The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is far more volatile now than it was on January 3, that distant day when hopeful Iowans trooped to their caucuses. And it is a whole lot more volatile than it was on February 19, when Barack Obama’s landslide primary win in the classic “swing state” of Wisconsin seemed to confirm his inevitability.
Back at the start of January, the best bet was still that New York Senator Hillary Clinton would be the nominee of a united Democratic party against some deeply dysfunctional Republican like former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney – a northeastern moderate with a record of supporting gay rights and abortion rights that put him dramatically at odds with the sentiments of his party’s base voters, a monumental list of personal quirks and fiscal misdeeds, and a snooty style that had Democrats salivating about the prospect of facing him in November.
The alternative bet was that Illinois Senator Obama would ride a wave of faith in the future – dare we recall the word optimism — that would position the Democrats to transform not just the presidential race but the political culture of a country that was sick and tired of being sick and tired of war and economic inequality.
How easy it all seemed.
And how far Democrats have drifted from what now must seem to many in the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy to have been halcyon days.
Now, with Clinton and Obama locked in what looks to some like a duel to the political death, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain – a war hero with an attractive reputation as a political maverick and a relationship with the media that gives new meaning to the word “cozy” — is busy buffing his multicultural credentials by posing for pictures with African-American quilters in Alabama and announcing plans to appear in July at the La Raza Annual Convention in San Diego,.
At the same time, the crusty old pol’s gleefully reviewing polling data from battleground states that is so favorable — especially for a recession year — that even McCain must be pinching himself.
Can the Democrats get their groove back?
Primaries Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina –- states that, in January, looked certain to be backwaters on the 2008 electoral map – will go a long way toward determining the answer to that question.
The results from these two states, both of which have long histories of voting Republican in fall presidential contests, could well decide the Democrats fate. Despite promises by Clinton and Obama that they are in this for the long haul, the reality is that the race could end this week — at least for Clinton.