March 12, 2008


The beginning of the end for the Obama campaign (John Carlson, 3/12/08, The Seattle Times)

Barack Obama has generated more excitement this year than any presidential contender in at least a generation. Having seen nothing like him in their lives, young people have signed up in droves. Older Democrats say the last candidate who connected with them this way was Bobby Kennedy in '68. Women faint at his rallies. That wouldn't happen at a John McCain or Hillary Clinton event unless it was held in 110-degree heat.

But excitement is closely tied to momentum and the Obama campaign is losing both. The affection for him is genuine, but it's less a long-term romance than a crush. And everyone knows that crushes either crash or fade. Ask an Obama supporter about the senator's greatest political accomplishment and the reaction is often the same: a crinkled eyebrow, an awkward acknowledgment that they can't think of anything, but he still inspires them because he represents "change" and "hope."

OK. But soaring, uplifting sermons promising "hope" and "change" eventually run dry unless they're connected to clear ideas and a coherent agenda. Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech was about ending segregation in the pursuit of racial equality in every aspect of life. He was speaking truth to power for a clear purpose.

But, Obama's words aren't a bridge to ideas and opinions, they're substitutes for them. He calls for common ground, but the senator actually has a more liberal voting record than Hillary Clinton and is much more ideological and partisan in the Senate than McCain.

Obama's losses in both Texas and Ohio underscore why time is not on his side. These were the first primaries that didn't follow on the heels of another with another contest immediately following. Instead voters were able to sit back for three full weeks, listen to the debates, watch how the candidates and their spouses talked to different audiences in different parts of the state, hear their advertising and take their time digesting this information and discussing it with others at home, work and the barber shop.

When they did that, Obama began to fade. Like a hit record that's been on the charts for a while, they still smile when it plays but they're getting used to hearing it. In Ohio, a must-win state for the Democrats in November, people began to tire of it. Isn't there a "B" side?

Cresting in March is generally a bad idea in a presidential election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 12, 2008 9:37 PM
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