Here’s why Obama may eventually prevail.
For one, the schedule favors him, especially in the near term.
On Saturday, there’s a Nebraska caucus, a Washington state caucus, and a Louisiana primary, and he could take all three.
Then on February 12, Virginia, Maryland, and DC hold their primaries, and Obama should sweep those.
A week later, and it’s on to Hawaii, Obama’s native state, and Wisconsin, which tends to favor challengers. (Eugene McCarthy got 56% of the vote in Wisconsin in 1968. Jesse Jackson gave Michael Dukakis a scare in 1988. Jerry Brown almost beat Bill Clinton in 1992. And John Edwards came within a whisker of John Kerry in 2004.)
So, quite conceivably, Obama could win eight contests in a row, which would give him tremendous momentum.
Secondly, it’s possible that he could grab two big endorsements in the next couple weeks: from John Edwards, and from Al Gore. That could give him a lot more juice.
And finally, his message of inspiration has been trumping Clinton’s ready-on-day-1 message, especially among the burgeoning youth voters.
Just compare the two speeches on Tuesday night.
Yes, Obama does a kind of poor imitation of Martin Luther King (“the hills of New Hampshire to the deserts of Nevada”).
And I hope I wasn’t the only one made doubly ill at ease by Obama’s line: “We are more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America.” First because it’s fatuous bipartisanship. And second, because it fuels American exceptionalism. Note that it was greeted by cheers of “USA, USA!”
But he was eloquent about overcoming the divides of race and gender.
He was eloquent about “the crumbling schools [that] are stealing the future of black children and white children.”
He was eloquent about empowerment. Hell, he even quoted June Jordan’s famous line, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
He was especially eloquent when he said: “While Washington is consumed with the same drama and divisions and distractions, another family puts up a ‘for sale’ sign in their front yard, another factory shuts its doors, another soldier waves goodbye as he leaves on another tour of duty in a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged.” (Fact check: Hillary Clinton has a better position than Obama on foreclosures.)
And he was persuasive when he said: “If I am your nominee, my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq, because I didn’t, or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, because I haven’t, or that I support the Bush-Cheney doctrine of not talking to leaders we don’t like, because I profoundly disagree with that approach.”
For her part, Clinton gave her usual lackluster talk, filled with bromides: “Our best days are yet to come,” “We are destined for progress together.”
She did summon a little rhetoric, when she talked about “the mother whose insurance company won’t pay for her child’s treatment, the couple so determined to send their daughter to college they’re willing to mortgage their home with a subprime second mortgage.”
And she reiterated the two main arguments of her campaign: She’s got the experience, and she can take a punch.
She subtly suggested that Obama is a callow showboat. “What we need is someone ready on day one to solve our problems and seize those opportunities. Because when the bright lights are off and the cameras are gone, who can you count on to listen to you, to stand up for you, to deliver solutions for you?”
And she was none too subtle when she said: “The Republicans won’t give up the White House without a fight. Well, let me be clear: I won’t let anyone swift boat this country's future.”
Not exactly poetry. Advantage Obama.
But Barack should beware the debates. He’s lousy at them, and Hillary excels at them.
When Bobby Fischer challenges you to a chess match once a week, it’s not a good idea to accept.