The Speech Obama Should Give Tonight

Hillary Clinton will declare victory in the West Virginia primary tonight against a senator who no longer even considers himself her opponent. While Clinton is scheduled to be in Charleston, W.Va., for Election Night celebrations, Barack Obama will be in Missouri , a state that held its primary more than three months ago. His message couldn’t be clearer: He is now campaigning against John McCain.

This seems extraordinarily unwise. While one can argue the merits of downplaying an unwinnable battle against an opponent who can’t win the war, Obama stands the risk of alienating Democrats who do not yet support him. It resembles the familiar architecture of college rivalries; in order to belittle its counterpart, one school inevitably acts like it’s too good to even compete.

Here’s the speech Obama should be delivering tonight somewhere in West Virginia—say, Morgantown, where there’s a big university .

Some of you may be surprised to see me here tonight. For the past several weeks, it has been clear that Senator Clinton held a commanding lead in West Virginia, and I congratulate her on her victory tonight.

You know, a lot of the senior advisers in my campaign recommended that I skip West Virginia altogether. In fact, ever since we won North Carolina last week and fought to nearly a tie in Indiana, many people have advised that we shift the focus of the campaign to Senator McCain and the general election.

Now, I don’t mean to belittle the advice of the extraordinarily talented strategists on my campaign. Without them, we would not be here today. But let me be very clear: It would be a disservice to Senator Clinton and a disservice to the Democratic Party if we did not continue to compete in this primary as long as there are two strong candidates for the nomination.

In that spirit, I have come here tonight to thank those West Virginians who did vote for me and to say this to those who did not: In the event that I am the nominee for president in the fall, I would be honored to have your vote. I believe it is this preference for robust options in candidates that gave me the opportunity to succeed in this election, and I will not forget that.

Senator McCain will be a formidable opponent in the fall, and I understand the temptation to rev up the general election campaign as soon as possible. But charging into this important contest when the Democratic Party has yet to rally behind one candidate is, I think, unwise. So let me say it again: So long as there are two candidates, you will see me fighting for every vote in the remaining contests.

Idealistic and a tad sappy? Absolutely. To which I respond: When has that ever stopped him before? And as my fellow Trailheader Christopher Beam pointed out to me over by the coffee maker this morning, such a message from Obama might—just might—give Clinton a graceful note to end on.