I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.
— Ulysses Simpson Grant, May 11, 1864
Senators Clinton and Obama might be channeling Ulysses Simpson Grant this spring as they look forward to a long hard slog into summer in their quest for their party’s presidential nomination.
Grant was in Spotsylvania when he sent General Halleck that famous note in May of 1864 promising to “fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.”
Well, Senator Obama has been unable to put a stake through the heart of Senator Clinton’s campaign, and the New York Senator does not appear to be giving up on her quest for the nomination come hell or high water. Bill Bennett, who recently noted her “perseverance” on national TV, could include another entry on this virtue in the reissue of his book on the subject.
Still, it appears numerically impossible for her to catch Obama in either the popular vote or the delegate count, absent the Democratic Super Delegates big-footing the process, throwing the nomination to Clinton and thereby alienating one of the most loyal constituencies in the history of the party.
The Clinton talent for post-modern deconstruction of words and numbers seems to be kicking into high gear. Delegates are not real delegates. Losing is winning. Pennsylvania is more representative than Missouri, the indicator state in the general election, which Obama won. As NBC’s Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press, recently noted, the Clintons are stronger on psychology than arithmetic.
Obama has lost a lot of his luster since the early days of the campaign. While his Internet fundraising effort is still putting petrol in his tank, he seems to be developing very negative resonance with blue-collar Democrats, which is code for Catholics, a demographic group that has been singularly unresponsive to his charms. Reverend Wright, Mrs. Obama, and the Senator’s own foot-in-mouth comments to the wine sippers in Marin County, CA, have all taken their toll. Even Pennsylvania’s pro-life Senator Casey couldn’t help him with these voters.
Senator Obama will re-gain ground in North Carolina, I think, but how much is not clear. Either way, the Clintons will characterize it as a racially based success only.
Who knows what will happen in Indiana. In a recent column, Bob Novak discussed the return of the dreaded “Bradley effect” in which voters do not tell pollsters, honestly, whether or not they would vote for a black candidate. Former Mayor Bradley of Los Angeles was leading in polls during his race for governor, but he lost the election. Senator Obama might be in the same position. Even those of us who would not vote for any Democrat find the re-emergence of this phenomenon depressing. But it may be real even in the 21st century. One would like to think that Colin Powell might have broken the spell had he run for high office.
The Clinton resurrection is the result of equal parts tenacity, spin, and perceived weakness on the part of her opponent. But, again, would African Americans reward the Democratic Party with their votes in the general election if Senator Obama was overthrown by a coup of the Super Delegates? For that reason alone, I am still betting on Barack Obama.
Whether I am right or wrong, the Democratic candidates will be soldiering on through the summer of ’08.