Regardless of the outcome in Pennsylvania today, Barack Obama should begin to shift the focus of his attack from Hillary Clinton's fading star to John McCain's feisty Supernova.
Obama's people have downplayed the expectations for a victory in the PA race in an interview with The Washington Post, but this is an unwise strategy. This kind of speculation fuels the "horse race" gossip that the mainstream media thrives covering.
The media likes a rough and tumble, neck-to-neck race. They're used to it after eight years of covering Bush-Gore and then Bush-Kerry. Now, they've been covering Obama-Clinton for months, and their natural inclination is to turn everything into an 11th hour production.
Except, this isn't the 11th hour. This is that awkward moment at the Oscars when the old-timey actress stands stubbornly at the podium and shouts over the Orchestra that's been trying to play her off the stage for the past five minutes. Oh, she has every right to still be standing there, but the audience wishes she would just bow out gracefully for everyone's sake.
Even if Hillary Clinton wins by 12 points in Pennsylvania (a pretty generous conclusion based on some of the more recent numbers rolling out of the state) she'll only pick up 200,000, or so, in the popular vote. That's hardly a sign of a popular mandate. If Hillary wins, she can only hope to pick up some crumbs in North Carolina and Indiana before -- red-faced and winded -- she'll have to haggle, cajole, and threaten super delegates at the Democratic National Convention if she has a prayer of winning this thing.
Poorly managed from the start, and now broke, the Clinton camp is a train wreck. Insane Bill Clinton digs their grave a little deeper every day. Even stalwart supporters like James Carville seemed baffled during his appearance on Meet The Press when asked to explain the behavior of the normally calculating and politically flawless former presidential couple.
Barack Obama is ahead in the popular vote. He's won more states. He's won more delegates. He outraised Hillary 2-1 in March, and he did so with smaller contributions from more people (read: lots of real-life poor people like him).
That sounds like a popular mandate.
If Hillary wins Pennsylvania by more than 5 points, she'll most certainly present this victory as a resurgence - one in many that will fuel her unlikely comeback. But that is a fairytale. Clinton is finished, short of a party coup where the Clinton camp usurps the nomination from Obama in some kind of insane power grab, which don't get me wrong, would be awesome...like some kind of terrifically violent Benny Hill skit.
What Obama needs to do is present his Democratic nomination as an inevitability. He needs to shift the focus from Obama-Clinton to Obama-McCain even if she wins Pennsylvania. He needs to "rise above" the in-party squabbling and start focusing on the economy, Iraq, Iran, and more importantly, McCain.
John McCain, the man who has now confused Iran with Al-Qaeda more times than Charlie Gibson uttered the phrase "Flag Pin" in the ABC debates. John McCain, the old bastard, who presents himself as a political maverick, but who in realty is an elitist Beltway Expansionist, eager to "take on all comers" in a global fistfight, and whose version of idealism is keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years.
My point is: John McCain is ripe for examination. Barack Obama would be wise to start acting like a Democratic Presidential nominee and start placing himself in the public's mind as the guy ready to take on the Republicans.
Obama and Clinton's platforms are too similar - the rhetoric too stale - for this debate to go on any longer. The long nomination process has already taken its toll. An AP-Yahoo poll last week shows that McCain is evenly matched with Obama and Clinton, having closed the 13-point advantage the Democrats had over the Republicans a few months ago. However, the same poll also indicated that a clear majority of Democratic voters now think Obama has a better chance of defeating McCain in November than Clinton.
The best move for the Obama camp is to leave the old girl in the dirt and move forward. The first step should be a full-blown assault on McCain's gaffes that have transpired over the past months before the media collectively yawns and forgets they ever occurred in the first place.