Ding! Dong! The Witch isn't dead!

How Hillary Clinton can still win the Democratic nomination . . . Notice the absence of Hillary spokespersons/attack dogs in the Obama/Rev. Wright controversy? For a candidate almost-but-not-quite within striking distance of the lead, she and her surrogates are keeping a very low profile. This is in keeping with a tried and true rule of politics: When your opponent is digging himself a hole, do NOT interrupt him!

It seems counterintuitive, but Hillary’s best strategy at this point is an almost passive one. Recall that after the early primaries, when Obama had emerged as a serious contender, she and former President Clinton went on the attack, striking at Obama’s lack of experience and mocking his claim of fidelity to the antiwar movement. None of it stuck, and much of it backfired, as the press continued its blindly fawning devotion to the Audacity of Hope. One big media reporter said she was “almost afraid to write something negative about him.”

She was saved, oddly enough, by the end of the writers’ strike. The NBC comedy Saturday Night Live returned with skits lampooning the press’ soft treatment of Obama, which embarrassed the reporters assigned to him. As a result, they began to ASK QUESTIONS. What an idea when covering a Presidential candidate!

From then on, the Obama campaign, perhaps shocked and rocked by the sudden scrutiny, began making mistakes. First he whined about answering questions about Rezko. Next, his chief economic adviser (per the campaign, earlier), Austan Goolsby, assured Canadian diplomats that Obama’s threats against the NAFTA treaty were just red meat political rhetoric, not to be taken seriously. Then foreign policy adviser Samantha Powers told French journalists that Obama’s promise to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months was “a best-case scenario,” not to be taken seriously. Then foreign policy adviser John Brennan told National Journal that the telecoms should get immunity under a new FISA bill, and that the Senate version was a good one (Obama voted against it). Then, it came out that indicted fixer Tony Rezko had actually toured Obama’s new home with him before the purchase – and that he had raised much more money for Obama than had previously been admitted. Then the Rev. Wright anti-white, anti-America screeds came out.

So how does Hillary win from here?

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The “delegate count” numbers are still against her. She is almost certain to arrive at the convention some 100 or so delegates behind Obama. She will fight for Michigan and Florida to be seated, which would close the gap, but the truth is she can’t win those battles unless she has already won the war. But she is well on the way.

Obama’s lame speech, attempting to defuse the Wright scandal, is apparently hurting him across the board. His negatives are up, his positives are down, he is slipping further behind in PA and one poll now has a dead heat in NC, where he had been enjoying a double-digit lead in some surveys. Following his “victory” in Mississippi, where he drew only 24% of the white (Democratic) vote, a poor showing in the Keystone State among white voters, followed by a similar slippage in North Carolina, would fuel the fears of super delegates that he has become “the black candidate,” not some magical healer.

At this point, the long wait between the last significant primaries and the opening of the convention works all to Hillary’s favor. Obama, with a slight lead but no majority, can hardly just “hang on” and expect the super delegates to flock to him based on wins, many in the early spring, many in red states the Democratic nominee will never carry, and many which he won only because of overwhelming black support, even as his national poll numbers erode.

Eventually the inevitable questions will creep into the minds of the super delegates (who are delegates not awarded by primary or caucus, most of whom are elected officeholders, party officials, or representatives of key interest groups): what is the risk to the down-ticket at the state and local level if we nominate an unknown and untested candidate who has shown a penchant for withholding full disclosure?

As long as she stays out of the public eye during the slow evisceration of Obama’s viability, Hillary stands a reasonable chance of appearing not to have destroyed him herself, giving her a chance – not a guarantee – to unify the party for the fall. If Obama’s supporters perceive that the nomination has been “stolen” from him, they will rebel, but if it is evident to all that his was a complete self-destruction which would have happened sooner or later anyway, they may come home. To Mama.

Odds and Ends