Monday, April 21, 2008

Groundhog Day

Tomorrow is the Pennsylvania primary, in case you haven’t heard. Oh, you have heard? Nice to hear you are no longer in that coma. This has become the most over-hyped political event since, well, the Ohio and Texas primaries, which were almost two whole months ago. The seven weeks of campaigning and advertising since the last time someone voted will be almost as long as the general election campaign following the two conventions. It has also been just as dirty as that will be and cost almost as much money. So where are we in this mess?
This has been the weakest showing by the Obama campaign. Unless they pull off a huge upset, they have squandered time, money, and showed a serious lack of coherence in their strategy and tactics. Maybe it was the debate that changed things. That was a crappy performance by Obama – although nowhere near as crappy as the one by the moderators – and seemed to be fueled by a reluctance to really go after Clinton, based, I assumed, on the eventuality of his nomination and the need to not offend HRC’s people. It was like a major heavyweight fight, where one boxer was in control and just was content to box and be careful rather than go for the knockout, avoiding injury and getting the win unhurt, with a bigger fight on the horizon. But after the debate, things turned really nasty, with negative speeches and negative commercials flooding the airways. Now that was true of both sides, but Clinton has nothing to lose, she is desperate and the last thing she is worrying about is uniting the party after the nomination. It is a strange choice and I can only assume that it was driven n some way by polling data showing that Obama had closed the gap and had a real shot at winning, enough of a shot that it was worth going for the knockout.
The problem with that strategy is that it is a risk combined with a stunning disregard for the history of this campaign. The risk is that Obama has really done everything he could to win PA, leaving him with no excuses at all; the money was spent, every possible tack was tried, a loss here is a real loss. As for the money, much has been made of how much Obama has spent relative to Hillary. Frankly, as long as you have enough to get out your own message, which Hillary does, there is no evidence at all that outspending your opponent on advertising helps. In fact, there have been reports of polls showing people are more annoyed by the constant advertising. What does help in PA, the last of the machine states, is having Gov. Ed Rendell and his machine on your side, as well as the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and theirs, which Hillary does. As for the history, the pattern in this state has been the same as in all the other major states she has won. She starts with a big lead in the polls, he shows up, drives the numbers down to where it looks like he might actually win, then loses by ten points. It was that way in Ohio, in California, in New Jersey, in Massachusetts, and it will be that way in PA as well. Hillary wins by ten points (dodging a hail of sniper fire on the way to the celebration), we move on to May 6th, with Indiana too close to call, and starring North Carolina as the state that Obama wins to wrap things up.

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