Obama’s Must Wins

Some counter-spin from the Clinton camp, which is portraying itself as the underdog, and arguing that Ohio and Texas are must wins for Obama:

The media has anointed Barack Obama the presumptive nominee and he’s playing the part.

With an eleven state winning streak coming out of February, Senator Obama is riding a surge of momentum that has enabled him to pour unprecedented resources into Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The Obama campaign and its allies are outspending us two to one in paid media and have sent more staff into the March 4 states. In fact, when all is totaled, Senator Obama and his allies have outspent Senator Clinton by a margin of $18.4 million to $9.2 million on advertising in the four states that are voting next Tuesday.

Senator Obama has campaigned hard in these states. He has spent time meeting editorial boards, courting endorsers, holding rallies, and – of course – making speeches.

If he cannot win all of these states with all this effort, there’s a problem.

Should Senator Obama fail to score decisive victories with all of the resources and effort he is bringing to bear, the message will be clear: Democrats, the majority of whom have favored Hillary in the primary contests held to date, have their doubts about Senator Obama and are having second thoughts about him as a prospective standard-bearer.

As silly as this sounds, I do actually think it is crucial for Obama to win one of the two big states. The reason is, as this memo makes clear, the Clinton campaign is prepared to spin any victory in the two states–where she was ahead by 20 point margins just a few weeks ago–as major upsets that halted Obama’s momentum. Even small wins will give the Clintons the rationale they need to continue, and the longer the race drags on, the higher the chances that something unpredictable can happen that will change the tide. A gaffe, increased media scrutiny, an international crisis, a rethinking of the Obama Messiah phenomenon, etc.

Re: Negotiate A Beating Before the Betting

Having spent my childhood in Atlantic City with a father in the casino business and having worked in casinos for three summers myself, I should probably abstain from such a discussion, but I always think it’s important to clear up a misconception about gambling. At the end of the day, gambling should be viewed as a type of entertainment, and there really aren’t many forms of amusement that provide a similar adrenalin rush than the ups and downs you can experience playing craps or blackjack, at the slot machines or the roulette wheel. The media likes to focus on those people who are squandering their life’s savings by gambling, in an attempt to portray casinos as predatory enterprises. But there is a certain segment of the population that is always going to take things too far, whether it’s alcoholics, smokers who go through several packs a day, obese people who continue to eat fast food. The overwhelming majority of gamblers are responsible adults just looking for a fun diversion from their everyday lives.

Defending His Life

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — “I present to you the most admired, most popular, political figure on the face of the earth,” Gov. Ted Strickland announced to the crowd of several hundred at a local community center here on Sunday.

Strickland was not introducing the Messiah of the month, Barack Obama, but the Guardian of the 1990s, Bill Clinton. With his prospects of returning to the White House dimming, Clinton is spending what could be his waning days on the campaign trail reminiscing about his past.

“On election night 1992, I’ll never forget it, I was with Hillary, and her family, I was still in my running clothes, and all of a sudden the television came on, and an outline of the state of Ohio was blinking on and off, on and off,” Clinton recalled. “It said, ‘Governor Clinton will be the next president, because he just carried Ohio.'”

But when he became president, his family was destitute.

“We were the poorest family to move into the White House in the 20th Century, and we were worse off when we left than when we got there,” he said, neglecting to mention the legal woes that precipitated his descent into pauper status.

BILL IS INSECURE these days. He believes his legacy is under assault, and is determined to fend off any real or perceived attacks on his record, as if he were Aragorn fighting off dozens of orks with a single sword.

Red faced at times, pointing his finger at the audience, gently pounding his fist on the lectern, Bill describes how in the 1990s he created 22 million jobs and turned deficits into surpluses. With the North American Free Trade Agreement he championed unpopular among the increasingly protectionist liberal base, he brags about how trade enforcement was tougher when he was president.

Speaking before college students, some who could have been toddlers when he was first elected, Clinton is conscious of the perception that he is trapped in the past.

“I want to make it clear, if I make any reference to the 1990s, it’s not because Hillary wants to go back to then, but because she believes you can’t build a better future unless you understand the past,” he told a mostly young audience on Monday in Athens, home of Ohio University.

When talking about his record, Clinton demonstrated that he hasn’t lost his trademark adaptability, or his penchant for mythmaking.

One audience member held up a homemade sign that read: “800 LB Gorilla in the Debates Israeli Palestinian Conflict.”

As if on cue, Clinton added a section on the Middle East peace process to his usual stump speech.

“In the first four years of President Bush’s administration, three times as many Palestinians and three times as many Israelis were killed by terrorist incidents than in the entire eight years I was president,” Clinton boasted. “Why? Not in the end because we made peace, but because we made seven years of progress toward it.”

