Friday, February 15, 2008

Does Obama have the right stuff?

Back to the Polman mailbag, where an emailer newly touched by Obamamania shares his deepest fears: "Are we high? Are we intoxicated by love? Are we casting Hillary aside for this dream boat, only to wake up in summer and fall to find a candidate who doesn’t hold up?"

It's a tad early for buyer's remorse. Still, many grassroots Democrats, chastened by experience in recent presidential elections, are already thinking hard about electability - and whether Barack Obama, so new to the national stage, has the right stuff to successfully withstand Republican attacks. Some of the primary voters in Wisconsin, Texas, and Ohio are surely wondering about this; some of the uncommitted superdelegates, who may be called upon to choose between Obama and Hillary Clinton in the wake of a stalemate, are undoubtedly wondering as well.

If he wins the nomination, here's what the Republicans are likely to say about him:

1. Obama can't be entrusted to keep us safe in the age of terror, because he is woefully inexperienced. Actually, they're saying that already. Strategist John Brabender (who is not working for John McCain) tells Harper's Magazine, "Russia is becoming an energy superpower, Iraq seems to be on the verge of getting a nuclear bomb, there's Iraq, China, Islamic fundamentalists. Who's going to be tough enough to deal with these threats: a guy whose only full terms were as a state senator from Illinois, or McCain, who has a lifetime of service to the country. That will be a long, drawn out comparison....These are turbulent times, and the safe pick might be the best pick."

In response, it would not be enough for Obama to assert that the Republicans are running on fear. The threats cited by Brabender are real. Nor would it be enough for Obama to assert that the Republicans have blown their credibility on national security, thanks to what he is already calling the "Bush-McCain" disaster in Iraq. he would have to articulate his own detailed blueprint for fighting terrorism - one that marks a significant departure from the Bush doctrine, but also reassures crucial swing-voting independents that he is no Bambi on matters of life and death.

2. Obama is liberal, liberal, liberal. The L-word has been a reluable Republican attack staple for more than a generation, and it would surface again, particularly since the nonpartisan National Journal has rated Obama the most liberal member of the Senate, in terms of his '07 voting record. One of McCain's top aides has already sniffed that Obama is "a conventional liberal," under the assumption that the word can still be spun as a synomym for wimp. They would highlight some of his votes in the Senate, and his positions back in Illinois, and contend that, behind all the hype and hoopla, there lurks an out-of-the-mainstream lefty.

For instance, Obama at one time supported a total ban on handguns. This was in 1996, back when he was running for the Illinois Senate. He no longer backs a ban, but one can envision the GOP telling gun owners in key states such as Pennsylvania - fair game - that Obama was for a gun ban before he was against it.

Again, it would not be enough for Obama to assert (as he did in a recent debate) that the GOP has lost the right to complain about liberals, given the way George W. Bush and the GOP Congress betrayed conservative principles by spending lavishly and racking up record budget deficits. Obama would need to articulate an affirmative, fleshed-out liberal vision, and frame it as patriotism. Running from the label, or trying to explain it from a defensive crouch, would not be good enough.

3. Obama is all rhetoric, and no substance. I question whether this would be an effective theme in the long run, because by the time the autumn campaign begins, Obama would have already provided more policy details than most Americans would even bother to read. (Just this week, in Wisconsin, he laid out an economic plan.) He still has months to get sufficiently wonky.

Besides, Republicans have long demonstrated that candidates win on the intangibles (character, values, inspiration, the flag), not on the issues. Brabender, the GOP strategist, acknowledged this: "Obama...brings a lot to the table in terms of electability. In a presidential race, the issues are somewhat seconday to leadership, hope and vision, which seem to be strong suits for Obama."

Lastly, here's how the Hillary Clinton campaign is questioning Obama's electability:

He would whither under fire from the Republican attack machine. Hillary's chief strategist, Mark Penn, is correct when he points out that Obama has no experience on that front, and that in fact Obama "has never faced a credible Republican opponent." Obama's '04 Senate race was a cakewalk; his strongest opponent had to quit the race in the wake of a sex scandal, and his autumn opponent turned out to be Alan Keyes, the right-wing rhetorician and perennial loser.

