Groundhog Day

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Somewhere in Pennsylvania there’s a groundhog chuckling evilly in his den. The Keystone State, home to Punxsutawney Phil, was not decisive in the race to be the Democratic nominee and so the primary season shall continue at least another two weeks, if not beyond.

Feeling rather like the character in the Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day,” the candidates and campaign staff (and the reporters covering them) are already looking to North Carolina and Indiana, scheduled to vote May 6. The Obama campaign line emerging from Pennsylvania (as I write this the margin looks like it’ll be 8 points with 98.91% of the districts reporting) is that nothing has changed. In a memo entitled “A Fundamentally Unchanged Race,” they argue: “Tonight, Hillary Clinton lost her last and best chance to make significant inroads in the pledged delegate count.” Obama’s top strategist told reporters in Evansville: “Nothing’s changed tonight in the basic physics of this race, we’re moving forward and everyone will take a look at this in two weeks and we’ll see where we are then.”

Comparatively, Hillary’s e-mail fundraising appeal, “A New Landscape,” hailed the 54%-46% victory as a “a giant step forward that will transform the landscape of the presidential race.”

Not so says the New York Times. The Grey Lady, in a pretty stunning editorial given that the paper endorsed Hillary, slammed her for her negativity and said it cost her “the big win she needed” in Pennsylvania.

“It is getting to be time for the superdelegates to do what the Democrats had in mind when they created superdelegates: settle a bloody race that cannot be won at the ballot box. Mrs. Clinton once had a big lead among the party elders, but has been steadily losing it, in large part because of her negative campaign. If she is ever to have a hope of persuading these most loyal of Democrats to come back to her side, let alone win over the larger body of voters, she has to call off the dogs.”

Perhaps it was the dogs that scared the groundhog back into his den. Whatever the reason a lot of Democrats are getting nervous that the race is dragging too long and it could start to hurt the party. Like Bill Murray, they want out of the time loop, and maybe, like Murray (and I realize I’m probably pushing this analogy past its limits here) they just need to fall in love.

The margin seems to have expanded to 10 points 55%-45% with 99% of the districts reporting. And just in case anyone thought this race might return to the high ground, the Washington Post has this scoop:

In the two weeks leading up to the Indiana primary, a Democratic strategist familiar with the Obama campaign said aides are likely to turn to the controversies of Bill Clinton’s White House years — Hillary Clinton’s trading cattle futures, Whitewater and possibly impeachment.

“Everyone knows the history of the Clintons,” the strategist said.

Plouffe, on a conference call with reporters, disavowed the Washington Post report that they would NOT go negative, dredging up old Clinton scandals. “We are not going to talk about those issues in the campaign and won’t,” he said.

And en route to Indiana Robert Gibbs, Obama’s communications director, came back on the plane and underlined Plouffe’s remarks saying the idea of attacking Hillary on her things like cattle futures and whitewater or impeachment had never been weighed or even discussed among Obama strategists.