My expectations changed after South Carolina. Obama won the state by a landslide, and listening to his victory speech, I found myself thinking: "That guy's actually going to win".
Fast forward to the day before Super Tuesday II, and there was Clinton waving a memo on the meeting that took place between Canadian officials and Obama's senior economic advisor. Somewhere in the background, a phone was ringing. And I thought - for want of a better word - "Oops".
It's now three days after Texas and Ohio, and whilst the delegate math might suggest otherwise, everything's changed again.
In an article in today's New York Times, David Brooks put it like this:
Barack Obama had a theory. It was that the voters are tired of the partisan paralysis of the past 20 years. The theory was that if Obama could inspire a grass-roots movement with a new kind of leadership, he could ride it to the White House and end gridlock in Washington (...)
Yes, but that didn't take into account actually losing important states. Brooks goes on to say:
There are a few ways to interpret the losses in Texas and Ohio. One is demographic. He didn’t carry the groups he often has trouble with — white women, Latinos, the less educated. The other is tactical. Clinton attacked him, and the attacks worked.
The consultants, needless to say, gravitate toward the tactical interpretation. And once again the cry has gone up for Obama to get tough.
And Brooks points out that, this time, Obama's heeding that advice. He's going after Clinton. The result?
These attacks are supposed to show that Obama can’t be pushed around. But, of course, what it really suggests is that Obama’s big theory is bankrupt. You can’t really win with the new style of politics. Sooner or later, you have to play by the conventional rules.
So, is Brooks right? If so, Obama's finished. Yes, he won more states, got more delegates, and he's ahead in the popular vote. But if Tuesday's result unearths the fact that Obama doesn't believe in his own theory, no-one else will, either. He'll go limping towards the Democratic convention with an ever dwindling advantage, and upon his arrival the superdelegates will snuff him out like a spent candle. And they'd be right to do so
So, it's up to Obama to prove Brooks and those like him wrong. And he'll have to do it quickly, before Clinton entagles him further into the web of old-fashioned political shenanigans.
He needs to revigorate his campaign. And since his campaign is basically about himself and his ideals, no atttack on Clinton, however effective, can suffice.
Can he do it? Yes, I think he can. In fact, I think the answer might be fairly simple.
Think Florida. Think Michigan. Think about all the horrendous wrangling over the "lost" delegates in these two states. It's a classic example of just about everything that's wrong with American politics. Does anyone actually believe in the sincerity of Governors Crist and Granholm when they say the disenfranchisement of their voters in "unconscionable"? For God's sake, they're the ones who signed the legislature that led to that disenfranchisement in the first place! And does anyone have any doubt as to Clinton's motives in trying to seat the "lost" delegates?
So what does Obama do? He does the exact opposite of what everyone expects. At a rally, a press conference - somewhere, in any case, where he can look presidential - he gently criticises the current state of affairs and firmly requests full new primaries for both states.
Sounds crazy? Think about it a minute.
If Obama were to take such a step, he'd be showing leadership. He'd be seen stepping in to end what already is an very unattractive spectacle. And he probably would end it, too, showing not just good judgement but effectiveness as well. Just as importantly, he'd be seen as someone willing to act in the public interest and not just his own. After all, Florida and Michigan are not states he's currently expected to win.
And here's the kicker: he'd probably be doing himself a big favour, as well. Some sort of re-vote is going to take place anyway, and what better way to woo the voters than to actually stand up for them?
Finally, will he do anything like this? Unfortunately, he won't. He's still got a small window of opportunity, but I just don't see him jumping through it. After all, that would take real guts. And American politics - indeed, American life - is not about guts. In the end, it's not about ideals, or justice , or doing the right thing.
It's about winning.