He’ll take that message to rallies and ads in South Carolina and scattered February 5 states, trying to keep the momentum rolling, as if New Hampshire never slowed it down. He’ll make a show of superdelegates, including some of the 100-plus already declared for Clinton, switching to support him. He’ll hold online fundraising efforts and brag about the grassroots results.

Clinton, relatively low on cash, would likely have to cede California to Obama, and concentrate on keeping the party base — particularly African-Americans — from deserting her.

If California polls show Clinton maintaining her lead there, Obama will be forced to fight from behind in the Golden State. Rather than maintaining the high-minded rhetoric (think of Patrick as he rode his huge post-primary lead over Kerry Healey), Obama will have to sharply define reasons to choose him over Clinton — including specific attacks against her, which run the risk of backfiring.

Perhaps more important, the more time he spends trying to rally excitement in California, the less time he’s doing it elsewhere. Far more than Clinton (or almost any other candidate in memory), Obama’s success depends on the wildfire excitement that only his personal presence can create.

Meanwhile, if Clinton is able to play defense in California, she can rely on her superior national organization — and her secret weapon in the African-American community, Bill Clinton — to lock down her victories elsewhere.

So keep an eye on the California polling, and watch for signs of the candidates’ reacting.

On the Web
Talking Politics with David S. Bernstein: http://www.thephoenix.com/talkingpolitics

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