Hillary Deathwatch: The "bitter" flap fails to ignite.

Down and on the way out.
April 15 2008 3:15 PM

The Hillary Deathwatch

The "bitter" flap fails to ignite.

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12.4%.

Barack Obama's "bitter" comment gave Hillary Clinton an opening. But the combination of hackneyed outrage and a fast counterpunch by Obama suggests that the "scandal" may not last. Take Clinton down 1.8 points to 12.4 percent.

On Day 4 of the controversy, journalists scramble to measure how much people care. So far, signs point to not really. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton's six-point lead in Pennsylvania holding steady. The poll summary cites "no noticeable change" in the numbers on April 12-13, when the "scandal" was entering full tilt. Then again, that was over the weekend, when Pennsylvania voters were busy venting their frustrations by shooting guns and going to church. Other surveys vary: A SurveyUSA poll shows Clinton up 14 points in the state—less than her 18-point lead last week. A Rasmussen poll puts her ahead by nine points, as opposed to five last week. An ARG poll shows Clinton jumping from a tie to a 20-point lead but merits skepticism, given that it's a robo-poll and a wild statistical outlier. Expect more thorough numbers later this week.

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Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence is mounting: Clinton gets shouted down when she brings up Obama's remarks at a forum; Pennsylvania booster in chief Gov. Ed Rendell downplays the significance of the comments, saying it won't cost Obama more than "a couple of points at the margin" (this could be more expectations gaming, but still); undecided superdelegates seem largely unconcerned.

Still, Clinton is pushing this angle hard. Some would say too hard. Her campaign released a new ad showing the good citizens of Pennsylvania expressing how shocked, shocked they were to hear Obama calling them bitter. The spot feels awfully cardboard—almost on par with Ron Paul's famous New Hampshire ad—and it's not helped by the fact that nearly every word out of the mouths of these "citizens" has also come out of Hillary's. (If you want to see an effective Clinton spot, watch "Jewel.")

And this is the problem with Clinton's response—it feels forced. Voters have a nose for BS, and even if they found Obama's remarks condescending, nothing reeks worse than manufactured outrage. Obama, meanwhile, has mastered the counterpunch. The last few days have given his rapid-response team a workout. Almost enough to persuade superdelegates previously concerned that Obama wouldn't be able to weather general-election attacks.

To step back for a second: The only way the "bitter" flap could save Clinton would be if it helped her persuade superdelegates to swing her way. So far, that doesn't seem likely. Given that Clinton needs to sway such a huge number of the remaining uncommitted superdelegates—at least 70 percent, in the most favorable scenarios—we're willing to say that this scandal doesn't have the necessary steam.

And just when the dropout drumbeat was starting to soften, another Clinton supporter, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, suggests that whichever candidate is "trailing" should drop out in June. "Probably sooner," he added. (Frank also defended Obama on the "bitter" issue: He had "a very legitimate point to make," he said, but it came out wrong.)

Remember how Obama decided not to hand out "street money" to Philadelphia party workers? At the time, we thought it might cost him support. But now Clinton is following suit. Gov. Rendell (he's everywhere!) pled poverty: "Sen. Clinton has no street money," he said. "We barely have enough to communicate on basic media. Sen. Obama has money to burn."

Maybe that's why the Clinton team is still pushing its claim that a loss in Pennsylvania would be a "significant defeat" for Obama—despite the fact that it's been handicapped in favor of Clinton just about forever. And now, after the "bitter" flap, no one expects him to win. Ironic, eh?

For a full list of our Deathwatches, click here. For a primer on Hillary's sinking ship, visit our first Deathwatch entry. Send your own prognostications to hillarydeathwatch@gmail.com.

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