It's unknowable, of course, how Obama would deal with the fact-challenged rumors likely generated on talk radio, direct mail, and web videos. Some voters have already received mysterious emails that show Obama at an Iowa event, purportedly declining to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. (Obama says that the photo was taken during the playing of the National Anthem, when the hand-on-heart gesture is optional.) I've heard that this moment is already common grist in grassroots Republican circles.

But here's a thought: Can we necessarily assume that the noxious smoke from the GOP machine would be as strong, with McCain as the nominee? Would he be comfortable tolerating, or condoning, the same kinds of rumors and attacks that derailed his own candidacy eight years ago?

This past week, one of McCain's key advisors told NPR that he would stay on the sidelines rather than participate in any attacks on Obama; as Mark MacKinnon put it, "I would simply be uncomfortable being in a campaign that would be inevitably attacking Barack Obama. I think it would be uncomfortable for me, and I think it would be bad for the McCain campaign." All this, from a guy who did ads for Bush in 2000 and 2004; clearly, he has no appetite for another season of slime, and I suspect that McCain feels the same.

And then we have this today, from the GOP-friendly commentator Fred Barnes: "Every poll I've seen this year shows that Obama would attract far more independents in the general election against a Republican than (Hillary) Clinton would. Indeed, there's a growing consensus among both Republican and Democratic strategists that Obama would be the stronger general election candidate. He may be more liberal than Clinton, but by almost every other yardstick he's a more appealing candidate."

Perhaps that might calm the nerves of Democrats who are fretting about the downside of Obamamania...unless they decide that Barnes is just playing with their heads, hoping to lure Democrats into picking the candidate whom the GOP secretly believes is weaker. Paranoid? Probably. But that's what happens to the mind after losing two close national elections.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

McCain's rightward march

Since I'm tied up today with other deadlines, I'll confine myself to this little item that surfaced last evening:

McCain (R-AZ), Nay.

I found that on the list of senators who voted against passage of an anti-torture provision that seeks to bar the CIA from engaging in the practice of waterboarding. The sponsors of the provision - which is part of a bill that passed by a 51-45 vote, not nearly enough to sustain President Bush's inevitable veto - insist that the intelligence community should follow the interrogation rules that are spelled out in the U. S. Army Field Manual. Those rules prohibit waterboarding.

So, by dint of his vote yesterday, presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain is for waterboarding...but wait a minute...isn't he supposed to be against waterboarding?

Back in 2005, he said that waterboarding was "very exquisite torture," and should be outlawed. Last October, he told The New York Times: "All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today...It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture."

And in a Republican debate last November, he stated: "I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not 24 and Jack Bauer. Life is interrogation techniques which are humane and yet effective. And I just came back from visiting a prison in Iraq. The army general there said that techniques under the Army Field Manual are working and working effectively, and he didn’t think they need to do anything else. My friends, this is what America is all about."

So what gives? Why is he now for waterboarding after he was against it? Why is he now against hewing to the Army Field Manual after he was for it?

You guessed right, pun intended.

His first priority at the moment is to pamper his right flank and persuade the wary Republican base that, contrary to the "maverick" label routinely affixed to him by his media admirers, he can pander just like any other opportunistic pol, and to heck with such trifles as consistency and principles.

(McCain explained himself yesterday by trying to split hairs in the Bill Clinton tradition. Regarding his nay vote, he said: "I think that waterboarding is torture and illegal, but I will not restrict the CIA to only the Army field manual." I guess the first phrase is intended for moderate voters, and the second phrase for conservative voters.)

The problem is that, by flip-flopping so blatantly, he undercuts his image as a man of conviction (to the delight of Democrats who fear his appeal) - without even mollifying his conservative critics, some of whom seem to believe that today's pandering can never erase yesterday's heresies. He could be saddled with this dilemma well into autumn.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Poaching on Hillary's turf

Picture the Titanic in mid-crisis, just as the second-class cabins are starting to flood. That's how the Hillary Clinton campaign looks this morning.

Three more Barack Obama landslides have left her in a perilous position. She has coughed up her lead among pledged delegates nationwide (having lost 21 of 31 states), and she will have a difficult time getting it back - if only because, thanks to the party's proportional allocation rules, Obama will still garner new delegates even if he loses the primaries in Texas and Ohio on March 4.

Hillary could conceivably turn the tide in those big states if she blows him out in twin landslides, thereby winning a huge proportion of the delegates. But I doubt this will happen. In fact, it's hard to imagine at this point that Hillary can win the Democratic nomination without some last-ditch backstage maneuvers after the primary season is over.

