While the Republican race has its defacto nominee, the Democratic one clearly does not. Super Tuesday showed just how divided the race is. Hillary Clinton nabbed big states like New York, New Jersey and California while Barack Obama gained 13 states in diverse geographic regions. She carried women, older voters, those earning less than $50,000 and Hispanics while he led among men (including White men), younger voters, the very affluent and African Americans. When all the delegates counted we will be roughly half way through the race and the race will be virtually tied.
Clinton has learned some lessons and survived a feared tsunami by the Obama forces.
First, Bill Clinton, following his embarrassing race baiting and denigrating remarks about Obama, has been largely hidden from view. He was no where in evidence at her victory speech on Tuesday. Second, she is making headway in debates by making the case that she, not he, is the liberal policy maven. For voters who want to make headway on the liberal agenda – universal, mandated healthcare coverage, most clearly — she presents the picture of preparation and determination to take the levers of power. (It may send shudders down the spines of conservatives, but she has big and varied plans and is just the gal to get it all done, she argues.) Finally, she is making every effort to avoid the harsh, screechy Clinton and present the reasoned, good humored and gracious Clinton who started her campaign with an invitation to “chat” with her about the country’s problems.
Obama has also learned some lessons along the way. His strongest argument — the desire of Democrats to turn the page on the Clinton years and the cycle of vicious personal politics they practice — has become the central focus of his speeches and indeed his entire campaign. “Yes we can” means — in part — “Yes we can . . . get rid of the Clintons.” He also has improved his debate performances and command of policy so he can at least hold his own on a stage with her.
Finally, Obama has returned to a favorite theme among the liberal base: “She voted for the war.” Impervious to the improved situation in Iraq, Democratic voters harbor a deep desire for an immediate end to America’s involvement and festering anger over the decision to take us to war. Her defense that she did not realize she was voting to authorize the use of force (and merely wanted to encourage the arms inspectors’ efforts) sounds naïve or duplicitous, much to Obama’s delight.
So how will the deadlock be broken and what does this battle between two evenly matched foes portend for the Democrats in November? On the immediate horizon Obama stands to do well next week in Maryland and the District of Columbia which have large numbers of African American voters and also stands a good chance in Virginia where Governor Tim Kaine has endorsed him. (However, endorsements may be vastly overrated as we saw when Teddy and Caroline Kennedy could not even motivate their own state’s voters to support him.) Just around the bend is Wisconsin, a liberal haven with a large college town capital that may send more delegates his way.
But it may be that the only way to really break the deadlock is for the two to put away their smiles and take out the machetes and start hacking away — at each other and at their base of support. Expect Obama to remind Hispanics that Clinton — gasp! — opposed driver’s licenses for illegal aliens (after weeks of vacillation). He needs to pry Hispanic voters away from her, and will use that to advantage. Expect her to attack Obama as the dupe of drug and insurance companies who resist universal health care and the needs of the poor guy holding down two jobs. (Yes, she needs to pry men away from him as much as she needs to pry Hispanics from him.)
The result? We may have a bloody, coast to coast battle for weeks or months in which the Democratic coalition is torn asunder and the winner reaches the general election with a trail of opposition research provided by the loser. In such a circumstance even a GOP nominee not fully embraced by the entire Party may have a shot of winning.
But a word of caution as well: Democratic turnout has dwarfed the Republicans and an ongoing battle, if restrained, could merely fuel greater enthusiasm and participation by Democrats and Independents looking to change the country’s direction. So, although a Democratic war of attrition sounds inviting, Republicans should be careful what they wish for.