Wisconsin gets heated, three days from the first competitive contest since Super Tuesday

Obama has routinely been considered as the favorite in Wisconsin. Clinton was expected to concede the race, partly because of financial problems. And it indeed looks like her campaign is not playing for the win here, as it has let itself be outspent four to one in TV ads in the Milwaukee and Madison markets, about $800,000 to $200,000.

Yet, the state’s primary has emerged as a major battleground. After all, the state never lived up to its hype as an Obama safe bet, mostly because of its high proportion of working class voters. The Clinton campaign appears to believe that it can beat expectations in the state, and it has increasingly turned towards Wisconsin in the past few days. The candidate is traveling to the state today and will stay there until Monday. The fact that she will be living a full day before the election confirms that she does not believe she can pull off a win but merely wants to keep the race close. This decision is surprising -- and could soon come back to haunt her -- given that most polls have the race within 4-5%.

As importantly, she has engaged the Obama camp in an increasingly heated back-and-forth on TV airwaves. The two campaigns have now ran four ads (two each) responding to each other on the new hot topic of the day: Is Barack Obama ducking debates? Hillary is accusing her rival of refusing to debate in Wisconsin (the last debate was pre-Super Tuesday, the next one will be on the 21st, two days after Wisconsin), and Obama is responding that, with 18 debates already organized, this is a non-issue and the same “old politics.”

Here is Clinton’s second ad, and Obama’s second response. Both are using the opportunity to accuse the other camp of avoiding tough questions, and they expand to issues such as health care. In a campaign that has had remarkably few televised contrast ads, the Wisconsin primary is marking a turning-point.

Putting aside the merits of this debate argument (I will let you guys argue about that in the comments), the Clinton campaign’s new strategy confirms that they are willing to embrace more aggressive strategies – without going negative just yet, for these contrast ads stay away from personal attacks.

The choice to go after Obama’s refusal to debate is seen as a winner by the Clinton camp because it plays into the idea that Obama is all talk and that he does not back up his lofty rhetoric with policy positions, making a debate more dangerous for him than a speech. This line of argument has been used for weeks by Clinton, but her campaign is stepping it up in recent days. The fact that the Obama campaign has taken the step of airing two responses implies that they think this issue is a problem and that they should take steps to fight that narrative before it takes hold.

Overall, Clinton might very well have to beat expectations on Tuesday. She cannot afford to give up another big chunk of delegates with Obama’s already healthy lead, and the momentum building against her could soon become unstoppable, even with wins in Ohio and Texas.



  • I'd rather have debates ad nauseum until the entire country is debating how the best healthcare,education,fiscal, and foreign policies are going to get accomplished by which DEMOCRAT. I see this whole race as being who's party can suck up all the oxygen in the media and control every news cycle. We're winning big time. By November I want everybody in the country to wonder why McCain is still talking. I understand that Barack is afraid of breaking his momentum. I've seen him stumble. But I don't think his supporters noticed it at all. So it seems to me that we could do a prime time Friday or Saturday night duel every week until November. With all the nit-picking media scrutiny it'd turn into a regular soap opera. Especially if we could carry this out PAST the convention. Recounts,contests,revotes, and maybe even a good Taiwanese fistfight on the floor,followed by a slow speed limo chase and Court TV assault case. McCain might have to shoot somebody to even get noticed!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 February, 2008 19:30  

  • More than a couple more debates would be useless. All these endless conversations about these hypothetical differences in health care, education, etc would not prove anything. There is almost no difference is policy anyway, except Clinton is more of a status-quo hawk. This health care thing will not be settled for years. Neither candiate can snap their fingers and make it happen. I can't believe people haven't made up their minds by now.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 16 February, 2008 20:16  

