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Fix Pick: Obama, the New Gary Hart?

Regular Fix readers know we have long believed (and written) that the best -- and perhaps only -- way for Barack Obama to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton is to turn his campaign from a traditional test between two candidates and into a movement in which a vote for the Illinois senator is a vote for something bigger.

Following Obama's Iowa caucus victory, we thought that movement had begun. We even wrote a post from a packed New Hampshire event entitled: "The Movement Has Begun." Three days after we penned that post, Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire -- proving us and the rest of the political cognoscenti wrong.

Since then we've been re-examining our "Obama as Movement" frame and trying to figure out whether it is still operative or not.

So, you can imagine our interest when we came across a piece written by Matt Bai of the New York Times entitled "A Candidate Not a Cause."

Bai, as many of you no doubt already know, is one of the most perceptive writers about political trends working in the business today. His book -- "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics" -- is terrific and, frankly, the story The Fix wanted to tell before Bai beat me to it.

In his piece on Obama, Bai notes that the inspirational pitch that rallied a wide swath of voters to the Illinois senator in Iowa fell somewhat flat in New Hampshire.

"These weren't the kids in Iowa City," writes Bai. "They were taciturn New England parents, and perhaps they had a question they hoped to ask. Obama didn't take any, which was his habit for most of that final week in New Hampshire. He had a lead, and he was running out the clock."

Obama's loss and the relatively narrow swath of voters he won over (under 40, affluent and independent) created the real possibility that rather than becoming a genuine contender for the nomination, Obama could well ultimately wind up as a "classic liberal insurgent" in the vein of former Sens. Bill Bradley (N.J.) and Gary Hart (Colo.).

"Liberal causes built on beautiful speeches and campus rallies never really win the nomination," writes Bai. "They just fade into noble lore, fondly remembered by that breed of Democrat who seems to view losing as a kind of moral validation."

Bai's advice to Obama? "Substantive speeches" and "interactive town halls" to allow voters to see the depth of the man, to get a glimpse behind the rhetoric.

"If there is a lesson in those exit polls for Obama, it may be that inspiration will only get you so many voters," writes Bai. "The rest you have to convince."

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 16, 2008; 12:42 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Picks  
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