Wednesday, February 6, 2008

No, it WASN'T a draw.

Most media outlets would have you believe that Super Tuesday was a draw, a tie or a dead heat. That's because they are only looking at what happened yesterday. I'm more interested in what didn't happen: Clinton didn't manage to beat Obama, even on a day when all of her stars seemed to be aligned.

Consider the two candidates. One started out with what may well have been an unprecedented level of name recognition, with tremendous early money and early campaign infrastructure, and -- most importantly -- with a primary schedule that was literally designed to hand her the nomination.

The other started out with little more than a bunch of charisma and a bunch of question marks: he was charming and smooth, and he could work a crowd, but did he have enough experience? Would he make a crucial mistake? And, of course, would people actually vote for a black man?

The fact that Obama managed to overcome Clinton's early advantages and match her delegate-for-delegate in the early going was impressive enough, but the early primaries and caucuses were spread out enough and highly-anticipated enough that Clinton's advertising and organizational advantages were somewhat nullified by free media coverage and high overall turnout. The small population of many of the states, as well as the greater amount of time between primaries, also allowed more voters to see Obama in person, which clearly was to his benefit.

But Super Tuesday was an entirely different animal. The outcome was expected to be determined by Clinton-friendly factors such as large ad-buys in expensive markets and large-scale get-out-the-vote efforts, rather than by Obama-friendly factors such as rallies and, of course, national media coverage of those rallies. Still, Clinton couldn't capitalize.

The fact that Obama managed to tie Clinton in both the early going, when her advantages were largest, and on Super Tuesday, which was all but designed to favor her advantages, bodes well for the future: Hillary's advantages are all but gone now, even as the questions about Obama have begun to fade into the background. Obama raised $32 million in the last fund-raising period, while Hillary only managed to raise $13.5 million; Hillary's campaign is so desperate for cash that she was forced to loan herself $5 million just to scrape together half of what Obama raised. Hillary's infrastructure advantage, if indeed she has one at this point, has been more than nullified by the sheer enthusiasm Obama generates among voters. And nobody expects Obama to make a mistake anymore, and they certainly can't question whether or not America would vote for him.

But the schedule is Obama's biggest advantage at this point, and not only because things will slow down considerably relative to Super Tuesday. Saturday's major events, in Washington and Louisiana, should both give Obama a boost. That will be especially important because by then the media will have worn out the "They tied!" storyline, and will be ready to pounce on a fresh, "Apparently, Obama won Super Tuesday after all!" storyline. And that bodes well heading into next Tuesday's events, which are more likely to go down to the wire.