Friday, February 22, 2008

It is now or never for Clinton

It seems like Sen. Hillary Clinton has become a footnote between Sen. Barack Obama's victory speeches as he steamrolls through yet another string of victories in the Democratic primary.
The Clinton camp was expecting these losses in February, and they come as no surprise to anyone. However, Clinton needs to stay relevant in the campaign. She cannot afford to continue being mentioned as the runner-up who is pinning her hopes on Texas and Ohio. The Clinton campaign has to break Obama's momentum in order to remain competitive till the looming showdown over super delegates and resolution of Michigan and Florida delegates emerges.

One can safely assume Clinton and her surrogates are working under the radar to court the uncommitted super delegates and preparing for the fight over Florida and Michigan. Although these are necessary steps, Clinton has to get in the spotlight and separate herself from Obama and give voters a clear choice.

This phony live and let live campaign style that Obama and Clinton have employed is killing Clinton. Currently the policy differences betweeen the two are microscopic, and the race has been reduced to a popularity contest. Likeability is not a battle Hillary Clinton is going to win anytime soon. The Clinton camp is pushing for a debate in Texas before the primary there, and if she gets a chance to debate Obama she has to take Obama head-on. The love affair of the last debate gets her nowhere.

It is hard to attack the darling of the media whose platform is an abstract, non-specific theme that cannot be proven either way. Rep. Patrick Kennedy said so much in an interview where he said "what Sen. Obama offers cannot be put on a resume." Obama uses his experience as a community organizer in Chicago (another disprovable concept in terms of his effectiveness as the organizer) as a qualification to be President. In any other election cycle this would be a laughable proposition, but he is able to pull it off. His other and only real experience includes essentially discussing potholes in the Illinois legislature for seven years during which he did not stand out in any way.

Hillary Clinton has to make the case that change and experience are not mutually exclusive concepts. She has to point out that Obama is just another politician who has played it safe in both the Illinois State and US Senates for political benefit. He did not make an iota of difference in Chicago for over seven years and yet expects voters to take his word about changing the country.

Clinton also has to differentiate herself from Obama's policies or at least offer specifics about troop withdrawals and dealing with the war on terror. She has to offer ideas on how to deal with the problems facing the country that are concrete and different from Obama's. She needs to raise a new issue in the campaign (countering China, for example) and hammer it down. She should tout her First Lady experience as well as her Senate record before Obama got to the Senate.

Clinton needs to counter Obama's attacks about her vote for the war. He gave a non-consequential speech about the war, and his actions had no effect on anything. Once in the Senate, Obama has not backed up his anti-war stance by voting against funding or introducing a bill to withdraw troops. It won't be easy, but she has to sell that point to the voters. Finally, Clinton has to compete in Wisconsin even though she will probably lose there. Wisconsin can be used as a testing ground to attack Obama on his weaknesses.

The tide is with Obama right now, especially with respect to foreign affairs. Iraq is stable, Iran and North Korea are behaving themselves and no major foreign incident has occurred since the death of Benazir Bhutto that would expose Obama's inexperience and naivety. It is up to Hillary to remind the voters that it will not stay calm forever and when things change, stabilization will require real experience which only she offers.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Why Clinton is stronger after Super Tuesday

If you paid any attention to the news leading up to Super Tuesday it was clear Obama had the momentum with a string of celebrity and union endorsements. Clinton was shown to be at least even if not behind in polls in California. There was no doubt about who won the state tally on Super Tuesday. Barack Obama won thirteen states to Clinton's eight with New Mexico pending and looking favorable to Obama.

The Obama campaign should be happy at what they accomplished against one the most recognizable political names in America. The Clinton folks should also be upbeat after winning California and Massachusetts and thus nullifying the endorsements of the Kennedys and John Kerry. A close look at the states won by each candidate gives an insight to which candidate has a better chance in the general elections.
Obama won more states but those included states like Alaska where the total votes cast were under 400. He also won states like Utah, Idaho and North Dakota which do not have enough delegates to make a difference in the total count and are republican strongholds. No Democrat has any chance at these states in the general elections. The Democratic Party has not and will not spend time in these states.

Obama did make headlines by winning the southern states with the exception of Tennessee which went to Clinton. Again the Bible belt is red from top to bottom and no Democrat has a chance there. The Black vote in these states will be small and inconsequential in November to make a difference for Democrats. The Hispanic vote will have a much bigger impact for the Democrats. Obama's biggest victories on Super Tuesday were Missouri, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Connecticut, Kansas and Minnesota. Missouri, although a win for Obama, is essentially a tie in terms of the delegates awarded to each candidate.

Hillary Clinton also won in red states like Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arizona where the Democratic nominee does not have a chance in November. But the Clinton camp should be happy with Super Tuesday’s results because of her wins in delegate rich Massachusetts, California, New York and New Jersey. These are Democratic states in the general elections. This is the Democratic base and Clinton did very well here. This means the democratic base with the exception of Illinois, Connecticut, and Delaware went with Clinton on Super Tuesday. It implies that she has the support of the voters in the states that democrats traditionally carry in the general elections.
This is the argument she can take to the big donors of the Democratic Party. Clinton only has to catch up in Connecticut, Delaware and Illinois while Obama has to work in New Jersey, California, Massachusetts and New York. Missouri is an exception where both would have to work to win that state along with the Republican nominee. Thus Obama has more work to do in winning the Democratic base than Clinton.

This is by no means over and Hillary Clinton should now concentrate on a few select states beyond Super Tuesday. States such as Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania are noteworthy. She can let Obama win more states and get the headlines but in terms of the base votes and delegates Clinton will remain ahead. She also has to attack Obama on the lack of specifics of his policies. The media seems to have given him a pass on the details but Clinton cannot afford to do so. She has to force him to unveil the nuts and bolts of his economic, military and social plans beyond the redundant change concept. Everyone gets it that Obama wants to bring about change but Clinton has to force him to get to the ‘how’ part.

There is no doubt that Barack Obama will continue his huge cash flows and get high profile endorsements. However ,the Clinton machine will work the grass roots like they did in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and California. Like in California and Massachusetts Obama’s celebrity endorsements will be reduced to nothing more than an opportunity to name drop by the Obama campaign.