The USA Today headline on Monday said it all: “Obama Erases Clinton Lead.” The press on the day before Super Tuesday has been the best that Obama could hope for. In a race dominated by perception, you could not buy more favorable publicity than the published reports of his closing the gap with Hillary.
He will also benefit from the companion articles in most papers showing that McCain enjoys a comfortable lead over Romney. With Independents able to vote in either party primary in half of the Super Tuesday states, this information may induce many anti-Hillary voters to back Obama rather than McCain as the most likely way to beat her. They may figure that McCain no longer needs their votes but that Obama needs them badly as he is now within striking distance of victory.
Such is the power of perception in this race and so widespread is tactical voting, that the Monday newspapers are almost as important as a primary before the actual voting on Tuesday. Its really the media primary and Obama won it decisively on Monday.
Even before he got headlines politicians can only dream about, Obama was the beneficiary of a bump in his favor on Sunday night.
Last week featured an Obama surge on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as news of his South Carolina win and the Kennedy endorsement made the rounds. His success in calling the Clintons on their racial tactics played a key role in this movement.
But the race leveled off on Thursday, Friday and Saturday perhaps because Hillary did OK in the debate and won in Florida.
But Sunday was Obama’s night and Monday showed a massive gain in California, possibly because his Kennedy endorsement ad was starting to take effect and possibly because his young voters were waking up to the race and flocking to his candidacy. The Wow! factor may be propelling the shift.
In any case, Hillary is now talking about a long state-by-state fight that will go longer than she once thought it would and her campaign is saying that she will win “substantial” numbers of delegates. Gone are the predictions of victory.
On the Republican side, McCain is likely to end up with about 700 delegates while holding Romney to about 400. With 1,151 needed to win, the race is heavily stacked toward McCain. Romney will only get this close because he dumped $4 million in advertising into California, where McCain could not afford to advertise at all.
Pressure will mount on Romney to pull out for the sake of the party and permit it to concentrate on the main task: defeating the Democrats. Look for Huckabee, who will have about 100 delegates, to play an important role in helping to bring the party together.