What happened last night was basically Obama's dream scenario. What mattered most was not that he won big, but the manner in which he did it. He poached on Hillary's strongest demographics in two very different states - Virginia, a longtime Republican enclave that has been trending Democratic, and reliably blue Maryland, with its solid Democratic base. (His Washington, D.C. win was more predictable.)

In Virginia, for example, Obama won the white vote (52 to 47 percent). He won the suburban vote (61 to 38). He won the Latino vote (54 to 46). He won white Catholics (49 to 48), a traditional swing group that Hillary previously had been winning by 2-1 margins. And he won every income bracket, including the working-class/blue-collar categories where Hillary has typically held sway.

Obama swept all income brackets in Maryland as well, winning the working-class categories in a landslide. In Maryland, he won the white Catholics by two percentage points. And, for the first time, he won the senior vote (by four points).

White women have been very loyal to Hillary during this primary season, rescuing her in New Hampshire and in the big states on Tsunami Tuesday. More than any other demographic group, they have anchored her candidacy. But Obama has now invaded that turf as well. Last night, he won 47 percent of white women in Virginia, a southern state (by contrast, his share back in New Hampshire was 33 percent).

All told, the exit polls in Virginia and Maryland suggest that Obama is moving beyond his base (upscale liberals, blacks, independents) and beginning to put together a broad Democratic coalition. And it was also clear last night that Obama is viewed more enthusiastically. When the Maryland voters were asked whether they'd be satisfied if Hillary won the nomination, 69 percent said yes. When asked the same question about Obama, 79 percent said yes.

And there's more. Of those who said yes to the Hillary question, 45 percent still voted for Obama. Of those who said yes to the Obama question, only 26 percent voted for Hillary. In translation: the depth of emotional support for Obama is greater, and the depth of disappointment, if he lost, would be greater as well. (By the way, the same questions were asked in potentially swing-state Virginia, and Obama's numbers were even better there.)

And this too is noteworthy: In Virginia, when voters were asked which candidate is better qualified to be commander-in-chief, 56 percent chose Obama. In Virginia, no less. Hillary has long been seeking to convince voters that this was her strong suit.

So I'll again raise the issue that I mentioned the other day. Is it feasible that the next Hillary firewalls in Texas and Ohio will remain firm, given Obama's momentum in February? Is it realistic to believe that the unpledged superdelegates can be cajoled to bail her out if these firewalls ultimately fall? (One unpledged superdelegate, David Wilhelm, announced today that he intends to back Obama. Normally I wouldn't bother to single out one individual, but this happens to be the guy who served as national manager of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign.)

Indeed, for Hillary, perhaps the worst indignity last night was John McCain's decision to ignore her and focus on Obama.

McCain gave a victory speech last night in Virginia, where he won his primary, despite (yet again) being waxed by Mike Huckabee among the religious conservative voters who comprise so much of the party base (nearly half the Virginia electorate was born-again or evangelical, and 60 percent of them voted for Huckabee). He also won in a primary where the turnout was less than half the size of the Democratic turnout. And his victory speech was unfortunately timed for television. Minutes earlier, Obama had delivered one of his trademark stemwinders to an SRO arena audience; then the camera switched to McCain on a small platform in a small room, looking very much Obama's senior by three decades, and he was surrounded by aging Virginia politicians, two of whom are leaving office this year. Not the best contrast for the presumptive GOP nominee.

Anyway, he poked at Obama, implying that the young man is all about himself ("I used to think that all glory was self glory"), and that the young man is full of hot air ("To encourage a country with only not the promise of hope. It's a platitude").

Hillary had better recoup quickly if she wants to enjoy the honor of coming under attack. That's an honor generally reserved for frontrunners.


Meanwhile, in the "Where Are They Now?" department, Rudy Giuliani is back on the speaking circuit. The '07 GOP frontrunner, whose disastrous candidacy deserves to be studied in political science classes, has been welcomed back to the Washington Speakers Bureau, and here's my favorite line in the official announcement:

"Giuliani galvanized the electorate by focusing much-needed attention on such issues as security, domestic and international terrorism and securing a future that's prosperous and beneficial for all Americans."

I never realized that losing repeatedly to Ron Paul was synonymous with galvanizing the electorate.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The lame duck chronicles

We interrupt the campaign news to bring you the latest quackings of our lame duck.

