03/23/2008 05:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

7 Days in America : Obama Plays Defense on Rev. & Re-votes... with Daschle, Huffington, Green & Conason


It's one of the oldest sport stories -- the team ahead late in the game sits on its lead. That usually works, except when it doesn't.

In a week of enormous news (a new 1929? a new New York governor!), 7 Days in America necessarily focused on yet two more potentially decisive moments in the most interesting presidential primary contest since ... well, since 104 ballots in 1924.

* Re-Votes. Speaking of sports, when Ted Williams entered the final day in 1941 hitting .3995 (or .400 rounded off), his manager suggested that he not play so he'd be the first player to hit .400 since 1930. Nope, said Ted, he was going to reach the magic mark swinging, not sitting. So he went 6-8 in a double-header and ended at .406.

Barack Obama is not Ted Williams when it comes to playing in Florida and Michigan. Based on what his lawyer and press aide have been saying -- so many complications ... so little time -- it's undeniable that they were foot-dragging to frustrate possible re-votes that could help Hillary Clinton erode his delegate lead if not reverse his popular vote margin.

Tactically, who could blame him? But Obama's strategy does create two real problems. First, it allows Clinton to blister him as "afraid" and as "disenfranchising" Latinos and Jews in Florida and working class blacks and whites in Michigan. That certainly conflicts with his philosophy of inclusion and enfranchisement -- and enhances her talking point in the upcoming, final contests that he says one thing, does another. Second, it will likely put Florida and Michigan out of reach in a General Election, which is no small sacrifice to the alter of securing the nomination.

* Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Anyone who read Dreams from My Father or watched Obama interviewed on Travis Smiley would understand why there's no one in American public life in a better position to be a racial bridge. His speech explaining Wright's rancorous remarks lived up to his billing -- or as columnist Nick Kristof wrote, "it wasn't a sound bite but a symphony." Obama's description of black and white racial grievances was especially convincing and penetrating.

But what worked racially may not have worked politically -- and 2008, for better or worse, is more about choosing a president than resolving racial tensions.

The liberal punditocracy loved it while conservatives were gleeful to link pastor and politician. But the real jury judging the speech are blue-collar workers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and elsewhere who pick presidents. I may not like it that Justice Anthony Kennedy alone can swing a divided Supreme Court, but he does. And readers may balk at this working class cohort being decisive in the Electoral College, but they are. When they favored Reagan, he won ... and when they favored Bill Clinton, he won.

This jury is still out post-Jeremiah Wright. Some early indicators, however, raise not black or white but red flags for Obama:

*Gallup tracking polls over the past week show a clear Obama lead slipping to a rough tie.

*In match-ups against McCain in Ohio and Florida, Clinton is doing, respectively, 9 points and 7 points better than Obama.

*One analysis of how states may go in the Electoral College, based on current polling, shows Clinton beating McCain by 63 electoral votes while Obama loses by 50 electoral votes.

Is this a primary blip or a general election trend?

7 Days Headliner and Obama co-chair Senator Tom Daschle may be right when he candidly acknowledges that this week's racial imbroglio "has been a very serious threat" to his candidate's prospects but he expects any short-term effect "to dissipate." And it's also true that if there had been no Bush Recession enhancing Clinton's economic message and no Rev. Wright tape depressing Obama's numbers, he would now be on a glide path to the nomination. But Clinton's economic message does seem to have popular traction and, while Obama's soaring speech probably has stemmed the bleeding, no one is smart enough to know the long-term political effect of Wright's scorching sermons.

So with another 5 million votes to go, there's still a competitive contest. Some who can't resist again counting Clinton out (Politico being the most recent example) should appreciate that Obama is now a good bet but not a sure bet. Her odds are long but still better than the Giants winning the SuperBowl at the end of the regular season:

* If Clinton measurably stays stronger versus McCain in Ohio, New Jersey, Florida - and if a big win in Pennsylvania creates a momentum that produces unexpected wins in Indiana and North Carolina -- superdelegates will likely flock to her as more likely to defeat McCain in November. (A third if: she'd also need to shrink his popular vote margin lead from 700,000 to 300,000, which is hard but do-able given her leads in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico; then given her non-delegate, popular win by 300,000 in Florida, her camp could credibly argue that the popular vote after 35 million cast was a tie.)

