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Clinton checks off big wins in Ohio and Texas

We had a great primary day chat last night in the Blend Cover It Live room; you can see the whole conversation here.

Hillary Clinton proved that she could pull off the big state wins in the crunch; last night in the morale-boosting nods she took Ohio, Texas (the primary)  — and Rhode Island. The Texas caucuses results are still being tallied at this hour, where Obama holds the lead (52%-48% with 36% in), so the delegate situation hasn’t been settled in the Lone Star State. Obama won handily in Vermont.

My initial, random observations:

* The win in Ohio was by a larger margin than anyone expected, pollsters left scratching heads. Clinton won  54-44.  Yet again, it proves how this primary season has flummoxed these pollsters, no matter the state, when the polls show Clinton and Obama within the margin of error. People are making up their minds at the last minute.

* Gender, education level, and Latino vote mattered. Exit polls in Ohio and Texas Clinton drew women, those who don’t have a college education, and Latinos – the base she had garnered prior to Super Tuesday. Obama lost the independent advantage that he had on Super Tuesday. Personally, I think the pundits fail to take enough into account the quirky nature of all of the states. For once I think we’re seeing that you cannot lump together what seem to be states of similar demographics as wholly predictable. That’s actually a refreshing concept.

* Negative campaigning works? Well who didn’t know that? Of course the “3 AM” Clinton ads would have a beneficial effect, regardless of a speedy Obama response. If the GOP has taught us anything, fear works; the Clinton campaign didn’t have the money to compete on all fronts, so they had to go for the jugular to maximize effect. Of course that came with a price — she tried to make a case that Obama would be weak on national security, and by extension John McCain would be better prepared on that front. Not exactly the message you want to telegraph if you’re thinking about the general election, but certainly it can work in her favor in the primary.

* Media spin on the wins – what about the delegate count? The media, in its glee to egg on the drama of a continuing Dem race, has now declared the race wide open again, even though the math doesn’t favor any possibility of a Clinton win on the delegate side in the remaining contests. Last night on CNN, John King was playing hypotheticals on the interactive delegate counter map, and giving Clinton healthy future victories in plausible states, she still doesn’t surpass Obama’s count. It also showed that neither candidate would secure the number of pledged delegates to win outright – the superdelegates would then be in play, and…

(I continue below the fold)* Will the renegade states of Florida and Michigan delegates be in play? Howard Dean currently says no, but has been a ton of pressure by the Clinton campaign to seat them (and the Obama campaign not to seat them), even though all candidates — and the states — knew that moving those primaries up was a big no-no. I’ve already posted that Florida governor (and chatted up GOP VP candidate) Charlie Crist has said he would agree to re-do the primary there; I haven’t heard any speculation as to what might be proposed in Michigan, where Clinton was the only name on the ballot.

* Spin machine silliness. The Clinton campaign is floating a crazy “voter buyer’s remorse” message — that the results in TX and OH prove “American voters” are unsure about the sending Barack Obama out there to face the GOP as the Dem nominee. This is bogus. In order to have buyer’s remorse, you have to cast a vote and want to take it back. Each contest is a new set of voters, with different concerns, demographics and outlooks, and are seeing ads targeted to them with messaging that some in the other states have not seen.

Again, on the other hand, the challenge for the Obama camp is to prove that in the general election, he can win the states critical to an electoral college victory. While he has put together an impressive string of victories in Red states, how many of those states will vote Dem in November? For all the talk about Texas, that state is going to go with McCain in the fall. I think some of the states that have been trending purple, like Virginia are ripe for an Obama victory, but what about Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida? Will the Bradley Effect come into play in the general?

You could also ask what role gender bias or the “Tweety Effect” might be in those states if Clinton were facing McCain, or the fact that the GOP is salivating at the prospect of facing Clinton.

* More silly spin. Look for the Clinton campaign, with fresh victories to tout, that it’s the state wins that matter. Unfortunately, when Mark Penn, the $3 million-dollar/month “chief strategist” for Hillary, said this on February 13 in a tornado-level spinning memo to the press:

This election will come down to delegates…Again and again, this race has shown that it is voters and delegates who matter, not the pundits or perceived “momentum”…As history shows, the Democratic nomination goes to the candidate who wins the most delegates – not the candidate who wins the most states.

Guess he’ll have to come up with a different message and hope the press doesn’t bring up that blowhard, albeit factual, statement.

* No-win situation in the MSM for Obama if he goes nuclear negative. One of Barack Obama’s appeals has been a concerted effort to keep the messaging positive, but to respond pointedly and quickly when attacked. Now if he is forced to deal some political body blows to Clinton the rest of the way, he threatens to stir up the “angry, menacing negro” image that the GOP will subtly (or not so subtly) further cultivate.  This has been an Obama Achilles’ heel of bias that is little discussed in the MSM, because too many pundits have been trying desperately to make this a “post-racial” election. Wishing doesn’t make it true. We have entered into new political and social territory in this election cycle, and the avoidance of deeper discussions about inherent racial bias and the use of it in political strategy isn’t being adequately aired in public in a healthy manner. Obama’s team, which has been smart on many fronts, better have a rabbit to pull out of the hat to address this. They are going to go there

A senior Obama adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama’s team will respond to Tuesday’s results by going negative on Clinton – raising questions about her tax records and the source of donations to the Clinton presidential library, among skeletons in the Clintons’ past.

Is this downward spiral by both Obama and Clinton what we need?

However, that doesn’t mean the strategizing isn’t occurring behind the safety of closed doors. You can be sure that in Mark Penn’s shop the rules of base tactics apply. And we already know that the GOP has created a task force of sorts to see how far they can take attacks on Clinton or Obama based on race and gender.

It’s not clear that Hillary’s team is any better off on this front, in terms of a strategy to fight well-targeted misogyny missiles. Again, we’re in new territory; her campaign to date has been messy and disorganized when it comes to messaging, so it’s hard to know if they could get their act together to deal with it.

Who will weather this sort of slime better in the general? That’s a good question, and we’re going to find out because Republicans are never afraid to “go there.”

* This means a longer primary fight, good or bad? I don’t know, I’m of two minds about this. As someone who would be disenfranchised by an early close to the Dem race (NC’s primary is May 6, with 134 delegates), it would be great to be able to weigh in on the nominee selection. It gives the rest of the late states in the primary season a chance to reflect on all of the contests so far, see more of what both candidates are made of, and whether they know how to handle political body blows.

On the other hand, with a McCain nomination in the bag, he can now focus on closing the money gap with the Democrats, both of whom have huge war chests in comparison to his. Clinton and Obama are now going to spend precious time, effort and money battling and bloodying one another — exactly what the GOP wants to occur. McCain’s team and the Republicans can now spend time analyzing the Clinton and Obama camps’ attacks on one another to pursue attack strategy.

However, McCain has a long record; and he’s vulnerable on several fronts. BTW, take a look at the official Republican nominee. What a standard bearer he will be:

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding