Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The NYT gets it half right

In a somewhat-bemused article, they note that the punditocracy has finally figured out what the blogosphere has been saying for weeks, that Hillary is farther than ever from the nomination, and that it's now effectively over.

But the impact was apparent almost immediately, as evidenced by The Drudge Report... It had as its lead story a link to a YouTube clip of Mr. Russert’s comments, accompanied by a photograph of a beaming Mr. Obama with his wife, Michelle, and the headline, “The Nominee.”

The thought echoed throughout the world of instant political analysis. “I think there’s an increasing presumption tonight that Obama’s going to be the nominee,” Chris Wallace, the Fox News host, said to Karl Rove, President Bush’s longtime political guru, who is now a Fox News analyst....

A posting on the DailyKos Web site included a mock memo to Mrs. Clinton entitled, “To-Do List Before Dropping Out.”

Speaking on CNN, David Gergen, a former adviser to several presidents, including Mrs. Clinton’s husband, said, “I think the Clinton people know the game is almost up.”

Stating it more bluntly, Bob Franken, the political analyst, told the MSNBC host Dan Abrams shortly after 2 a.m. Eastern time, “Let’s put it right on the table: It’s over. It’s over.”

But, unable to completely let go of a narrative, no matter how wrong, it goes on to argue that even though it's over, it's not really over.

The instant analysts on television and on the Web have not exactly showered themselves in glory this year. They have frequently made predictions that have been upended by actual votes from actual people.

But their opinions matter as much as ever in this late phase of the primary race, when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are battling to sway the opinions of the uncommitted superdelegates....

The superdelegates are a largely elite group that presumably will track the conventional wisdom of Washington’s class of political insiders as they weigh their decisions. And the big donors and fundraisers whose help Mrs. Clinton will need to continue her campaign are similarly tapped into the news media echo-sphere.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign indicated early this morning that it would try to prove the commentariat wrong once again. “Pundits have gleefully counted Senator Clinton out before, and each time they have been wrong, because they don’t decide this race -- voters do,” Howard Wolfson, Mrs. Clinton’s communications director, wrote in an e-mail message. “And as the results in Indiana demonstrated, voters are rewarding Senator Clinton with victories, even in states Senator Obama predicted victory in.”

See? The delegate lead doesn't matter, it's about perception. And as long as we're talking about predictions, let's talk about North Carolina being a game-changer, about double-digit wins in Indiana... You know, those things that were going to prove the Clinton campaign had some realistic chance. At this point, Clinton has to get over 80% of remaining unpledged delegates and most of the unpledged superdelegates. Ain't gonna happen. And perceptions, pundit opinions, and media narratives don't decide that.

Wolfson's got a point, actually. Voters decide this. And at this point, even if you count Florida and Michigan the way Hillary wants, she still trails in the popular vote, in delegates, and in states won. She has fewer donors, her campaign's broke, she can't get the Black votes that no Democrat can win without. The votes simply aren't there.

Future pundits will decide whether Obama was inevitable from the start (I don't think he was; his campaign's been skillfully run, but it's not a juggernaut), or whether the Clinton campaign took the strongest brand in Democratic politics and ran it into the ground (and there do seem to have been some key strategic missteps, beginning with the complete lack of contingency planning for anything after Super Tuesday--such hubris never goes unpunished).

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