Clinton’s idea of “progress” during those seven years was elevating the terrorist Yasser Arafat to the role of statesman, arm-twisting Israelis into offering endless concessions to the Palestinians, watching Arafat reject peace and launch the Second Intifada, and leaving office with the region in chaos.

The military, according to Clinton, has been “broken by overextension in Iraq.” He asserted that, “by every measure of readiness, it is in worse shape today than the day I left office.”

But the military that Clinton argues is overextended because of America’s involvement in Iraq is smaller than it was during the first Gulf War precisely because Clinton spent his entire presidency slashing the number of active duty soldiers.

CLINTON IS UNDOUBTEDLY still popular on the campaign trail, but the trouble is, his rival this time around has what Clinton had 16 years ago. While Clinton draws large crowds, Obama’s are larger. They cheer for Clinton, but they chant for Obama.

Though Obama has been described as a rock star, his speeches have become more like sporting events. At the Cleveland Convention Center on Saturday night, Obama spoke to nearly 7,000 fans. They did the wave, they watched a cheesy warm-up act perform the “Obama Dance,” they waited in a snaking concession stand line for overpriced jumbo hot dogs, and they broke out into chants of “We want change!”; “We Can’t Wait!”; and the standard, “Yes We Can!”

Compared with Obama’s thunderous speeches inside arenas, Clinton’s rallies are rather low-key affairs. It’s the difference between Derek Jeter taking the field at Yankee Stadium during a critical game, and Goose Gossage stepping on the mound on Old Timers’ Day.

In wrapping up his remarks in Athens, Clinton reflected on how the presidency can affect somebody psychologically.

“It’s easy to forget ordinary people when you become president,” he said. “If you’re not real careful, you can think you are somebody. Think about what being president is like. They play a song every time you walk into a room. They play ‘Hail to the Chief.’ I was completely lost for three weeks after I left the White House, ’cause nobody ever played a song anymore.”

If it were anybody other than Bill Clinton, that might be kind of sad.

McCain’s Presidential Elgibility

The NY Times has a silly story up questioning whether John McCain is constitutionally inelgible to be president because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone, and thus may not qualify as a “natural born citizen.” This is clearly a non issue for his campign. Even if there is a legal case to be made against him, if you’re the Democrats, do you really want to be making the argument that McCain cannot run for president because he was born at an overseas military base while his father was serving our country?

Clinton Talking Economics

ZANESVILLE, OH — I’m hear at a Hillary Clinton “Economic Solutions Summit.” The idea is the bring together political and business leaders to emphasize economic issues in the state. Among the notables in addition to Clinton are Sen. John Glenn, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, and New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. Will update if anything interesting happens.

UPDATE: Clinton is surrounded by 7 people on each side, and is asking each of them to speak about their concerns. “I will be a president, just like I have been a Senator, who listens,” she said.

First she turned to a GM union worker who asked–miraculously–about universal health care. Clinton was glad, and no doubt shocked, shocked, that he brought it up.

A couple who were the victims of foreclosures spoke about their experiences, and then Ted Strickland discussed problems facing Ohio. Every speaker, of course, is sure to emphasize why Clinton would make the best president.

Gov. Jon Corzine, meanwhile, just endorsed Clinton’s idea of a moratorium on foreclosures. That a man with a background as a financial executive would endorse a such an ill-conceived economic policy is utterly amazing, even for a Democrat.

Hillary Unhinged

Hillary Clinton needed a dominating performance in Tuesday night’s debate in Cleveland to regain a foothold in the Democratic nomination battle. Instead, she became unhinged.

When Clinton was viewed as the inevitable nominee through last fall, the story coming out of each debate was that she was in command, projecting poise, a mastery of the issues, and coolness under fire.

All of these descriptions of her performances reinforced the overarching narrative that Clinton was ready to lead on Day One of her presidency. On issues such as using military force within Pakistan and holding unconditional meetings with foreign dictators, Barack Obama came across as a novice by comparison.

With the roles reversed and Obama now in prime position to capture the Democratic nomination, it was Clinton who needed to play catch up. Because Obama has already won the likeability primary against Clinton, her task was to demonstrate that only she is up to the task of being the nation’s top executive.

Instead, whether it was an extended back and forth on health care, NAFTA, or Iraq, Obama was able to hold his own against Clinton. Though Obama, a little more than three years removed from being a state senator, has a thin political resume, the idea that Clinton was eminently more qualified because she served as first lady was always a farce.

In this debate, Obama artfully pointed out that Clinton is trying to cherry pick the popular aspects of the 1990s in touting her record.

