Clinton’s Game-Changer

The Clinton campaign needed a game-changer. It got a game-changer.

In an “EMERGENCY PRESS CALL” tonight, officials with the Clinton campaign complained of numerous “disturbing reports” from “all over the state” that Obama supporters were tampering with the Texas caucuses. (Transcript here .)

Among the accusations (or, as Clinton’s Texas director, Ace Smith, calls them, “documented instances”):

  • Obama supporters closed the doors on Clinton supporters at some of the precinct conventions.

  • Obama supporters monopolized the “packets” used to sign up caucus-goers. In some instances, they even “took them away from the premises” before the caucuses started, according to the Clinton campaign. Here’s why the packet matters , via the Dallas Morning News :

In most cases, the election judge [at a caucus] will have the packet with instructions, guidelines and other materials for the convention. If you gain possession of the packet, you can appoint yourself temporary chairman, get a friend to nominate you as permanent chairman and then quickly elect a secretary. If you do this, you control the flow and pace of the meeting. That could make a difference, especially if you’re dealing with late arrivals and those not familiar with the process. There will be times when precincts will be merged under one election judge. That means the other packets will be up for grabs. Make sure you get one and don’t allow a judge to stall you and then give the material to the rival camp.

  • Some caucus results were being reported before the caucuses were even set to begin. A Clinton memo cites “numerous instances of Obama supporters filing [sic] out precinct convention sign-in sheets during the day and submitting them as completed vote totals at caucus.” In other words, cheating.

The charges are fairly broad, but the campaign promised to provide specifics. (Some are already available here .)

Whatever the merits, the campaign’s decision to draw attention to the issue as it was happening was a bold move. (Communications director Howard Wolfson made sure to point out that they had never done this before.) It’s now guaranteed to overshadow the election results, no matter who wins. If Obama pulls through in Texas, naturally the issue calls his victory into question. If it’s Hillary, the added sense of injustice could propel her even further back into the race.

On the call, which was abruptly and entertainingly hijacked by Obama attorney Bob Bauer, Clinton’s lawyer couldn’t say whether the campaign was going to take this to court. It’s too early to say. But it doesn’t matter whether this lands in court. If the flap manages to overshadow the election results, whatever they may be, then mission accomplished. Obama’s normally lightning-quick campaign has been slow to respond, suggesting that 1) there’s merit to the charges, 2) the campaign doesn’t want to dignify them with a response, or 3) the campaign wants to be extremely careful (especially post-Goolsbee ) about what it confirms and denies. In any case, the Clinton campaign has made one thing clear: If Obama thinks he can walk away with the nomination, he’ll have to do it walking on glass.

Read the rest of Trailhead’s coverage on the emergency call.