Obama, Clinton, McCain and the 'Wright Stuff'
We expect a quieter week in presidential politics following the excitement of the previous week, highlighted by Hillary Clinton's expected 9-point win in Pennsylvania.
Well, except for Rev. Jeremiah Wright addressing the National Press Club this morning in Washington, that is. We'll return to that later. And we'll discuss some major dynamics outside the campaign echo chamber, such as record oil prices, crumbling consumer confidence, and yesterday's near assassination of our man in Kabul.
John McCain had some success last week with his tour of "Forgotten Places" in America. But the novelty of the Republican candidate touring iconic places in the civil rights movement wore off after awhile, and by week's end he was getting attention by attacking Barack Obama for his association with long-ago Weather Underground wacko Bill Ayers.
This week he goes on a health care tour, hitting Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and Colorado. Those happen, by an odd coincidence, to be key battleground states for the general election.
Look for more McCain attacks on Obama this week. For now, he and the rest of the Republicans are laying off of Hillary Clinton. Even her preposterous lie about coming under fire when she landed in Bosnia didn't prompt attacks, though it would surely be devastating to her in the unlikely event she became the Democratic nominee.
At the moment, it's mostly about Obama, as McCain, the Republican Party and the Clintons all try to take him down.
Obama, however, appears to be getting back on track following the long-expected Clinton win in Pennsylvania, the second-oldest state in the country, in a primary closed to the independent voters who favor Obama over Clinton. Coming up are the Guam caucuses are on Saturday and North Carolina and Indiana primaries next week.
The Rasmussen tracking polls, run by Republican Scott Rasmussen, have emerged as valuable campaign tools. The Rasmussen national tracking poll shows Barack Obama leading Hillary Clinton in the same range as before. According to Rasmussen:
There is absolutely no indication that Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania has changed the overall dynamic of the race. This cycle, Hillary Clinton began the campaign as one of the best known people in the world. Democrats uneasy with her quickly settled on Obama as the chief challenger who has now become the frontrunner. As the candidates have become known, each has developed a solid core of supportive constituencies. For Obama, these included African-Americans, younger voters, more liberal Democrats, and upper-income voters. For Clinton, strength comes from White Women, older voters, more moderate Democrats, and lower-to-middle income workers.
Rasmussen, incidentally, notes that Obama is now running even with or slightly ahead of McCain, with Clinton doing a little less well. Considering that it's Obama who is the flak catcher, that may be a bit of a problem for the maverick Western senator.
Obama appears headed for a big win in North Carolina, which may wipe out Clinton's Pennsylvania gains in the popular vote. Indiana is more of a jump ball. A new poll for the Indianapolis Star finds a close race in the Hoosier State. It's Barack Obama 41%, Hillary Clinton 38%. However, Obama leads John McCain by nine points, while Clinton is tied with the Republican. And by a 49% to 35% margin, Obama is seen as the best general election canddiate. Another Indiana poll, for the South Bend Tribune (home of Notre Dame University), also shows a dead heat with Obama 48%, Clinton 47%.
Here's an interesting bit of Democratic delegate math. Before Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton needed to win 63% in the remaining contests in order to overtake Barack Obama for the lead in earned delegates. Now she needs to win 68% the rest of the way.
Hillary's 9-point victory in Pennsylvania yields her about a dozen more delegates there than Obama won. That will probably be more than wiped out in little more than a week.
Longtime top Clinton advisor Paul Begala, speaking at a luncheon held in New York by my old pal Patricia Duff's group, The Common Good, said that he is "all but certain" that Barack Obama will win the Democratic presidential nomination. Begala, a longtime fixture as a CNN analyst, is also the longtime compadre of James Carville. Who, with tensions running high, so vociferously attacked New Mexico Governor (and former Clinton Cabinet member) Bill Richardson as "Judas" for his endorsement of the freshman Illinois senator.
But Obama can't simply coast to the Democratic presidential nomination. By far the least wealthy of the candidates -- John McCain is the richest, followed by the Clintons -- he's nonetheless in danger of typecasting himself as an elitist. If the key test for the presidency is who is best at working a diner, then McCain, the son and grandson of four-star admirals, is your next president.
Obama has a problem with white working class voters. It's overstated to an extent because the fact he is generally losing these voters to Hillary Clinton has a lot to do with the Clintons' appeal. After all, she was the "inevitable" nominee for most of this campaign, as you heard virtually everywhere but here, with supposedly the most awesome political machine in Democratic history, and so forth.
But between the Wright Stuff and Bittergate, Obama has some long-term problems that go beyond Clinton winning one of her strongest states last week and his taste for arugula. (I had to look it up, it's a kind of lettuce.)
So he played basketball over the weekend, showing some good moves for an old guy (46). In Indiana, he's no longer pacing the stage like a law professor while delivering high-flown speeches, he's taking questions and talking specifics in town hall meetings, sleeves rolled up, tie loosened. He even went on Fox News Sunday yesterday, impressing the host and most on the panel that appeared after his 40-minute interview. Obama had pretty much stayed off of Fox since the channel popularized a completely erroneous report from a right-wing website run by a religious cult that he was educated in a hardcore Islamic school in Indonesia.
And he's making longer-term moves, geared to the general election. There is an agreement between the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee to form a joint fundraising project, in which contributors to Obama's record-shattering fundraising machine also give to the DNC. And there is the launch of a 50-state voter registration drive by the Obama campaign.
But there is also the risky re-emergence of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who speaks to the National Press Club next today.
The Wright Stuff is very risky indeed. The man whose outrageous comments seriously upset the Democratic frontrunner's momentum and raised major questions about his fortunes in the general election is more than a little radioactive.
So Bill and Hillary Clinton might be pleased. Until they consider this. House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, an uncommitted superdelegate, charges them with playing the race card heavily and predicts that black voters who once revered the former president will never trust him again. And he goes further, to say what an increasing number of observers have been saying privately. Or not so privately. "The Clintons know she can't win this," says Clyburn. "But they're hell-bound to make it impossible for Obama to win."
Once the Democratic nomination is settled, some big things happening outside the campaign echo chamber will have increasing bearing.
Crashing property values. A worldwide credit crunch. Wall Street bailouts. Record oil prices. Record gasoline prices. Rising unemployment. The dollar at a record low against the euro. And so we have the lowest level of consumer confidence in the US since 1982.
And yesterday Afghan President Hamid Karzai, on the 16th anniversary of his nation's independence from the Soviet-backed regime, narrowly escaped being assassinated by a Taliban hit squad in the center of Kabul. Three people, including one member of the national parliament, were killed in the attack, which sent the assorted dignitaries in the grandstand, including the American, British, and Canadian ambassadors, scrambling for their lives. The Afghan fight has been going increasingly poorly over the past two years.