Thursday, January 03, 2008

Now, It's a Campaign.

Many others will say it in various forms but it bears repeating. Barack Obama's victory in Iowa in 2008 has to be regarded as momentous as John Kennedy's win in West Virginia in 1960. According to the figures now, Obama won 38% of the delegates while Edwards came in second with 30% and Clinton in third with 29%. Why and where does the 2008 campaign go from here?

Obama's win shows the hunger of the country for change. People want a clear change in the direction of the county and in the style of our politics. Obama offers us both. He inspires voters with his rhetoric, his passion, and his message. Americans love their country and want their faith in it reaffirmed and restored. People just want to believe in the young senator from Illinois.

Many people tell me, including African-American friends, that Obama can't win because America isn't ready for a black president. Nonsense. Obama isn't a black (read: primarily for black people) candidate or a nonracial (read: want-to-be-white) candidate but a post-racial candidate. Confident in himself, Obama is proud of his identity but is running to be president of all of us--as it should be. He makes his race and his uncommon name an asset by appealing to America's love of the outsider and the underdog.

For the Obama campaign, a win here or New Hampshire was crucial. Clinton has lead steadily in the national polls. The way Obama overturns the dynamic of Clinton's inevitability is by showing momentum. He has started showing some tonight in the heartland of the nation.

Andrew Sullivan sarcastically labeled Hillary Clinton "She who is inevitable". No longer. It was a bad night for Clinton. After touting the energy of her female supporters, Clinton didn't just lose to Obama but lost the women's vote. Tellingly, Obama won both the youth vote and the independent vote. Put another way, he won the votes of the future and of the American center. Clinton won the conservative vote--not the way to win Democratic primaries even if it would make her a more formidable candidate in the general election.

Clinton needs to hone both her message and her delivery. She gave a desultory speech short on themes save that she can go the distance and will be ready to be president on day one. Although she lost, she had a chance to communicate with the American people and passed it up. One couldn't help contrast both the speeches and the crowd. Obama's supporters were "fired up" and "ready to go". According to CNN, Clinton's staff had to order people into an empty room to support her.

At the same time, I would never underestimate Hillary Clinton. Of all the Democratic candidates, I think she's the toughest. During her first Senate campaign, she was questioned endlessly and cruelly about the Lewinsky affair. She stuck it out and worked doggedly even as she trailed in the polls. This is not a woman who gives up. Her loss in Iowa will make her even more determined to win.

Her campaign will likely end up stronger by being forced to retool. And Clinton campaigns are historically not without skill. In 1992, her husband didn't just defeat an incumbent Republican but dispatched seemingly strong Democratic challengers with aplomb. The Clintons know how to fight hard and only fools would underestimate them.

Some say Hillary Clinton can't win. Prior to the Bush presidency, I had assumed that Hillary Clinton could not be elected president. However, Bush has created new possibilities for Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, even as the results of his presidency have thrown up many difficult challenges for America. Clinton uses her gender skillfully. And, as I said, I think she is the toughest candidate in the race and she's clearly able.

On John Edwards: He came in second but second just wasn't good enough in 2004 and won't be this time either. The lion's share of the media coverage will go to Obama as the leading challenger to Clinton's march to the nomination. Edwards has a good message in his fight against corporate greed and to include everyone in the American dream. His speech was strong but perhaps a tad harsh. People want a bit more hope with their criticism of the status quo.

The big loser of the night: Republicans. According to the Washington Post, over 212,000 participated in the Democratic caucuses--nearly 100,000 more than showed up at the Republican caucuses projecting from the current vote totals. The GOP cannot be encouraged that so many more people showed up on the Democratic side in a key swing state.