- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

This Pennsylvania primary is no campaign for old men, nor for squeamish young ones, either. Somebody might say boo.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton threw pillows at each other through the weekend in what Mr. Dooley, who famously warned that politics ain’t beanbag, would have recognized as little more than a polite disagreement. Monthly business meetings at almost any Baptist church radiate more sticks and stones.

“While my opponent says one thing and his campaign does another, you can count on me to tell you where I stand,” Hillary told an election-eve rally. (Slam.) Barack Obama, slogging manfully through a succession of towns where clinging to guns and religion is the only other entertainment available, answered mildly. “She just ignores the facts,” he said. (Bang.)

Much of the “action” was on the airwaves. The Associated Press offers the undiluted flavor of the election-eve “frenzy”: “The Illinois senator also was running a commercial critical of [Mrs.] Clinton’s health-care proposals in what his aides said was a response to an ad aired by an independent group that supports the former first lady.” If there was time, Hillary would put together an ad answering his ad that answered her ad. Or maybe not.

Mr. Obama asserted in another of the commercials littering the airwaves with flying goose feathers that every major newspaper in Pennsylvania had endorsed him, and cited the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s descriptions of Hillary’s “attacks” as “the cynical responses of old politics.” Well, not quite. Richard Mellon Scaife’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, in an example of man bites dog, endorsed Hillary as the lesser of two bads, if not unique evil.

But you couldn’t blame either Democratic survivor for being careful. In the oppressive politics of the modern Democratic Party, even the innocent can give unwitting offense. You’re a bigot if you won’t vote for Barack Obama, a sexist if you’re not throwing your hat in the air for Hillary. Only the late public-opinion polls were safe to talk about. Hillary’s spinmeisters put out the word that her internal polls — supposedly meant only for the eyes of campaign insiders — showed her up 11 points on election eve. This is the definition of “landslide,” and it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would raise such expectations unless that’s really what the late polls show.

But even landslides can mislead. When Sen. Henry M. (“Scoop”) Jackson predicted he would win a landslide in the 1976 New York state primary and actually won with less than 50 percent, he explained with a wink and a shrug, “Well, we got a landslide, but we missed a majority.” Hillary is not likely to translate an 11-point landslide in Pennsylvania into momentum leading to a majority at the national convention in Denver. But the momentum might fatally wound Barack Obama for November.

This has been a tough two months for Mr. Obama. His suspect associations on the South Side of Chicago — first with a shady real-estate developer, then with a wild and radical preacher he had described as his “mentor,” followed by the revelation of his sitting on the board of a left-wing foundation with a ‘60s radical who was once a member of a bomb-throwing cop-killing ring — have shorn him of his reputation as the man who could be a uniter, not a divider. He’s revealed to be just another Chicago pol with a gift for seductive buncombe. Maybe he’s not the change we can believe in, after all.

He conceded late yesterday that he hasn’t closed the gap in Pennsylvania. “I’m not predicting a win,” he said. “I’m predicting it’s going to be close and that we are going to do a lot better than people expect.” If Hillary scores anything close to an 11-point victory, he faces another tough six weeks ahead in the final round of primaries, beginning two weeks hence in Indiana and North Carolina, and then (to paraphrase Howard Dean, at lower decibel) West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana and South Dakota in quick succession. Only then we’ll get relief, but probably not a nominee.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.


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