Does Mississippi Matter?

Last night, Barack Obama scored another big win in a small state, beating Hillary Clinton by 61% to 37% and netting 3 delegates more delegates than the former first lady. By way of comparison, in Ohio last week, Clinton netted 9 more delegates than Obama. His margin in the popular vote, almost 97,000, pushed him ahead of Clinton in the nationwide popular vote totals even if you include Florida and Michigan. If you exclude them, he leads her in the nationwide popular vote by 700,000. So, does it matter? Only if Barack can successfully beat back the Clinton campaign’s far more successful framing of the race. Back in early February, Clinton supporter James Carville said that if Clinton won Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, she would be the nominee, and if she lost one of them, she wouldn’t. But, the Clintons don’t get to pick which states count and which ones don’t. A vote in Mississippi or Maine counts as much as a vote in New York or California. Obama gets points for devising a strategy that centered on winning big in smaller states, staying within 10 points in large states, and gradually building up a lead in delegates. Clinton’s original strategy was to bet all on Super Tuesday, confidant that the Democratic Party would see how entitled she was to the nomination, and forget about everything after February 5. That strategy resembles nothing so much as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s strategy for invading Iraq: we will be greeted as liberators, so why worry about anything after Saddam falls. Of course, the Clintons are ever resilient and I have to grant some grudging respect for the way she fought back and won last week. Clinton deserves even more credit for the way she is winning the struggle to frame the race. Obama’s team has fallen at times into the same sense of entitlement that previously characterized Clinton, and they have invoked the same sense of inevitability. They need to start laying the groundwork for how the media, and especially the super-delegates, will view the race the day after the last vote on June 7th. Obama himself and his strategists should not say that the nomination is "his" or that "she can’t catch him." They should instead mimic what Rosalind Russell says in the climactic scene of Auntie Mame: "He’s not my little boy anymore, but he’s not yours either Mr. Babcock." The nomination does not belong to Clinton or to Obama. It belongs to the voters, the voters in Mississippi as much as the voters in Pennsylvania. If the media and the super-delegates view it that way on June 8th, then there really is no way for Clinton to catch Obama. I just wish his advisors would decline to acknowledge that fact and, instead, focus on winning as many votes in Pennsylvania as possible. Michael Sean Winters
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