Monday, April 28, 2008

Out of Control

After months of being in the driver's seat election-wise, Barack Obama seems to have lost control of the narrative of the election, at least at the nation-wide level. Where in the weeks before Iowa and the months that followed, he was undoubtably the one setting the tone and tenor of the whole thing, now that role has gone to Clinton. Not to belabor the obvious, but there's a huge advantage to being the one in charge.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo sums up the view pretty nicely here. The key line is where he says that the Clinton attacks have "made [Obama] recede into the background, even as he's a constant topic of conversation."

For those who like a little more substance than commentary in their posts, a recent CNN report came to pretty much the same conclusion in terms of the television ads the candidates were running. Obama is spending way more, but his ads largely seem to be responding to the few ads and issues that Clinton has focused on. The story concludes that if Hillary is able to set the agenda then more money for Obama won't do a whole lot of good.

What's so amazing about this is that Obama was in total control of the campaign message for so long. Remember when everyone was trying to run as the change candidate? Obama was, Edwards was, Clinton was. Even the Republicans were getting in on the game. And all of that came from Obama. Incidentally, that's also when he was winning the most. There's something to be said for controlling the message. He's certainly experiencing that now as he's lost control of the narrative.

Now, I've noticed that this kind of thing has happened before in this campaign. Just weeks ago it seemed like Obama had totally lost control over the message of the campaign with all the Rev. Wright stuff. Obama came out with his great speech on race followed by a really good speech on foreign policy. And he was back in it for a while. But now the luster has faded and the kitchen sink continues to sail at him. How many more great speeches can the guy have in him?

Perhaps more importantly, why can't he do a better job controlling the message without these incredible, standout speeches. The last time Obama lost control it took a speech that some called the most important speech since I Have a Dream to get things back on track. You can't base a campaign strategy around the ability to make once in a generation style orations. Of late, Obama has showed very little ability to control the agenda on a day to day basis. Without question, that's going to cause him problems until he can get himself back in control and keep it.

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