Wednesday, April 16, 2008


When it became clear that the Democratic race would go on far longer than anyone expected, some people argued that it was actually good for the party. They said it was good because it drew attention away from John McCain, and because it would either toughen Barack Obama up or (the Clinton campaign's line) generate an Obama stumble that would allow Hillary to wrest the nomination from him.

But if something's happening that's good for the Democrats, I don't think it's one of those things. It's something else: The campaign has essentially turned into what Barack Obama says is wrong with American politics. I think it's making his message resonate; we're experiences just the sort of mud wrestling Obama says he wants to get beyond. When he says "hope," this is a big part of what he's talking about: hope that we can actually get something done because our politics won't suck in this precisely this way.

I wonder if that's why he's holding up much better than expected -- well ahead of Clinton nationwide among Democrats, according to Gallup, far ahead of her on electability according to the ABC News/Washington Post poll, and within striking distance in Pennsylvania (and beating McCain in both national polls). The ABC/WaPo results hint at that:

The number of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who describe the tone of the contest as "mostly negative" has risen by 14 points since February, from 27 percent then to 41 percent now. Those who say so mainly blame Clinton over Obama, by nearly a 4-1 margin, 52 percent to 14 percent. (An additional 25 percent blame both equally.)

In a similar result, half of Democrats say their candidates are "arguing about things that really aren't that important" rather than discussing real issues.

So maybe he'll actually benefit from even more Clinton "kitchen sink" campaigning, or a few more days of pundits and operatives parsing the word "bitter" -- he's the candidate who doesn't think that's endlessly amusing or relevant to the state of the nation, which puts him in agreement with the public.

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