The tone yesterday in Pennsylvania, the long-awaited next stop in the Democratic primary march, was lighthearted: For April Fools' Day, Hillary Clinton jokingly challenged Barack Obama to a winner-take-all bowling match for the nomination, then compared herself to Rocky Balboa ("I never quit," she said at an AFL-CIO event). But contrary to all that, the competition in Pennsylvania is actually getting a lot more serious.
This election has been going on for so long and has taken us in so many directions that we almost forgot Fred Thompson, the Tennessee senator best known as Arthur Branch on Law & Order, was ever in the race.
To do so, the junior senator from New York must make the right pitch, or gain enough momentum, to win over the superdelegates, those now-omnipotent stars of the Democratic party who will have to push one candidate over the top.
At a moment when race is the hot topic of discussion in the Democratic primary, an endorsement by the Hispanic governor of New Mexico has to be a huge boon for Obama. Especially after pundits were on his back for a comment about "typical white people" yesterday.
It was fun for a while imagining what juicy nuggets might be buried in Hillary Clinton's just-released public schedule as First Lady. Something like, "December 20th, 1998: 9 p.m. — Hillary and Bill Have Makeup Sex, Do Not Cuddle." But what really ended up being in the documents?
Recently, as he's faced sustained media skepticism for the first time, Barack Obama has been more than just defensive: He’s been besieged and slightly peevish at times. But on Tuesday, he accomplished the near-impossible by making the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory remarks seem like just a prelude to the big, conversation-starting speech on race Obama wanted to offer the nation all along. He also achieved something else his skittish supporters had worried he might not again: He won the day’s news cycle. Tuesday’s speech was Obama’s attempt to reclaim not only the high ground, but also the initiative.
The question now is this: How does he keep it up? Here are six answers.
Senator Barack Obama gave a brave, powerful, important speech yesterday in Philadelphia, but he was forced to deliver it by the greatest crisis of his candidacy: the furor created by the incendiary remarks of his former Chicago pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Jesse Jackson has, up until now, been somewhat muted in his support of Barack Obama. Likewise, Obama has kept him at arm's length, even though the former Democratic presidential candidate is a pledged advocate. But today, just after Barack Obama made a speech attempting to lift the lid off and expose the simmering pot of American racial tension, Jackson suddenly emerged exuberant.
"I thought [the speech] was a culmination of tough-minded, tender-hearted and a clear vision," Jackson told the Huffington Post. "It really was warm, filling, captive, reconciling and comprehensive and it displayed real true grit. He was forthright not evasive and used it as a teaching moment in American history: America's struggle to overcome its past and become a more perfect union. And once he made the case about the past and the complexities of Reverend Wright's life or [Geraldine] Ferraro's for that matter, he made the case that we are here now, but this time we will go forward by hope and not backwards by fear."
Barack Obama just finished his big address on race and politics in Philadelphia. This was a big one for him, as he's been forced to address many racially charged issues in the past week because of his friendship and affiliation with the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Wright is Obama's pastor and officiated his wedding with Michelle Obama. He's also blamed the United States for 9/11, the AIDS virus, and "creating a racist society." In the lull before the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, this has become the main political plotline of the Democratic contest. Today, he addressed these issues and the broader scale of racial tension in America. It was strikingly reminiscent of Mitt Romney's much-touted "Faith in America" address. Beginning with a discussion of the Declaration of Independence and a nod to Obama's mixed heritage, it honestly bared the anger and confusion (and roots thereof) that black and white people still face in America today. Some highlights:
• "For as long as I live I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible," he explained, referencing the slave ancestry in his wife and daughter's heritage.
• He exclusively referred to Reverend Wright as his "former pastor." He also conceded that he had heard him sermonize controversial ideas but compared it to the many Americans who have heard similar things from their own priests, rabbis, and religious leaders. He called Wright's opinion "a profoundly distorted view of this country."
With the news yesterday that Florida is putting the kibosh on a Democratic-primary revote, the state has solidified its reputation as the place where votes go to die. A statement from Florida's Democratic chairwoman, Karen Thurman, read, "We researched every potential alternative process — from caucuses to county conventions to mail-in elections — but no plan could come anywhere close to being viable in Florida." Meanwhile, Michigan Democrats are also trying to make some kind of revote possible, but the logistics are complicated and the candidates themselves are dubious. Hillary Clinton would like to seat the delegates from the original vote even though Barack Obama wasn't even on the ballot. And Obama doesn't need the risk of losing Michigan while actually on the ballot or the few extra delegates he could gain from winning. Pundits — dissect!
The good news for Barack Obama: The latest Democratic race-based scandal comes during a five-week lull between primaries, so it may not actually result in any tangible loss until the April 22 Pennsylvania contest. The bad news: It might be something people still remember on April 22. Obama is feeling the heat right now for several particularly inflammatory statements made by his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, which have recently received renewed scrutiny in the media. Obama has come out against Wright's remarks and dropped him from the campaign, but questions surrounding the closeness of their relationship and Obama's knowledge of Wright's more provocative statements continue unabated. How damaging to Obama will this controversy become? And are we committing guilt by association, or guilt by … guilt?
With almost six weeks until the next primary, now seems as good a time as ever to have a nice, long, probing discussion about race. Might as well throw in gender too — we've got time. With the Geraldine Ferraro controversy having reached its uneasy conclusion, talk now turns to how exactly the candidates are using and responding to issues of race and gender, and the larger role of voter biases. Is Obama being too sensitive? Is his blackness actually the crux of his appeal? Or is it just the cherry on top of his three scoops of awesomeness? And when can we get back to talking about health-care mandates? Okay, nobody's saying that last thing. But some people are already wondering when the pattern of racist-sexist accusations will peter out for good.