ROCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) unwittingly handed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) a powerful closing argument for New Hampshire voters when she talked about raising “false hopes” during Saturday’s debate. Obama, aiming a verbal arrow at Clinton’s heart and soul, rallied his supporters on Monday with a cry, “False hope? There is no such thing!”
Obama is poised to win today’s primary and put a nail in Clinton’s White House bid, in part because he was able to claim brand ownership of the aspirational notion of “hope” and swat away Clinton’s and former Sen. John Edwards’ (D-N.C.) claim to change by presenting a sunny optimism.
“We are happy warriors for change,” Obama cried at a rally in Lebanon.
Once the phrase “false hopes” left Clinton’s mouth at the debate (she said, “we don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered”), Obama told the crowd, “if anything crystallizes what this campaign is about, it was that right there.”
Through the course of his campaign — and his career — Obama has used as raw material for his books and speeches stories gleaned from day-to-day events in his life.
Obama is acutely aware of the power of narrative. For example, Clinton landed in New Hampshire with a storyline of taking the hit of a devastating third-place loss to Obama.
Look at the facts and you can see how the story could have been written a different way. Obama scored a solid win with 940 delegates to 744 for Edwards and 737 for Clinton, a mere seven delegate difference, a tie.
That Clinton would provide grist for Obama’s rift on the eve of an election that might propel him to the White House is ironic squared.
“What does that mean, false hopes?” he said at Claremont, the start of a 720-word summation about “false hope” he repeated almost word for word during the day.
“How have we made progress in this country? Look, did John F. Kennedy look at the moon and say, ‘Ah, it’s too far?’ We can’t do that. We need a reality check.
“Dr. King standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. ‘You know, this dream thing, it’s a false hope. We can’t expect equality.’
“False hopes. Let me tell you something about hope. I do talk about hope quite a bit. Out of necessity. There is no oddsmaker who would have said that I would be standing here when I was born in 1961.”
The Clinton team, looking to the Feb. 5 primaries, is going to continue to press ahead and challenge Obama on fact-based contradictions in his own record, such as having a lobbyist co-chair his New Hampshire campaign when he is out bashing lobbyists or accepting the endorsement of former South Carolina Jim Hodges, who is a federal lobbyist.
Inside the Clinton camp, there is the belief that they are drowning in a tsunami-level media frenzy where the press, enamored with a tale of Obama’s rise and Clinton’s downfall, has been giving Obama a pass. They have hope the storyline can still change.