February 25, 2008
by Charles Bierbauer
The cards are clearly stacked against Hillary Clinton in her high stakes game to win the Democratic party’s presidential nomination. It’s increasingly doubtful that Clinton will draw the winning cards in the big primaries in Texas and Ohio on March 4.
“Obama’s got a 10 up and a jack down,” says Democratic strategist James Carville, drawing an analogy to a game of blackjack. Hillary’s showing a three. And if she wins those primaries, Carville figures, “she only gets another three.”
If you know blackjack, this all makes sense. Obama is holding 20 points of the 21 he needs to win. Clinton has, at best, 13 (the three showing plus possibly ten on the down card). Another three gets her to 16 but with an ever decreasing chance of beating Obama as the primary season plays its remaining cards.
If you don’t know blackjack, trust Carville. He knows politics. And judging from his admittedly raucous youth, he knows a thing or two about gambling.
Carville, sometimes known as the Ragin’ Cajun, shared his insights at a conference of journalism educators this weekend in New Orleans. He’s an LSU alumnus and brutally honest about politics and the media.
Although an unabashed Hillary supporter, and a key strategist in Bill Clinton’s 1992 election, Carville thinks her chances of winning the nomination have grown slim. Failure to win Texas and Ohio, where Clinton’s leads have been eroding, will pretty much end her chances. Winning Texas and Ohio and a couple smaller states voting on March 4 would push her toward the Pennsylvania primary in April where she’d have to win again. Losing any more key states is not an option.
No, Carville is not bailing on his candidate. Bill has also said it’s over if his wife doesn’t win Texas and Ohio.
Carville is more analyst than strategist this election cycle. He thinks the Clinton campaign has made some bad decisions, spent its money in some wrong places and, above all, never found the message to counter the Obama surge. In truth, Hillary has tried just about everything. She’s been tough; she’s been charming; she’s been shrill. The rougher her throat gets from this dog-tiring campaign, the harsher she sounds, even when she may not mean to.
“It’s a classic match up between inspiration and perspiration,” says Carville.
He takes the view that most Democrats will be comfortable with either Clinton or Obama who differ less on ideology than they do on their approach to the process of governing. In Carville’s view, Clinton, the technician, will try to cut through obstacles. Obama would try to go around them.
In contrast, Carville sees Republican John McCain struggling because he’ll never get the enthusiastic support of many Republicans, certainly not religious conservatives. Carville sees only one Republican now on the national scene who would appeal to the breadth of that party, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who’s not been a part of this race. Jeb’s biggest handicap is his last name.
Carville’s view on Ralph Nader’s entry as an independent presidential candidate is largely unprintable. Rightly or wrongly, many Democrats still blame Nader’s Green Party candidacy in 2000 for Al Gore losing the election.
Back to the card game. Even if Obama runs the table and Clinton is stuck on 13, he’s still likely to be shy of an absolute winning hand and the Democratic nomination.
There are no wild cards in blackjack, but there are in politics.
Those cards are held by the hundreds of Super Delegates, party stalwarts once expected to overwhelmingly support Clinton. These are folks who much prefer to bet on a sure thing than take a gamble. For the most part, the Super Delegates seem to be hoping the nomination will somehow be resolved before the party convention so they won’t be asked to show their cards.
Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns for CNN from 1984 to 2000. Bierbauer is now dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. He is senior contributing editor and a consultant to SCHotline.com.