Expecting Disappointment, Disappointing Expectations

Last time we checked, expectations didn’t mean anything anymore. Now that the campaign is in a new, delegate-oriented phase, expectations and momentum are supposed to be the artifacts of the early-primary-state days. Expectations mattered in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina because those states were the slingshots and gatekeepers to the White House. With upward of 20 states voting on Feb. 5, the same rules aren’t supposed to apply.

Yet, it seems campaigns can’t shake old habits. Today both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s press outfits tried to manipulate tomorrow’s narratives before voters set foot in a poll booth.  

But interestingly, one tried to lower expectations while the other raised them. Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe sent a campaign memo to reporters that showed how crappy Barack Obama was doing in the polls as recently as two weeks ago. This is OK only because Obama is doing so well in the polls now . Furthermore, the eagle-eyed crew at Politico noticed that Plouffe was quoting Obama’s worst polls in every state. Two weeks ago, if you would have asked Plouffe about those polls, he would have thrown a stronger poll right back in your face.

Clinton, meanwhile, is gently tamping expectations overall, but not among Latinos. Hoping to stem the recent narrative that Obama is making gains among Latinos , the campaign bragged about a meaningless straw poll in an e-mail blast today. Clinton won a straw poll conducted by Piolín, the most popular Spanish-language radio show in the country. According to Clinton’s peeps, “Of the 819 people who called in, 59% said they’d vote for Senator Clinton, 36% for Senator Obama, 2% for John McCain, and only 3% of voters were undecided.”  

Sigh—of course “only” 3 percent were undecided. Nobody calls into a radio straw poll to express his or her wishy-washy support of absolutely nobody. Moreover, has the almighty Mark Penn sunk so low as to throw us a nonsensical straw poll stripped of any methodology outline? If Clinton’s campaign is going to raise expectations, they might as well do it right. Dennis Kucinich used to tout some obscure Internet straw poll every week of his campaign. Maybe Kucinich’s former polling adviser defected to the Clinton camp. It’s never a good sign when the candidate of inevitability is aping the candidate of un-electability.

But Clinton isn’t alone in hyping Piolín’s impact on the Latino vote. Just last week Obama press secretary Bill Burton sent around a link to a Kos post on Piolín’s friendly treatment of Obama . Burton expected Piolín’s attention to help on Feb. 5.