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January 30, 2008

Obama To Dems: Tear Down This Firewall!

Barack Obama got in some hot water in Nevada for making a mildly positive reference to Ronald Reagan, but he wants to win the nomination in part by emulating one of Reagan's most well-known feats. Rather than publicly demand the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, though, Obama has set himself the task of tearing down Hillary Clinton's last and most significant firewall -- the superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention:

Bill Richardson's phone has been ringing off the hook.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called Sunday night, followed by her husband, and then Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Clinton backer. Sen. Barack Obama called twice Monday morning. Monday afternoon, Richardson spent 15 minutes on the phone with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

But the New Mexico governor, who dropped out of the presidential race after a dismal finish in the New Hampshire primary, is torn. "I have a history with the Clintons," said Richardson, who served in the Clinton administration, first as ambassador to the United Nations, then as energy secretary. "And I've always liked her," he said. But he considers Kennedy "a mentor" who helped to get him elected to Congress in 1982. He also likes Obama but remains undecided.

Obama allies are hoping to make Richardson take part in a stream of high-profile endorsements from Democratic Party leaders, who will help to dismantle what the Clinton campaign calls its "firewall" in the nomination battle: a clear advantage among superdelegates, who account for about a quarter of the total number of delegates who will determine the nominee.

This is what makes the Kennedy endorsements so powerful. They have enormous influence on a large part of the Democratic establishment, which broadens Obama's efforts considerably. Where campaign operatives would have trouble getting serious talk time with people like Bill Richardson, he has to take Teddy's calls, and he knows it.

Once again, this underscores the nature of the establishment. Kennedy represents the Old Left, and the Clintons the New Left. It gives the Kennedy faction an opportunity they have not had in sixteen years to turn the Democrats around and away from the DLC. Fueled by the remnants of the anti-war activists Kennedy has courted, they could make a serious run at the superdelegates and isolate the DLC faction -- and Bill Clinton's clod-like behavior on the stump can only help.

If Obama takes a lead in the superdelegates, Hillary will be in serious trouble. Superdelegates consists of about 16% of the entire delegate total, and a win there would be akin to taking California and New York combined. He could afford to lose a couple more states, and Hillary would be pressed to run the table. Even if she did win, a loss in superdelegates leaves her limping into a divided and potentially divisive convention, with a big vote of no confidence from the establishment she hopes to represent.


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