The Godmother Kisses Obama

Republicans sat helpless as Bill demolished 41 and then Bob Dole. The Clinton war room, Bubba’s charm and Hillary’s supposed genius were unbeatable. “Were” is the operative word.

The Clintons’ proven campaign tactics — triangulation, personal attacks and open-ended promises to liberal pressure groups — haven’t worked against Obama. His shimmering vacuity makes a poor target for the first two, and his ability to out-promise Hillary negates the third. But the Clintons aren’t quitting now, and they aren’t rehearsing her for role of second-fiddler, despite what Hill and Bill were hinting at last week.

According to a USA Today report, “Speaking in Hattiesburg, Miss., [Sen.] Clinton remarked that ‘I’ve had people say, ‘Well I wish I could vote for both of you.’ Well, that might be possible some day. But first I need your vote on Tuesday.’” Bill Clinton said a Democratic ticket including both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would be “almost unstoppable.” So why are the Clintons talking about a Hillary-Barack ticket?

It’s a gesture the Godmother meant to be the campaign equivalent of the mafia kiss of death. A Clinton-Obama ticket may be what she will be forced to accept, but Obama wants the top prize and isn’t in a position to have to settle.

And the other Clinton evolution — voiced yesterday on “Meet the Press” by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell — is blunt: Hillary should be nominated because Obama can’t carry the big swing states essential to winning the White House.

Rendell said that because Hillary’s campaign has succeeded in larger states while Obama has managed to win smaller states that aren’t crucial to the November result. Hillary has won in big states — Ohio, New York and California — but Obama has managed to win in others such as Virginia and Maryland and tied Clinton in Texas and Missouri.

The wonderfully-interminable cage match between Clinton and Obama may make this the most Clintonian of elections: nasty, brutish and long. If Sen. McCain will remain locked on what he calls a “respectful” campaign, he’d better be cheering for Obama.

In the 2004 Wyoming caucuses, about 675 people turned out to vote. Last Saturday about 9000 did, and Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton by 61-38 percent. Under the Democrats’ proportionality rules even that large margin only resulted in a net gain of two delegates for Obama. Tomorrow’s Mississippi primary is likely to result in another Obama win, and another small gain.

Clinton lags behind Obama by only 1588-1465 delegates. And those numbers include — according to RealClearPolitics — a Clinton advantage of 242-210 super delegates with 344 undeclared. Because the remaining primaries — including possible reruns of Florida and Michigan — will probably not clinch the nomination for either candidate, both are maneuvering to capture the remaining super delegates, and persuade others to change their allegiance.

To state the mathematically obvious, neither Obama nor Clinton will take enough elected delegates to win the required 2025 delegates before the convention. So the decision will be made on two fronts. First among the 796 “super delegates.” And second, in the likely reruns of the Florida and Michigan primaries.

Those battles will be fought with increasing intensity by the candidates and their surrogates. Clinton’s campaign benefited from two great gaffes last week. The first was by Obama himself.

After being ridiculed by a “Saturday Night Live” sketch for giving Obama too easy a time, the press reacted by making him face real questions in a press conference after Clinton’s Ohio win. Obama fumbled and stumbled: at one point he appeared angry at being treated like a real pol. Hillary’s remaining press pals — and the Obama media cheerleaders who defect – will smell blood in the water and won’t let up. But then now-former Obama advisor Samantha Power called Hillary a “monster” in an interview with The Scotsman newspaper.

As The Scotsman reported, Power said, "She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything," Ms. Power said, hastily trying to withdraw her remark.” This betrays a huge vulnerability in Obama’s team: no political pro would say something is off the record after it’s out in an on-record interview. Rookies make rookie mistakes. And that is precisely the kind of mistake that could defeat Obama.

The Scotsman also quoted Power saying, “You just look at her and think, ‘Ergh’. But if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive.” Really? Hold on to your hat, Barack. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

The next big battleground — the likely do-overs of the Michigan and Florida primaries — could provide Clinton a decisive margin. With Michigan’s 156 prospective delegates and Florida’s 185 — Clinton or Obama could add up to 341 to their totals (but the required number of delegates will also rise to about 2208.) The two candidates can campaign hard in both states, but at what costs?

Just redoing the Florida primary could cost upward of $4 million. Michigan could cost less, but not by much. Who will pay? State parties can accept “soft money” outside legal restraints. But which donors will foot the bill? And every dollar spent there will be one less to spend against McCain (through 527 groups and such) in the fall.

It will cost the campaigns more advertising money, more campaign time and much more. Much more maneuvering, promises and arm-twisting. Hillary may not be able to repeat her Florida win if Obama campaigns heavily there, as he will have to. Michigan will be the same.

In 1992 and 1996 Republicans watched helplessly. Now they can watch the cage match continue, probably right up to August. As I said, it’ll be nasty, brutish and long. Ain’t it grand?