Today, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson endorsed Barack Obama for president. I’d call this a turning point for sure, if all previous turning points hadn’t simply turned out to be wrong turns that take us who knows where.
But it certainly changes the chemistry of this race one more time.
The last few weeks have pushed the Obama campaign to the limit. Hillary Clinton’s case in recent months has been that the delegate count is less important than whether Obama is ready to be the candidate in November or to be the president in January. Nobody gets a free ride at this stage of national politics, here in the semi-finals. The scandal over inflammatory sermons by Obama’s former pastor led to a powerful Obama speech on race that garnered rave critical reviews, but we still don’t know where public opinion will end up on it.
Clinton needs to keep superdegates from moving en masse to Obama, which would effectively end the race. The last few weeks have given her a chance to make her closing argument, and to introduce “reasonable doubt” to the jury. She may even be getting help from Republicans who are being urged by Rush Limbaugh to re-register as Democrats and vote for Clinton to keep the battle alive.
But the refusal of Michigan and Florida to revote their primaries really hurt Clinton, and Richardson’s endorsement gives Obama a chance to refocus. It’s all been about black and white for a few weeks, and that’s a tough conversation for Democrats. Richardson opens the door to Latinos giving Obama a second look despite their strong support for Clinton so far. Mostly, his endorsement changes the subject and offers Obama some desperately-needed good news.
It has seemed for months that the race has been right on the knife’s edge. Clinton seemed done for, and then revived, and then the race thing seemed on the verge of almost knocking Obama out. The odds still strongly favor Obama because of his delegate lead, and it would take a sudden drop in national polls to change that. Like any good competitor, Clinton is “hanging around” meaning that she is in a position to take over if Obama falters.
If the Richardson endorsement is followed by others among the key superdelegates and former candidates, however, today’s events will be seen as the beginning of the end of the race.
Given the pack mentality of many politicians, it would not take many similar endorsements to set off a flood.