Democratic front-runner Barack Obama stood on an Iowa stage Tuesday night, delivering a rousing speech to a big crowd at a big moment. Nice visual, but Iowans have seen it before.His rival, Hillary Clinton, was also still standing a few states away, passionately fanning her flickering hopes to win the nomination with a forceful speech in Kentucky, where she vowed to fight and scrap for every last vote.
That was something Iowans didn’t see before January’s crucial caucuses, which Obama won in a stunning upset. You have to wonder, if the twofisted Hillary of May had replaced the cautious Hillary of January, whether things might have been different.
Sure, it’s like wrapping revisionist history in hindsight to speculate, especially now that the race is nearing its end and Obama appears to be the winner. But you can’t help but look upon Clinton’s current gutsy campaign like a beautiful, arcing three-point shot that hits nothing but net, fired, unfortunately, after the buzzer sounded.
Where was that in the first half?
Where was this brawling, bareknuckled contender back when Iowans were sizing up the Democratic field? Why didn’t the Crown Royal shooter of Pennsylvania and the Maker’s Mark maven of Kentucky give her Iowa campaign a stiff shot of Templeton Rye? I bet some of her supporters here are wondering the same thing.
“She was so on message all the time,” said Liz Hoskins, a Clinton caucus backer and executive director at Waypoint Services for Women in Cedar Rapids. When Clinton privately visited Waypoint, Hoskins found her to be warm, passionate and personable, qualities that didn’t always come through on the Iowa trail. “I think she listened too much to (advisers) Mark Penn and Terry McAuliffe,” she said.
What if Clinton had listened to her gut? What if she had tried to outpunch John Edwards, the fair-haired passionate populist, and grabbed some fired-up, fed-up rural voters here, as she has in places like West Virginia?
What if a campaign now insisting that every American should get a chance to vote had done less griping about the out-of-state college kids who gave up winter break to legally caucus? Maybe Obama wouldn’t have cruised with the youth vote.
What if she had decided to leave Bill out of this, instead of making him an integral part of her strategy, starting in Iowa? Would that have made a statement that her campaign is not a nostalgia trip back to the triangula tion and prevarication of the ’90s?
Could she have stood, on her own, as what she is – a historic candidate smashing barriers, not carrying her husband’s baggage?
“Somewhere in Hillary’s inevitability phase, the trailblazing nature of her effort got lost,” Howard Kurtz wrote in the Washington Post this week. “She became the establishment candidate, the return-to-the-’90s candidate, and the wow factor – which has always surrounded Obama – simply faded.”
Maybe it wouldn’t have changed things here. Obama deserves credit for running a consistent, inspiring, organized and well-financed campaign.
Perhaps this is his moment.
But Hillary Clinton’s gritty end game has also made this her moment – to reflect on what might have been.