Beavers and Bluegrass: After Oregon and Kentucky

It’s not often that you can mute an Obama victory speech and still get the full weight of the message.

His fine oratory, sharpened and grounded by the five-month primary season, is still his best political weapon, one that will doubtless be called upon relentlessly to smother the woeful delivery of John McCain. Obama’s words still cause the fervent clapping of hands and insistent standing ovations, but they’ve also been a magnet for criticism over the months—“borrowed” lines from his good gubernatorial friend Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, the specter of shared ideology with a radical pastor, repeated claims of style over substance. In response, after five months on the trail, the Obama of May is a shrewder, more tactical and daresay more political man.

Obama’s victory speech on the evening of his win in Oregon was not delivered from Oregon. The Illinois senator brought out his whole family (an increasingly common occurrence) as he took to the stump in Iowa, which, lest it skip our minds with such time passed, already held its caucus on January 5th. His voice said thanks to the good people from Portland to Lexington, but his message said onward to November. The image of the entire family shaking hands, waving to orgiastic photographers and looking downright presidential, is one that’s gunning for the front of a postcard sent from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Obama’s victory speech on the evening of his win in Oregon was delivered from the breast of a suit bearing what looked like a American flag lapel pin. It’s safe to say that ABC high inquisitors George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson didn’t produce this farcical show of patriotism; Obama has been known to wear pins before (often, he says, when given them on the trail by war veterans). But it was Obama’s remarkable, if obvious, claim that he didn’t need to wear a metal insignia on his lapel to be an American grateful for and observant of this country’s sacrifices that had so righteously shut the kooks back in their cupboards, if only for a moment. It’s been reported that Obama now alternates wearing the pin, appearing at some events as an American and others as an evil Marxist radical subversive. It’s disappointing, his wearing the Stars and Bars on the lapel of victory day, but it’s the choice of a pragmatic nominee that now understands the ends must, in some undeniably ludicrous circumstances, justify the means.

Amidst the traditional avalanche of numbers—exit polls, county results, demographics projections—only two really mattered on Tuesday night. Sure, Hillary Clinton once again dominated her peeps in Kentucky, winning around 70 percent of the non-college-grads, white Democrats and small town and rural crowds while carrying solid 60 percents across both genders, all income levels and anyone over 30 years old. Yes, Obama scored in the big 70 percent range in returns in Oregon with his peeps, the under-29’s, first time primary voters and the wealthier ilk while also managing to edge Clinton out of her wheelhouse demos—middle-aged whites, those with no college degree and even the less-than-weekly Catholic crowd, a bulwark of Clinton wins in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The rough stuff was on numerical display too, itemizing the deep schism forming between the faithful: 51 percent of Kentuckians felt that Obama was not honest and trustworthy, 46 percent of Oregonians felt Clinton was dishonest and untrustworthy. Fully 53 percent of Kentuckians said Obama shared the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s views either “somewhat” or “a lot,” while 78 percent of Oregonians said Obama shared their values. Only a third of those who voted for Clinton in Kentucky said they would vote for Obama in November.

The only numbers that really matter now are 75,000 and 1,628. The former is the estimated number of Portland’s citizenry that came out on a warm Sunday to listen to Obama speak (and, admittedly, hear a free concert by The Decemberists) along the banks of the Willamette River. Obama lined the banks and filled canoes in the water with an NFL stadium-sized crowd in a state that rarely figures into national primary politics during a race that for all intensive purposes is entering its twilight phase. That is a stunning number, warm-up band or no, indicative of Obama’s appeal and his organization’s logistical skills, and must serve to allay some of the fears that the prolonged race is crippling Democratic chances in the fall.

1,628 is CNN’s estimation of Obama’s total pledged delegate count after Tuesday’s results, leaving him with a majority of those delegates doled out by the people. This is the kind of number that will finally bring some realism to the waning days of this campaign—despite Clinton’s claims of “big state” supremacy and “overall” popular vote lead (including Michigan and Florida and some other creative accounting)—the inescapable fact is that in the number that unequivocally matters, pledged delegates, Obama now cannot be overtaken. In an ostensible democracy, the majority rules, and Obama has the majority.

Fitting, then, that Clinton’s victory speech in Kentucky was conciliatory to the point of resignation. “And that's why, whatever happens, I'll work as hard as I can to elect a Democratic president this fall,” she said in Louisville. “We will come together as a party, united by common values and common cause, united in service of the hopes and dreams that know no boundaries of race or creed, gender or geography. And when we do, there will be no stopping us.”

“We won't just unite our party. We will unite our country and make sure America's best years are still ahead of us.”

Her supporters clapped wildly. But on this night, it may have been Barack Obama, watching from Iowa, flag pin and all, who was clapping loudest. -- Joe Horton

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Sean Cronin