Back in New Hampshire, the Obama forces on the ground had a slogan: “Fired up, ready to go.” This blog has from the outset welcomed the challenge to test Obama. The slogans in the course of a campaign are important, but the reality is that they are just words and often do not connect to reality. Hillary Clinton’s relentless pursuit of the Democratic nomination has had the unique advantage of testing the campaign slogans as well as the character of her opponent. The Clinton campaign has thrown the ‘kitchen sink’ at Barack Obama in the past eight weeks. In addition, Barack Obama has self-inflicted wounds from an ill-conceived remark about small town America and his past association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The result has been a less attractive Obama, but a much tougher one, too.
The attraction of novelty in politics has its limits. Following Iowa, many who followed the Obama campaign were inspired by his oratorical skills and his rhetoric about transformational change. Young voters and new voters were attracted to his campaign as he set records with grassroots/internet fundraising. His youth and vigor reminded many of JFK and RFK, and his inspirational tone was very much in the mold of Martin Luther King. Above all, his candidacy seemed to transcend race. From Iowa to the end of February, people were excited and his road to the nomination seemed unimpeded. That was the novelty phase but it began to wear off.
No one expected the first African American or the first woman to reach the presidency without obstacles. Both candidates needed to be tested, and both were. Senator Clinton, better known and more experienced had to show that the perceptions of a polarizing figure were just that: mere perceptions. She also had to show she could blend experience and change to convince an electorate thirsty for a new direction that she is the better choice. Obama, less experienced and relatively unknown in a field of eight candidates, had to capture the imagination of the Democratic base and prove he is a viable candidate. As a result, winning Iowa was a pre-condition to remaining a serious candidate. It now appears evident that Obama and the novelty of his candidacy won the early rounds and created a new dynamic.
Hillary had to play catch up and we know the Clintons would never give up. Testing Obama has shown a candidate with character and resilience. His speech on race after the Pastor Wright controversy first cropped up is now seen as a landmark address. But his recent break with his mentor had to be the most difficult challenge. Senator Obama did what he had to do, albeit reluctantly, and with aplomb. Yesterday’s primaries produced the result he needed to regain the momentum he lost in the past few weeks. A decisive victory in North Carolina and a close loss in Indiana won him the night. Hillary needed a decisive win in Indiana and a close result in North Carolina (either way) to win the night. She failed.
To win the nomination and to stand a chance to win the presidency, a candidate must show resilience and durability. Novelty to durability is essentially the road traveled by Barack Obama in the past eight weeks. Hillary will stay in the race, or so we think, because quitting is not in the DNA of the Clintons. However, the math and the momentum from last night clearly favor Obama. The super delegates are taking note undoubtedly. The challenge for the Democrats in the weeks ahead will be to heal the wounds and present a much-needed united front to take on the Republicans and John McCain in the fall. Until last night there was reasonable doubt; and while doubts persist in some circles, we can now say Obama has been tested. The road remains long and more tests will surely occur, but it is fair to say that this candidate, the Senator from Illinois, is now ready to go. Democrats, take note!