Why Is the Media So Eager for a Democratic Nomination "Knock-out Punch?"

Why does it always seem that the media are trying to write the final Democratic nominations chapter some eight months before the election?
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Until late Tuesday, the media was once again hovering at the edge of the stage, eager to use the hook on Hillary.

I had heard the term "knock-out punch" so often before Tuesday's results began rolling in that it had become a cliché upon a cliché. The refrain varied little: "Can/will Obama deliver the 'knock-out punch' in Ohio and Texas" that would cause Hillary to fling up her arms in abject despair and scurry to the sidelines, allowing Obama, the Great Hope of the Masses, to take his rightful place on the shrine of the Democratic stage, to be anointed as Camelot for the New Millenium, a breath of fresh air who would propel us all to our feet: Black, white, Asian, Latino, old, young, Texas two-steppin' white males, even the core Clinton demographic: old or "less affluent" white females. Obama just needed to deliver that mythic "knock-out punch" so that he could begin uniting us with three simple words: "Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!!!"

On March 3rd , one cable show commentator said that all Obama needs is to "do no harm." And, again on March 3rd, according to a Fox News anchor, Hillary was "'hanging on' to a six-point lead in Ohio." New York Times syndicated columnist Bob Herbert went so far as to write that "[I]f Barack Obama wins in either Texas or Ohio, the race for the nomination will effectively be over."

All of this, despite the fact that in the last hours of March 3rd, though Obama led Hillary in Texas polls by no more than two percentage points, the polls had Hillary leading in Ohio anywhere from four to 12 percentage points.

And, late Tuesday night, even after Hillary was declared winner of not only the Rhode Island and Ohio primary, after her victory speech in which she listed, one by one, several of the remaining states in which she would battle Obama, MSNBC's Chris Matthews made the inexplicable comment, "[I]t's going to be hard for her to walk back from that now." What he meant was to "walk back" from the commitment to pursue the campaign through the remaining contests. His comment came almost simultaneously with her being declared winner of the Texas primary by all major networks.

Why would Hillary "walk back"? Why should a candidate who has just won two prize big-state primaries in Super Tuesday II even consider quitting before the convention?

It seems that Bill Kristol, Fox news political contributor, had it right when he asked, "why does the media want this race to be over?"

The media race to a neatly tied-up contest is mystifying, especially as this presidential election cycle has been a huge cash cow for the networks. The February 26th MSNBC debate - widely reported as the 20th Democratic debate match-up to include both Hillary and Obama - gave MSNBC the "highest ratings ever" in its 11-year history, according to Reuters.

The media loves a good story - and this campaign has been nothing but a truth-is-better-than-fiction saga from the very beginning. So why does it always seem that the media are trying to write the final Democratic nominations chapter some eight months before the election?

It was almost comic to watch the mood among the various anchors and pundit panels as their own exit reviews on Tuesday afternoon made clear that this would not be a rout for Obama - in fact, that Clinton might actually - gasp - win! The tones were somber, subdued - almost as if someone had died. It brought to mind that silence that one often hears in a hometown sports stadium as tens of thousands of people watch glumly when the opposing team completes a long touchdown pass to win in overtime.

The media could have been reacting to former President Bill Clinton, when he famously said, to an audience in Beaumont, Texas a few weeks ago, that if Hillary doesn't win both Texas and Ohio he doesn't think she can be the nominee. Conventional wisdom is that Bill is one of the - if not, the - master politician of his generation. So why would he set up such negative expectations? Either it was a feint - designed to cause the Obama team to let down their guard - or he had lost his touch. As things turned out, it may, indeed, have been a feint - the Obama campaign guard was definitely down when the whole NAFTA/Canadian assurances mess blew up and the Obama campaign gave a muddled, seemingly less-than-candid response.

According to one superdelegate I spoke with in the last few weeks (committed to Obama, by the way), if neither candidate captures the magic 2,025 delegates, then the contest "must go to the convention." The convention is a long way off - in August.

There is no way that Hillary would let those intervening months pass without prolonging the fight - even if she had lost either Ohio or Texas. There is one simple reason. As she and others have correctly noted, Obama really hasn't been vetted. This past week was just a small skirmish with the reality of an inquisitive press pack emerging from the thrall of Obama-rapture. Through the sheer passage of time and fickleness of the body politic, there is more than enough time for the gold dust to begin to flake from Obama.

And, for those of us who have followed Hillary's travails since the early 90's, who have seen how she's had to fight the media, the Right, and conventional wisdom, generally, we know that this is not a woman who would ever, ever proceed to concede a campaign until her back was to a wall (and even then, she'd try to scale it!). I remember the early 1992 campaign Bill-Hillary appearances where she sometimes seemed to snatch the microphone away from Bill in her zeal to get a campaign point across.

Last but not least, until Tuesday afternoon, the media seemed to forget about the erstwhile 800-pound gorillas - Michigan and Florida, the wild cards to trump all. I am sure that those states have not been far from the Clinton campaign's heart. And, sure enough, on Tuesday afternoon, a happy Terry McAuliffe, Clinton campaign chair, told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that Governor Crist of Texas had indicated a willingness to sponsor another Florida primary.

It is hard to see how a hard-nosed Howard Dean & Co. could allow none of the delegates in the large states of Florida and Michigan to be seated at all because they disobeyed DNC rules in holding their primaries early. Dean would risk alienating Democratic and potentially Democratic voters in those large states - which could cost whomever captures the nomination the general election. It is more likely that Dean will allow Florida and/or Michigan to stage another primary or caucus. The superdelegate with whom I spoke, in fact indicated that even if counting the results of either early primary would be a blatant insult to the rules, a "redo" would be appropriate.

Hillary has done consistently well in the over-65 age group, and Florida might be the queen of the over-65 population. In addition, one could argue that the demographics of Michigan are similar to those of Ohio - and therefore favor Hillary (of course, contrarians would also argue that the demographics of Michigan are somewhat like Wisconsin, which went resoundingly to Obama).

As several of the more savvy media commentators have noted, neither Hillary or Obama can win without superdelegates, so the Obama camp's ongoing claims that "the numbers" make Hillary's continued campaign futile is rather laughable; as, in the waning hours of March 4th, by CNN calculations, less than 100 delegates separate the two candidates: Obama has 1,451; Hillary has 1,365.

According to CNN, a combined total of 532 superdelegates are committed to either Hillary or Obama out of 794 (not including Michigan and Florida) total Democratic superdelegates. That leaves 262 uncommitted superdelegates - again, not including Michigan and Florida.

Let's all hunker in - the media included -- for an even more spectacularly singular race to the Democratic nomination.

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