*But if any of these IF's don't work -- and should Obama maintain his poise, his lead, and do as well as he hopes in Oregon and North Carolina -- then he's the nominee.

Watch for all this to be resolved by mid-June. For while Democrats may be split 50-50 in their affections, they 100% agree that their ultimate nominee needs four months, not two, to expose McCain as McBush. So based on final primaries and polls, superdelegates in mid-June -- lead by poobahs with names like Dean, Pelosi, Gore, Mitchell -- will likely break 80-20 to the one with the strongest case to unite Democrats and win back the White House. The issue is not ultimately about Rev. Wright or Michigan or pledged vs. superdelegates: it'll be based on a Moneyball-like analysis of numbers...and whoever can show that he/she can best beat McCain, will and should be The One.

Listen to the entire show here.


DASCHLE: Did the Wright tapes and Obama's speech hurt his apeal to swing blue-collar Democrats? "Well, this whole matter has clearly damaged his candidacy. It's reflected in the numbers right now, but I don't think it's permanent. I really believe that at the end of the day, as people start to think about what issues really matter to them, this is going to matter, but it isn't going to be in that top tier list of things that could ultimately decide how they're going to vote. At the end of the day, next October, it's going to be Barack Obama and John McCain...two human beings, two leaders, two political candidates who will have had plenty of exposure."

DASCHLE: Is it fair or "playing the race card" for the Clinton camp to cite this controversy to superdelegates because it may mean that she's more likely to beat McCain? "I don't think it's a question of fairness as much as it is just wrong. It's fair to say it, I suppose -- you can make any argument you want. But I have to say I think it's a tough sell for the Clinton campaign to persuade superdelegates or anybody else, that she's more electable. When I talk to elected officials all over the country, what they tell me is they would much rather have Barack Obama at the top of the ballot because they believe that Hillary would be a huge drag on the ballot and would probably cause others to lose their elections."

DASCHLE: Is the Obama campaign foot-dragging to help defeat a revote in Florida and Michigan? "A revote is one possibility, but if it becomes unlikely that a revote can happen with the confidence that isn't going to be contested in a court of law, that it would include all the voters, and that it can be done mechanically, then certainly [we'd be concerned]...It's a very unfortunate characterization to call our response foot-dragging. We have said from the beginning, and I just said it now, that we definitely want to include the voters of Michigan and Florida, but we also want it to be a realistic way of resolving the issue."

CONASON: "The problem with the speech, which was indeed a brilliant exploration of racial themes, was that it was a pivot away from what he has been saying in the campaign up until now. He has been forced to confront the realities of race in America, rather than saying what people like to hear, which is that we can transcend race relations...Now he's had to turn around and face what the reality is. And I will tell you right now, I don't think white voters like hearing that."

HUFFINGTON: "Here is one political leader, flawed as he himself acknowledged, who nevertheless is in a unique position to help us transcend those tensions -- not by pretending they don't exist, but by saying, yes, they do exist, and we can work toward a more perfect union. I think it was an amazing speech, I mean an incredibly profound speech, that took many people, whether they were Hillary Clinton supporters or even Republicans, if they were willing to acknowledge it, to a higher level of political discourse.

HUFFINGTON: Should Michigan and Florida have re-votes, or not? "No, I would have them seat the delegates in the same proportions as the pledged delegates." GREEN: "So they wouldn't count?" HUFFINGTON: "They do count! Because they're there, they're in the convention, and they are counted in the total." CONASON: Arianna, you know that more people voted in these primaries than I think had voted ever before, even though they knew that their votes allegedly were not going to be accepted, or wouldn't be accepted by the DNC! So you're really telling all those people you don't care what their views were."

CONASON: "The most important thing about John McCain for voters to understand right now is that, rather than extricate us from the war in Iraq, he would expand the war. It's not just, well, we'll stay there and things will keep going sort of badly most of the time, a little bit better sometimes.... McCain is the leader of a political faction in Washington that actually wants a wider war: certainly with Iran, possibly with Syria, and who knows where else?"