Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Matt Littman Headshot

Penn, Carville and the Fat Cats: With Friends Like These...

Posted: Updated:
Print

On a January flight from Dallas to Des Moines, I looked at the disheveled person across the aisle from me, and thought, this guy looks familiar. Where have I seen him before? His hair's a mess, his clothes don't match, so I can rule out actor or politician.

Living in Los Angeles, you bump into pretty much every famous person at some point, and you can get confused as to whom you actually know and whom you know from TV. This happened to me the other night when I went to the supermarket, and I noticed a familiar looking woman I thought was someone I'd met before, except, after staring for a minute and trying to figure out how I knew this woman, I realized I didn't; it was an actress from the best show on television, Friday Night Lights, and now that she saw me look at her, I had to tell her that my wife and I love the show. I was so flustered by my own stupidity that I said the show is a "religious experience" for my wife and I. Good job by me. A religious experience. I'm surprised I wasn't maced.

But back to our flight to Iowa in early January. Everyone on the plane seemed to be a caucus-goer. The woman next to me was from New Mexico, and headed to Des Moines to volunteer for Bill Richardson. But this unkempt guy across the aisle -- who was he?

I couldn't put my finger on it. And so, I waited until the plane landed, and then I asked him, "How do I know you?" He replied, "Mark Penn." Ah! We chatted for a moment about the campaign. I was there to work for Joe Biden, so I hoped that would give me some level of credibility. Penn did engage me briefly, and he said he thought his candidate, Hillary had been treated unfairly by the media. I readily concurred, because he was right. In the winter of 2007, the treatment of Senator Clinton by the mainstream media was shameful. The debates were all about Hillary and trying to catch her making a mistake.

The other candidates were either ignored, or, when they were asked a question, it was something like this: "Senator Dodd, what do you think about what Hillary just said?"

It was ridiculous, and if I were Mark Penn, I would have been a hell of a lot angrier than he appeared to be at the time.

The treatment of Hillary by the mainstream media did not help her campaign. But it did not hurt it, in as much as the campaign's own miscalculations and mistakes did the real damage.

We know the campaign schedule was literally set up for Hillary to win. We know Hillary's camp thought it would all be over by February 5, and it had not planned for the primaries to go beyond that.

And yet -- despite these errors, despite a switch in campaign managers, Hillary has kept the race close. Only in the last couple of weeks have the superdelegates begun to make the move to Senator Obama, the move that is likely to end this campaign shortly.

Since February 5, 55 superdelegates have endorsed Senator Obama, and Hillary's total is minus five.

In the last two weeks, more and more superdelegates have endorsed Senator Obama. They have come from Minnesota and Montana, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.

This, despite the fact that the Clinton team has 10 people working full time on persuading superdelegates. This, despite the fact that Bill Cinton went to California, spoke at the state convention, and did all in his power to persuade the superdelegates to endorse his wife - and none did. Not one.

Why now? Despite Hillary's overwhelming lead in the next primary state, why did the superdelegates decide now is the time to stand up and be counted?

Is it because Mark Penn told the Colombian government that he was for the free trade agreement that Senator Clinton opposes? Of course not -- that's just so much inside baseball.

Four things have happened to hasten an Obama victory.

1. Senator Obama handled the Rev. Wright issue with honesty and without condescending to the audience. His speech made the superdelegates take notice: this guy can handle a punch. Why? Because Obama is comfortable with himself and that makes him uniquely able to convey his message -- because he knows his message. It's him. And he doesn't change with the prevailing winds.

2. James Carville caused the superdelegates to stand up for themselves when he called Bill Richardson "Judas." Carville, one of the legends of the political world, continued his attacks on the superdelegate from New Mexico, talking about it on TV and writing about it in the Washington Post. Carville's rage caused superdelegates to take note: is this guy threatening us? Is he going to use these tactics against all of us?

3. Hillary's Future Ambassadors Club, the big fundraisers, tried to bully both Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi with threats to withdraw funding from the Democratic National Committee unless Dean and Pelosi sided with the Clinton campaign. Why in the world Hillary's big donors chose to put their threats on paper is beyond me. Does anyone have an answer for this?

4. The Clinton team has persisted, to this day, in spreading the message that Obama cannot handle the Republican attacks. But by showing he can in fact handle the Clinton campaigns smears, Senator Obama has shown his ability to take on the swift boating to come. The superdelegates are resting easier now that they see Obama is tested, plenty tough, and that his support is still strong. Come November, elected officials want one thing: to win. For themselves in their elections, and for the presidency. With Hillary's negatives rising as she tries to increase Obama's negatives, the superdelegates are quickly realizing that Senator Obama's ability to bring out new voters, and to put more states in play, will increase their chances of victory.

Those are four reasons why the race changed in the last couple of weeks. But if you ask me, the two biggest reasons for superdelegates turning to Obama were Carville and the Future Ambassadors. Those superdelegates will decide the election.

Did the obnoxiousness of Carville and the Fat Cats end this race? I leave that to you and to the history books.