Obama campaign aims for inevitability

My last few commentaries on the Democratic primary have explored the question of what Clinton needs to do to clinch the nomination. After all, her paths appear so tortuous that the burden of displaying a viable strategy falls on her rather than on her rival -- and this despite the fact that I have sketched pretty clearly what a Clinton win requires and why it remains a possibility (albeit a small one).

Yet, Barack Obama has certainly been implementing his own strategy in the meantime. Over the past few weeks, he has done an admirable job creating an aura of inevitability. This is precisely Obama's main objective right now -- beyond even a victory in Pennsylvania. Inevitability means that Clinton faces increasing pressure to justify her presence in the race; it means that Obama can concentrate on McCain; and, last but certainly not least, it means that uncommitted superdelegates will rally faster behind the candidate who they will see as likely to wrap up the nomination.

Indeed, consider that Obama picked up a high number of superdelegates all three times he seemed on the verge of eliminating Clinton (in the run-ups to New Hampshire, to Super Tuesday and to March 4th); these supers did not want to left off the train when (they thought) it was leaving the station. Even if Obama failed to clinch the nomination any of these times, the superdelegates he had picked up naturally stuck with him -- and made life that much more difficult for Clinton.

Now in the run-up to Pennsylvania, Obama is benefiting from the same phenomenon, which is a stunning reversal of roles considering how Clinton was accused of playing the inevitability card
in the fall. He is collecting superdelegates at a noticeable rhythm while Clinton is stagnating. Today DC chose two add-on superdelegates one of which is an Obama supporter and the other one was supporting Clinton but is undecided since his ward voted for Barack with 83%. But the most remarkable news came from a Nigerian newspaper in which former President Jimmy Carter came as close to endorsing as he has ever been:

We are very interested in the primaries. Don’t forget that Obama won in my state of Georgia. My town, which is home to 625 people, is for Obama, my children and their spouses are pro-Obama. My grandchildren are also pro-Obama. As a superdelegate, I would not disclose who I am rooting for but I leave you to make that guess.

Whether or not a Carter (or a Gore, Edwards, Casey) endorsement would move any voters' mind is one thing, and can be debated at great length. But it is quite another to ask whether how superdelegate will react to such stories: It is clear that they will notice Carter's comments (and that Obama will make them notice). Through little anecdotes like this, the uncommitted supers that Clinton needs to convince so desperately are becoming increasingly vulnerable to Obama's appeal, if for no other reason that he is so close to the nomination.

Another factor Obama is hoping to drive straight to the nomination and use to argue for his inevitability is his financial edge. That Clinton is barely staying afloat was long evident by the fact that she is not paying all her bills and that Obama is massively outspending her in Pennsylvania (as he did in March 4th states). Clinton's inability to respond to Obama's ads in the Keystone state is undoubtedly a major reason for the race tightening.

Today, the Obama campaign announced it had raised a very impressive $40 million in March. That's more or less double Clinton's intake. Obama played the expectations game masterfully too. While few people expected Clinton to contest him the lead here, some had led to believe that the gap was closer between the two candidates. Given that Clinton was already suffering financially at the end of February, these numbers confirm that she will remain incapable of matching Obama's spending in the coming weeks though the campaign is picking up again (and don't forget Clinton has to contest in every single straight as pretty much any disastrous result could mean instant death for her campaign).

Obama is sure to show the March fundraising numbers to superdelegates. This was the month the Wright controversy erupted, he will remind them, the month during which he was supposedly in so much trouble. And he will triumphantly note that even in such difficult conditions he remained far ahead of his rival. Why are superdelegates holding back, he will ask? While Obama has failed to eliminate Clinton in any actual primary voting, this inevitability strategy could prove much more damaging to the New York Senator.



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