Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hillary for...Majority Leader?

Somewhere in the warren of the Clinton campaign offices in Arlington, Virginia, a small office should be working on a contingency plan for Hillary's future -- one that does not involve the White House.

(For Hillary's sake, this office should be different than the one in charge of post-Super-Tuesday strategy, which has been disastrous, and allowed Obama to win 10 contests in a row. Symbolically, Hillary failed to seat a full delegate slate in the potentially key state of Pennsylvania, although that gaffe will be corrected thanks to the PA Governor (a Clinton supporter) extending the deadline. Oh, and her campaign was out of money after Super Tuesday.)

Hillary now has a choice to make. She ran the first negative television ads in Wisconsin (attacking Obama for failing to debate for the 19th time - a somewhat silly argument), raised specious 'plagiarism' charges, and opened herself up to a tough counterattack on "going negative.". Then she got thumped, both in Wisconsin and Hawaii.

In her "concession" speech, for the second week in a row, Hillary failed to congratulate Obama, or acknowledge her own supporters in the states that had voted. The former omission allowed Obama to step on her speech by walking out into the Toyota Center in Houston just 15 minutes after Hillary started - her retooled speech (complete with teleprompters for the first time this primary season) was lost to all of those who were not sitting in the Youngstown (OH) high school gym with her. (Obama's 44-minute stemwinder was the first rhetorical clunker of the campaign; however the net effect was to prevent any of the cable networks from covering Hillary.)

Tomorrow night's debate puts Hillary in a box: either sharpen the rhetoric, attack Obama directly, and drive her negatives up, which will accelerate the trend of male voters abandoning her for Obama. Or have a repeat of the Los Angeles debate, which helped Obama by muting the differences on health care and allowing an extended discussion of Hillarys Iraq War vote.

The Clinton campaign is still spinning a Hail Mary strategy of winning both Ohio and Texas, decisively, to turn the momentum around. The reality is that she is now fighting a two-front war, and her pre-Super Tuesday advantages -- name recognition generally, especially among early and absentee voters (who helped her hold off Obama in CA) -- is rapidly evaporating. (Early voting in Texas, for instance, began only this week.)

Another sign of a campaign on the brink: unauthorized leaks, like yesterday's one that Hillary was considering targeting 'pledged' (rather than super) delegates to close the gap with Obama. It was bad politics, reeked of desperation, and allowed Obama to again raise the theme of 'whomever-wins-the-most-pledged- delegates-is-the-rightful-nominee' that works to his advantage.

And if you doubt all of that evidence, the final piece to the puzzle was John McCain's victory speech last night: despite his own need to unify the Republican party (Mike Huckabee, with 36.9% of the Wisconsin vote, did almost as well as Hillary's 40.7%), McCain did not take the opportunity to mention Clinton's name; rather he referred to "an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history."

The truth is that Hillary was by all accounts, and will be, an effective Senator. She pays attention to details, gets along with colleagues, and understands the legislative process. Current Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid is 68 years old; current Majority Whip Dick Durbin has been a stalwart Obama supporter and could move up to an Administration.

She may not be the first woman President, but being first female Majority Leader would also be making history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting etymology of "stemwinder"...

It appears the word has two opposing definitions...either a "rousing" speech or a speech that is so "interminable" that it is akin to the laborious watch winding process.