I’m not going to say Barack Obama has a chance to win Pennsylvania. He doesn’t. But I can’t imagine anything making a stronger case for his campaign theme of moving beyond old school Washington politics than the ABC News debate last night. I’m guessing that for every undecided voter who watched that debate and came away with serious questions about Obama’s associations or patriotism, ten undecided voters watched and thought something along the lines of, “Who cares about all this stuff?”
Remember in January when Obama was leading Hillary Clinton in every New Hampshire poll by 10 or 15 points, until the final weekend debate where it was widely perceived that Obama, Edwards, and the moderators were ganging up on her? That combined with her emotional display the day before the primary swung late undecideds wildly in her direction. Now, Obama isn’t going to cry, but he’s already received half of that equation.
Even the most casual observer had to notice during the first hour that George Stephanopolous and Charles Gibson grilled Obama on electability, Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers, and flag pins– interrupting him multiple times during his answers and always asking follow-up questions– while Hillary Clinton got one softball about Bosnia that really wasn’t about Bosnia (the actual question was, “How are you going to win my vote back?”) and was allowed to answer without interruption and with no follow-up from the moderators.
I have a feeling a lot of Pennsylvanians are going to combine the ganging up factor with the smallness of the debate topics, and it’s going to add up to a legitimate case in their minds for Barack Obama. Before last night, I would have put the spread on the Pennsylvania primary results at Clinton -10. Now she’s about -7. He won’t catch her, but I think the result could begin to approach the edge of putting serious pressure on Clinton to withdraw.
Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps the fact that “Bill Ayers” suddenly became the fifth most Googled subject on Earth means that Pennsylvanians absorbed the vacuous substance of the debate more than the process and the polls will swing five points the other way– giving Clinton the virtual landslide she needs to place doubts in the minds of superdelegates.
But judging from the staggering 18,000 (and still growing!) overwhelmingly angry comments on ABC.com *– many from independents and undecideds– I really don’t think a statewide swing in Clinton’s direction is what happened last night. I’m putting the race within single digits now.
* Is that ABC link the most commented post in Internet history? I can’t think of anything I’ve seen that even comes close.