Barack Obama: Why the Carolinas Mean WV Doesn't Matter

by Rick Rockwell

The Obama campaign is comfortably settled into the Pacific Northwest now, playing the expectations game as the primary season winds down. The game: meet the expectations of the media and you’ve won, even though neither Democratic candidate has the requisite number of delegates for a nomination. Yet.

Seemingly every major news organization has crowned Sen. Obama (D-IL) the eventual Democratic winner (again, almost a repeat of the state of the campaign after Iowa and just before Super Tuesday) and our resident pundit Jeff Siegel has predicted as much too. (Although he knows better than to say Obama has it locked up before that actually happens, unlike too many others to count.) To meet the media’s expectations, if Obama wins in Oregon the remaining superdelegates will flock to him (the movement is already in that direction) and it will all be over perhaps even before all the primaries are held. And that may well happen.

So when the history of the campaign is written, many will look back at the important primaries in the Carolinas as the bookends of the campaign. South Carolina was Obama’s breakout and the start of his long run of winning medium and small primaries. North Carolina last week looked to be the kick in his stretch run, extending his lead in total votes cast for him in the primaries.

And so with Obama winning the media primary, winning the cash primary, and increasingly wooing the superdelegates who will ultimately decide who gets the nomination, this week’s primary in West Virginia has been reduced to insignificance. It will only matter if Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) loses. And if she does, the calls for her to quit the campaign will only get louder, if that were possible.

Clinton’s problem, almost from the beginning is the air of entitlement that her campaign exudes. She and her husband have been planning her coronation almost since they left the White House. Their move to New York and her careful Senate career have been crafted for her to take the reigns of the Democratic party. She never dreamed the party would leave her for another suitor. Even former Senator George McGovern deserted her, a particular irony because Clinton had been an organizer for McGovern. This of course is only symbolic and not reflective of the Democratic power structure, because the party hasn’t seemed to respect or listen to McGovern for decades.

Another irony is that Clinton’s strategy of playing the race card may eventually work, but it will happen too late for her to triumph. This is what is behind the talk now that Obama is unelectable. After the flap over his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he may well be. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will be the beneficiary of the groundwork Clinton has laid.

The Wright flap is one of those surprises of this primary season, and the worry is how many more of those are waiting between now and the fall for Obama. Yes, it is unfair to hold Obama at fault for the political views of someone else in this guilt by association game. However, the deeper question is what does this say about Obama as a judge of others? Remember, one of the president’s greatest powers is the power of appointment, including appointing Supreme Court judges. If Obama was surprised by the views of a pastor he was close with for decades, what does that say about Obama's judgment (other than perhaps he is disassembling now as he disavows Wright or perhaps he was asleep)?

Clinton and her staff have been asleep too. Clinton’s wreck of a campaign machine is probably wondering to this day why they weren’t the ones to discover the Wright sermons. Clinton was wrangling with Obama over matters concerning race in January during the Martin Luther King holiday. Her husband was also pressing the race button in South Carolina where it seemed to backfire. But those bad seeds the Clintons planted finally began to sprout in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas, once they were nurtured by the fertilizer of the Wright flap.

So this week, in a state packed with Reagan Democrats where race and guns (the themes that gave Clinton traction in Pennsylvania) still seem to matter, the media expectation is that Hillary Clinton will win. And it won’t matter.

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Political graphic from Wrapped-in-the-Flag, a website that offers copyright-free political material.)

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