Saturday, April 26, 2008

Surrogates offer steady diet of spin -- if you still have an appetite

(Originally published 4/26/08)

The good news: Hillary Clinton’s win in Pennsylvania on Tuesday assured political junkies like me of at least another month of drama and fun.

The bad news: It will come at the high cost of more canned commentary from the candidates’ smarmy surrogates.

As campaigns unfold, consultants make a lot of dough by presenting the events of the day in a positive light for their candidate.

One of my friends compares it to Hamburger Helper: They all start with the basic ground beef, but one ends up with cheesy jambalaya, the other with tomato basil penne.

It’s called spin, and it’s why the talking heads trot out to dutifully deliver the day’s dose of rhetoric – and it always has a dubious basis in reality.

Clinton’s Pennsylvania win opened a new battleground in her campaign’s war of words with Barack Obama's camp. Barely 12 hours after giving her victory speech in Philadelphia, Clinton proudly told an assembled crowd, “I have received more votes, from the people who have voted, than anybody else.”

Why the awkward sentence? It’s half true: She’s counting the votes cast for her in the disputed Michigan and Florida primaries.

The other half of the truth, the half she doesn’t mention, is that Democrats agreed not to campaign in Florida and Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballot in Michigan.

It was as if Clinton smelled blood in the water. Her surrogates spent the rest of the week on offense and in overdrive, crowing in voce forte that Pennsylvania exposed Obama’s fatal flaw: He can’t seem to win among working-class white men, a demographic crucial to Democrats in traditionally blue states, so the party would be engaging in a “suicide pact” (Clinton surrogate Lanny Davis’ words) by nominating him.

Obama’s people shot back that Clinton won’t win purple states, like Colorado and Iowa, and she can’t win red states he can make competitive – like Virginia and others across the South.

And then, as they say, it was on.

She says: He hasn’t won a single blue state other than his own, while she has won big in traditionally blue states, including California, New York and Massachusetts.
He says: Traditionally blue states will be blue in November no matter who tops the ticket.
She says: Obama is “running away from” debates with her in Indiana and North Carolina.
He says: The 21 debates they’ve had already are plenty. (Obama surrogate and former DNC chairman David Wilhelm wins the one-liner award this week for this offering: “I don’t get a sense that the American people are crying out, ‘Give us that 22nd debate,’” he said.)
She says: Superdelegates should “respect the will of the voters” as reflected by the popular vote.
He says: Superdelegates should “respect the will of the voters” as reflected by pledged delegates.
They seem to agree on only one thing; curiously, it’s the one thing that is farthest from the truth: How good this extended, bruising battle is for the Democratic Party. Democratic officials publicly dispense happy thoughts: Registrations are up. People are excited about the race. But privately, they know that participation and excitement to be wrapped up in the individual candidates. Neither candidate’s supporters espouse similar excitement about the other candidate; in fact; many indicate that they are more likely to vote for John McCain than the other Democrat – if they vote in November at all.

And that, friends, is why Howard Dean stays in a persistent projectile sweat these days.

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On the blog this weekend, a big announcement!

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