It’s not easy being a political spinner. You need to be able to say the most outrageous things with a straight face and then hope someone takes you seriously. Senator Hillary Clinton employs some of the best, but they’ve got their work cut out for them this week. And so far their efforts are, at best sad. And bordering on embarassing. For example, in a conference call with reporters today, Chief Clinton Campaign Strategist Mark Penn claimed Senator Barack Obama must win all four of the states voting on March 4th or recognize that Democratic voters are feeling “buyers remorse.” Excuse me?
Just a week ago President Bill Clinton was claiming that his wife must win primiaries in Texas and Ohio or acknowledge defeat. A United Press International story quoted him as saying “If she wins in Texas and Ohio, I think she will be the nominee. If you don’t deliver for her then I don’t think she can.”
That, however, was on February 21st. In those long ago days, most polls showed Senator Clinton leading Senator Obama in Texas. Now she trails him. Back then polls showed Senator Clinton led Senator Obama in Ohio by eight or more points in most polls. He’s since cut that lead by at least half.
In other words, the odds of Senator Clinton carrying both Texas and Ohio are shrinking faster than her lead among super delegates. Having boxed themselves into needing to sweep those states, the Clinton spinners are in trouble. They could say that, upon further consideration, she now only needs to win either Texas or Ohio. But that’s pretty lame. And she could lose both states.
So where’s the good news heading into March 4th? Rhode Island. Polls still show Senator Clinton leading Senator Obama in Rhode Island by double digits. (Senator Obama seems to have a lock on the fourth state voting that day — Vermont.) So the Clinton campaign spinis that Senator Obama must win four-out-of-four next Tuesday in order to force Senator Clinton out of the race. Otherwise, there’s clearly a growing groundswell against his candidacy.
Say what? The Clinton firewall has shrunk from Ohio and Texas to Rhode Island?
You have to hand it to Mr. Penn. He’s got the straight face part of his job down well. He bolsters this ludicrous contention by noting that Senator Obama’s campaign is likely to outspend the Clinton former juggernaut by $18.4 million to $9.2 million in the four March 4th contests. Apparently, that $9.2 million difference explains what happened to the 20 percent+ lead in Ohio Senator Clinton enjoyed just two weeks ago. What does Mr. Penn have to say about support for his candidate that is so tenuous a few million dollars in advertising can bust it loose?
Still, it’s kind of sad. Less than two months ago, Senator Clinton’s success was inevitable. She was going to wrap up the nomination by Super Tuesday. Now, her presidential dreams depend on … wait for it … the small, but mighty … the Ocean State … yes … on Rhode Island.
OK. Clearly the Clinton campaign is trying to lower expectations. This being America, the land of 24 hour commercials interrupted by occasional news cable channels, the Clinton campaign spin will get some attention. Some of the media might even bite. If it becomes conventional wisdom, Mr. Penn will have done his job. But the odds of that are slight.
Here’s a suggestion to the Clinton campaign: just say Senator Clinton is going to continue fighting for this nomination until it’s clear one of the two candidates has wrapped up enough delegates to win. Period. No arbitrary tests. No must-wins. No spin. Just count the delegates.
This kind of honest approach would be refreshing. Surprising, but refreshing. But can Senator Clinton and her team can break the spinning habit. It apparently is a hard one to break.