Heading towards the danger zone

Updated: Apr 28 2008, 03:36am hrs
Barack Obama is winning, so why does it look as if Hillary Clinton is having all the fun Obama has been thrown completely off his game by a combination of political attacks (some fair, some foul), a toxic eruption (the volcanic Jeremiah Wright was a gift from the gods to the Clintons and the GOP), and some pretty serious self-inflicted wounds. You can almost feel the air seeping out of the Obama phenomenon. The candidate and his aides are brainstorming ways to counter the Clinton death-ray machine and regain the momentum. They need to generate some new excitement and enthusiasm, and they need to do it soon. Despite all the new voters who have been brought into the process, Democrats are filled with anxiety about their prospects in November. A nervous operative told me: If we lose this election, it would be like Johnson losing to Goldwater. One of the problems is that anger is growing like a cancer among Democrats. The Clintons have more than lived up to their polarising reputations, slicing and dicing the electorate and then gleefully exploiting the myriad divisions. Their message varies, depending on whether its in public or behind the scenes. But the mantra is roughly: Obama wont win! He cant win whites. Jeremiah Wright! He cant win women. He cant win Hispanics. Hell lose Jewish voters. Farrakhan! Well nuke Iran. The share of Clinton voters who have been telling exit pollsters that they will not vote for Obama if he wins the nomination is inching toward the red zone. At the same time, there is growing resentment of the Clintons tactics among Obama partisans, especially the young and African-Americans. James Clyburn, one of the most respected black leaders in Congress, said that there is an almost unanimous belief among blacks that the Clintons were committed to damaging Obama so badly that even if he wins the nomination, he would never be able to win the general election. What were witnessing here is a potential train wreck. And it cant all be blamed on the Clintons. However, one views the behaviour of Bill and Hillary Clinton there can be no denying that an awful lot of Obamas troubles have come from his side of the table. The Wright fiasco undermined the fundamental rationale of the entire Obama campaign that it would be about healing, about putting partisanship aside, about reaching across ethnic and party divisions to bring people together in a new era of cooperation. But more important than the Wright comments has been Obamas strange reluctance to fight harder in public for the nomination. Hillary Clinton may be behind, and she may lose. But she is now widely seen as the tougher of the two candidates, the one who is more resolute, who will fight harder and longer (and, yes, more unscrupulously) to achieve her desired ends. An edge in toughness is hardly a good quality to cede to your opponent. The big issue in this campaign is the economy and jobs. Some Democratic officials who were worried about having Clinton at the top of the ticket in November are now expressing concern about Obama. Clintons bar-brawl tactics have raised her negatives sharply, but theyve also raised doubts about Obama. Is he a fighter Is he tough enough to take on the GOP One of Obamas favourite phrases is the fierce urgency of now. There is nothing more fiercely urgent for him right now than to reassure voters and superdelegates that an Obama candidacy will not lead to a Democratic debacle in November.

NY Times / Bob Herbert