DURING THE CAMPAIGN, Clinton has also promoted her ability to get results, which she contrasts with Obama’s lack of accomplishments.

Strangely, she cites the fact that she presided over one of the biggest domestic policy failures in modern political history — the drive for universal health care in 1993 and 1994 — as evidence that she can get things done because she is battle scarred.

With a velvet glove, Obama noted that her leadership skills were so deficient that she managed to alienate even members of her own party.

And these were among the better moments of the debate for Clinton. When she wasn’t discussing policy, she came off like a madwoman on the street, hawking paranoid pamphlets. First there were the complaints about Obama’s mailers on NAFTA and health care. Then there was the Captain Queeq-like paranoid outburst over the order of questions.

“Well, could I just point out that, in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time,” Clinton lamented.

She continued, “And I don’t mind. You know, I’ll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious. And if anybody saw Saturday Night Live, you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow.”

With Obama enjoying a solid lead over Clinton in the race for delegates, Clinton has to win Ohio and Texas by huge margins in order to have a realistic chance of overtaking him, because both states allocate delegates proportionately.

But with Texas now a dead heat and Clinton’s lead in Ohio dwindling into the single digits in several polls, there are signs that the Clinton campaign is willing to use any win in the states as a rationale for continuing.

CLINTON WOULD LIKELY make the case that she has won all of the big states such as New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Michigan and Florida, and would stay in the race at least through Pennsylvania on April 22 and perhaps even through Puerto Rico in June and onto the convention.

Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist, seemed to be suggesting this in remarks he made in the spin room following the debate.

“We’re looking to be successful in both [Ohio and Texas], and we’re going to the convention,” Penn said. He reiterated later, “If we’re successful here, it will be a tremendous reversal of the momentum you’ve seen.”

I asked Penn if by “successful” he meant winning Ohio and Texas.

“Well, let’s see, you know, there are many ways to judge success,” he replied.

For a follow-up, I asked him whether he would set the bar for success ahead of time. Otherwise, whatever Clinton does, the campaign can go back after the fact and argue that it was a “success.”

Penn moved the goal post further. “Well, you know, this process doesn’t end with these states, it continues on to 16 states,” he said.

But whatever her goals in the short- or long-term, Clinton didn’t help herself Tuesday night.

Clinton and Obama Camps Spar on Jeremiah Wright

CLEVELAND — In the spin room following the Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist noted that though Barack Obama distanced himself from Louis Farrakhan Tuesday night, he did not distance himself from his minister, Jeremiah Wright, who has praised Farrakhan.

“If you listen to the answers, (Obama) only responded to Farrakhan, and he never responded to the fact that his minister, I believe, if I have it right, said that Farrakhan was a person of ‘greatness,'” Clinton strategist Mark Penn said. “And so, if you listen very carefully, I do not think he in fact rejected or denounced his minister praising Farrakahn.”

Farrakhan also received an award from a magazine connected with Wright.

I asked Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, to respond, and he chalked it up to desperation on the Clinton side.

“I understand that we’re in the middle of a tough campaign, and as we read this morning, the Clinton campaign’s plan is to throw everything they possibly can at Senator Obama and hope that something sticks, so I’m not surprised to see Mark try that,” Axelrod said. “But the reality is that everybody, all of America, heard Senator Obama clearly and unequivocally denounce and reject Minister Farakahn’s comments, and especially his anti-Semitism. And he has said repeatedly that he thought it was a mistake to give him an award, there’s no ambiguity about that.”

Clinton’s Major Gaffe

When asked who Putin’s likely successor would be, she seemed stumped, at least on the pronunciation. She began to say, Medvedev, but with a lot of help from Tim Russert, she couldn’t pronounce it, and said, “whatever.” For a woman who has banked her entire candidacy on her ability to be president from DAY ONE, on her vast foreign policy experience, it was an embarassment. It may have been a gotcha question, but she got got.

UPDATE: Andy McCarthy had the exact opposite reaction.

Obama, Farrakhan, and the Jews

Who knew this debate would turn into a Jewish love fest?

First, conflating affection for the Jewish and support for Israel is a mistake that people often make, but most Jews do not vote on the basis of a candidate’s position on Israel. If they did, President Bush would have won much more of the Jewish vote than he did. Here’s the deal. I think it’s pretty clear that Obama is no fan of
Farrakhan, and I have no reason to believe he is an anti-Semite.

My fear regarding Obama on Israel is not that he’d be hostile toward it, but more that in the interest of being true to his call of bringing people together, he’d be too willing to assume the best intentions of the Palestinian leadership, particularly Hamas, and thus force Israel into a counterproductive peace process.