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Obama Memo: Tex. and Ohio Change Nothing

After watching his candidate cruise to victory in the Mississippi Democratic primary, David Plouffe, Barack Obama's campaign manager, released a memo asserting that the Illinois senator's defeats in Ohio and Texas last week will have no impact on the larger fight for the party's nomination.

"With his overwhelming victory in the Mississippi primary, Barack Obama's lead in pledged delegates is now wider than it was on March 3, before the contests in Ohio and Texas," wrote Plouffe, adding: "As the number of remaining pledged delegates dwindles, Hillary Clinton's path to the nomination seems less and less plausible."

For weeks now, Plouffe -- and the rest of the Obama team -- have focused heavily on the math argument for the nomination, which, they insist, makes it nearly impossible for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) to catch Obama in terms of pledged delegates.

By the Obama campaign's count, he now boasts 1,411 pledged delegates to 1,250 for Clinton. Plouffe, on a conference call this morning, also said that Obama has won more delegates in 31 of the states that have voted and even argued that when all of the votes -- primary and caucus -- are counted, Obama will have captured roughly a million more popular votes than Clinton.

"That doesn't mean the Clinton campaign won't move the goal posts again," Plouffe said. He later added that "by any standard, even the creative Clinton standards, we would be the strongest nominee."

Plouffe went on to describe Clinton as a "flawed" general election nominee and condemned a comment by Harold Ickes, a senior adviser to the New York Senator's campaign, that "the Carolinas" would not be competitive in a general election. ("They're great states, but Idaho, Nebraska and the Carolinas are not going to be in the Democratic column in November," Ickes told the New York Times.)

Ever mindful of the potentially competitive North Carolina primary on May 6, Plouffe said the Tarheel State would be a "central battleground" in November if Obama is the Democratic nominee. "We cannot afford to have another election where we have a very narrow playing field and no margin for error," Plouffe added, echoing the "50 State Strategy" outlined by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

The danger for the Obama campaign -- as we've written before -- is that math is not a message. Process arguments about the number of pledged delegates each campaign has won may well be effective for the inside-the-Beltway crowd but they aren't likely to move the needle with average voters.

Clinton's campaign is well aware of that problem as they spent much of 2007 running a process-driven campaign centered on her standing in national polling and the seeming inevitability of her winning the nomination. Chastened by a series of losses in February, the Clinton campaign -- or, at least Clinton herself -- has focused much more of late on issues rather than process.

In the end, math won't be enough for Obama. He's right that Clinton isn't likely to catch him among pledged delegates but it's equally unlikely that Obama will be able to get to the magic number of 2,025 on the strength of pledged delegates alone.

He still sits in the catbird's seat in the fight for the nomination -- as evidenced by his ability to play in every state as opposed to the large-state strategy Clinton seems to have adopted. But, in an election as topsy-turvy as this one, the catbird's seat isn't all that high a perch.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 12, 2008; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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