Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sober Saturday

It's been a dizzying week for the Obama campaign, and out on the trail it remains so. But in news terms it seems to have slowed. It looks like all the major endorsements before Tsunami Tuesday have been made. (After a TV ad for Hillary with Robert Kennedy, Jr.'s voice endorsing her over images of his father, Ethel Kennedy announced her strong endorsement of Obama.) Word out today is that neither John Edwards or Al Gore is going to endorse before Tuesday, and Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd have apparently indicated the same.

Plus the fast-rushing Obama momentum has been blunted for the moment by a reversal in the Gallup national tracking poll. Obama was down by only 3 points yesterday, within the margin of error, but Hillary is back up by 7 today. The state polls seem to be flat. Thursday's debate got a big audience, and if these polls are any indication, Hillary may have stopped the bleeding of her campaign.

So a time for sober reflection. CBS is reporting that Obama himself says the primary calendar favors Hillary because she is better known. He is crisscrossing the map now while she is concentrating more on the West Coast. Obama is getting record crowds. Sez

But even though the storyline may be a bit repetitive, that doesn't make it any less remarkable. Hordes and hordes of people have come out to see Obama in his swing through states that hold primaries or caucuses on Tuesday.

The numbers: more than 15,000 in Denver; about 13,000 in Phoenix; between 6,000 and 6,500 in Albuquerque, and almost 6,000 in Santa Fe last night. And then there's this morning's rally here in Boise: Obama's campaign says nearly 15,000 people came out to the Taco Bell Arena at Boise State University, where the Illinois senator just finished speaking.

To put that in perspective: That's about 10 percent of Boise's voting-age population. And it's roughly three times the number of people who participated in the 2004 Democratic caucuses in all of Idaho.

Obama's Denver crowd also exceeded the number of total Democrats who caucused in that state last time. But now everyone is wondering whether there's enough time for Obama to overcome Hillary's months of leading the polls and years of name recognition. The Clinton people are saying that as many of half of California's votes have already been cast in absentee ballots. If that's anywhere near true--and nobody really knows, especially since nobody knows what the turnout will be on Tuesday--it's discouraging. Not only was Hillary way ahead here, but votes that today might well go to Obama probably went to Edwards, Richardson and Kucinich, depending on when the vote was cast. The absentee ballots are maybe Obama's biggest hurdle here, and the only way to overcome them is with huge turnout of young voters, and substantial inroads into the Latino vote.

So what can we expect? Probably that it's not going to be over. It's possible that Obama will win big, or that Hillary will win big. At this point a good outcome for Obama is that they essentially split in terms of delegates. After Tsunami Tuesday, time may still be on Hillary's side, but Obama is favored in more of the remaining contests, and he has the money to make a run. Hillary may be less well positioned financially.

Looking back on what seems an eternity since South Carolina, Obama had a great first part of the week, but Hillary's campaign may have slowed the momentum. I'm only guessing, but it may well have been the result of Clintonian persuasion (Bill, probably) that Edwards, Dodd and Gore didn't endorse this week, and I'm about certain that this was the case with Richardson. The inference of course is that they would have endorsed Obama, but were persuaded not to at this time. I'm not sure political caution serves any of them well, since all of them could have made a difference in at least one state for Obama. If he winds up winning the nomination, this should be remembered.

Nobody knows what's really going on out there. The Super Bowl tomorrow throws another unknown into the equation in terms of diverting momentum or not. The Obama campaign has big events coming up--tonight in St. Louis, Sunday in LA. But Monday is looming to be an important day. What will lead the news on Monday (apart from the Super Bowl winner)?

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