didn't see the show, or a skit satirizing last week's Ohio debate, followed by Clinton's own "editorial response," in which she appeared in the same outfit as the comedy actress portraying her. New frontrunner Barack Obama was portrayed as a dullard, incidentally, by a white guy in black face. The venerable show presently has only one black man in the cast, and he's the wrong body type.
Then, deal with the complications of Texas, in which two-thirds of the delegates are chosen in a primary she might win, and one-third are chosen in caucuses that night which she may well lose even if she won the primary.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Clinton campaign has threatened a lawsuit against the combination Texas primary and caucus system. Rival Barack Obama has drawn even or perhaps slightly ahead in the Texas polls after trailing by nearly 20 points a few weeks ago. Former President Bill Clinton declared earlier this month that his wife has to win the Texas primary in order to continue her campaign.
Clinton's campaign problems in Texas are compounded by the contest being a combination primary and caucus. People who vote in the primary during the day are eligible to participate in caucuses on Tuesday night, where a third of the state's delegates will be apportioned. So the reality, since it is becoming apparent that Obama is better organized in Texas than Clinton, is that she could win the primary and still lose the overall contest for delegates. And if she loses the primary, even narrowly, she could end up on the short end of a big delegate haul.
Texas political insiders tell me that the Clinton lawsuit move, which they say would fail, since the Clinton campaign agreed to the Texas contest rules, which have been approved by the Democratic National Committee, would be to muddy the waters of her potential defeat for PR purposes.
The Clinton campaign has backed away from the lawsuit threat, but is no instructing its supporters gain control of precinct caucus reporting of the numbers. In a memo obtained by the Dallas Morning News, Hillary's caucus backers are instructed thusly: "If our supporters are outnumbered, ask the Temporary Chair if one of our supporters can serve as the Secretary, in the interest of fairness. "The control of the sign-in sheets and the announcement of the delegates allotted to each candidate are the critical functions of the Chair and Secretary. This is why it is so important that Hillary supporters hold these positions."
Or, to put it another way, as I have always said (and this line is, of course, entirely original to me): Vote early and vote often.
Finally, don't quite deny that Obama is secretly a Muslim, a little move Clinton added in her 60 Minutes appearance last night (you can see the clip at New West Notes).
The fun never sets.