Is Obama recovering?

Obama's new "minute" ads (see Travis' post) are a vast improvement over what I have felt has been his meandering and unfocused media campaign in recent months. These ads reintroduce Obama to voters, do not assume voters understand who he is, and do a much better job at showing he is in touch with the central issue of the race - the struggle of every day people.

What happens on Tuesday is anybody's guess. But the drama continues to be can Senator Clinton somehow change the dynamic of the race enough to forstall her inevitable defeat (see this New York Times piece for an excellent summary of the state of the race)? Can she get a big enough "win" on Tuesday to begin truly challenging the "Obama is winning this thing" narrative?

As of today, it seems that Obama's very bad week has begun to turn. He won Guam. He has continued to win important superdelegates, including NDN's Chairman Joe Andrew. The Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracks today suggest Obama's Wright-induced slide in the national polls has abated, and in both polls he has gained a little ground in the last two days. Reviews for his "Meet the Press" appearance have been strong. Obama's media is giving more help down the stretch than we've seen in sometime. It is now fair to say that this week the Obama campaign has demonstrated the kind of counterpunching capacity many believe has been lacking in the last few months, and will be requiired for him to become the President.

For Senator Clinton, this is yet again another make or break Tuesday. She has without doubt had a strong last couple of weeks. But I believe she will now have to win both Indiana and North Carolina to have any chance of changing the central dynamic of the race, which is still very much stacked against her. Her chance to win the race outright has increased a great deal in recent weeks, but with the remaining states likely to break 50/50 Obama/Clinton, this Tuesday night is shaping up to be another nailbiting night of cable TV news, and one that may be among the most important of a lot of important Tuesdays this year.


The Pennsylvania Primary and the future of the Clinton campaign

In the last few weeks, a new fundamental dynamic for the Democratic nomination has emerged. It is now clear that Senator Obama is winning the race, and Senator Clinton is losing.

The big question tonight is whether even a significant victory by Senator Clinton alters this fundamental dynamic. I am increasingly of the belief that it won't.

To review, Senator Obama has won more states, more votes, more delegates, is about to catch up on super delegates, has built a far superior and modern campaign, has dramatically outraised his opponent and is ahead in all national polls, in one by more than 10 points. He is doing much better than Senator Clinton with Independents. If current trends continue, he will end the primary season less than 100 delegates from the amount needed to win, meaning that it won't take much to put him over the top. Based on the new FEC reports, Senator Clinton is also functionally out of money or in the process of going deep into debt. And as I wrote recently, even the argument that Senator Clinton has won more important states doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

Which is why her often repeated argument that she will be a stronger general election candidate is silly. If you get beat by your opponent fair and square, how can you claim to be a stronger candidate?

As Noam Scheiber just wrote, I have long been saying that this six-week window between March and April 22 was going to be a very bad period for Senator Clinton. It allowed the Party elites and the media enough time to actually figure out what was going on in this confusing nominating process. This slow period allowed it to become understood that Senator Obama was in fact winning and Senator Clinton losing, Period. No mulligans. No changing the rules midway through the game. By the end of March, all understood that Senator Obama had all but locked this thing up.

In this period, it also became clear to some that Senator Clinton no longer really had the power, the ability, to alter this dynamic. She couldn't win enough of the states left to get back in the game. She can no longer win the popular vote. The super delegates have broken heavily against her. The Party has kept its word, and, despite over-the-top efforts by the Clinton campaign, properly disallowed the Florida and Michigan results. Her chief strategist, her campaign manager and a top political strategist have left, and her new campaign manager, while respected, has virtually no campaign experience. Her money has dried up. The Tuzla story, for those who paid close attention to it, showed that she had the capacity to strategically lie, repeatedly, recklessly, about something of great importance. And now her relentless attacks on Senator Obama, by dramatically raising her own negatives, have weakened her own candidacy more than it has damaged him, leaving her in a more precarious national position.

