Thursday, December 13, 2007

Last debate of the season - what Hillary must do

At 1 o'clock this afternoon, the Des Moines Register is hosting the final Democratic debate prior to Iowa (thank the Lord!) and most media accounts have the Clinton campaign in disarray as their strategy has fallen apart.

Let's review the Clinton strategy. Twin pillars. The first is that she is unshakable and the second is that her nomination is inevitable.

With her screw up a month ago over driver's licenses for illegals, she appeared shaken for the first time. Obama was able to capitalize on it and close the gap in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, Clinton looks anything but inevitable. Both pillars are crumbling and, because Hillary has always been campaigning as a general election candidate, she has little foundation to keep the campaign from falling in on itself.

And that's where we pick up the story prior to today's debate. Hillary enters the Des Moines Register debate as a challenger and not as the front-runner. That torch was passed to Obama this last weekend. What must she do to regain front-runner status and re-establish her twin pillars?

First, she must come out hard against Obama. She can't be grossly negative, because that plays into Obama's framing of the "old divisiveness vs. fresh start" election. However, Clinton will only establish her twin pillars if she can reassure voters that she can't be shaken. She must show that the recent Obama upsurge hasn't shaken her campaign or caused her any trouble. She's got to give as good as she has gotten lately.

Democratic voters are ravenous for a White House victory. They won't vote for anyone that doesn't look like a real fighter up there. If Hillary isn't taking the fight to Obama, she'll look shaken. Without re-establishing her unshakenness, she'll never be able to re-establish her inevitable pillar. With 21 days left during the holiday season, this is Clinton's last chance to salvage her presidential bid. Watch and let me know if Hillary did enough to keep herself in the game.

In case you think I'm a Hillary apologist, rest assured I'm not. Even though President Clinton basically said everything that went well in his presidency was Hillary's doing and everything that failed was his, I'm not buying. Hillary has had two major decisions in her public career and she got them both wrong. I'm not sold on a Hillary presidency, that's why I'm going to be watching to see if Hillary is able to show that she really is a fighter.