Friday, February 15, 2008

Wisconsin Worries

If Barack Obama wins Wisconsin by 10 or 15 points, and does so with support across demographics as he did in Virginia (older, white working class, women), then the race for the Democratic nomination is essentially over.

But it is by no means a sure thing. In fact, this coming Tuesday is making me really nervous. The CW supposes that Hillary coming into Wisconsin only this weekend is a sign she's written the state off, partly because she doesn't have the money to spare. But she's running ads in the state, including two negative ads--the first of this campaign. If you're running a negative campaign, showing up close to election day makes sense: you sow doubts and clinch the sale in person, before the person you're attacking can respond.

What little polling that's been announced agrees that the race is close, with Obama ahead by four or five points. His victories this past Tuesday were so huge that only a five point win in Wisconsin might be interpreted as a Hillary comeback.

On the other hand, a solid Obama win that looks a lot like Virginia and Maryland in terms of demographics will make those results all the more powerful, and will suggest that Clinton really is not going to do well enough in Ohio to change the dynamic of the Obama march to the nomination.

Yet there is the real possibility that Clinton could win Wisconsin, and embarass Obama in the place of his birth--Hawaii, which votes the same day, and where she has established party support that generally delivers the vote. The headlines alone would change the narrative.

Fortunately, the Obama campaign seems not to be buying into the media narrative of Clinton being finished. Obama has been in the state all week. Although he and Michelle have also gone to Ohio, he doesn't seem to be taking anything for granted. (Though he scheduled campaign stops on Sunday instead of taking the day off as planned, tells me that they're worried about a Hillary surprise, too.) His campaign answered Hillary's first negative ad within 24 hours. She came back with another, although I haven't seen any information on how big an ad buy her campaign made, or where the ads were showing.

The silver lining of her attack would be, should Obama win big, that it doesn't work, and in my view, it's given Obama the opportunity to parry her attacks--and he's doing so with more fluidity and calm sense than anyone I can think of. That has to bode well for the general election campaign--and super-delegates will notice that.

Hillary and Obama will both speak at a big Dem dinner in Wisconsin tomorrow evening. Now that they are both in the state, maybe we'll get some more reporting out of it. And some newer and hopefully better polls should come out over the weekend. Clearly Obama has all the momentum now--even in super-delegates, he's picked up 13 of those who've gone public since Super Tuesday, while Hillary has lost a net of 3. But all that momentum will slow or stop if he doesn't win Wisconsin convincingly. And if he does, it will continue and grow to unstoppable proportions.

So I'm nervous. But not so much that a little information coming out of Wisconsin wouldn't cure.

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