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Wisconsin could again help write presidential history

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Joel McNally
February 12, 2008

Everybody is excited that once again the Wisconsin primary could really matter in deciding the Democratic presidential nominee just like it did in 1960 when we put Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy on the path to the presidency.


But not so fast. It appears the media has decided none of the primaries over the next few weeks really matters because Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is expected to win most of them. The truth is Obama has been on an incredible roll ever since South Carolina in late January, but the media seem to be deliberately downplaying his success. Remember when New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was hanging on by the skin of her teeth after Obama won Iowa? Even she expected Obama to win New Hampshire. That’s when she said New Hampshire didn’t count, but wait until Super Tuesday.


Then Clinton surprised the pollsters, the media and her own campaign by winning New Hampshire. Suddenly, New Hampshire counted after all. But because Obama was expected to win South Carolina, which came next, South Carolina didn’t count, Clinton said. But wait until Super Tuesday, she said. That’s the one that really counts.


Well, guess what? On Super Tuesday, Obama won 13 states to Clinton’s eight, with New Mexico still muddled. By his own campaign’s calculations, Obama declared he won a majority of the delegates, as well. You would never know that from the media coverage.


Marching tightly in lockstep, the media almost unanimously declared that no one had won Super Tuesday. The day somehow came out dead even.


What part of 13 states to eight is difficult to understand? Even more impressive, the states Obama won included just about every conceivable type of voter. Obama won Northeastern states, Connecticut and Delaware; Southern states, Georgia and Alabama; Midwestern states, Illinois and Minnesota; Plains states, Missouri and Kansas; Western states, Utah, Idaho and North Dakota, and one crazy, old coot prospector state, Alaska.


It is true that Clinton won the two largest states, New York, where she’s the senator, and California. But virtually everyone expects both New York and California to vote Democratic in November, no matter which candidate is nominated.


Besides, even if the story spun by the media had been true—that Super Tuesday was a standoff—that would have been a huge loss for Clinton. Just a couple of weeks before Super Tuesday, polls showed Clinton with a huge lead in a majority of the states voting that day. That’s why she kept saying it was the only primary that mattered.


But the longer the campaign continues and the more people see and learn about Obama, the more voters are attracted to him. Obama has increased support among younger voters, white men and African-Americans in every contest.


The single group that most reliably favors Clinton is older, white women. Now that Clinton failed to put away Obama on Super Tuesday—and, in fact, lost big time to him—Clinton has suggested the rest of February’s primaries don’t matter. The next ones that really matter, according to her, are the Ohio and Texas primaries March 4. Coincidentally, those are the next primaries where she hopes to do well.


It’s easy to understand why Clinton is spinning so desperately. What’s not clear is why so many in the media swallow it. Last weekend, Obama widened his lead among elected delegates by sweeping Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington state and Maine. Some of his winning margins were enormous, getting 57 percent of the vote in Louisiana and two-thirds in Nebraska and Washington.


There is something offensive about the way Clinton and the media dismiss Obama’s success in states with large African-American populations. Do the votes of African-Americans count less than white votes?


The enormous enthusiasm for Obama among African-Americans puts in play Southern states that have voted solidly Republican ever since the party of Lincoln betrayed its history by overtly courting racist Southern whites opposed to civil rights.


Neither Clinton nor the media really get to decide whether Wisconsin matters. Once again, we have a strong feeling we’re on the side of history.


Joel McNally is a syndicated columnist. His e-mail address is jmcnally@wi.rr.com.

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