I have never believed that if Senator Clinton knew she was going to lose that she would continue on past the point at which it was becoming ruinous to her very bright future. Smart politicians, as the saying goes, know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. And the Clintons are smart politicians. When that moment - the moment the candidate decides to drop out - comes in a campaign, it is never simple. But it often has to do more with money than with honor. And right now, the thing to watch is whether the outcome tonight is enough for her to keep raising the $20 million or so a month she needs to keep going. If not, the race could be over quickly. If she does have a strong and convincing win, and can quickly raise enough money to keep her supporters confident that she still has a shot, perhaps this will go on to mid-June. There will be shouts of "Comeback Kid, 3!" - but I am no longer convinced that even this scenario is possible any longer.

So even if Senator Clinton wins big tonight, it does not mean she will have the power or ability to win the nomination. She perhaps will have staved off defeat, but not recovered enough to be back in this thing. Of course, technically, she could win. But for her to win now requires an extraordinary event, one that would have to essentially end the Obama candidacy, something that, after his adequate management of the Wright and bitter moments, I no longer think she has the power herself to bring about. For her to win, it will require a political miracle, an Obama stumble of monumental proportions. Possible? Yes. Likely? No way. So why go on?

Perhaps, perhaps, what she is seeking is not a victory then, but what she and her husband have been seeking with such ferocity since the beginning of this campaign - a better and more honorable ending to what has been our promising, exhilarating, prosperous, productive and occasionally deeply disappointing long, national relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

And as long as there is a chance, even a small chance, of that coming about through this process, the battle may indeed go on - as long as the money holds out.






Richardson to endorse Obama

The Washington Post has reported that Bill Richardson will endorse Senator Obama.

As I wrote a week ago, this long lull 'til Pennsylvania is a very dangerous time for Senator Clinton. It is giving people time to look deeper at the campaign, and what they are seeing is that Senator Obama is winning, and given the delegate math will be very hard to beat. Expect more calls for Senator Clinton to end her candidacy in the coming weeks. Adam Nagourney reviewed this emerging dynamic in the NYTimes yesterday.

The Richardson endorsement will no doubt help Senator Obama address one of the most important weaknesses of the campaign, his standing with the Hispanic community. For more on the importance of Hispanics and the Southwest, see this new article in the American Prospect by Tom Schaller, our recent essay, The 50 Year Strategy, or our new analysis of how Hispanics have voted so far in 2008.

It will be interesting to see how Obama's speech on race earlier this week played into Richardson's decision to endorse.

Update: TPM reports that Senator Clinton ended February in debt. In debt.

Has anyone else noticed that Senator Clinton sort of disapeared this week? That the only stories she got into were process ones about FL and MI, passports and attacks?

Update 2: A new essay in the Politico strongly makes the case that Obama has already won the nomination. Without a primary for the next 4 plus weeks and the Wright controversy behind us for now, the press will need something to focus on. It appears as if for the next week or so the focus will be on whether Barack Obama has already won the nomination, challenging the Clinton campaign to come up with a better rationale for why they are continuing the race. The pressure on her to end her campaign and endorse Obama is going to mount in the next few weeks ushering in a very new dynamic in the campaign.

Poll closing times tonight

All times Eastern, and for the Democrats (some caucus states have different R closing times)

7pm - Georgia

8pm - Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee

830pm - Arkansas

9pm - Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota

930pm - Kansas

10pm - Utah

10:30pm - Idaho

11pm - California

11:15pm - Alaska

11:30pm - Colorado

This makes for a dramatic night, with results coming in throughout the evening; and for those of us on the East Coast late late into the night.

Interestingly, it may be GA and IL which get called first, by 830pm, allowing Obama to take an early lead in the delegate count tonight, perhaps setting a pro-Obama tone early. Given how close the other early states are likely to be, it is likely that the next wave of calls will not be until at least 9:30 or so. That would give Obama an early positive hour of coverage before it grows in complexity. It is going to be very busy from 9:30 to 11 or so, then slow again for CA and the later states.

Naps may be in order today my friends.

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