One of the hallmarks of the Obama campaign has been its ability to beat not just expectations, but the clock. The conventional wisdom going into the race held that the Clinton campaign would crush all comers in the rush for donors. Not so: Obama outraised Clinton in primary dollars, and he did so each of the first two quarters with a last-minute surge just at the finish line.
Photos by Bill Stetson
In Iowa, Obama’s poll numbers rose dramatically in the final days before the caucus, eventually producing a wave that would carry him over the top. Ditto for South Carolina. Even in Nevada, Obama arguably had the votes where he needed them, eventually earning more delegates than Clinton in spite of losing the state-wide popular vote.
And after South Carolina, in spite of much hoopla and praise, most experts continued to believe that the Clinton campaign simply had too much name recognition in big Western states like California, states with beaucoup delegates. Obama would come close, so the thinking went, but pull up well short on February 5.
But the tracking numbers beg to differ. As do the size and the intensity of Obama rallies around the country.
Nationally, Obama is now within 6 points of Hillary, a surge of some twenty points in the last several weeks.
California, the Clinton campaign’s Last Best Firewall, has tightened to a three-point race. Very big news, but not unpredictable.
All of the movement at this point is Obama’s. At least all of the positive movement. And if the tracking polls are to be believed, the timing of this movement will cause it to peak on or around February 4th.
Yes, the precision of the rise suggests a crack campaign team, working at the height of its game; yes, the numbers reflect very positive media coverage of South Carolina and the Triple Kennedy endorsement.
But it’s more than that.
At each stage, as it has become clear that Hillary Clinton is the default option for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States, huge groups of voters — Democratic voters, people who generally like the Clintons as a concept — have stepped up to preserve and promote the alternative.
The fundraising numbers made that effect clear, but the polling now bears it out.
In other words, Barack Obama has made an incredibly positive case for himself, based on simple, healing notions, the same sort of messages that propelled Jimmy Carter into the White House post-Watergate.
But he has also exposed and capitalized on very strong misgivings about Hillary Clinton herself, and the Clintons as a problematic power couple.
It’s the latter effect, it seems to us, that accounts for the Mission Impossible timing the Obama campaign has enjoyed. By and large, when they’ve needed X (money, volunteers, votes), they’ve gotten X — in great profusion, and in just the nick of time.
From the start of the race, the Clinton campaign has sought to label any discussion of these misgivings about Hillary “GOP talking points,” or the stuff of sexist poker-table bull sessions.
But it’s not that. It’s something deeper and broader: the Democratic Party moved significantly to the Left during the Bush years — away from the triangulation and militarism that marked the 90’s — and Hillary Clinton’s campaign has never really come to terms with that fact.
When the nomination seemed a sure thing some months back, Hillary began a precipitous move to the Right that dogs her to this day; she called for leaving about half the troops in Iraq under a redefined mission, and voted to rattle the Lieberman-Kyle saber at Iran.
But beyond that, her campaign has been one of the most hard-bitten, disingenuous Democratic campaigns in recent memory, a perfect foil for the Obama message of unity and post-partisanship.
Democrats have reasons not to prefer Hillary Clinton, in short. Good reasons, at that.
And they’ve thus far shown a tendency to back Barack Obama tentatively at first, and then in a rush as crunch time hits and their window of choice looks to be closing.
All of which should make Tuesday night a nail-biter for the ages. We’ll be at the Sheraton in Burlington with a few hundred other people with nothing better to do, monitoring developments. Look for you there.
Late Update, 8:38 am:
Missed this clincher: Bill Simmon over at Candleblog is now on board. And when you’ve got the techno-geeks in the seats, it’s pedal to the metal time, baby.