Monday, May 5, 2008

Day of the whiteboard

It’s come down to this. One day for all the marbles, the biggest crop of delegates left on the Democratic primary calendar. For the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Tuesday’s contests in Indiana and North Carolina should spell out in clear terms the final trajectory of a long and fractious campaign. On Tuesday the whiteboards come out.

The coders and programmers of Redmond and Silicon Valley knew whiteboards well. The modern, quickly-erasable version of the blackboard is used there and elsewhere to chart the evolution of snatches of computer code from idea — some might say “dream” — to reality.

For the Obama campaign, the whiteboard as strategic creative document will probably focus on the expected uphill climb in Indiana, and on a tighter-than- first-forecast race for delegates in North Carolina — the climax of Obama’s hunt for the formula for attracting the positive electron of the elusive white male voter.

Lately more a man of the people than the man stalking the stage above the people, Obama has taken a more populist tack, coming down from his platform (literal and figurative) to embrace Indianans and North Carolinians on their terms, in the diners, on the basketball courts and on the streets, showcasing himself as a husband and father, pursuing the reintroduction that the results in Pennsylvania said was needed. The question is, has he made the shift in time?

And for the Clinton campaign, the recent inventive number-shredding — the tweaks of computation, the rewriting and re-rewriting of tortoise-catches-hare-at-the-tape scenarios, the relentless spin of the last five weeks — all comes to a head on Tuesday. When it’s time to do the math (the real math challenging her challenged campaign) Team Clinton will face the constant in the political equation, the unchanging factor of delegate count, the increasing incline of delegates she needs, no matter what happens Tuesday.

What Clinton has already called a potential “gamechanger” may not change the game nearly as much as it changes the public perception of how she is losing it.

For a politics-exhausted nation, Tuesday may be the day that the final act of this campaign saga comes clear. Or not: A split decision between the two states and the two candidates would likely prolong this election-year root canal. Whatever comes when the polls close a day from now, both candidates will face new realities and get reacquainted with old realities, campaign truths as clear and unmistakable as handwriting on the wall.

Or the whiteboard.


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