Now it's on to the Democratic death-march in Pennsylvania.
By winning decisively in Ohio and Rhode Island and narrowly in Texas, Senator Hillary Clinton managed to keep her presidential aspirations alive and guaranteed that the bitterly-fought Democratic contest will slog on for weeks, at least until April 22, when Pennsylvania (with its 188 delegates) votes. With these victories, Clinton put an end to Barack Obama's streak--though he still maintains a significant, if statistically slight, lead in the delegates chosen in primaries and caucuses. (Due to the rules governing Texas' odd joint primary-caucus, it seemed possible on Tuesday night, even probable, that Obama would pocket a majority of the delegates there, despite placing second in he popular vote.) More important, Clinton earned the right to claim that her case against Obama, which she and her aides sharpened in recent days, has been seconded by Democratic voters, including two important blocs for the party: blue-collar Dems in Ohio, a decisive state in general elections, and Latino Democrats in Texas. Obama netted his only primary win of the night in Vermont.
At long last, Clinton and her strategists seemed to have gained traction with their attacks on the candidate of hope. As Firewall Tuesday approached, the Clinton campaign did not introduce any new themes. But it did tinker with the mix and accused Obama of falling short on integrity, credibility, and experience. This new mash-up was a success. Catching a break because the corruption trial of Obama's onetime friend and contributor Tony Rezko began this week, Clinton aides repeatedly clamed there were "unanswered questions" about Obama's relationship with Rezko. Obama's aides countered that there were no unanswered questions about this much-investigated episode. (Obama, accused of no wrongdoing in the Rezko matter, has acknowledged it was dumb for him to have entered into a real estate deal with Rezko, especially since the politically-wired developer was under investigation at the time.) Prodded by the Clintonites, reporters started grilling Obama anew about Rezko. And being asked about the dirty dealings of a former pal is never helpful to a candidate selling change and reform. Simultaneously, Obama's camp came under heavy fire--from the Clinton campaign--for falsely denying that a campaign adviser had met with Canadian officials and discussed Obama's position on NAFTA. (The aide denied press reports that he had told the Canadians that Obama's criticism of NAFTA was merely political posturing.) It looked as if Obama the Inspirer was not playing straight.
While casting Obama as just another shifty, sleaze-tainted pol, Clinton and her lieutenants pumped up the volume on their well-worn charge that he's not ready for prime time--that is, when the phone rings in the White House in the middle of the night because there's a crisis somewhere. The Obama camp quickly cooked up a clever retort--Clinton failed her red-phone moment by voting for George W. Bush's Iraq war measure--yet Clinton's heavy-handed commercial, if it did not persuade any individual voter in Texas or Ohio, did define the discourse (and media coverage) in the days before these primaries. Experience, not hope, was the main subject of the debate. Advantage: Clinton.