  • stone621-It's not about making up minds,it's about drilling the platform home. This exposure is turning the red party into the irrelevant,crazy old man in the corner(McCain). As for your donations, I think you might want to start diverting money to the DNC to show your Democratic support. A good showing by Obama supporters might increase the belief of the superdelegates that this guy's support is real. You shouldn't be making false claims like that about healthcare. Obama was the only "status-quo" candidate on that issue. If he's come around this week,I didn't hear it. He's going to have to eventually to deliver on universal healthcare and everybody knows it. The sooner the better. As for "hawk",Obama is also the guy who endorsed pre-emptive war. That's a pro-hawk position that puts him on the wrong side of the electorate. Pre-emptive war,even with worldwide popular support, has little support here. These "almost no difference" issues are worth debating. Obama needs to back off both of them or he'll lose. Every mistake needs to be covered and countered prior to a nomination to make sure the eventual nominee is bullet-proof. Hiding with his head in the sand might work for Obamaminions but they don't cut it with the general populace. He can run but he can't hide. If he can't face a woman, he looks pretty weak against an old man too.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 February, 2008 08:39  

  • anon: You're right that the candidates' policy differences aren't "non-existent," but they don't all cut in Sen. Clinton's favor.

    My impression (living in a very red state) has been that support for the war in Afghanistan is still very high, while support for the war in Iraq is very low. The difference is that the war in Afghanistan had a valid purpose, whereas the Iraq War didn't. Therefore, although we're all very war-weary, I'm not sure the nation would automatically oppose another pre-emptive war if we had a valid reason to launch it.

    Again, as to the health-care mandate issue, plenty of folks are against compulsory mandates. As a healthy young person who has a nascent libertarian streak, I oppose the idea that the government might force me to purchase health care from a private insurer. That sounds like a subsidy for health insurers, not a valid universal health-care plan. I'd prefer a single payer system or a subsidy system like the one Sen. Obama offers.

    However, I do agree with you that the best thing we can do is keep up a healthy dialog about these differences. If we frame the issue as "strong health-care plan A versus strong health-care plan B," the republicans' "no health-care plan" option looks increasingly weak. The folks who think we need a candidate ASAP -- yesterday -- are nuts. Let's milk this thing for as many cycles as we can, so long as we don't start fatiguing people.

    By Blogger ty, At 17 February, 2008 18:08  

  • The absolute amount of money Clinton's campaign is spending on TV ads in Wisconsin is a pittance. It's $200,000 in total, not $200,000 a day or $200,000 a week. You know Clinton's campaign has raised more than $100 million from donors. (Meanwhile they're spending zero money ($0) on TV ads in Hawaii.)

    Further weakening her Wisconsin campaign, Hillary herself arrived in Wisconsin relatively late and leaves early. Same goes for Bill's presence in Wisconsin.

    In Wisconsin Clinton had a lead of only 7% over Obama back in December, and around 15% in November, compared with leads of 20%+ in most other states at the time. Yet today Obama appears to have a lead in Wisconsin of only 5%. Why not more?

    Obama has a radio ad running in Wisconsin saying Obama is "the only candidate who's consistently opposed NAFTA and other unfair trade deals". (The .MP3 file of the ad is http://obama.3cdn.net/3018e797bcd67faaee_afm6bptnu.mp3). This week in Wisconsin, but not in earlier weeks of the campaign, bad-mouthing NAFTA is a standard part of Obama's stump speech together with words insinuating that Hillary is too much of a liberal internationalist on trade. But at the same time, Obama is not giving an explanation of his views on international trade beyond a couple of brief, empty platitudes. I believe this week in Wisconsin Obama doesn't say enough, and doesn't say it with enough clarity, to convert bluecollar protectionists to vote for him -- but he's saying enough to discourage many free-traders from coming out to vote for him. Exit polls show Obama's base is better-educated people including better- educated independents and some Republicans. Most of these people are liberals (non-protectionists) on trade. If Obama underperforms expectations in Wisconsin this new feature of his campaign should be blamed for inducing parts of his base to stay at home. At this stage for Obama, a tie in Wisconsin would be underperforming expectations.

    By Blogger seanwal111, At 17 February, 2008 18:16  

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