Seriously, amidst all the historic doings in the Democratic presidential race, with three more contests on tap for tonight, we do need to remember that President Bush is still on the job and wreaking havoc. Luckily for him, the multiple failures of his administration are drawing scant attention these days; most Americans have tuned him out, and the media is focused on the race to succeed him. But, lest we allow him to slip below the radar, some occasional coverage seems warranted.

Here's one little episode. This past weekend, Bush surfaced for nearly an hour on Fox News Sunday. At one point, he was asked whether his ambitious quest to democratize the Middle East had been undercut by the well-documented incompetence of his own war team, as evidenced by the inept occupation of Iraq. In other words, he was asked whether he had given democratization a bad name.

Specifically, host Chris Wallace said, "The idea is, that the principles you advanced were in at least some cases undermined by the way they were executed." Then Wallace buttressed his question by quoting one of Bush's former national security aides. He continued, "Kori Schake, who was a professor at West Point and served on your National Security Council, wrote this: 'I fear that the biggest foreign policy legacy of the Bush administration will be that it delegitimized its own strategy...'"

When that quote flashed on the TV screen, all I could think was, "Poor Kori Schake. She's in for it now." Sure enough, Bush dismissed her as inconsequential. Actually, it was worse than that: "Well, I don't know whether this person - sorry, I don't know who that person is."

Let's give Bush a little help: Kori Schake served him for three years on the National Security Council, as Director of Defense Strategy and Requirements.

She has also taught at West Point, taught at the National Defense University, held a fellowship at a conservative think tank, and worked on the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff when it was chaired by Colin Powell.

It's certainly possible that Bush has no clue who she is, since he doesn't breach his bubble very often. But here's what he was really saying: She's somebody I don't know, therefore her opinion is worth zilch.

In truth, of course, it has long been documented that Bush's democratization dream was fatally undermined by poor execution. The latest evidence is vividly rendered in the documentary film No End in Sight, which features a host of disillusioned Bush aides speaking on the record about the ineptitude of the Bush war planners. Indeed, much of this evidence first surfaced in a magazine article that was published 10 months before Bush stood for re-election.

And now comes the news - largely overlooked yesterday, thanks to our laser-like focus on the presidential race - that the Army has been suppressing, for the past three years, a federally-financed study that laid bare the war-planning incompetence of the Bush administration.

The study, authored by a team of specialists at the RAND Corporation, discovered (yet again) that the Bush war planners had vastly underestimated the challenge of democratizing Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein; in fact, said a draft of the report obtained by The New York Times, the poor planning had "the inadvertent effort of strengthening the insurgency."

There was constant tension between the State Department and Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department, and that further undermined the democratization planning. However, the report concluded, these tensions "were never mediated by the president or his staff."

But the report itself was kept under wraps, and remains so, because, in the words of one military source, "The Army leaders who were involved did not want to take the chance of increasing the friction with Secretary Rumsfeld" - whose basic philosophy, which he sold to Bush, was that postwar reconstruction could be done on the cheap. (Bush had designated Rumsfeld as his top postwar planner, even though the RAND report faults Rumsfeld for a "lack of capacity for civilian reconstruction planning and execution.")

Fortunately for Bush, this news story was barely noticed yesterday, and won't deter him, or the Republicans generally, from suggesting that the two Democratic contenders, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, will weaken national security if elected. The Republican National Committee has begun to crank out emails, plucking that particular chord.

...But wait, what's this: Another news story that was widely overlooked, just last week, perhaps because it ran on the same day as the Super Tuesday results. It seems that Bush's own intelligence chief, Mike McConnell, trekked to Capitol Hill last Tuesday and told lawmakers that al Qaeda is actually getting stronger, and is actively enhancing "its ability to attack the U.S." inside our borders.

Such is the record of Bush's tenure, one that should not be overlooked just because the spotlight is trained elsewhere.


And here's another byproduct of the Bush years: Yesterday, Arizona Republican congressman John Shadegg became the latest member of the House GOP to call it quits this year. He said that even though his health is great and his campaign coffers are brimming, he will forego running for re-election in November.

He said, "I'd like to do something else with my life." Translation: I don't want to risk being drowned in a Democratic tsunami that will lock me into minority status for the rest of my career.

