If Barack.Obama wants to have any hope of winning the Democratic nomination and overcoming the formidable Clinton machine, he needs to re-focus his campaign in three ways.
First, and most importantly, Obama’s campaign needs to reignite the change vs. experience debate. During the weekend before the New Hampshire primary, the Clinton camp took the deliberate step of shifting the debate from her experience to her gender. This paradigm shift proved crafty as Hillary Clinton’s message and her impressive ground game moved thousands of new women voters to the polls, resulting in her stunning two-point win.
Now, with Obama having claimed the Iowa Caucuses, the Democratic presidential race has largely turned into a two-person affair in advance of February 5, when 24 states will hold primaries or caucuses. Of course, there is still an outside chance that former US Senator John Edwards could bubble to the top after the top two frontrunners mutually self-destruct.
After New Hampshire, Clinton asserted that it “took a president” such as President Lyndon B. Johnson to “realize” the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to pass the Civil Rights bill of 1964, thereby casually downplaying the role of Dr. King’s leadership and thousands of non-violent organizers and protesters. Some African-American leaders, such as Democratic US Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, were outraged, the press pounced, and the “race vs. gender” debate officially overcame the “change vs. experience” debate.
Changing Clinton from an “experience” candidate to a “woman” candidate, and remaking Obama from a “change” candidate to an “African-American” candidate clearly benefits the former, because women compose nearly 60 percent of Democratic primary voters.
If the Obama campaign hopes to win as much of the women vote as it did in Iowa (beating Clinton 35 percent to 30 percent among women voters, compared to losing 47 percent-34 percent in New Hampshire), it needs to stop going “tit for tat” with the Clinton campaign. Instead, Obama needs to start, once again, talking about the need for fundamental change on the pressing issues facing our country: the Iraq war, the economic crisis, and climate change.
Second, the Obama campaign would be wise to pick an issue -- say the nation’s economic crisis -- and roll out a plan on how the candidate will provide the change needed by the nation.
In so doing, the Obama campaign will arm his supporters with intellectual ammunition to combat charges that the senator lacks the “experience” and the “substance” to be president.
Interestingly, Obama did, in fact, roll out on Sunday a $120 billion economic stimulus plan to combat the foreclosure crisis and increasing unemployment, but his plan was drowned out by dueling messages after Clinton’s Meet the Press appearance.
This encapsulates the first two points: the Obama campaign needs to avoid being dragged into the “scorched earth” campaign tactics of the Clinton campaign.
If Obama wants to change the way Washington works, he needs to start on the campaign trail by refusing to “respond” to mean-spirited attacks, and instead, rising above the fray and putting forth his own positive vision.
The Obama campaign needs to stop responding, and once again start producing a message of change. Otherwise, no matter who wins the Democratic nomination, it will be a Pyrrhic victory that (barring the ideal, but unlikely Obama/Clinton ticket) polarizes and damages the Democratic Party so severely that the Republican candidate will be the real “Comeback Kid” in November.
: This Just In
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