Thursday, April 03, 2008

Obama and the benefits of time

I’m traveling the rest of this week – and not for work reasons – so new postings will be light (today) or non-existent (Friday). The normal regimen resumes on Monday.

However, with respect to the Pennsylvania primary, a passing thought did occur to me. This six-week interregnum between Democratic contests is definitely benefiting Barack Obama - as evidenced by numerous polls, all of which show a tightening race. Consider the reasons:

1. He’s getting plenty of time to introduce himself to a state where Hillary Clinton is as familiar as Hershey chocolate. Pennsylvanians generally don’t warm to candidates with whom they are unfamiliar; Ed Rendell finally won the governor’s job 16 years after his first try. The Clinton brand has been around since 1992, and if the Pennsylvania campaign window had been a lot narrower, Hillary would be blowing Obama away on name ID alone. But thanks to the elongated calendar, Obama has the luxury of traveling by bus, doing retail politics in small cities and towns, and getting himself known in ways that slick TV ads can never accomplish. Sort of like he managed to do in Iowa.

2. He’s had the time to rebound from the Jeremiah Wright crisis. If that bomb had gone off during a tight turnaround between contests, he would have been toast. But his bold speech on race, notwithstanding some lingering concerns, has tamped down the flames, and he delivered it early enough in the Pennsylvania cycle for maximum resonance.

3. Cursed by the slow time clock, Hillary created her own little crisis. Obama's woes got trumped by her Bosnia sniper fantasies, thereby rekindling the old doubts about Clintonian credibility. It appeared at first that the cable TV shows, faced with the need to fill air time during this long vote-free interregnum, would be forever flogging the Wright story, but Hillary has given them something new to chew on. And chew on. Nothing stirs the commentators more than footage of a politician lying on camera.

4. The horserace story is frozen, and that benefits Obama. Until the Pennsylvania verdict on April 22, Hillary is stuck with her pledged-delegate and popular-vote deficits. She can’t change the basic narrative of the race, and, as these weeks drag by, more and more Democrats are fretting that the contest (translation: prolonged by Hillary) is hurting their prospects for November. In response, Hillary has had to spend valuable time scoffing at suggestions that she should quit. It’s not a good sign when a candidate’s basic pitch is essentially reduced to, "Vote for me so that Indiana can vote, too."

5. Without new votes to count, every new superdelegate endorsement receives greater media attention – and that’s another plus for Obama. The drip-drip continues: Bob Casey...Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar...Wyoming Gov. David Freudenthal (a former Bill Clinton administration appointee, no less) signed on yesterday...Former Montana Sen. John Melcher did the same...And so did former 9/11 Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton. He’s not a superdelegate, but he’s a party elder with strong national security credentials who also co-helmed the Iraq Study Group...And superdelegate Jimmy Carter all but signaled yesterday that he has signed on.

6. And without new votes to count, the media watches the money. Obama just endured the worst month of his campaign, yet he still raised upwards of $40 million. That’s reportedly double the Clinton total. The word is that she also has debts in the range of $9 million – not even counting the $5 mil that she recently donated from her own bank account. Obama, again taking advantage of the calendar, is outspending Clinton by a 3-1 margin in the state where he can potentially break her campaign.

All told, Clinton may think it’s a boon to cast herself in the role of Rocky, but perhaps she forgets the plot. Rocky lost.