It's starting to feel like the general election. Rising to claim victory in the Wisconsin Republican primary before the networks could declare Barack Obama the winner on the Democratic side, John McCain started right in on his general election opponent.
He promised to "make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than the people."
Scorch. Some 40 minutes later, Hillary Clinton got up before the cameras and set out her platform as if she were the winner, ignoring Obama as she had on primary night the week before. Having not been extended this courtesy, Obama did not extend her the courtesy of waiting for her to finish before he began his victory speech.
The networks quickly switched for Clinton to Obama, who went on for 45 minutes, cutting and pasting platform planks into the unspecific ode to hope that has enchanted so many voters.
That camera switch may turn out to be the beginning of the end of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. She's still hoping for victories in Ohio and Texas on March 4, but Obama's margin in Wisconsin makes that seem less likely, and in any case, she will still be behind in delegates. She could win the nomination only with the votes of super-delegates or by counting the results in Florida and Michigan, where the national party commanded candidates not to compete.
Either move will strike many Obama enthusiasts -- and others -- as profoundly unfair. The way Clinton has run her campaign -- like the way she ran health care reform in 1993-94 -- undercuts her claim to be ready for the presidency from day one. In both cases, she had no fallback strategy, no Plan B, in case her best-case scenario failed to come to pass. She started campaigning in Wisconsin only last Saturday and had to cancel her events because of a snowstorm. Didn't anyone check weather.com?
If you look at the numbers, if the general election were held today, Barack Obama would beat John McCain by a solid margin. (McCain would beat Clinton -- another reason the super-delegates are unlikely to foist her on the party.) But the performances of the candidates on primary night -- and the performances of their wives on Monday and Tuesday -- suggests that may not always be the case.
Obama's cut-and-paste job does respond to the complaint that he is without substance. But it's hard to mix poetry and prose and come up with an appealing product. Particularly when, as columnist Robert Samuelson points out, there's not much that's interesting about the substance.