This week’s debate in Philadelphia illustrated the downside of a polarized campaign based on personality and not on issues. Both Obama and Clinton have very few differences on the major issues, be it the economy, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, healthcare, free trade and special interests. It took 45 minutes before the moderators questioned the candidates on many of these issues. Instead, the emphasis was on the numerous sideshows involving Pastor Wright, the Bosnia incident, ‘bitter-gate’, and the appraisal of each candidate’s electability. Those topics have dominated discussion among pundits from both parties for weeks. If anything this last debate showed two candidates losing energy. After over one year of intense campaigning, they both seem tired and lacked energy. What was once a showcase campaign for change and excitement appears to be transforming itself into a case of lost momentum. Howard Dean’s latest comment that superdelegates must soon make up their minds is indicative of a campaign that is quickly losing its appeal and dividing the Democratic Party.
Senator Obama was clearly on the defensive throughout this debate. Some of this can be attributed to the moderators who set the stage for Mrs. Clinton to attack Obama. This is fair game. The end result, however, was Obama appearing to lose patience and Clinton putting the least attractive side of her candidacy on display. This is not a win-win formula for the Democrats–it’s lose-lose.
The latest polls indicate Mrs. Clinton is still ahead of Obama, but her once-commanding margin has been significantly reduced. It is obvious that an Obama upset on Tuesday will lead to more pressure on Clinton to withdraw from the race. A victory by Clinton, however, will prepare a showdown on May 6, a date this blog has argued is the potential tipping point in the race. I do not believe the American electorate will continue to be interested in a campaign increasingly based on sniping between the candidates. This will obviously serve John McCain, whose campaign is flying under the radar and fine tuning its message. McCain is the one Republican candidate who can appeal to the very independents who will eventually decide the November election and right now he is gaining the momentum he will need for victory.