A few weeks ago this blog expressed deep concern about the evolution of the Democratic nomination race. I characterized Barack Obama as emerging more and more as a ‘bruised’ candidate and suggested that, should Hillary Clinton win against the will of the pledged delegates count, her victory would be ‘messy.’ The Pennsylvania primary clearly showed Clinton is a tenacious and formidable opponent. Her decisive victory is a result of an aggressive negative campaign, one which the New York Times branded as ‘the low road to victory.’ (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/opinion/23wed1.html?_r=1&oref=slogin) But that is not the whole story. Obama hurt his own campaign with a lacklustre debate performance and an ill-worded comment about small town America. So, it would be a simplistic analysis to say that Obama’s defeat was the result of Hillary’s negativism.
The next showdown will take place on May 6 and the Indiana primary is appearing more and more as the deciding factor in this primary season. Assuming Obama wins North Carolina decisively, and he wins Indiana (95% white), it’s all over. She may stay in until the last primaries on June 3rd, but the money and the support of superdelegates will no longer be in her favour. Should Obama lose a close race in Indiana, the pressure on Clinton will also mount. The momentum she will have developed from her Ohio and Pennsylvania victories will stall. However, should she win convincingly in Indiana, you can be sure that Hillary Clinton will send all the signals that she is ready to go to Denver and have it decided there. Should the superdelegates fail to bring any of the two candidates over the top in June, then the Denver convention has all the trappings of moving from ‘bruised’ to ‘messy’ and to ‘ugly’.
While race has played a role in varying degrees throughout the primary season, there has always been a sense that this Democratic contest was making history. Whether it be the first woman or the first African American presidential candidate, the Democrats were about to make an historic choice in a year where Republicans were generally written off. The Pennsylvania primary has once again raised the spectre of race. The vote of white blue collar workers was strongly pro-Clinton. The expression ‘that Obama cannot close the deal’ is a subtle allusion to the race factor. This is why a victory in Indiana by Obama may not eliminate the race factor entirely, but will diminish it significantly in the minds of superdelegates.
It is now clear that Senator Barack Obama is facing his most crucial test. Yes he must close the deal, but on his terms. He must get back on message and avoid falling into the trap of responding to negative campaigning with his brand of negative advertising. He must remain focus on his message of hope and change, and draw the distinction between the Democratic Party under his leadership and the Republican Party under John McCain. In recent weeks he has appeared tired and his instincts are not serving him well. Case in point, his convoluted explanation on the flag lapel pin. He had dealt with that issue in the early debate contest in 2007 and all he had to repeat was that his patriotism was in his heart and his soul and need not be expressed on his lapel pin. Unfortunately, when given a lapel pin by an Iraq veteran who had been wounded, he wore it and then removed it the next day. With this setting in mind he tried to explain his position. Very confusing.
So we enter the next two weeks with a bruised frontrunner, a challenger who can only win ‘messy’ with negative advertising and superdelegates opposing pledged delegates count and the possibility of a convention fight at the end of August. If anything, Democrats should worry about ‘ugly’.