The Note: Jeremiah's Jeremiad
The Note: Wright's reemergence compounds questions for Obama in key stretch.
April 25, 2008 -- Pennsylvania was Sen. Barack Obama's chance to salt away his lead, answer the demographic questions about his candidacy -- and put the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in his rearview mirror.
It was a nice thought. Make that oh-for-3 -- and objects in that mirror are now uncomfortably close.
Pennsylvania's wake has left Obama arguing that he's still ahead (and doing so on the side of not counting votes in two key states), explaining why he can't close the deal (despite the fact that it's not clear Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton can even make a deal work) -- and coping with the sudden, very public reemergence of that pastor he wished would spend the next six months in East Paraguay.
Lurking just off-stage for all of this is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., refueling for the fall but also well into a savvy act of political positioning (and more than happy to pick up any Democrat's pieces when the time is right).
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright's interview with PBS' Bill Moyers -- to be broadcast Friday -- (followed by a PR blitz that includes weekend appearances in Dallas and Detroit and a speech at the National Press Club in Washington Monday) vaults Wright back into the public eye after six weeks of silence.
Maybe he'll convince the public that he was misunderstood, his fiery words taken out of context. Or maybe (stop us if you think we're off) he's supplying oxygen and dry brush to the flames that have threatened to engulf Obama.
"When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public," Wright says, "that's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they want to do."
He may be correct -- but even trying to set the record straight ensures several more weeks of soundbites he and Obama don't get to choose.
"Barack Obama's biggest headache is back," Michael Saul writes in the New York Daily News.
"Wright, who for four decades built his reputation on straight talk and imperviousness to politicians, has been atypically quiet in recent weeks, canceling four appearances, declining all interview requests and bowing out of a news conference with other clergy," Manya A. Brachear writes in the Chicago Tribune.
That silence ends with a thud. The reverend wants context? As ABC's David Wright pointed out on "Good Morning America," his line about the chickens "coming home to roost" were actually referring to comments made by a former US ambassador, Edward Peck (who is white).
But: "Left out of the original sound bites broadcast on Good Morning America were Wright's version of how America was built on terror, his description of the United States 'as an arrogant, racist, military superpower,' and comments on the wealth or success of Oprah Winfrey, Colin Power, Condoleezza Rice and Tiger Woods," ABC's Brian Ross, Avni Patel, and Rehab El-Buri report.
And Wright offers this judgment of Obama -- perhaps the most damaging words from the interview. "He responded as a politician," Wright said of Obama.
Thanks in part to Wright, Obama is already the star of GOP advertising: Ads have popped up in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and New Mexico, tying local candidates to Obama and his more controversial associations.
It's a flash-forward from the general election campaign that just might have an impact on the primary.
"The flurry of attacks underscores how Republicans and their allies are sensing opportunity in the increasingly battered image of Obama, whom many Democrats have viewed as their best hope for appealing across ideological lines and helping their party win in conservative areas," Peter Wallsten and Peter Nicholas write in the Los Angeles Times. "The ads also are playing into a debate among Democratic officials about Obama's electability in November."
Superdelegates know better -- but can Obama resist this pressure, while standing on the side of disenfranchisement? "Seizing on her Pennsylvania primary victory, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her surrogates are renewing their efforts to have the disputed Michigan and Florida convention delegates seated and pushing the argument that she now leads in the total number of votes cast when the tallies in those two states are included," John M. Broder writes in The New York Times.
Obama is being pressed into demonstrating electability; a letter to superdelegates, citing polling and fundraising numbers, is his latest gambit, per Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza.
But Obama's argument is weaker, post-PA. "Democrats lost the past two presidential elections by nominating candidates who had trouble connecting with down-scale white voters," National Review's Rich Lowry writes. "They are about to do the same, but with their eyes wide open."
Clinton met privately with superdelegates while in Washington late Wednesday and early Thursday. "Sources told the Daily News that Clinton was pressing particularly hard on North Carolina's ex-quarterback Rep. Heath Shuler and freshman Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth, both from states with primaries on May 6," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News.
(Good questions in political circles this Friday: How much of the $10 million the Clinton campaign claimed to raise in the immediate aftermath of Pennsylvania was actually raised? And of that total, how much is for the primary, not the general that may never be?)
And that debt -- more like $15 million, when you factor in Clinton's loan to her own campaign, per The Boston Globe's Foon Rhee.
Could Clinton, D-N.Y., be getting a hand from an unlikely place in making her case? "In a blink of an eye, the media has jumped ship from the Obama campaign and become a crucial Clinton ally, pressing just the message -- that Obama is a likely loser in the general election -- that Hillary and her allies have been promoting for the past six weeks," Huffington Post's Tom Edsall writes.
"For Hillary, the shift is a potential lifesaver as she struggles to keep her head above water; without it, she would, metaphorically, drown."
The Clinton campaign takes its war over what's fair to the op-ed page of The Washington Post. "So let me get this straight," Clinton strategist Geoff Garin writes. "On the one hand, it's perfectly decent for Obama to argue that only he has the virtue to bring change to Washington and that Clinton lacks the character and the commitment to do so. On the other hand, we are somehow hitting below the belt when we say that Clinton is the candidate best able to withstand the pressures of the presidency and do what's right for the American people, while leaving the decisions about Obama's preparedness to the voters."
Garin continues, "The bottom line is that one campaign really has engaged in a mean-spirited, unfair character attack on the other candidate -- but it has been Obama's campaign, not ours."