New York Senator Hillary Clinton clinched the Texas Democratic 2008 Presidential primary — giving her the two big prizes for the night, Ohio and the Lone Star state, plus Rhode Island. The results: a second-lease on life in her battle to win the Democratic Presidential nomination and a new test for rival Senator Barack Obama.
Clinton’s win in Texas means she and her campaign can rightly say that she carved out victories in several big states and has no reason to agree to end her campaign, even though many analysts say the “math” in the delegate count makes it impossible for her to win via pledged delegates. So the battle will likely start now, more than ever, to convince Super-delegates — via increasingly sharp attacks on Obama and more no-holds-barred advertising — that the Illinois Senator would be a bad risk for the party in the general election.
Clinton, her campaign, and her followers will tout her victory today. And Obama, his campaign and his followers will try to downplay it. But the fact that Obama only won Vermont mean the net result is clear, as the New York Times reports:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Senator Barack Obama in the Ohio and Texas primaries on Tuesday, ending a string of defeats and allowing her to soldier on in a Democratic presidential nomination race that now seems unlikely to end any time soon.
Mrs. Clinton also won Rhode Island, while Mr. Obama won in Vermont. But the results mean that Mrs. Clinton won the two states she most needed to keep her candidacy alive. Her victory in Texas was razor thin and came early Wednesday morning after most Americans had gone to bed. But by winning decisively in Ohio earlier in the night, Mrs. Clinton was able to deliver a televised victory speech in time for the late-night news. And the result there allowed her to cast Tuesday as the beginning of a comeback even though she stood a good chance of gaining no ground against Mr. Obama in the hunt for delegates.
“No candidate in recent history — Democratic or Republican — has won the White House without winning the Ohio primary,” Mrs. Clinton, of New York, said at a rally in Columbus, Ohio. “We all know that if we want a Democratic president, we need a Democratic nominee who can win Democratic states just like Ohio.”
Although Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote in Texas, her hunt for delegates was complicated by the state’s peculiar nominating process, which includes a separate caucus that awards 35 percent of the state’s delegates, irrespective of the primary results. Mr. Obama held a slight lead in that contest with less than half of precincts reporting, but the outcome is likely to stay up in the air until later on Wednesday.
The Associated Press reported that all told, Mr. Obama retains his lead in the delegate count, with 1,477 pledged delegates compared to Mrs. Clinton’s 1,391. The A.P. said that 170 delegates from Tuesday’s contests have yet to be assigned, many from the Texas caucuses.
Expect the Clinton and Obama forces to battle each other every centimeter of the way while a smiling Republican (virtual) nominee Senator John McCain looks (and attacks) on.
One factor already being talked about in Texas is: did talk show host Rush Limbaugh help tilt the scales there with his call on Republicans to cross over the primary and vote for Clinton to sandbag Obama? There is already some buzz suggesting he might have. Conservative blogger and talk show host Hugh Hewitt:
If Hillary ekes out close wins, stays alive, gains the nomination and the White House, will Rush hold the Bible at her Inauguration?
Bill O’Reilly was just on with Brit Hume giving Rush the credit for the Clinton comeback –which is certainly the least expected bit of Campaign 2008 news in this very, very long campaign.
A month ago talk radio was dead. Now it has resurrected Hillary?
What does it mean for Democrats and how to some of those who’ve backed Obama view it? Kos from Daily Kos:
If she’s eaten into Obama’s lead, then we’ve got a serious rationale for the race to continue. If Obama wins the delegate count tonight, which is still pretty possible (remarkably, because this primary process is so stupid), then Clinton will have ended her “good” night without making ground where it actually matters. We’ll see.
But he sees a silver lining for the Democrats in general:
For one, Obama may finally have to go negative. I’ve never seen him do that. He’s never had to do that.
Second of all, as long as the talking heads are talking about the Democratic race, that’s time they’re not talking about their “maverick” friend. And what’s the debate about between Obama and Clinton? Health care. Iraq. Jobs. The sort of thing that can only help us long term.
Finally, Obama has to prove that he can bounce back from such setbacks. He’s had a mostly charmed political life. A little political adversity is important. Hillary Clinton and her team responded well to her painful losing streak. Now let’s see how the Obama team bounces back.
So I’m cool with her continuing on. I certainly won’t be calling for her to quit.
But if he wins the delegate count, her task will be even more difficult than it was today. And at that point, she’ll become little more than batting practice for Obama.
(1) Forget the navel gazing about negative campaigning and press criticism by candidates not working. It works. And, due to the way Clinton turned her campaign around with highly-touted negative ads plus what some called “working the refs” (calling the press to further scrutinize and be tough on Obama, which occurred during the past few days), expect the McCain and Obama campaigns to follow suit.
(2) The most interesting aspect of the Texas race was the issue of national security coupled with the idea that if you elect one candidate you’re safer then if you elect another. For several years now Democrats and independents have been critical of the administration’s and Republican Party’s suggestion that if you vote for them you’re more likely to live to a ripe old age and watch your children survive. Democrats decried this tactic. But, in a primary, it apparently worked quite well.
(3) The Republicans will most certainly use a national security argument — and advertising — against the Democrats. It’ll be harder for the Democratic Party itself and whoever the candidate is to argue it’s foul play or unseemly since the argument that if you vote for X you and your family are more likely to survive than if you vote for Y — since the Democrats have already been there/done that in their own primary. Expect the battle over this issue to continue in remaining Democratic primaries on the stump and on advertisements.
(4) The Clinton campaign came under fire for suggesting when it lost that it really didn’t matter losing their states. The Obama campaign is now suggesting the same — apart from its still-ahead position on delegates. In reality losses matter and, just as Clinton’s task and image was impacted by her losses, so are Obama’s despite what his camp may argue today.
Cagle cartoon by Paul Zanetti, Australia
UPDATE: The AP’s veteran political reporter Ron Fournier reports that pressures, tensions and ugliness in the Democratic presidential nomination campaign are going to soon increase:
“Despite Obama’s impressive victories in February, Clinton’s comeback is based on sowing political seeds of doubt,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist and one of nearly 800 party leaders known as superdelegates for their ability to determine the nomination. “In order to clinch the nomination, he must anticipate the worst attacks ever.”
Consider that a shot across the bow to the Clinton campaign because Brazile — like many other superdelegates — worries that Clinton’s only hope for victory is tearing down Obama and dividing the party. Party chairman Howard Dean recently told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he was concerned about the possible impact of a nominating campaign that stretched through the end of the primaries in early June.
Some superdelegates are bracing themselves to intervene on Obama’s behalf if necessary.
“If these attacks are contrasts based on policy differences, there is no need to stop the race or halt the debate,” Brazile said. “But, if this is more division, more diversion from the issues and more of the same politics of personal destruction, chairman Dean and other should be on standby.”
A senior Obama adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama’s team will respond to Tuesday’s results by going negative on Clinton — raising questions about her tax records and the source of donations to the Clinton presidential library, among skeletons in the Clintons’ past.
The winner of that fight would be John McCain, who sealed the GOP nomination Tuesday night and would love nothing more than fratricide among the Democrats. He could use the time to raise money, energize conservative voters and sharpen his general election message.
(Did he read TMV?:)
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.