Saturday, February 16, 2008

Debates? and why Wisconsin 'matters'

The latest attack ads produced by Hillary's campaign against Obama have focused on his 'willingness' to debate. Obama has responded, not unreasonably, that he has debated 18 times with 2 more scheduled. So why would Hillary choose this line of attack? And why now, in Wisconsin?

On the debates question, I think the Hillary campaign sees debates as a very cost-effective means of reaching lots of voters. I think it is a given that she would reach a lot more voters in a joint appearance with Obama than she would in any other kind of campaign active of comparable time-length. Just looking at the differential in the crowds she attracts and those he attracts - a factor of 10 - demonstrates this.

To change the current dynamic Hillary needs to reach lots of voters quickly and somehow contrast herself positively against Obama. A debate is the quickest, most effective and cheapest way to do so. Yet given that Obama decided not to rescue Team Hillary from their own mistakes, they went for a series of attack ads that, while not shown that widely, did garner free media attention (as was intended)... which is why they were parceled out one by one. While she is not paying for them to play all that much, Hilary at least need to make a show of 'fighting,' since that is her own self-described forte. However, her campaign is not organized to effectively 'fight' with the level of resources she currently has on hand.

That latter point needs to be emphasized. A series of debates would be a lot more cost-effective and right now one of the major problems she is 'fighting' is not having enough resources to mount as an effective campaign as Obama (particularly since Hillary has not invested nearly as much in ground organization and, as Solis-Doyle said, they thought they'd be done campaigning on Feb 5th). In short, Hillary's team, through mistakes of their own, is comparatively unprepared and underfunded... which leads me to why Wisconsin 'matters.'

Of course, all states matter despite what Mark Penn, Hillary's campaign guru, insists. But Wisconsin may matter more than it's delegate count would suggest, due in part to it position in the primary calendar. It is the largest state in which Hillary has a good chance of defeating Obama before the large (and expensive) contests in Texas and Ohio on March 4th. Hillary needs money now to make a maximal effort in those two self-defined 'must-win' states.

But I imagine that contributors (those who have not already contibuted the limit) as well as 'bundlers' (those who solicit funds from others) are looking at this and wondering if it would be a case of simply throwing good money after bad. Hillary has already burned through over $100,000,000 and yet her campaign is in disarray and, unless the momentum changes, headed for defeat. So Wisconsin may well be the 'show me state' (apologies to Missouri) for her contributors... 'prove to us you are competitive before we go one more round in the hole for you.'

Which is why it is imperative for Obama's supporters to go all out in Wisconsin, since a victory there may do more than simply continue the current 'momentum' media narrative, it may cripple Hillary where it hurts, in the pocket book. She has not invested in a ground game, so cash is her campaign's lifeblood. And the greater the victory margin, the harder it will be for Hillary to make the argument to the money people that she is a good financial gamble.

Hillary is wounded, but she is far from down and out. Now is not the time to let up. The victories we win on Feb 19th could help us exponentially down the line. Pour it on at