Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Aloha Hillary

I'm just back from a much-needed mid-campaign vacation in Kaua'i. Not that I could completely escape the race there; Chelsea Clinton was campaigning for her mom in Hawaii, and Barack Obama's half-sister, who lives in Honolulu, was stumping for him. But there wasn't the same election buzz in Hawaii as there's been elsewhere. The Aloha State caucus was a slam dunk for native son Obama, and, at least on laid-back Kaua'i, the surfers and neo-hippies seemed far more interested in wave breaks and rainbows than delegate counts and poll numbers.

But now that I'm back in the mix, it's pretty clear that Obama is sucking all of the air out of the Democratic race. His rallies are packing basketball arenas: he drew 18,000 in Houston yesterday, 17,000 more in Dallas tonight. He is closing in on one million campaign donors, an astonishing and unprecedented number, and most of those people have given $100 or less. Obama t-shirts and buttons are on back order on his website. His surge of momentum is extraordinary. Even Bill Clinton said it today: if Hillary Clinton doesn't win the Ohio and Texas primaries March 4, she is done.

And Texas will be a tall order. They do things in a weird way in the Lone Star State. First of all, districts that had larger Democratic turnouts in past elections are rewarded with extra delegates. That means funky college town Austin has more delegates than megalopolis Houston and metroplex Dallas. It also means largely black urban centers have more delegates than rural Latino areas, making the delegate math tough for Clinton. Then, after the primary voting ends at 7pm, anyone who voted gets to vote again, at special caucuses, awarding even more delegates to the most motivated and organized. That all sounds like another win for Obama to me.

We talked with Nancy Pelosi today about the campaign, and she downplayed the potential role of the superdelegates. I agree with her; I think this race will be decided by the voters, long before the convention. In fact, it may have been already. When someone wins ten primaries and caucuses in a row, they're usually headed for the nomination. A successful candidate simply can't say, well, these next ten states aren't good for me, but I'll cherry pick a couple big ones after that.

Hillary Clinton has two weeks to save her campaign, somehow. She starts in Thursday night's debate in Austin. She hopes to demonstrate her command of the issues, expose Obama's areas of weakness and inexperience, and somehow slow the Obama Express. But it may be too late. People - not white or black people, old or young, men or women - but simply, people - are responding to Obama's message of hope, in a visceral way, and when that happens in politics, no strategy shift or staff shakeup can stop it.

We have a new satirical song airing Thursday, about Mike Huckabee. You can hear it here. And here is last week's McCain number, in case you missed that one. We are Equal Opportunity Offenders at Sovern Nation.

Speaking of McCain, there is breaking news tonight, from the New York Times, which reports that some of Senator McCain's 2000 presidential campaign staff were deeply concerned about his relationship with a lobbyist, and believed they were having an affair. You can read the Times story here. The newspaper has been working on this story for a long time; there's been some scuttlebutt about it out in the field, and from what I've heard, there was bitter disagreement in the newsroom about whether to run it. Apparently, other news organizations were investigating the rumors too, and the Times may have been worried about getting scooped. McCain vehemently denies any affair, and says he has never betrayed the public trust or his guiding principles. This could become a huge story for a few days - or it could backfire and further erode the public's trust in the Times' judgment. The newspaper still has some of the best reporters and writers in the business, but having started out there, once upon a time, as a copy boy, I know that it has made some shameful mistakes that never would have happened on Punch Sulzberger and Abe Rosenthal's watch. I hope this isn't another one of them.


Marndar said...

McCain vs. Obama could produce a lot of dirt on both candidates. Or it could be the come clean campaign.

Let's see - if Wikipedia is correct, McCain is a former hard-drinkinkg womanizer whose first marriage ended badly. He's also an ex-smoker and who knows what else he might have partaked in the Vietnam era?

Obama also is an ex-smoker, and has experimented in marijuana and cocaine, among other things.

I personally think the NY Times story will not hurt McCain at all. Both candidates have admitted their backgrounds are not angelic. Also, I will say that if that's the final twosome, have we ever had a more attractive pairing of potential First Ladies??

Anonymous said...

Can someone tell me exactly WHAT the NY Times dug up? This story would appear to damage the reputation of the Gray Lady far more than that of McCain.

Four reporters, two researchers, months of effort--and the result? No fire, and not even much smoke.

Anonymous said...

Agree... the NYT looks bad on this one. The only new news in the story: that a couple of McCain aides say they approached the lobbyist about steering clear of McCain because it didn't look good. Front page?

Doug Sovern said...

The most important part - and probably the longest-lasting impact - of the Times story may well be the claim that McCain did favors for lobbyists' clients, since it could undermine his whole integrity thing. But there wasn't much to back it up...It could come back to haunt him in the fall though, because you know there are dozens of people digging for more now.