Black, White and Gray
Obama's huge win in South Carolina yesterday might upend the race after all. While the Clintons tried to manage expectations of their likely loss yesterday afternoon, I think it was the Obama camp that pulled this off, intentionally or not; after polling from late last week that Obama might win as few as 10 percent of white voters in South Carolina, the fact that he got about a quarter of whites to support him looks pretty good. And while the demographics of South Carolina won't be replicated in many if any later contests, the Clintons' effort to spin the race along racial lines has been too overt: when Bill Clinton compares Obama's SC win to Jesse Jackson's, it's just too easy to note that Jackson never won more than 5-10 percent of white Democrats there.
It was probably inevitable that the primary contest would become a referendum on the Clintons, but the nature of that referendum was in doubt: would it be their record, or their personalities? Watching the Sunday blab shows this morning, the answer is becoming clear, and it's not the one the Clintons would have chosen. Chyrons like "Billary Backlash?" and discussion of poll findings that the former president hurt his wife's campaign in South Carolina call into question both his role in the campaign going forward, and what role and responsibilities he might have in a Hillary Clinton presidency.
The irony as I see it is that if Bill himself were allowed to run for a third term, he'd almost certainly win, and if Hillary Clinton was running a campaign on her own strengths--the incredible command of policy detail, the ability to listen that she displayed both in her 2000 Senate campaign and in seven subsequent years in the Senate--she'd be very formidable. But together they're much less than the sum of their parts. Even my mom, a stalwart Hillary supporter who revered the Clinton administration, yesterday described Bill to me as a "dirty politician."
Meanwhile, the trickle of institutional support that started to flow toward Obama after his Iowa win could be swelling: less than a day after Caroline Kennedy endorsed him in the Times, it seems that Sen. Ted Kennedy is about to follow suit--and will fight hard for Obama. That backing, along with the momentum from yesterday, could help turn around what still looks like a tough map for him on Ginormous Tuesday.