By Daniel Politi, Today’s Papers, Slate Magazine
The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal‘s world-wide newsbox lead with, and everybody else fronts, a look at the state of the Democratic presidential race after Sen. Hillary Clinton’s victories this week. No one doubts that winning three out of the four primaries on Tuesday has revived Clinton’s bid for the White House, but in reality she wasn’t able to cut into Sen. Barack Obama’s lead by a significant margin. The full results from Texas aren’t in yet, but the NYT estimates that Clinton will get a net gain of anywhere from five to 15 delegates, while the Associated Press thinks the number will be around 12. Estimates vary, but Clinton still trails Obama by more than 100 delegates, including superdelegates.
The LAT and WSJ highlight, and everyone mentions, Clinton’s victories caused more heartburn among Democratic Party insiders who are concerned that a long primary fight will cause irreparable damage to both candidates and hand the presidency over to Sen. John McCain. As predicted, more attention is being paid to Michigan and Florida, two states that were stripped of their delegates for scheduling early primaries. Yesterday, the governors of the two states called on the party and the candidates to come to an agreement so their delegates can be seated at the convention. But some are concerned about a potential backlash if there’s a feeling Obama lost because the rules were changed, particularly among black voters who could see it as the party’s way to stop the first viable African-American candidate. “It would be an absolutely gigantic fight that would spill over not only to the convention floor, but to the streets of Denver,” a Democratic strategist tells the WSJ.
Making matters more complicated for the Democratic insiders is that there doesn’t seem to be any way for either candidate to clinch the nomination without the help of superdelegates. The Clinton campaign is leading an effort to convince superdelegates that they should stay put and not make any commitments at least until Pennsylvania votes on April 22. Assuming she wins that state, Clinton could then try to convince superdelegates to join her by arguing she is the better nominee for the general election, even if she trails in the delegate count. In that scenario, the race would still go on, and now it seems even more Democrats are suggesting that the best way to avoid potential damage would be a joint ticket. “To me that’s the most logical option, the easiest one to figure out,” Leon Panetta, a Clinton supporter, said. Clinton opened the door to this discussion yesterday when she suggested, “that may be where this is headed,” but Obama countered that the talk “is very premature.”
Despite all the hand-wringing, not everyone is convinced that a long Democratic race automatically helps McCain. In the WSJ‘s op-ed page, Karl Rove writes that as long as the Democratic contenders keep fighting each other (and there were hints yesterday that the battle is about to become even more aggressive), McCain will have trouble getting media coverage. The WP‘s Libby Copeland agrees and says that “such a fascinating election deserves a little more time and contemplation.” Copeland argues that as long as the Democrats hog the news coverage, “voters are left with the image of McCain … receiving the president’s endorsement,” which may not be to his advantage considering Bush’s low approval ratings. A new poll out today by the WP that shows McCain would lose to either of the Democratic contenders-although by a larger margin when paired against Obama-could give credibility to this view. The paper doesn’t mention it, but the poll was taken the weekend before Tuesday’s primaries, when the media largely ignored McCain and focused on the Democratic battle.
Clinton’s supporters may have been popping bottles of champagne yesterday, but inside the campaign, it felt “less than victorious,” says the WP. Most of the other papers have already written about the intense infighting that has plagued the Clinton campaign, but today the WP adds several choice nuggets about this battle that won’t die and points out that as soon as the results were known yesterday, her advisers quickly let everyone on their contact lists know that Mark Penn, her chief strategist, should not be credited for the victories. Many of the campaign’s most senior officials have frequently tried to convince Clinton that she should fire Penn, but she has stuck by him. During the month of February, tensions were so high that apparently insults (including several instances of “[Expletive] you!”) were bandied about. Two other interesting tidbits from the insidery article about the sources of statements that backfired: It seems Penn was the one who gave Bill Clinton the line about comparing Obama’s victory in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson, and it was Bruce Reed (a Slate contributor) who offered up the “change you can Xerox” line that Clinton used in last month’s debate.
Campaign workers may be exhausted from all the campaigning, but so are the journalists who have to follow them around, notes the WP‘s Howard Kurtz. Although the media are often accused of trying to prolong the horse race, some reporters just want it to end. “This is a really strange phenomenon in that you’re seeing people who can’t wait for it to be over,” says Time‘s Ana Marie Cox. “There’s only so many stories you can write, and we’re running out of them.”