Obama's Next Moves

When Barack Obama stepped out on stage at San Antonio municipal auditorium to deliver his primary night speech, the atmosphere was nothing like any of his previous election night events. One reason: Obama was speaking outdoors, where the cheers of his supporters was met, at one point, by a swarm of bats overhead. Another reason: the Texas results were still some way off.

Obama wasted little time in focusing on Hillary Clinton, once he had congratulated her on her big victories in Ohio and Rhode Island. (Once again, Clinton failed to mention Obama's success, by the time of her speech, in Vermont.) Instead, Obama first turned his fire on the now-presumptive GOP nominee John McCain. "He has seen where George Bush has taken our country, and he promises to keep us on the very same course," said Obama.

By the time he turned to Clinton, it was to tie her closely to McCain. "John McCain and Senator Clinton echo each other in dismissing this call for change," he said. "They say it is eloquent but empty, speeches and not solutions. And yet, they should know that it"s a call that did not begin with my words. It began with words that were spoken on the floors of factories in Ohio and across the deep plains of Texas; words that came from classrooms in South Carolina and living rooms in the state of Iowa; from first-time voters and life-long cynics; from Democrats and Republicans alike."

Behind the scenes, the Obama strategy is two-fold: to start fighting against the GOP opponent, and to amp up the fight against Clinton. Both are crucial in getting Democrats—especially the superdelegates who will decide this nomination—to focus on what lies ahead. With McCain the GOP nominee, the Obama camp is convinced that the party will not want to endure several weeks of hand-to-hand combat.

Obama's aides are more than ready to turn their half-hearted criticism into a full-blown attack on the Clintons. Among the targets on the Obama campaign's list: the Clintons' tax returns, Bill Clinton's international business relationships, and the secret donors to the Clinton foundation.

However the campaign is unlikely to move from 0 to 60 in a matter of days. First they are banking on wins in the next contests, in Wyoming and Mississippi. At the same time, they are likely to roll forward with a series of new superdelegate endorsements. Along the way, they will issue thinly-veiled threats about the kind of negative campaign they could unleash if the party wants the race to continue.

No matter what the delegate counts look like—and Obama is likely to maintain his big lead through the end of the primaries—the debate for the party remains the same. Will the superdelegates overturn the popular vote and the pledged delegates?

That's the democratic test that Obama referenced at the end of his speech in San Antonio. It was the tale about the Ugandan grandfather of a campaign volunteer who was watching the contest for a living lesson in democracy. "The world is watching what we do here," Obama said. "The world is paying attention to how we conduct ourselves. What will we they see? What will we tell them? What will we show them?"

The answer, for Obama, is for the Democratic party to follow the democratic principle of listening to the voters.