Yes, the phone finally rang at 3 a.m. next to Senator Hillary Clinton’s bed and she answered it and responded — but not yet in the way the caller perhaps had in mind. The call went out because now some things have clearly changed in the wake of the Republican convention.
The caller: Democratic Senator Barack Obama who wants Clinton out on the stump to shore-up Democratic voters and also counter the political and political-rock-star appeal of Republican John McCain’s controversial running mate Gov. Sarah Palin, a crowd-drawing new celebrity for the Republicans who have gone after Obama for being a crowd-drawing celebrity.
Clinton has started responding but, as the L.A. Time’s blogger Andrew Malcolm notes, in an eyebrow-raising way: She is refraining from going after Palin and pulling her political punches when it comes to her Senate friend McCain.
A very interesting thing didn’t happen Saturday.
Appearing at a labor rally and stumping for congressional candidates in New York, Sen. Hillary Clinton uttered her most popular line from the recent Democratic National Convention in Denver: [Senators John McCain Republican nominee for president and Hillary Clinton Democratic loser for her party's top nomination share a close friendship] “No Way. No how. No McCain.” This time she added, “No Palin.”
But despite some soft lobs by media with her, that’s as far as the female candidate who got closer to a major party’s top nomination than any other in American history would go in criticizing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the first female top ticket member in Republican Party history.
Despite continued grumbling among her supporters about a less-than-diligent effort by the Barack Obama crowd to help the New York senator retire her immense campaign debts, Clinton has been living up to her promise to fund-raise and campaign for the Democratic ticket all over.
She has repeated the “No way. No how” line about John McCain many times and warned against four more….
…years of a Bush-like administration.
But she’s been very careful to avoid saying harsh things against her good friend from Arizona, who was among the first to welcome and show the former first lady around the old-boys club of the Senate on her arrival in 2001.
Hillary Clinton may be the most obvious choice to throw into the ring against the new darling of American politics, Sarah Palin, but the failed Democratic presidential candidate is refusing the job.
“We’re not going to be anybody’s attack dog against Sarah Palin,” a Clinton insider said yesterday.
It’s an extraordinary act of hubris from a woman whose success in exposing Barack Obama’s weakness in working-class Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana may have been the reason that John McCain chose a gun-toting, God-loving mother of five as his running mate.
Although she is 60 and unlikely to have another shot at the White House, Clinton is apparently concerned that she would appear ungenerous to the Republicans’ first female vice-presidential candidate if she were to go after her.
It is a rationale that will fuel the belief – lingering among Democrats since Al Gore’s failed 2000 presidential run – that the Clintons always put themselves before their party.
There has been a big shift since the Republican convention — a shift in the always all-knowing conventional wisdom comprised of pundits, all-wise left and right partisan pundits on radio talk shows and on those proliferating left and right cable partisan talk shows masquerading as news shows that are the equivalent of political infomercials.
SEE UPDATE BELOW
It’s now perceived as a race more-even-than-ever with increasing suggestions that, yes, McCain could well win it due to his base being energized and due to a fact most analysts won’t say bluntly:
The Republicans have proven themselves much better at winning national campaigns and the Democrats have often shown themselves inept at national campaigns, frequently grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.
Just look at some of the political news on this first weekend after the conventions. It isn’t the same panorama as before the conventions — and most of it should make Republicans smile:
–Zogby reports the McCain-Palin ticket now enjoys a small lead and convention bounce.
Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin left St. Paul, Minnesota, with a smallish bounce overall and some energy in key demographic groups, as the race for the presidency enters a key stage and voters begin to tune in to the contest, the latest Zogby Interactive poll finds.
The McCain/Palin ticket wins 49.7% support, compared to 45.9% backing for the Obama/Biden ticket, this latest online survey shows. Another 4.4% either favored someone else or were unsure.
The significance: even with the backdrop of an increasingly-ailing economy, the continuing war and other issues, 2008 now seems poised to become another campaign centering on the culture war with a key theme being how soft Democrats are on social issues and national security. Democrats have not WON these kinds of campaigns — because they spend most of the time reacting to GOP ads and charges and appearing increasingly-wimpish to many voters. Can another culture war/partisanfest trump the country’s political and economic context? The GOP tickets crowds suggest it could, if the trend continues and Democrats react as in previous years.
–Some prominent commentators now write about the Democrats regaining the wimp factor, losing control of the election. And one even spins a fantasy about 2012 after Obama has lost.
The Tribune’s The Swamp reports that polling now shows Democrats reverting to a weak-kneed wimpish party on national security and other issues, after having turned that number around in 2006. Conservative writer Nick Cohen thinks Obama and the “liberal” American press lost control of the political narrative. And New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes a whole column about a 2012 Presidential face-off between Palin and Clinton — after Obama loses and is back in the Senate.
The bottom line is that the conventional wisdom — what journalists, old media and new media pundits have as the certainties behind their confidently-predicted assertions and analyses — is now out the window due not to just Palin’s speech (which was, as all major acceptance political speeches, written by a speech writer no matter what her own input was) but by the sudden excitement displayed by GOP’s conservative political base.