He's the 29th House Republican to cut and run in 2008; in other words, 14 percent of the current GOP roster is bailing out of the chamber. They don't need to read the news to know which way the wind blows.


And as we await tonight's primary results in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C., here's one noteworthy political tidbit:

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, meeting with the editorial board of the Pittsburgh newspaper, has offered a provocative reason why his presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, should do well in the state primary on April 22. Here it is:

"You've got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate."

Not ready?...Rendell sounds like those baseball club owners, back in the 1940s, who always insisted that white fans were "not ready" for black ballplayers.

Rendell is probably right about some of the white voters, strictly speaking. But, in terms of politesse, there are far better arguments to make for Hillary's potential prowess in Pennsylvania (lots of senior voters, lots of suburban Democratic women). It seems a tad off message for the governor of Pennsylvania to suggest that Hillary is the stronger candidate because she can outduel Barack Obama for the racist vote.

Monday, February 11, 2008

So goes Maine in the Democratic drama

Once upon a time - actually, it was 168 years ago - the triumphant Whig party came up with the slogan, "As Maine goes, so goes the nation." The slogan somehow endured, despite the fact that, in presidential elections over the next century, Maine and the nation frequently chose differently.

But yesterday, at least, Maine did act as a barometer of sorts. Democratic caucus-goers, braving bad weather, turned out in heavy numbers to give Barack Obama an unexpected landslide victory - thereby reflecting much of the current national grassroots unease about Hillary Clinton, and demonstrating that Hillary's woes can't simply be blamed on her now-departed campaign manager.

Maine was a state where Hillary figured to do well, and thus avoid the quite real possibility of going zero-for-February. Maine's demographics were assumed to be in her comfort zone: a large pool of older, white blue-collar voters who earn less than $50,000 a year. She had scored victories in other New England states, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. She was endorsed by Maine's governor. She campaigned in Maine on Saturday, as did Bill and Chelsea.

Yet she was hammered in Maine yesterday, 59 percent to 40 percent - completing a weekend of defeats (Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington State, Virgin Islands), and losing her thin lead in the national delegate count. So what happened?

Last night I received an email from an old friend who participated in the Maine caucuses. Like so many other Democrats, she has been angsting about the two candidates, both of whom she likes. However, her decision - and those of her fellow caucus-goers - spotlights the problems that continue to imperil Hillary's candidacy. Key excerpts:

"People realize that both candidates have qualities that are appealing, and yet (there is) resistance towards Hillary...She is from the status quo, she has too much 'Billy baggage,' she voted for the war...Those seem to be the issues preventing people here from supporting her. On the other hand, Obama is appealing because he seeks to unite the country and is not a divisive public figure. He voted against the war from day one...I know she is really intelligent, she has a very good plan for universal health care, and has done much good work in her lifetime...but still, I do not especially trust her. She is too caught up in the old politics game, I feel...Of course, it would be great to have a woman in top leadership for a change. (But) Obama I found to be really inspiring and sincere, and the work he has done so far is admirable. He is very idealistic, I do not believe, as some do, that he is just a showman...I feel that Obama speaks to a new time...It is all about uniting us as a national community, which is something Americans are longing for."

It will be interesting to see how Maine's 10 superdelegates react to the Maine results. As you know by now, this Democratic race may ultimately hinge on the behavior of the 796 elected officials, party big shots, elder statesmen who have "super" status and can vote as unpledged delegates for whomever they choose, irrespective of the results in their own states.

Will Maine's superdelegates think it best to honor the decisive verdict of the caucus-goers? Or will they opt to exercise their own independent judgment, weighing other factors such as past loyalties to the candidates (Hillary has an edge) and autumn electability (the polls say Obama has an edge)? Such are the stakes in Maine, and for superdelegates nationwide. (By the way, these superdelegates may face quite a dilemma. If they opt to reflect the will of the people, they'll be forefeiting their independence, which is the big reason why the national party created the supers a quarter century ago; yet if they hew to their independence, they risk being assailed as backroom dealers by the people who would feel their votes have been ignored.)

And speaking of autumn electability, it's worth noting that both candidates in recent days have talking up their November bona fides - to the voters (Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC stage primaries tomorrow), as well as to the superdelegates. Hillary says she's tougher and better-tested to battle the GOP message machine, whereas Obama says he's sufficiently tough already, thanks to his battles with the Clinton message machine.

