Sunday, April 27, 2008
Ever since he announced that he was running for president of the United States, Sen. Barack Obama has been called everything from the Messiah to an empty suit, creating a political fissure not seen among Democrats in about 55 years. His candidacy, like that of his opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton, has divided the party right smack down the middle.
To be sure, Obama came out of the gate in January charging like a thoroughbred, surprisingly taking the Iowa caucuses, Idaho, Utah, Kansas and others before moving onto an impressive 11-state winning streak in February. He seemed unstoppable, and winning the nomination was thought to be an obvious inevitability. And that's precisely the point where the Obama campaign appears to have peaked. Since February, he's only manged to squeak out victories in Wyoming and Mississippi, while Clinton has won key states like Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Obama's support has come primarily from blacks, the affluent, the educated and college students. Clinton has been more successful pulling together a broader coalition consisting of the white working class, Hispanics, Catholics, Jews, women and 45+/seniors.
Then came the controversies: Rev. Jeremiah Wright's hate speeches; the Tony Rezko Chicago real estate scandal; the "flag-pin" flap; his wife Michelle's "pride" comments; and "BitterGate." Poor debate performances followed. Obama, once flying high, soon became viewed by many as a potential liability. A candidate whose overall message was failing to resonate among the party's base. A candidate who was failing to connect with voters in a way necessary to win the nomination. A candidate who, in the words of NY Times columnist Bob Herbert, needs to "put more meat on those rhetorical bones."
And then came the Pennsylvania primary, where Clinton won a decisive, almost 10-point win, capturing the support of not just the rural and white working class, but also surprisingly taking the Philly suburbs. In the subsequent week, Obama's numbers have dropped precipitously, with Gallup's Daily Tracking Poll showing Clinton and Obama now tied, and she ahead of Sen. John McCain in the national election. Worse, the Newsweek poll released this weekend shows Obama's lead has been cut by more than half from last week, and that his "electability" lead dropped to 46%-38% from 55%-33. His unfavorable rating jumped to 40%.
So is the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama imploding? Is his failure to win a big blue state...his public gaffs...his inexperience...his controversies finally having the kind of impact with voters that may leave him unable to convince the super-delegates that it's he, not Clinton, who they should send into the general election against McCain and the GOP? Has he failed to show Democrats that he's a fighter, equipped to be president and commander-in-chief? Is he unable, unlike Clinton, to win back the "Reagan Democrats"...with whom neither candidate can win without? Is his support stagnant while Clinton is winning over the undecideds? Is he all style over substance? Should we be concerned why he refuses to debate Clinton in North Carolina, or why he's fighting tooth and nail to keep Michigan and Florida out of the contest?
By those passionate about Obama, I've been comically accused of being everything from a Hillary Clinton shill to running a Clinton "fan site." But consider what I wrote back on February 10th, following Obama's strong wins in Louisiana, Washington, Nebraska and U.S. Virgin Islands:
"Surveying the landscape at this time it's hard to imagine this momentum fading at any time soon. It's hard to imagine him not going all the way. In politics, momentum and perception is everything. And he looks, act and sounds like a winner. In his victory speech, he was strong, confident and driven; he carried himself like a man who had a window into the future, and he really liked what he saw. To the contrary, Clinton appeared like a tired loser; weak, scared and whose window afforded a much less exciting view."
I wrote many more extremely positive pieces like this about Obama since then when he deserved them. Ironically, I've even been called an Obama shill. But in politics, months can seem like a lifetime, and Obama's once strong inevitability now seems quite uncertain. It is now Clinton who has all the momentum and who appears like a winner, with Obama coming across badly weakened, tired, angry, condescending. Like a candidate who's back at that window, but this time does not like what he sees.