Barack Obama once again swept the evening’s contests, but the big surprise came in Wisconsin, where Hillary Clinton invested much time and money and where the two candidates got caught in a nasty air war. He beat her there by roughly 18 points.
John McCain also won Wisconsin and his party’s primary in Washington.
Hawaiians still haven’t finished counting ballots, but with roughly a quarter of the results in, Obama leads by somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 points. Expect that to fluctuate. Although he was born there, so which direction it fluctuates is still up in the air.
Wisconsin is a major defeat for Hillary Clinton. As one commentator put it, she ran out of excuses. There isn’t a large black population to blame. She can’t really say it was Bill’s fault. Women, who have always made up Hillary’s core constituency, came out in massive numbers. Many of them simply voted for Barack. She could blame the weather, which was, to be fair, really bad. But she might not, because that isn’t how you win elections.
Hillary Clinton was under immense pressure after the last string of losses to try something new: A new message, go positive, go negative, dismiss him. Two of these strategies grabbed headlines this week, but didn’t damn Obama’s momentum.
When Clinton tried to paint Obama as a plagiarist, he said he borrowed a line or two from a friend, probably shouldn’t have, but what’s the big deal? And why was she making one? The Clinton campaign denied “fanning the flames” of the story, but later copped to a campaign conference call pushing the item to reporters.
Hillary tried negative ads in Wisconsin, and they were compelling. Enough, even, for Obama to respond in kind. Cleverly, Clinton shot back right away with a more robust attack. It didn’t win her Wisconsin.
Negativity is not working for Hillary Clinton. We’ve known that since South Carolina. Sure, she wasn’t guaranteed to win Wisconsin, but she wanted to, she spent time there, she bought ads there, she organized there and then lost by 18 points. Negativity is not working for her.
There are two common catchphrases in politics: Don’t bet against momentum, and don’t count out the Clintons. Both are true, but the Clintons are betting against themselves. No one who grew up with Bill Clinton as president wants to witness pissy red-faced Bill snap at somebody. Nobody who once respected Hillary Clinton’s directness, intelligence and dignity wants to see her fake a smile while she pushes a subtle attack out the side of her mouth. Does this seem familiar: I love Barack Obama, I just think people have a right to know about x, y and z.
She needs to remind us that she’s tough, smart and ready to kick ass. And Bill, if he’s listening, can do the smoothing over. He’s better at picking up after a fight than picking one.
The Obama campaign isn’t perfect, either. But, well, they’re winning. Maybe they can give us some advice.
In campaign contests so far, Barack Obama has polled the best among black, more wealthy and educated voters and college students, while rival Hillary Clinton has been able to count on women, low-income voters and blue-collar workers.
But in early exit polls tonight, Obama held Clinton to a virtual tie among Wisconsin Democratic primary voters who said they have a union member in their household—50 percent for Clinton to 49 percent for Obama—and actually edged her among women, 51 percent to 49 percent.
Clinton held a narrow advantage over Obama among Catholic poll respondents—who made up 43 percent of voters interviewed—51 percent to 48 percent. She also held narrow leads among voters with only a high school education, people 60 or older and those making between $15,000-$30,000 a year.
But Obama kept those margins close and took easy wins among his traditional base of supporters.
AP photo / Steven Senne
Sen. Barack Obama greets Sen. John McCain last month during a break between the televised Republican presidential debate and the Democratic presidential debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.