Make no mistake: Obama has the most to gain from a Nevada victory.
After a surprise loss to Clinton in New Hampshire, winning another
close-fought contest would silence speculation that his first-place
finish in Iowa was a fluke--the result, critics have said, of an
irreplicable single-state organizing effort and once-in-a-lifetime
turnout among mercurial young voters.
This week the Silver State hosted the weirdest, nastiest Democratic slugfest yet--with Obama on the receiving end of most of the punches. After the Illinois senator won the endorsement of the Nevada's all-important Culinary Workers Union--think casino employees--the local teachers' union, which has close ties to the Clintons, sued to shut down special caucus sites that the state Democratic party had set up near the Strip. The point, said the party, was to encourage greater turnout; the teachers (and, behind the scenes, the Clinton camp) argued that the sites would unfairly favor Obama because they're close to the casinos and award more delegates than locations in less-populated parts of the state. The lawsuit was dismissed Thursday, but tensions have lingered. A spate of harsh anti-Hillary radio spots by UNITE HERE, an independent Latino voter group that supports Obama, prompted sparring, with both Clinton and Edwards accused Obama of condoning "personal attacks" by not speaking out against the ads. Clinton slammed Obama on Yucca Mountain, suggesting that he's the pocket of donors from the energy company Exelon--even though he opposes dumping nuclear waste there. The Obama campaign claimed that large contributions from the financial-services industry shaped Clinton vote's for a 2001 bankruptcy--even though she now opposes the legislation. And everyone attacked Obama when he said (rightly) that Ronald Reagan "changed the trajectory of America"--even though he explicitly argued against Reagan's particular brand of change.
So there you have it. Silver State polling is pretty much meaningless, so we'll have to wait until this evening to if the skirmishes tarnished Obama's "above-the-fray" appeal.
The stakes couldn't be higher. Leading in South Carolina by 10 thanks to African-American support, Obama could win there regardless of the Nevada results. (South Carolinians won't take their cues from Silver State upstarts.) But the senator needs all the momentum he can get to compete on Super-Duper Tuesday with Clinton, who's still leading nationally by eight. Dual losses would, of course, cripple Obama's bid, while back-to-back wins would establish him as the clear frontrunner, giving him his best shot at toppling the former First Lady in states such as California, where she's currently ahead by 12. But a loss today, whether narrow or wide, would probably lead to a closer-than-expected finish in the Palmetto State--meaning that Feb. 5 voters would arrive at the polls with mixed messages. And without the time for retail politics between South Carolina and Super-Duper Tuesday, that gives an establishment candidate like Clinton an advantage over an insurgent like Obama.
HERE'S HOW THE OBAMA CAMP WILL SPIN THE RESULTS IF HE LOSES:
TO: Interested Parties
FR: David Plouffe [Obama Campaign Manager]
DA: January 19, 2008
RE: The Clintons and the Discredited Caucus
Barack Obama is very proud of the effort that he and his campaign have made in Nevada. As people head to their Caucus sites this morning, we have closed over a 25-point gap in a state where Hillary Clinton was the choice of much of the political establishment and enjoyed huge advantages in terms of name identification. In a very short period of time, our campaign has built an amazing grassroots network and has brought thousands of Independents and disillusioned Republicans into the Democratic Party. These efforts will go a long way to ensuring that Senator Obama wins this critical swing state when he is the nominee.
We expect to do well today and a win in Nevada for Obama would be a significant upset. As University of Nevada Reno Political Science professor put it – “If she loses Nevada, it’s not just a loss. It’s a collapse.”
Our hope is that today’s caucus comes off without a hitch and as many people as possible participate, however we remain concerned that the tactics of the Clinton Campaign and their allies in recent days have confused voters and could lower participation.
And now, according to Jon Ralston, allies of the Clinton Campaign may be planning to challenge voters at the at-large precincts. It is a sad day when Democrats start trying to suppress the vote of other Democrats.
Beginning with the lawsuit filed by their allies to suppress turnout among union members, the Clinton Campaign has been engaged in a systematic effort to discredit the process – a process which was pushed, developed, and approved by their supporters at the Democratic National Committee and in Nevada. It wasn’t until Obama began gaining strength in a state they expected to win by at least 20 points that they began their attempts to delegitimize the process.
Former President Clinton said that this caucus “was not like an election” and that it disenfranchised voters. Even though the lawsuit was rejected as completely meritless by a federal judge, we remain concerned that the specter of the lawsuit has confused voters and threatens turnout at the at-large precincts, which may have been the intent of the Clinton allies all along.
The Clinton Campaign has also repeated the efforts it made in the closing days of the New Hampshire primary by launching knowingly false attacks on Barack’s opposition to Yucca, his 100-percent pro-choice rating, and position on Social Security. There have been push polls and robocalls pushing these false attacks.
And just last night, former President Clinton made two false and outrageous allegations, distorting a radio ad that does not even mention Senator Clinton and accusing the Culinary workers, whose support both Clintons furiously sought, of engaging in deliberate voter suppression. (See full story on the comments below.)
The conduct of the Clinton Campaign in recent weeks essentially makes the case for why we need Barack Obama – it’s the same old-style say anything or do anything to win, divisive attacks that have prevented progress in this country for so long.