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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Irony in Las Vegas

It looks like Bill Clinton supported a failed lawsuit to close down the very At Large Caucus sites that put Senator Hillary Clinton over the top. Barack Obama won "the rest of Nevada," and had the lawsuit to close those caucus sites succeeded, Nevada may well have been an Obama victory.

But that's just the silver lining not the prize, Hillary Clinton wins the popular vote in Nevada (though, in a remarkable double irony, not its delegates) with a strong showing among women, Latinos and seniors. And if that turns out to be a tide-forming moment in this primary campaign then the Story of the Strip could end up being the second part of a one-two punch.

There are a couple quick observations I'd offer.

First, this is a gut check moment for anyone in the Democratic Party who has reservations about whether a Clinton Restoration would be good for the Democratic Party or the nation as a whole. Will Barack Obama continue to receive endorsements from Democratic leaders showing their hands in opposition to the Clinton machine post-Nevada?

Senator Clinton's strength with seniors does not bode well for the Obama campaign, but a flurry of further endorsements might help Senator Obama with older voters, who are much more likely to view endorsements from politicians and newspapers as a factor in their decision making. Once again, an endorsement from Al Gore before Tsunami Tuesday could be an x factor in this regard.

Second, the campaign is currently 2 against 1.

Barack Obama vs. Bill and Hillary Clinton. President Clinton has been all over the news, every cycle, in every state. He is basically running for President again by proxy...except this time his only role is to play the attack dog. Red meat Democrats may well love this. But, once again, there are many in the Democratic Party who, behind the scenes, are not so sanguine about the "Return of Bill."

Barack Obama faces a conundrum. He can't attack Hilllary the way Bill attacks him. And, further, he can't attack Bill. On top of that, logistically he simply can't appear in the news cycle like the Clintons do: one making a speech, the other offering a harangue at a restaurant. Barack Obama's strength is his star power and the Clintons, in my view, have been attacking that star power by sucking up media oxygen with many smaller attacks (Reagan, LBJ, fairy tale) that no primary voter really cares about. Obama's star power is dying a death of a thousand Clinton cuts. They win by dominating the news and distracting.

If Obama's going to fight and win at this point, he needs something big and he needs something that can compete with the Big Dog. At the same time, Obama needs this "x factor" to parry the Clinton attacks (if not make some in return) to allow Obama to return to doing what he does best which is energize voters on the campaign trail. Obama needs to turn up the star power of his fresh campaign while the "x factor" works for him fighting the Clinton tactic of distract and distract. What is this "x factor?" I don't yet know. I'll tell you when I see it.

Third, Barack Obama needs to reach out to Latino voters in a big way.

I think the UNITE-here Spanish language ad in Nevada was a disgrace. It may well have backfired. What Obama needs to do is to follow the "let me introduce a friend of mine" approach. I don't think Obama has time to change perceptions with a specific proposal alone or some piece of rhetoric. And Obama certainly won't be able to create doubts about Senator Clinton with Latinos; she is well-liked. But Obama does have time to work with influentials to create an opportunity to get an introduction, to show his sincerity and interest. His best hope is to create a situation where voters are in a position where they think, "I like Hillary, but I really like Obama, too."

Finally, the implosion of the Edwards campaign in Nevada opens up a powerful potential source of grassroots energy and effort for Barack Obama.

A large chunk, but not all, of John Edwards support is made of reform-minded grassroots Democrats. Senator Obama's campaign needs to take these powerful, persuasive and energized activists seriously and attempt to bring them in. Reform-minded, anti-status quo Edwards supporters could well be Barack Obama's best available persuaders in winning over a percentage of female voters that Obama currently cedes to Clinton post-New Hampshire. This could be in the form of a grass roots, peer-to-peer effort reaching out to fellow voters one to one. What way do the MoveOn voters want to go? What would voters say if they had to debate the choice of Clinton or Obama in the privacy of someone's home?

But on a macro level there is very little that the Obama campaign can do publicly to create a "moment of doubt" to counter the "appeal to emotion" that is working so well for the Clintons. That doubt can't come from attack ads. They will backfire because they confirm the narrative that the Clintons are victims, that they have been unfairly attacked. However, people do have doubts about returning Bill and Hillary Clinton to the White House and what that would do to our country, they do have doubts about whether running Senator Clinton at the top of the ticket will get us the change we want to see.

On some level, if Obama can't attack Hillary Clinton directly, he has to attack, as he has been doing subtly, the political polarization and scorched earth politics that the Clintons and 90s represent. People don't want to go back there...and with John Edwards perhaps out of the running...looking at the choice between the future and the past may prove a persuasive moment.

The results of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada prove that "star power" alone can't counter the powerful advantages Bill and Hillary bring to the table.

However, perhaps the Clinton's greatest strength may yet prove to be the key to their greatest weakness?

6 Comments:

  • I hope you're right.

    By Blogger John Leek, at 3:30 PM  

  • it seems that Obama took the northern Nevada (rural) vote. there is also some news that a good portion of the democratic caucus vote where Republicans. (Elko 30%?) If this is true, why would Republicans being voting for Obama?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:46 PM  

  • I think this is all about star power. Hillary Clinton is just more famous than Obama. There's really not much he can do about that in so short a time. When undecided, it boils down to going with a known quantity. Throw race into the mix and Obama has a real uphill battle.

    Personally, I'd like to see him or at least surrogates bring up the stuff that Republicans are going to bring up about her in the fall. Democrats need to be reminded about just how unelectable she is. He's got to cut down her star power.

    By Blogger Henry Baum, at 8:27 PM  

  • I have been perusing dailykos ever since I decided to support Obama, to get a feel for where other progressive/liberals were coming from. It has been heartbreaking to watch the squabbling that keeps taking place, but I am so thankful for the diaries you've posted which are level-headed and intelligent. This is entry is no exception, exactly hat I was thinking as I watching the results and subsequent delegate count. Thank you for your on-going inquisitiveness and sincerity.
    Since you live in the greatest town on earth - Oaktown baby - I thought I would invite you to my Obama Houseparty happening tomorrow (Jan 20) @ 3:00 pm. If you're interested, feel free to email me at nahmeen at g mail dot com. Thanks again, I am so thankful that we have such a well thought out supporter in our midst! K

    By Anonymous Katie B., at 9:10 PM  

  • I've been reading your comments and diaries for a while now, nice to finally check out your blog!

    I think you are correct in pointing out John Edwards and Al Gore as the two potential game-changing endorsers. If even a portion of Edward's grassroots organization supports Obama it could change the ground game significantly. And I think the sway of Gore in California is significant.

    By Blogger LandStander, at 9:24 PM  

  • Hillary is doing what Kerry and Gore should have done. Let the Big Dog do what the man does best. The man was born to campaign and is the real "rock star". I find it ironic that the media has started using this term in an era that no longer produces actual rock stars.

    Obama is not running a good campaign. He is making too many self-inflicted mistakes (the Reagan and Republican big ideas flaps). I don't think he can win in a general election.

    He never meets poll expectations outside of Iowa and that was a fluke due to the calender. The youth came out due to school being out during the Holidays. The youth vote has never met that showing and it never will. Obama has to win that vote to win pluralities or majorities.

    Real Clear Politics Poll Avg.

    New Hampshire
    Day of Election Clinton -8.3
    Actual Result Clinton +2.6

    Nevada
    Day of Election Clinton +4
    Actual Result Clinton +5.5

    I think there is real problem for Obama going forward and altering the dynamics. I don't think he has enough time and Clinton will not allow him to gain the traction he needs to regain the momentum.

    By Anonymous Harry s/mdana, at 9:43 PM  

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