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Has Obama's Momentum Really Been Halted?

Has Obama's Momentum Really Been Halted?

The online U.S. News & World Report blog "Political Bulletin" carried the following headline on Monday: "Obama's 'Bitter' Comment Halts His Momentum."

But has Obama's momentum really been "halted"? I'm not so sure.

To its credit, the U.S. News & World Report blog is not dealing in pure punditry, which I would define as unsubstantiated personal opinion. The blog cites several links to media coverage of Obama's "bitter" comment and its repercussions. In essence, the assumption is that if the media are focusing on the issue, it must be a real issue. The justification for the headline was the fact that other media outlets have made the issue their headline.

There is some real-world substance behind the media's focus on the Obama comment. Hillary Clinton and John McCain have eagerly pounced on the issue and made it a part of their short-term campaign tactics. In particular, the Clinton campaign, losing to Obama in the Democratic delegate count, is on the prowl for any issue it can seize in an attempt to shake up the dynamics of the race. This one fell into the Clinton campaign's lap, and they've certainly done their best to keep it in front of voters. Clinton has inserted comments about Obama's remarks in much of her campaign rhetoric in recent days, and now there's even a YouTube video of a new Clinton commercial that plays off the "bitter" comment. We thus have a situation where the continuing stoking of the fire by Obama's opponents coupled with the news media's need to file stories about the Democratic campaign (in the hiatus period before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary) have led to a situation in which the comments have become a major news story.

In that sense, it's probably right to say that even if Obama's momentum has not been halted, the tone and substance of his campaign has certainly been altered.

Has Obama's momentum been stopped from a voter perspective? In the end, of course, this is the question that matters. So far, we find little evidence that Obama's momentum has been halted. Gallup Poll Daily tracking through Monday night shows no sign that Obama's significant lead over Clinton among national Democratic voters has diminished. Obama has held at least a 7-percentage point lead over Clinton for more than a week now, the longest winning stretch for Obama during the entire campaign. As the "bitter" comment became the topic of news coverage, Obama's support showed no signs of diminution during interviewing conducted on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Obama also continues to be slightly ahead of McCain in Gallup's general election trial heat matchup. And a newly released Quinnipiac University Poll for Pennsylvania shows no change in Obama's level of support in that key state.

It is possible that the effects of the "bitter" comment will take a while to percolate down to voters, particularly if the news media (and Clinton) continue to attempt to make it a focus of the campaign and associated news coverage. We'll monitor that in the days ahead.

Of interest is that Gallup data show conclusively that Obama does less well among Democratic voters who have lower levels of education and lower incomes and among white voters. So there remains the interesting possibility that Obama's "bitter" comments, to the extent that that they have any effect, may simply reinforce existing patterns of support in the Democratic race -- as opposed to changing the dynamics of the race. For all we know, maybe Obama's sociologically oriented statements will increase his support among voters with college degrees who may agree with him. There is also the possibility of a backlash against Clinton's campaign for making so much of the issue.

All of this remains to be seen.

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