Perhaps Obama is right, but his fans might want to think hard about whether he would effectively refute the official Republican attack line that is already beginning to take shape: that he is an "inexperienced" "liberal" who can't match John McCain's commander-in-chief credentials. And that's just the polite stuff, as opposed to whatever gets whispered under the radar. Long before Obama even gets a chance to forge "a national community," he may need to convince late-voting Democrats (and especially the superdelegates) that he has the intestinal fortitude to blow the Swift Boats out of the water.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

McCain's embarrassment, Hillary's risk

A few thoughts on the Saturday contests:

Conservative Republicans clearly aren't anxious to march in step for John McCain. Notwithstanding his hard-won status as putative GOP nominee, they're still in a mood to smack him around.

Republicans generally close ranks once the top guy is essentially chosen, but not this time. McCain was disrespected everywhere yesterday, from the deep South to the far West - further evidence of the intraparty fractures that could undercut McCain's autumn prospects.

Once again, McCain's unpopularity with Christian conservatives was on glaring display. In the Louisiana primary, those folks were pivotal in his narrow defeat. A whopping 57 percent of the GOP primary voters described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians; and of those who did so, Mike Huckabee was the overwhelming favorite, by a margin of 56 to 31 percent.

In the Kansas caucuses, Huckabee smoked McCain in a landslide, 60 to 24 percent. To win in that kind of format, a candidate needs to attract enthusiasts who are willing to show up in droves and stick around for hours. McCain apparently didn't have much pull with the state's old-line Republicans, the kind who always voted for home-boy Bob Dole. By contrast, Christian conservatives are very active within the Kansas GOP (they have fought hard in recent years to deny the teaching of evolution), and Huckabee is their kind of guy.

As for the caucuses in Washington State, McCain has apparently eked out a narrow win over Huckabee (although the votes are still being tallied). But again, this is evidence of a serious passion deficit. McCain, at last count, won only 26 percent of the participants - in a place heavily populated by McCain-friendly moderates. Huckabee was only two points behind, and Ron Paul was only five points behind. Paul was the beneficiary of a large libertarian turnout - another conservative faction, one that is strong in western states.

So clearly, with respect to his right flank, and with an eye to November, McCain still needs to genefluct a lot more. President Bush thinks so, too. This morning, Bush told Fox News: "I think that if John’s the nominee, he has got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative. And I’ll be glad to help him if he’s the nominee."

I'll be glad to help him...Maybe Bush can go to the conservative base and say, "Hey, remember how my surrogates smeared McCain eight years ago by spreading rumors that he'd fathered a black baby out of wedlock? And that he had voted against cancer research, even though, in reality, he had voted for it many times? And that he had a 'loose screw' because of his years as a POW? And that his wife was a drug addict? And that he was 'the fag candidate'?...Well, never mind!"


As for the Democrats, I sense that Hillary Clinton might be at risk for contracting Rudy's Disease.

She was waxed yesterday in all three contests - the Louisiana primary, and the caucuses in Nebraska and Washington State - as well as in the Virgin Islands. (When, in the past, has there ever been a race that compels us to pay attention to the Virgin Islands?) All told, Barack Obama appears to have scored a net gain of roughly 40 delegates, which means that he and his rival are nearly tied.

Maine is holding caucuses today, and she may do well there. But she is likely to lose on Tuesday, perhaps badly, in the Virginia and Maryland primaries (lots of upscale white liberals live in northern Virginia, and lots of black voters statewide; in Maryland, a large black electorate.) Nine days from now, she may lose again in Wisconsin (lots of upscale white liberals, and a big college town). But her people figure that she'll recoup lost ground in the big states of Texas and Ohio on March 4.

Perhaps she should beware of Rudy's Disease. The Giuliani people figured that, even if Rudy lost all the early primaries, he could always recoup lost ground by winning in Florida; the problem was, by putting all his chips on Florida, he allowed other candidates to gain momentum and successfully use it against him.

The conventional wisdom at the moment is that Hillary will be strong in Texas (lots of Hillary-friendly Hispanics) and Ohio (lots of downscale working-class white Democrats). And maybe that wisdom is correct. But is it possible that if Obama has a strong February, generating a string of OBAMA WINS headlines, he might just take on the aura of a winner and shift enough Texas and Ohio votes to fight Hillary to a virtual draw for those delegates? It's worth pondering.