How Clinton Can Lose Pennsylvania

I typically like Chris Cillizza’s analysis of politics. While partisans on either side of any divide will be quick to label Chris as a Republican hack, a Democratic hack, a Clinton zombie or an Obama zombie, the fact of the matter is that none of these are true. He does a pretty solid job of calling things as he sees them, and he doesn’t get into policy which in a way purifies his solely politics based analysis.

But his post this morning strikes me as being a little near sighted, to say the least.

In it, Cillizza takes a look at “Bitter-gate,” claiming that it has reached, “critical mass.” Despite the slew of polls that we have seen released today that would seem to tell a different tale, Cillizza takes the entire situation and sees that the best that Obama could hope for is if he breaks even.

To be sure, it’s not that I disagree with a lot of the analysis that Cillizza provides, I just believe it is incomplete. After all, the Pope is not the only person that can save Obama in light of this terrible setback for his campaign.

Indeed, I can see a pretty clear path towards Obama reigniting forward momentum in Pennsylvania, possibly even winning the state, and it hinges on three basic things. What I know of Obama’s campaigning style, what I know of Hillary Clinton’s campaigning style, and the fact that there is a debate scheduled to happen tomorrow night in Pennsylvania.

The debate merely provides a forum, a vehicle for the scene I believe is going to play out. It sets the stage for events that are almost guaranteed to occur, as well as providing a target audience of perhaps the most important people of the moment (Pennsylvania Democratic voters), and a political press that is thirsting for more headlines.

It is in this venue that I believe we will see the fate of the Pennsylvania race, and it is not difficult to predict based upon what we know of the candidates.

With Hillary Clinton, the one thing we know is that she is aggressive. In fact, one could say that she is too aggressive and appears to lack judgment on when to go after her opponent and when not to. As we have watched “Bitter-gate” unfold, one thing that has struck me is that both McCain and Clinton have done themselves more harm than good in that the entire fiasco would have been just as damaging if not more had the two candidates backed off and let the media go after Obama without their assistance.

This theory is based upon what we know of Obama’s style, which Avi Zenilman and Ben Smith adequately chronicle here. When Obama goes on open attack, he doesn’t typically do so well, we know this. But while he is not particularly skilled as an aggressor, he has proven thus far to be incredibly adept at counterattack. When McCain and Clinton leapt on the “bitter” comment, they took Obama, who was under attack from the media, and gave him perfect targets on which to employ a counterattack strategy.

And I think this is what we’re going to see tomorrow night.

As I was beginning to say, Hillary Clinton is incredibly aggressive. She is too aggressive, and has proven to not employ the best judgment regarding when to lay off and when not to lay off. The most recent example outside of this current controversy was the Jeremiah Wright controversy. For a long time Clinton kept quiet, displaying a kind of discipline uncharacteristic of her campaign, but then, when the Bosnia story hit, that silence was broken, and she suffered a minor backlash because of it.

Outside of that, we have seen Clinton persist with attacks when she should have known not to. Instantly what comes to mind was the plagiarism charge that she brought up in the middle of a debate. For those of you who remember that moment, she was actually booed in the middle of the debate, never a good sign.

Now, in what is perhaps going to be the most important debate of this primary season, Clinton is faced with this “Bitter-gate” material, and I simply do not think she is going to be able to resist. Either the moderator is going to bring it up, or she will.

In either case, Hillary Clinton is going to go after Obama on his “bitter” remarks, and that’s where it’s going to happen. We’ve already seen Obama preview his retorts and counterattacks in regards to the hay that his opponents have attempted to make regarding the comments, and he’s going to reiterate those counterattacks right there in the debate.

I would put money on it.

The thing is, by attacking Obama on the comment, Obama is given the opportunity to explain his words in a better and more favorable context. Hillary is also going to likely attempt to call Obama “out of touch” or elitist, but she seems completely ignorant as to the openings that this creates for attack back at her.

There will be two points Obama will hit her on in this instance; the bankruptcy bill which he has already brought up on the stump, and there is the likelihood that he’s going to bring up the gap in their net worths. Remember, Obama’s net worth is about 1% that of Clintons.

Hillary Clinton takes a big risk any time she goes negative anyway. We’ve seen this time and again; it’s simply a tactic that does not work to her advantage and only feeds the negative stereotyping that has persisted from the beginning of this campaign. That she goes negative in a way that makes her incredibly vulnerable to a counterattack, as we have seen seep through the apocalyptic headlines over the past few days, gives me reason to believe that Obama has a great opportunity waiting for him tomorrow night.

Unless Clinton curbs her tendency to go on the offensive, she’s going to use Obama’s comments which isĀ  going to give him the opportunity to redefine the narrative, and will open herself up to some devastating attacks.

And all of this is going to play itself out in front of Pennsylvania voters less than a week before they go to vote.

(edited by DrGail)

4 Responses to “How Clinton Can Lose Pennsylvania”

  1. Stephen Rose says:

    Nice take. It would be remarkable to see Hillary being truly smart. I felt there was a brief time running up to Ohio when she was simply saying she would fight for her people. And I was amazed she didn’t just go with that. But more often than not she has done as you say. As far as who will win, I trust PPP and will look for their poll tomorrow to see if things have moved to Obama. Cheers, S

  2. Thanks Stephen.

    You know, I’m really astonished that no one seems to see this coming, but it’s being telegraphed left and right, and you know, at this point, this whole process is becoming pretty predictable.

    Granted, the stories that arise outside the campaigns aren’t predictable at all, but the way each candidate copes is following an incredibly transparent pattern.

    As for Clinton being smart, I totally agree. You know, a year ago I was still an Obama supporter, but I was also open for changing sides. This because the rookie mistakes of the Obama campaign were really putting a lot of doubt in my mind while Hillary’s campaign was flawless at the time. Back then had she maintained, I would have been happy to lend support to her because her campaign was a juggernaut, and I actually liked it.

    But now, she’s just proven to have much less political skill than a lot of people gave her credit for and it shows.

    Ah well, we shall see tomorrow.

    We shall see.

    Oh, and yes, PPP’s poll is going to be pretty significant as well, they’ve built up a pretty solid track record too.

  3. Dynamic says:

    I think you may be right, but I am not as certain as you are. I am usually quite confident of his ability to ride out controversy and even turn it to his advantage, but I think Hillary may be able to convert this one into some points, IF she plays her hand right. People absolutely ARE bitter and Obama can nail her if she goes after him that way – 81% of the country thinks we’re on the wrong track, if that’s not bitterness I don’t know what is. But if she goes after his stance that people are “clinging” to religion – as though it was somehow not a valid thing to be involved with, but rather just a crutch that people use to get through hard times – well, that can do some damage.

    Of course, she has a record of not doing the right thing during the debates, so we shall see.

  4. DrGail says:

    I think you all have nailed the predictions, to the point where I expect the debate to be (for me) anticlimactic.

    Although it seems that Hillary’s political skills have declined recently, I would suggest that she has her ego so wrapped up in this that it clouds her judgment. Obama, on the other hand, seems to be displaying a remarkable ability to detach himself from the more personal aspects, which leaves him better able to demonstrate the kind of political flexibility it takes to react correctly to the attacks and turn them to his ultimate advantage.

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