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What if Hillary Clinton had treated Iowa like Barack Obama has Ky. and W. Va.?

May 19, 2008 |  3:14 pm

Barack Obama ultimately disrespected Kentucky even more than he did West Virginia; he at least made an 11th-hour stop (albeit a brief one) in the latter state the day before its presidential primary last Tuesday.Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama ignored campaigning in Kentucky in part to focus on Oregon where he drew a huge turnout at a rally on Sunday

In the walk-up to Kentucky's nomination contest this Tuesday, the closest he's come to its borders was when he was at home in Chicago on Thursday.**

Since then, he's gone off to South Dakota, Oregon (which also has a primary Tuesday, and where he was greeted by a massive crowd, at left, on Sunday) and Montana (June 3). Tuesday night will find him in Iowa -- not only the site of the caucus win that first fueled his candidacy, but a likely key swing state come November.

Obama's hands-off approach to West Virginia and Kentucky is striking to us on two counts.

One, public protestations notwithstanding, his willingness to concede them to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race is an unmistakable signal that as he and his aides look toward the general election, neither state figures in its Electoral College calculations. (They are not alone in this assumption -- an astute overlook of the electoral map posted on Salon.com late last week by Democratic pollster Paul Maslin did not include either on the list of 17 states he views as competitive, to varying degrees, in an Obama-John McCain match-up.)

Secondly, it caused us to hark back to the very early stages of the campaign and wonder: What if Clinton had followed the controversial advice of her then-deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry, and taken a pass on a full-fledged effort to win the Jan. 3 caucuses in Iowa?

It was almost exactly a year ago -- May 21 -- that Henry (who left the campaign shortly after Campaign Manager Patti Solis Doyle was replaced early this year) wrote an in-house memo ...

... that urged a "new approach to winning the Democratic nomination" that centered on "skipping the Iowa caucuses and dedicating more of (Clinton's) time and financial resources" to other contests, especially the "20-plus state primaries on Feb. 5."

The memo leaked, of course, creating a dust-up and causing Clinton and all of her other top aides to insist that Iowa was sacrosanct and she would never, ever not fully compete there. (For a trip down memory lane, the full Henry proposal can be read here.)

Hindsight gives the memo a sheen it lacked at the time, when it was widely dismissed as pointless out-of-the-box thinking that would be folly for Clinton to follow. And it is immeasurably easier for Obama to ignore West Virginia and Kentucky with his party's nomination within his grasp then it would have been for Clinton to stiff-arm Iowa before a single vote had been cast.

Still, imagine one possible outcome if she had decided to mail it in there -- a John Edwards victory in the caucuses (as it was, the tally wound up Obama, 38; Edwards, 30%, Clinton 29%).

Who knows the course the race would have taken if Edwards had grabbed first place. But Obama and his followers would have lacked the sense of empowerment and possibility that Iowa provided him.

-- Don Frederick

** [UPDATE: Several readers questioned our phrasing about Obama ignoring Kentucky, noting correctly that Obama did hold a rally in Louisville on May 12, the Monday before the West Virginia vote. We were focused on his travels since that primary, but concede that may have been putting too fine a point on the matter. The Louisville event, by the way, was his first in Kentucky since last summer].

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