Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The End of the Beginning?

With decisive wins in all three "Potomac Primaries" last night, Obama may have moved past the equilibrium among Democratic party constituents that seemed to exist in the days after Super Tuesday: he had young voters, African-American voters, and upscale voters; Hillary had Latinos, older voters and women.

But last night in Virginia, which is a large, diverse state, Hillary did quite poorly. As one observer wrote, her performance was like Mike Huckabee's -- only performing in the rural, less-populated counties near West Virginia and Tennessee.

Now the calendar starts to work against Hillary. There are no events until next Tuesday (Feb 19th) when Wisconsin and Hawaii vote. Moreover, Hillary has indicated that she has written off both states, choosing to "Stand and Fight" (to coin a phrase) in Texas and Ohio, which are 20 days from today, on March 4th. Obama's momentum in the meantime will continue to grow.

But if Hillary allows Obama to continue to cut into voters who are lower on the education/economic scale, as he did last night, neither Texas nor Ohio will save her. And she has to do more than re-tool, she has to re-load.

Where to go? Matt Cooper (who is married to Clinton adviser Mandy Grunwald), suggests Social Security:
I don't know why the campaign hasn't done more with Obama's saying that he was open lifting the taxable income cap on Social Security above its current $97,000. That's a huge tax increase for people who don't think they're rich. It's a place to start.

It's also consistent with Clinton primary history. In 1992, Bill Clinton hammered Paul Tsongas in the Florida primary with the (very questionable) claim that Tsongas would cut Social Security benefits and "harm Israel." Tsongas responded with the weaker -- but historically accurate -- barb of calling Clinton a "pander bear."

Don't be surprised to see Hillary take a page out of her husband's playbook on Social Security, especially in Ohio (if Camp Clinton doesn't reassess its chances in Wisconsin first).

But Obama is in a much stronger position -- financially and politically -- than Tsongas was in the spring of 1992. Like Bill Clinton then, Obama is now the front-runner, and leading the delegate count.

And if Hillary can't win Ohio and Texas -- and convincingly -- then we may be seeing, with reference to the words of one statesman, not the end of the beginning, but rather the beginning of the end.

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