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There are some strange suggestions from inside the Obama camp being floated in Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray's WaPo piece today... but formidable challenges call for drastic measures. The challenge for Obama, according to Weisman and Murray, is that he needs to bone up on foreign policy cred pronto to compete for the nomination in the area that counts the most... the party officials who know that a candidate is only as good as their ability to beat John McCain.

With Pennsylvania looming, Obama has few good options. Some advisers say he should stick to a plan, hatched before Tuesday's defeats, to spend some time in the next weeks traveling to Europe, Israel and Asia to bolster his credentials for the general election. But if he cedes the state completely, he destroys his strategy of winning big in the small states and staying close in the big ones.

The other area crucial problem area is his ability to get the Democratic base out to vote for him, and the primary season's consensus verdict is that they're not on board yet. Follow me...

In Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray's article, entitled "Downside of Obama Strategy", the authors point out that Obama's campaign has focused exclusively on working the system to secure whatever advantage in delegate count they could, but it has ignored the bigger picture of what Obama's strengths and weaknesses in the primary contest say about his general election prospects.

But Obama's losses Tuesday in Texas and Ohio -- coupled with his Feb. 5 defeats in California, New York and New Jersey -- have not only shown the strategy's downside. They have also given supporters of Clinton an opening for an argument that winning over affluent, educated white voters in small Democratic enclaves, such as Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City, and running up the score with African Americans in the Republican South exaggerate his strengths in states that will not vote Democratic in the fall.  If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee but cannot win support from working-class whites and Hispanics, they argue, then Democrats will not retake the White House in November. "If you can't win in the Southwest, if you don't win Ohio, if you don't win Pennsylvania, you've got problems in November," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a Clinton supporter.

Even some Obama advisers see a real problem. "Ultimately, all that matters is how the nominee stacks up against John McCain," said one adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to the senator from Arizona and presumptive GOP nominee. "Right now, Barack is not connecting with the children of the Reagan Democrats. That's a real concern."

The counterargument, of course, is that Obama did show sporadic ability to win the core Democratic groups - women, Hispanics, and blue-collar workers. He did well with these groups in Illinois, showed strength with them in Missouri and the Potomac primaries of Virginia and Maryland, and easily won the state of Wisconsin. What superdelegates will be considering, however, as they watch the race and weigh each prospective candidate's chances in November, is whether Obama's on-again, off-again appeal to the Democratic base will ever solidify. The general election results depend on it. Obama's exclusive tactical focus on working small states to secure maximum delegate advantage runs the risk of being tone-deaf to the superdelegates' general election big picture concerns.

Weisman and Murray say that campaign strategist David Axelrod's actions belie his claim that he learned his lesson last Tuesday. Rather than try to win Pennslvania away from Hillary to end the contest, the strategy that was attempted and failed in Texas and Ohio, the Obama campaign will concentrate on North Carolina and Indiana, maintaining their old strategy of working smaller states for delegate count pickups. Superdelegates waiting for Obama to demonstrate that he can win a large bellweather state will have to wait longer- or make their decision in the absence of evidence that he can. And that decision may not go his way.

"Superdelegates are politicians. They will not buck the will of the voters," said a superdelegate supporting Obama. "The danger point comes if the superdelegates don't see a vote for Clinton as bucking anyone."

So, instead of contesting Pennsylvania and giving the Pennsylvania voters a chance to see him and hear his ideas, Obama's campaign is considering a strategy to ignore these voters and embark on an international tour to beef up Obama's somewhat skimpy foreign policy portfolio. As chair of the European Subcommitee for the Foreign Relations Committee, he has yet to convene a meeting. Maybe a tour would give him some agenda items. With a loss in Pennsylvania looming, and after losing the big states of New York, California, Florida, and Texas (and Ohio), that world tour is looking better and better.

Originally posted to campskunk on Sat Mar 08, 2008 at 03:39 PM PST.

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