2.27.2008

Massively outspent, Hillary Clinton increasingly unlikely to score the big victories she needs next week

I apologize for the very slow posting today. Either my blogging or my hosting service appears to have major technical issues and refused to upload this post.

I wrote last week that the Democratic race could still drag on for weeks to come: If Hillary Clinton wins both Ohio and Texas, she would still be the heavy underdog but she would have survived to fight another day. Since then, Barack Obama has taken the lead in a few Texas polls and cut her Ohio edge to mid single-digits. Now, for Clinton to comeback on March 4th will allow her not to post blow out victories but to simply win both states -- by any margin at all.

Unfortunately for the Clinton campaign, this is no longer early January and the expectation game is no longer relevant to analyzing the campaign. Hillary's 2 point victory in New Hampshire was a giant triumph that entirely changed the state of the race. 2 point victories in Ohio and Texas would be very different: Clinton does not need to win, she needs to catch up Obama's massive pledged delegate lead. She can no longer battle herself back to a draw as she did on January 8th, she needs to change the fundamentals of the race.

And it is looking increasingly unlikely she will be able to achieve that next week. The Clinton campaign is now holding on to polls that show them still in the lead in Ohio and some even in Texas -- but the issue was never whether Clinton would be able to win Ohio and Texas but whether she would be able to win them big. And when the question becomes whether she is going to win them at all, it becomes hard to imagine how she will storm back to significant victories.

Complicating matters is the fact that Clinton is being heavily outspent in those decisive states, a dynamic that started playing out in the run-up to February 5th. Clinton has spent $14 million to Obama's $23 million over the past 30 days. And First Read now suggests that she is being outspent nearly 4:1 in Ohio once we take into account the independent expenditures that are playing on Obama's behalf (for instance SEIU). Who would have thought that Clinton could lose the election because of fundraising problems?

It is in this context not surprising that Clinton is unable to sustain a double-digit lead. Such massive outspending does not necessarily win an election, but it certainly is enough to prevent a blow-out defeat, i.e. it prevents Clinton from achieving what she needs. And the latest poll from Pennsylvania out today by Quinnipiac suggests that the contagion is reaching later states: Clinton is ahead only 49% to 43% down from a 16% lead two weeks ago (52% to 36%). That's an important drop that is reflected in the Texas and Ohio numbers.

Clinton has done plenty to try and change the dynamics of the race over the past two weeks, most notably her switch in tone over the past week-end. The debates were her best chance to reverse momentum, but now that the two debates have passed we can see how daunting that task was: Those were the 19th and 20th debates of the cycle, which means that (1) most attacks Clinton could launch had already been aired and that (2) Obama knew exactly what was coming and was prepared, simply because he had already heard it all. Given how difficult it is to knock an opponent out at a debate in a first confrontation, it is nearly an impossible task after a year of discussion.

In fact, the only debate development that truly changed the race were due to multi-candidate dynamics: In Philadelphia, Clinton stumbled because the entire field was against her and harassed her for the driver licenses answer (starting with Chris Dodd). In New Hampshire, it was the tag-teaming of Edwards and Obama that led to women rallying around Hillary. And in South Carolina, Obama benefited because he was the one in the middle, with Edwards and Clinton firing shots at him. In these two candidate debates, there were no such gang-ups (nor backlashes against them).

Now with 7 days to go until March 4th, it is unclear how many more occasions Clinton will have to regain her footing. And do so decisively.

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