Friday, March 28, 2008

Barack Obama should just act like he's the nominee

I'm tired of the primaries now. Barack Obama is far enough ahead in delegates that he is pretty much the guaranteed nominee. Unfortunately, he's not far enough ahead that he can be declared the actual winner any time soon. Today he's ahead by 122 delegates: a very substantial lead, but small enough that the result could IN THEORY be reversed.

As I understand it, this could happen only if either most of the remaining primary states buck the current trend and vote for Clinton, or most of the undeclared super-delegates decided to go for Clinton over Obama. The gulf between them is so large that neither is a particularly realistic scenario, yet the Clinton campaign is publicly acting like it is, and therefore they claim that Hillary is not under any pressure to drop out. So what it looks like, at this point, is that the nominee will not truly be determined until the Democratic Convention at the end of August, when the superdelegates officially declare their votes.

This is a problem for the Democratic party. Howard Dean, the president of the DNC, has said repeatedly in interviews I've heard, that August is much too late. John McCain is already the candidate for the Republicans (so sorry, Ron Paul fans) and while I think he's kind of a pathetic candidate, McCain is truly running unopposed right now. Obama's got just over seven months to make the case that John McCain would make a terrible president. In late August, it will be just over two months. And as Dean says, that's just not enough time for a proper campaign.

In the meantime, both Clinton and Obama are spending time and money on tearing each other down, rather than tearing down McCain, as they should be. Probably the best advice I've seen so far comes from a letter to the campaigns by Oregon Representative Pete DeFazio. DeFazio wrote:

"You both claim to be better suited than the other to take on the so-called Straight-Talk Express, so prove it. Run the next six weeks of your campaign against McCain, not against the other Democrat. Go after McCain for his policy positions, not the other Democrat for theirs. Allow the Democratic voters to believe in a campaign that can provide a new direction for this country and stop McCain from continuing the failed policies of the Bush Administration. In the end, it is the candidate who can take the fight to McCain and win that deserves my support and, most importantly, the support of the Democratic Party."

DeFazio wrote this to both Obama and Clinton. At that point it may not have been clear that Obama was going to win, but I think it's pretty clear now. That's why I think Obama should just forget that Clinton is still in the race and act as if he were running solely against McCain. No more talk about how much better he is than her. No more nitpicking about her revealing her tax returns. The opponent is McCain.

In doing this, he'll be mirroring a strategy adopted by Bush in 2000 and 2004. In both years, the election results were still open to interpretation and recounting; yet Bush immediately started talking to the press as if he were already the (re)elected president. By doing this, he made his opponent look like the unreasonable one for not conceding. This worked particularly well in '04, when Kerry pretty much folded without a fight where Ohio was concerned.

By confidently acting as the presumed nominee, Obama would accomplish several things:

  1. He would probably confuse the media, who aren't all that sharp anyway, and might pick up on the narrative that Hillary is out.
  2. He would free up his efforts to fight McCain, which he needs to do ASAP anyway.
  3. He would be playing focused offense, instead of defending himself over dumb stuff brought up by two different opponents.
  4. Hitting McCain right now would probably improve his standing in the eyes of the voters far more than squabbling with Clinton right now anyway. Hence, this would probably seal his victory over her in reality as well as in rhetoric.


  1. For Stephen, who accidentally posted a comment on this other post, but I know he meant to post here.

    Let's say he does that...

    The Clintons are going to win Pennsylvania, maybe Indiana and probably N.C. They're going to claim momentum, and the media is going to buy it even though she can't win pledged delegates. If the superdelegates meet in March, I think Hillary will be able to make a strong case winning three primaries in a row like that.

    Yeah, I understand the reasoning. I just don't agree with the assumption the assumption that campaigning against Hillary will make it more likely that he will beat Hillary. In fact, my whole point is that Barack will do BETTER in the primaries by campaigning against McCain.

    See, here's my thinking. What Democrats really want most is not a nominee, they want the candidate who will win the presidency. By making McCain his opponent, Barack will get a chance to show off how he will behave in the general election, and he'll win points against Hillary by showing that he's the one who has what it takes to win. If he starts polling higher than Hillary in hypothetical contests against McCain, more Democrats will jump on the Obama bandwagon.

  2. Being a huge Obama supporter, as you may know, I find a problem with Obama acting as the nominee...

    Obama may be willing to do it, but Hillary will continue to attack him. What I've seen happening here is that Hillary is keeping him on a constant defensive with her "kitchen sink" tactics, forcing him to defend wave after wave of attacks rather than address issues.

    The media will report the attacks, because that's good for ratings. The public will see the attacks. If Obama doesn't respond, the public will turn on him.

    By the way, Obama is going to totally take North Carolina, no questions asked. He's as far up in the polls there as Hillary is in Pennsylvania.

    Speaking as a guy who comes from smack center of Pennsyltucky, I have to admit I'm quite surprised at all the Obama support I see, compared to the lack of Hillary support. I think Hillary is going to win Pennsylvania, there's no question about that, but I think her lead is going to drop drastically with Obama outspending her 2:1, and as we have seen, when Obama starts hitting the cities in a state, he gains rapid support.

    I estimate that Hillary's "big win" in Pennsylvania isn't going to be that big at all, and her delegate lead won't be at all substantial.