Clinton’s Crumbling Strategy

Let’s stop pretending it’s about the voters. Hillary Clinton’s strategy right now rests on whether or not she can sway superdelegates, and it’s clear to anyone who can count that the strategy is not going well—Obama has narrowed Clinton’s superdelegate lead from 97 to 22 since Feb. 5. To make up Obama’s pledged-delegate lead, Clinton will need to win at least 70 percent of remaining uncommitted superdelegates.

That’s why the “bitter” comment was such a potential lifesaver. It gave Clinton one last chance to convince superdelegates that Obama is a walking crapshoot who just can’t win in the general. So she spent the past week pushing that argument. But a New York Times piece today suggests that superdelegates don’t really care . Which apparently makes them a lot like voters .

It’s hard to say whether Clinton missed an opportunity to exploit the “cling” thing, or whether no such opportunity existed in the first place. Obama formulated his words poorly, but the outrage felt manufactured from the start. Clinton’s “good people of Pennsylvania” ad came off as contrived and cynical. If anything, Clinton’s righteous response to the “bitter” comments may have hastened Obama’s recovery.

But the larger question is what Clinton can do now. Here’s the problem, per the Times piece:

Clinton advisers acknowledged that they had not seen short-term evidence that their attacks on Mr. Obama were winning over many superdelegates, and they acknowledged that he had picked up more in recent weeks—though she maintained a narrowing overall lead in them. They predicted, however, that the mounting scrutiny of Mr. Obama would lead superdelegates to cool to his candidacy and come to see her as more of a known quantity, battle tested, and shrewd about the best ways to beat the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, in the fall.

This strategy made sense two months ago, when Clinton still had a shot at 1) getting Florida and Michigan to count, 2) winning the popular vote, and 3) exploiting some unforgivable revelation about Obama. It doesn’t make any sense now. Obama has weathered Wright, Goolsbee, Power, “bitter,” and, for now, Bill Ayers. (Although watch for half of these to return in the general.) He also appears to have survived one of his worst debate performances ever . Consider Robert Reich , Sam Nunn, and David Boren exhibits A, B, and C. Now Howard Dean has re-emerged from the woodwork to reiterate his call for superdelegates to take sides.

This isn’t to say that Pennsylvania and Indiana and North Carolina don’t matter. Only that everything needs to go right for Clinton if she’s going to stay in the race. She needs to win so overwhelmingly that superdelegates will move her way in huge numbers—something that none of Obama’s supposedly damaging gaffes have been able to accomplish. With superdelegates unmoved by Obama’s missteps over the past week, the idea that “mounting scrutiny” of Obama will save Clinton has expired.