A Problem for Barack Obama


No matter what happens in the Democratic caucus in Nevada (this Saturday) and the Democratic primary in South Carolina (next Saturday), Barack Obama has a problem. Mind you, I’m not predicting his demise. But as he and Hillary Clinton head toward Supersaturated Tuesday on February 5, Obama will have a profound challenge that she will not.

Both have money and organization. But she is running a conventional campaign; he is not. She waves her resume, cites her experience, and proclaims she is ready to do the heavy lifting on Day One. He claims that he can change politics–and, thus, government policymaking–because of his vision and strength (and force) of character. He is mounting a campaign that aspires to be transformative. She is heading a campaign that seeks to put its candidate into a job.

After South Carolina, the presidential campaign will be dominated and shaped by ads. With so many states–including California–in immediate play, there’s no way the candidates can do retail politicking that matters (like they did in Iowa and New Hampshire). It will be easy for Clinton to sell herself (in conventional terms) through television ads, radio spots, mailers, and the like. Obama may find in tougher to convey the intangibles he is banking on–hope, faith (in him), transcendence–via 60-second snippets. Before signing up with a noble crusade, some Democratic voters might need first to feel the Obama magic. On the other hand, no voter needs to experience Clinton’s soul to conclude she is the most qualified for the job.

Connecting with voters in a transformative manner will be a difficult task for Obama in the crazy nine days between South Carolina and February 5. As a more conventional candidate, Clinton could have an advantage at this stage. After all, the conventional often works.

I explain this all a bit further here.

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  • David Corn

    David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC. He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, Showdown, Hubris (with Isikoff), and The Lies of George W. Bush, as well as the e-book, 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.