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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Checkmate Move for Obama

It wasn't the best night for Hillary Clinton. In North Carolina, Barack Obama ate her lunch. In Indiana, she pulled out such a slim victory that the delegate count is likely to be a near tie. Team Clinton is saying "a win is a win," except it's not. Clinton's impossible quest for the Democratic nomination just got a little more impossible. Between the two states, Obama has widened his lead. Last night was a clear loss for Hillary.

It may be that money is what finally kills the Clinton campaign. They've been stiffing businesses on their bills and Clinton turned her Indiana victory speech into a pitch for cash. The Associated Press tells us, "Putting her money troubles into clearer focus, Clinton's campaign said Wednesday that she lent her campaign $6.4 million over the past month. Earlier this year, she gave her campaign $5 million."

"This has always been your campaign and this is your victory, because your support has meant the difference between winning and losing," Clinton said. "We can only keep winning if we’re able to keep competing against an opponent who does outspend us."

NBC's Mike Memoli reports, "She then asked supporters to visit her Web site, where visitors are greeted now with a message on the front page that asks supporters to donate $5."



For his part, Barack Obama used his North Carolina victory speech to take a swipe at Hillary's "big state" argument. And it was pretty much the first thing out of his mouth.

"I want to start by congratulating Senator Clinton on her victory in the state of Indiana," Obama said. "And I want to thank the people of North Carolina for giving us a victory in a big state, a swing state, and a state where we will compete to win if I am the Democratic nominee for president of the United States." Had he been Homer Simpson, Barack Obama would've added, "In your face, Hillary!" It really was a clear slap at her argument.

I've been running a scenario in my head for a few days now and I think it might be a good idea. What I think Obama should do now is start acting as if he's already won the nomination. Clinton is a distraction at this point -- she'll need to win every remaining state by about 90% to overtake him in the popular vote. That's not going to happen.

So, what Obama needs to do is create a distraction of his own. It may seem a little arrogant, but he should put out a press release or leak a story that he's going to choose a running mate "in the next few weeks." It's an unusual move, but there's no law or rule that says you have to officially be the presumptive nominee to choose a VP candidate. At least, none that I can find.

What this would do is create an entirely new narrative for the media. Speculation over who Obama might choose would become a big story -- especially among the punditry, whose bread and butter is speculation. Whether or not it's a good idea to choose a running mate this far out would also become a story. In the meantime, Hillary becomes page three news.

It would also exacerbate Clinton's already evident fundraising troubles. If Obama looks like the nominee, donors would be less likely to waste their dollars on what looks like a lost cause.

Of course, "the next few weeks" is so open-ended that it's basically a statement of current fact. He wouldn't have to choose anyone any time soon -- he'd just state the obvious and lead the media down a different narrative arc. He's going to choose a running mate and he's going to do it "in the next few weeks," so why not come out and say it?

On the other hand, my scenario has downsides. As I've already pointed out, it'd seem pretty arrogant and plenty of people would point that out. It also doesn't feel real honest -- despite the fact that it'd be absolutely true -- and that's not the kind of campaign Obama's running. But something has to pound those final nails in Hillary's coffin and I can't think of anything that would do it so decisively. Many pundits are already casting the race as being between Obama and McCain, so a big chunk of the media is already there.

This would also be playing on Clinton's level. She's been playing the media like a harp. If you think back to earlier races, you see a pattern of manipulating expectations. Al Giordano played it out yesterday and nailed the way the primaries went. Unfortunately, it's too long to quote here (a quote that big would basically be theft), but there's nothing stopping you from going and reading it. I can sum it up, though.

First, the Clinton campaign leaks insane poll numbers to Drudge showing a huge victory for Obama. Those numbers get spread around on blogs until they're picked up by the media. Team Hillary has succeeded in setting expectations low. Drudge leaks some raw exit polling -- which, of course, is just as inaccurate -- that shows Obama kicking ass. Then, when the real numbers come in, everyone says Hillary did better than expected. This is how she spins losses into wins.

If Clinton's going to play the media like this, then so should Obama. If Hillary won't accept reality and leave the race, then Obama should kick her out. And I can't think of anything that would do that as well as casting her as an also-ran and choosing a running mate. As arrogant as that may seem, I'm pretty damned sure it would work.

Of course, he may not have to take things that far. There are noises that this thing is over.

Talking Points Memo:

We might just be on the verge of a big super-delegate break for Barack Obama, in the wake of his good showing last night. If so, that could bring this contest to a close fairly quickly.

George Stephanopoulos reported this morning that the Obama camp will be rolling out super-delegate endorsements "three, four, five at a time -- and this nomination will be locked up."


So the SDs may be ending this themselves very soon. But if that's not enough, if Hillary Clinton really is planning on taking this to the convention, then there's one way to put her behind Obama for good and all...

Make the running mate announcement, Barack. That'll end this.

-Wisco

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