Is Obama Just Running Out the Clock Now?

Is Barack Obama trying to lay low and run out the clock? Carl Leubsdorf at RealClearPolitics:

Barack Obama looks like the quarterback of a football team intent on running out the clock to preserve its lead in a championship game.

By spurning future debates, he seeks to prevent giving rival Hillary Clinton a way to change the course of the game. He is playing it safe to avoid a mistake that could erase the small but firm margin he built through the first three quarters.

As football fans can attest, that’s often risky strategy. It has left him on the defensive, trying to contain the recurring flap over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and fend off rivals’ attempts to make political hay over high gasoline prices.

It also makes Mr. Obama look as if he’s trying to avoid an opponent’s tough criticism. But he agreed to a one-hour interview Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that should enable him to answer those questions without giving Mrs. Clinton a chance to benefit.

Mr. Obama counts on the fact that, all things being equal, his lead in the Democratic presidential primary will hold up and he will win most of the main group still up for grabs, the nearly 300 undecided superdelegates. And there are good reasons to believe this will happen:

-Senior Democrats are reluctant to deny the nomination of the first African-American candidate with a serious chance of being elected president, in a party whose most loyal voters are African-Americans. To do that, barring a major misstep or sign of electoral weakness, could hurt turnout among black and younger voters.

Though race is clearly an issue, Mr. Obama has run not as a black candidate — but as a candidate who just happens to be black. Besides dominating support from African-American primary voters, he has shown considerable crossover appeal to whites.

His sharp response Tuesday to the latest inflammatory comments from his former pastor, Dr. Wright, was a bid to maintain that balance.

-Despite the Clintons’ prominence, it’s a mistake to assume that the Democratic Party is a “Clinton party.” Many Democratic office-holders blame them for the party’s election losses during Bill Clinton’s presidency. They view his return — as his wife’s main surrogate, strategist and adviser — with distinctly mixed feelings.

-Mr. Obama almost certainly will end the primary campaign with the most pledged delegates. He also is likely to have the most popular votes, though those totals from the Democrats’ mixed primary and caucus system are not as precise a measure of strength.

And while Mr. Obama has lost most large states, party leaders believe that any Democrat would be favored in most of them in the fall. Besides, they believe that his strength in so-called purple states — Colorado, Iowa and Virginia, for instance — shows he can broaden the party’s base.

Still, playing it safe carries risk.

In energy, drive and adeptness on the issues, Mr. Obama is being out-campaigned. Mrs. Clinton’s enthusiasm and aggressive stances are reflected in her support from late-deciders in recent primaries. That could pose another problem for Mr. Obama in Indiana’s closely fought primary Tuesday.

Outwardly similar to Ohio and Pennsylvania — where she scored recent notable wins — Indiana’s electorate is younger and less Catholic and includes Republicans and independents. A Clinton win there would be a further warning sign about Mr. Obama’s appeal beyond his base of liberals and minorities.

In this circumstance, Mrs. Clinton’s requests for debates in Indiana and North Carolina may find a receptive audience. While most pundits suggest that the public is sick of debates and believes the issues have been discussed thoroughly, that makes the mistake of viewing this more as a six-month national campaign than a series of one- or two-week races.

What do you think? Is Obama just biding time now? Will it work? And will Rev. Jeremiah Wright throw more sand in the wheels for Obama? Discuss among yourselves.

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