A week has passed since Super Tuesday, and the dynamics of the Democratic nomination battle have changed completely.
While Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) had been steadily gaining ground against Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), there was never any real doubt over who was the underdog and who had the edge.
No longer. After Obama’s excellent showing on Super Tuesday – winning more states and delegates than Clinton and nearly surpassing her in total votes – he can legitimately claim to have an edge, albeit narrow, over his competitor.
He won’t, of course. The Obama campaign is not nearly stupid enough to fall into the trap of setting high expectations. The expectations game is a time-honored, venerable and annoyingly inconsistent rubric for measuring candidates, but it’s one by which the media always abides.
Despite the Clinton campaign’s best spin, the “media consensus” was that Clinton had to score a knockout punch on Super Tuesday. Obama’s victories in Iowa and South Carolina were blips on the radar screen, but when the race opened up to 22 states across the country, Clinton’s name recognition and disciplined campaign would carry the day.
Obama’s “expectations,” on the other hand, were more modest. His team forecasted “keeping up” with the Clinton machine. It was projected that he’d be all right if he kept within 80 or so delegates of Clinton by the end of the night. After all, he’s still the underdog. It’s unreasonable to assume he could go toe-to-toe with Clinton.
Election night comes, and the two candidates fight essentially to a draw. Obama picks up a few more states and delegates, Clinton nabs a few more total votes (thanks to her success in populous California). But despite the actual numbers being roughly equal, the night was declared an Obama victory.
Why? He beat expectations. Clinton had to win decisively. Obama could fall a little bit behind and be OK. By doing better than that, he was crowned the victor. And the resulting influx of money and media attention is powering him through the February primaries.
So we’re now in a new phase of the race. Obama, like it or not, has an edge in delegates, momentum, cash and enthusiasm. It’s tight, but he’s now the frontrunner. He and Clinton are battling for the title of “underdog,” since it’s great to be held to a lower standard. Clinton’s firing of her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, along with the $5 million personal loan she gave her campaign, will contribute to the “campaign in disarray” atmosphere surrounding her recently.
All this is to set the stage for the March 4 primaries of Texas and Ohio – two huge states that demographically favor Clinton. The idea for the Clinton campaign is to play up the underdog theme as those primaries approach. Anything to make the Clintons seem down and out is the goal. At a recent press conference, Clinton hired a man playing the world’s smallest violin to provide music – so that when the Texas and Ohio victories come through, they seem like triumphant comebacks rather than expected, pre-ordained victories.
What’s that, you say? What if Texas and Ohio go to Obama instead? Then it’s all over, and the Clinton campaign knows it. Anonymous sources high up in the campaign have admitted that if they don’t pull out wins in both of those states, Obama will be the nominee.
So for those waiting impatiently to find out who the Democratic candidate will be, relax. We won’t know until at least March 4.
Michael Sherry is a junior majoring in political science. He can be reached at Michael.Sherry@tufts.edu.