once again, the Clintons take the low road

“Mine will be the most ethical administration in the history of the republic!” President-Elect Bill Clinton, November 1992

The Clinton campaign has launched a furious spin war in the past few days against Barack Obama, ludicrously accusing Obama of “plagiarism” (even though the original source, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, has endorsed and campaigned for Obama), accusing delegates won in red state caucuses by Obama of being “second-class delegates” and threatening to blow up the party’s rules if the race lasts until the Democratic convention.

It’s too early to know if any of these attacks will stick. More victories tonight by Obama in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the momentum will remain on his side, making Ohio and Texas must-win for Clinton on March 4. Clinton can still rebound from her post-Super Tuesday slide. But if she does, it’s pretty obvious that she’ll capture the nomination by taking the low road.

The Politico’s Ben Smith asked a group of Democratic strategists how Clinton could still win. Their answers were revealing of Clinton’s predicament.

“The best thing she can do is either discredit Obama or raise doubts about him,” said Dan Gerstein, a former top strategist to Joe Lieberman. “I hate to say it, but in certain respects, it’s using the Bush strategy against Kerry against Obama.”

Democracy editor Ken Baer invoked a few similar doomsday scenarios:

1) Obama has a massive gaffe, 2) there is a terrorist attack or other major foreign policy crisis that gets people yearning for a steady hand or 3) there is a revelation of some sort of Obama scandal that gets Democratic voters to take a pause.

This advice begs the question: why can’t Clinton win on her own merits? Why can’t her campaign win caucuses, or highly educated voters, or compete competitively in red states? How have they failed to win a single contest since Super Tuesday? Gallup found that recently Obama has begun eroding Clinton’s advantages among key segments of her base, namely “women, Hispanics, and self-identified Democrats.”

These tracking polls, like all other polls this cycle, tend to be fluid and unreliable. Despite Obama’s string of victories, from a delegate standpoint the race is still very tight. Tonight could go either way. I wouldn’t be surprised if Clinton ends up pulling an upset in Wisconsin. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Obama wins, as expected, and Clinton never recovers. Either way don’t expect her campaign to take the high road from here on out.

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