Obama: Is He Slipping?

| Thu May 1, 2008 3:36 PM EDT

Barack Obama has a lead in pledged delegates and in all likelihood will end the primaries with more voter-determined delegates than Hillary Clinton. He's picking up superdelegates at a quicker pace than Clinton. He's ahead in the popular vote. Yet.....If one looks at the recent media coverage and the latest polls, it's hard not to wonder if Obama is losing altitude--and doing so at a dangerous rate. The media narrative of the race in the past month has been dominated by Wright and Bittergate. Do voters care about this stuff? Pundits and analysts argue--and wonder--about this. It's hard to tell how much of a connection exists between what appears on cable news shows--which only a few million Americans watch each night--and how voters view politics and render decisions.

As for the polls, it's always perilous to pay too much attention to them. But the latest polling data from both North Carolina and Indiana all point in a direction troubling for Obama. In early April in North Carolina, he led Clinton by 10 to 23 points in various surveys. Now, he has a 7-point edge. In Indiana, three recent polls have Clinton ahead by 5, 8, and 9 points.

Could Obama be sinking? Does he need a game-changer after the Wright to-do and the bitter "bitter" fuss? For political analysts, it is always tempting to overreact. That's what pundits and commentators do. It makes for better columns and better TV. Perhaps he'll do fine in North Carolina and Indiana, with voters in these states embracing him for the same reasons millions of Democrats elsewhere have done. But what if Obama truly is slipping and manages only to limp across the finish line? That's obviously what Clinton and her crew are betting on. And such an end to the primaries could lead to protracted political warfare within the Democratic Party. One question is, what can she really do if he ends up with more pledged delegates? But the flip side is, can he keep hope alive if he closes weakly?