First of all, congratulations to Hillary on her win last night. A win all the more shocking because almost every poll leading up to it showed her behind by double digits, because her own campaign staff had privately conceded defeat, and because Obama had such incredible momentum.
But now,we have a real race. Unfortunately, it looks as if Edwards is being pushed aside in this debate – and instead of debating whether community-building and consensus or partisanship and government force are the best means of achieving lasting change, we will debate Hillary and Barack, gender and race, experience and judgment. The intellectual debate is diminished. But the stakes are now higher than ever.
A few positive notes: Now that Hillary has something to lose, will she still go negative across the country against Obama? There was widespread acknowledgment that this would be her only strategy to stop him if he won in New Hampshire. I was concerned about how she might try to take him out – and that, if nothing else, she would increase his negatives going into a hotly contested general election. Now though, her options have changed. If the postulates about why Hillary won New Hampshire are correct – that she got a sympathy vote from many women, as opposed to a change in the view of the issues at stake, or in the perception of Obama or herself – then New Hampshire shouldn’t change the fundamentals of the next three weeks. If Obama is able to maintain his lead in South Carolina, and win there; and if he still receives the endorsement of the Culinary Union in Nevada as expected, he seems likely to win in the union-dominated caucuses there. Hillary will win Michigan because she is the only major candidate on the ballot – the Democratic National Party having asked all the candidates to withdraw, and write-ins are not permitted. The contest will continue until February 5th. Having won New Hampshire and Michigan, and assuming she places 2nd in South Carolina and Nevada (which is not a safe assumption), she will go into February 5th as a co-front-runner with Obama. Given this, attacking Obama too harshly will risk her support as well as his – although I think she has more to gain from it than Obama has to lose, at least in the primary. (Her negatives are already high, and her voters know this, and have overcome them. Obama’s voters, for all their dedication, have not had to deal with negative stories about their candidate for the past dozen years.) Still, I think she will start running a front-runner’s campaign again – because it is prudent. She might show emotion a bit more; and there will certainly be a few groups financed by wealthy Clinton supporters that will run negative ads against Obama in any battleground states.
The question now is simply: what are the facts on the ground in the February 5th states. We won’t have a clear answer on that until next week probably, as polls take into account the Iowa bounce and the New Hampshire bomb. A national campaign will probably benefit Hillary – as she is better known; although the internet and the net roots may now play a bigger role in organizing which would benefit Obama as Hillary generates almost universal dislike and distrust among the netroots and internet-savvy public in general and Obama is viewed sympathetically. The final point: If this election comes down to the fundamentals – if it comes down to people trying to decide the direction of the country – then Barack wins.