He rocked the UW Kohl Center, and he won Dane County (home of Madison) overwhelmingly--65 to 34 percent over Hillary, according to early returns. Hillary wasn't half bad in her election-eve speech at Madison's Monona Terrace convention center on Monday night. But by then it was already too late.
The Clintons couldn't make up their minds whether they were really trying for Wisconsin or not. Watching Wisconsin progressives such as Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Representative Tammy Baldwin, Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton, and State Senator Jon Erpenbach make their pitch for Hillary, I had to wonder, "Why not?"
She could have done a lot better, if only she'd put in more effort.
The argument that she offers more bread and butter to the working class is credible.
At the Monday night event she managed to give a detailed policy speech that was also full of applause lines. She made the case that, as Barbara Lawton put it, she is the "only candidate in the race who has a plan for universal health care."
Finally taking a page from John Edwards, she spoke movingly about a woman in Kenosha who is losing her home, and made a pitch for a moratorium on home foreclosures. She sounded concrete, specific, knowledgeable, and even warm. But it was too little, too late.
For his part, Bill gave a rambling speech at the stock pavilion that was poorly attended and downright stinky (note to campaign: manure-scented venue not best choice for college campus crowd). After Obama's rock-star turn at the Kohl Center, Bill sounded petulant, scolding students for being enthusiastic about Obama and saying that Obama's supporters think, "We have to be exciting and new. You can't have been involved in the struggle before now." So nah-nah Wisconsin, the Clintons seemed to be saying. (My mother-in-law suspects that Bill is actually trying, unconciously, to torpedo her campaign.) Hillary spent most of her time in the lead-up to the watershed Wisconsin primary trying to shore up her "firewall" in Texas and Ohio.
That strategy may be her undoing. Wisconsin voters gave Barack Obama a big, big win on Tuesday, not only choosing him decisively over Clinton, but seriously undermining her base of support. Women were split about evenly between the two candidates, with 49 percent going for Obama. More alarmingly for Clinton, working class voters in Racine and Wausau--supposedly Hillary's base--went big for Obama. Wisconsin makes nine straight wins for Obama, and a big, big hill for Hillary to climb.
Most troubling for the Clinton campaign is the fact that Obama won in Wisconsin with people who never went to college, as well as those whose top priority is the economy, and those who make less than $55,00 a year. Those are the voters Hillary was wooing in Youngstown, Ohio, as the Wisconsin returns came in.
She didn't pause to acknowledge her loss here or thank those voters and Democratic leaders who gave her their support (not to mention accompanying her through empty supermarkets on Sunday's big snowstorm).
Instead, she tried to rally the union troops in Ohio talking about labor, threatening to punish employers who send American jobs overseas, and making it sound like her husband's Administration never gave us NAFTA in the first place. (After supporting NAFTA, she now says she would like to revise it to add more labor and environmental protections.)
But the big story of the night was Obama, who gave another of his uplifting speeches in Houston. It was an appeal straight to the heart.
Michelle Obama made a similar pitch in Madison on the day before the vote. She talked about her husband's biography--his single, white mother, his community organizing work in Chicago, his experience of other countries, where he saw poverty up close. She mentioned his grandmother who lives in a little village in Kenya. And she asked the audience there to close their eyes and imagine "a man like Barack Obama standing in front of the Capitol and putting his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office. If we can do that for the kids of this nation, imagine what image we send around the world."
Clearly, that image won the day.
Just ask John McCain, who took a shot at Obama--clearly showing who he thinks the Democratic nominee will be--as he acknowledged his win here, too. Looking like grumpy old gramps, McCain told supporters that "Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change." Cindy stood next to him nodding and clapping and looking as white as anyone could possibly look, with her diamonds and pearls. Obama's talk about a better future "promises no more than a holiday from history," McCain grumbled.
Take that, you overexcited kids! Now go inside and practice your duck-and-cover drills!
It was McCain who drove home why the Democrats want Obama to be their nominee.