I’m fully prepared for the highly likely possibility that Clinton wins both OH and TX tonight, albeit narrowly, and if so, will rightfully declare that her campaign will continue through Pennsylvania’s 4/22 primary. The “comeback kid” spin will be dizzying, again, for the next 24 hours, despite the reality being that she won’t actually have managed to put much of a dent in the overall delegate gap, the previous benchmark her campaign had set to measure her viability when they thought this would be finished back on February 5th.
Delegate counts aren’t a sexy story, though, and the media is still engaging in a silly moment of self-loathing thanks to Tina Fey, so the Obama campaign will have their work cut out for them over the next seven weeks.
Assuming tonight doesn’t result in an unexpected blowout by either side — and all spin aside, that’s really what Clinton needs to legitimately justify her staying in the race — here’s what I think Obama’s plan of attack will [should] be to deliver the final knockout blow in Pennsylvania, if not before:
1) Fundraising announcement: They still haven’t announced their final numbers for February, though informed speculation has consistently pegged it at $50m or more, at least $15m more than Clinton reportedly raised last month and equal to her 2008 total take (not counting her $5m loan from undisclosed funds). Add in the likely boost he’ll get again in March — my finger is hovering over the “Donate” button, waiting for tomorrow’s call-to-action — he is poised to launch an advertising blitz and fund a ground operation in Pennsylvania that will make Iowa look like a City Council race in Bloomfield, NJ.
2) Superdelegate announcements: Tom Brokaw has reported that Obama has 50 superdelegates waiting in the wings to endorse him. If true, I’d expect many of them to be rolled out over the next week or so to blunt whatever spin Clinton attempts to put on tonight’s results. If Bill Richardson and/or John Edwards are among them, even better.
3) Wyoming and Mississippi: Hot on the heels of tonight’s primaries, and several weeks before Pennsylvania gets to weigh in, there’s a caucus in Wyoming and a primary in Mississippi, both of which Obama is expected to win handily as Clinton pours all of her resources into a last stand in Pennsylvania, most likely wiping out whatever net gain in delegates she ekes out tonight and possibly even deepening the hole she’s in. Also, two more states for her to dis as caucuses don’t count and red states don’t count, except, maybe, for Texas, depending on tonight’s results.
4) Hardball: From March 12th through April 22nd, expect the gloves to come off on both sides as they look to deliver the killing blow in Pennsylvania. The demands for Clinton to release her tax returns and her records as First Lady will increase tenfold, and the media will summarily reject the “unfair” spin she’s been riding on the past week and show her exactly how easy they’ve been on her up to now. (My money is on David Shuster to do some serious digging and prodding.) Plus, McCain will be taking potshots from the sidelines, but without a clear target, he’s likely to inadvertantly end up helping Obama more than Clinton as she’s effectively aligned herself with McCain as the “experienced” candidates.
5) Voter fatigue: Clinton has done a pretty good job of managing expectations and playing the media throughout this campaign — any other candidate in her position would have been run out of the race by now — but with six weeks of undiluted attention focused on Pennsylvania, her multiple messages, loose cannon surrogates and “hope”-less campaign theme, the potential chances for a Wisconsin-style blowout are high, especially if Obama chooses his shots carefully and the media really puts the screws to her and actually vets her as she’s claimed they’ve done in the past.