2008 is now shaping up into yet another base-mobilization election which means it will be mega-partisan with a difference: both Obama and McCain will be battling big-time to win over independents and moderates.
Republicans have their impressive info machine which includes talk radio hosts who can usually bring along their audiences (some of these shows now resemble three hours of political affirmations).
Democrats have a smattering of liberal talk shows but the truth is that progressive talk has failed as a growth-industry radio product. If you travel, you need to hire a private investigator to find it. Democrats have a strong Internet activist network but it hasn’t proven to be as effective in impacting major elections as conservative talk has been at instilling Republican partisan talking points and rallying the GOP party base.
In reality, Palin’s emergence and the re-energized Republican social conservative activist now means this election will boil down to which side has the best tactical and strategical smarts to run the campaign like a championship chess game — coolly considering moves that will get to the long-term goal rather than emotionally and impulsively moving the pieces as the other side moves a piece.
According to Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, the Democrats know they have to respond to her.
Normally vice presidential candidates fade into the background. Nobody is expecting that with Palin; indeed, her new found celebrity has made even Obama look dull. The usual rule is that voters don’t trust attacks from people they don’t know, but Palin is turning the adage on its head. Democrats are determined to attack her credibility, even if it gives her more visibility. “We’ve got to go after her, and fast,” a top Democratic strategist, who asked for anonymity when discussing strategy, told me.
And, once again Fineman indicates, a piece of convention wisdom is suddenly in “NEVER MIND!” territory:
The real task of hunting Palin belongs to Biden, who will meet her in St. Louis for a 90-minute debate. The first-blush assumption that she would be overmatched faded the moment she finished speaking in St. Paul, and Biden’s friends and advisers express concern about the delicacy of his task. Biden is as deeply informed on the issues as any member of the Senate, but he has a tendency to want to prove it at length. “He has to be careful not to come off as heavy-handed,” a friend of Biden’s, who’s not authorized to speak publicly about the campaign, told me. “He has to push back, but in a careful way.” The Democrats have to score against the hockey mom—without tripping on the ice.
Other previous calculations have apparently started to change, too, such as the Democratic ticket’s prospects in the West. The Salt Like City Tribune:
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the Democrats made a pitch for Westerners, but Republicans have two Westerners on the ticket – a senator from Arizona and governor from Alaska.
“The McCain-Palin ticket is as Western [of] a ticket in American political history,” Huntsman said. “As a Westerner, I couldn’t be happier.”
Erwin said it is a big advantage to have candidates who understand the West and can speak with authority about issues like energy, water and property rights.
“It is clearly an uphill battle for the Obama campaign in the West,” said Kemmis, who was the Democratic House speaker in Montana.
But Michael Stratton, a Western Democratic political consultant, says Obama’s message of changing Washington, and sustainable energy development while protecting the environment will resonate with voters. Undoubtedly, though, there will be a fight.
“I think that in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, you’re going to see a lot of John McCain and Sarah Palin and lot of Barack Obama and Joe Biden,” said Stratton. “They’re three of the closest states in the country right now, and I think they’re going to be that way right until the end.”
The Democrats will be appealing to Americans’ pocketbooks and sense of how the country is on the wrong path and how a Big Broom change that sweeps the crew that ran the executive branch for 8 years is needed. The Republicans will focus on how the Democrats can’t be trusted and suggest their change could go too far.
The mission of both parties: get a big chunk of the independents since you can’t just win with your own base.
In 2000 McCain ran in the Republican primaries as a reformer and George Bush suddenly appeared behind a sign that said “Reformer With Results.” It worked. In 2008, Obama is running on change and McCain’s big push now is to say the GOP will bring change by putting different members of the GOP in charge of the federal government.
Recent presidential elections involving the two George Bushes and Bill Clinton often came down to which side had the toughest, smartest, set-the-debate-agenda campaign team that used — and manipulated — the news media more effectively. With the exception of Bill Clinton with his generals James Carville and Paul Begala, the Republicans have won. Will 2008 be another year?
UPDATE: California Democratic party legend Willie Brown says the Democrats are now in big trouble. Here’s part of what he writes in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The Democrats are in trouble. Sarah Palin has totally changed the dynamics of this campaign.
Palin’s speech to the GOP National Convention on Wednesday has set it up so that the Republicans are now on offense and Democrats are on defense. And we don’t do well on defense.
Suddenly, Palin and John McCain are the mavericks and Barack Obama and Joe Biden are the status quo, in a year when you don’t want to be seen as defending the status quo.
From taxes to oil drilling, Democrats are now going to have to start explaining their positions.
Whenever you start having to explain things, you’re on defense.
And she delivered it like she was just BS-ing on the street with the meter maid.
She didn’t have to prove she was “of the people.” She really is the people.
….As for Palin herself, she is going to be very, very effective on the campaign trail, especially if McCain’s people can figure out how to gently keep her from getting into confrontations with the press.
If she can answer questions like she handled herself at the convention, Palin will turn out to be the most interesting person in all of politics, and the press will treat her like they treated Obama when he was first discovered.
And remember, the Palin bandwagon needs to roll for only two months.