I just returned from Ohio on Hillary Clinton's plane and wanted to offer some broad observations about the weekend before the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries.
First, no one besides Chelsea is campaigning in Hawaii (revealing if nothing else Chelsea's brilliant ability to manipulate the Clinton schedulers. Think about it, Chelsea's in Hawaii and the former leader of the free world is in Texarkana and Nacogdoches).
But I digress. After several interviews with senior Clinton aides this must should be known about Wisconsin -- they don't expect to win it and they don't expect it be particularly close. Sen. Clinton will step foot for the first time in Wisconsin tomorrow night for the Founder's Dinner (a party dinner and "big" event). Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama will both speak, marking the closest thing Wisconsin Democrats will see to a one-on-one debate (meaning not very close at all).
Clinton ran a second attack ad today on Obama. Outwardly, it would appear the ad buys are designed to demonstrate a serious effort in Wisconsin. They do not. The ads are designed to push up Obama's negatives in Wisconsin and Ohio and Texas (how, you might reasonably ask?). The national media (your faithful correspondent included) have dutifully reported on the ads as have interested Ohio and Texas reporters. Thus the Wisconsin ads have echoed a bit in Hillary's big March 4 states and at a relatively cheap price of Wisconsin media (much cheaper than Houston, Dallas, or Cleveland).
Obama can and has reasonably asked what gives Clinton the right to attack him in Wisconsin when she hasn't even campaigned there. Obama's working the state hard and seeks first and foremost to win blue-collar Democrats in and around Janesville, Milwaukee, Kenosha and elsewhere to prove to blue-collar Ohio Democrats that his message resonates in Wisconsin.
In this way, Obama wants what happens in Wisconsin Tuesday to reverberate in Ohio -- in a way more memorably than Clinton's attack ads. Obama's methodical approach is first about victories and second about boosting the size of those victories. Consider this: since Super Tuesday the smallest Obama margin of victory was 19 points in the Feb. 10 Maine caucuses.
Running up the score garners delegates, momentum, slack-jawed media coverage (my jaw excluded), and believers. That's what Obama wants from Wisconsin and Hawaii - a big vote differential and as many pledged delegates as he can collect. Remember, Obama expects a Clinton fight over Superdelegates and the Obama camp wants a three-pronged counter argument: he's won more contests, more votes, and more pledged delegates. That's why running up the score in Wisconsin and Hawaii matters and why Clinton's visits from Saturday through Monday and the ad buys are designed to minimize the damage -- hold back the rout, in other words.
Meanwhile, Bill Clinton will be in Ohio Sunday and since he, like Hillary, has picked up the pace of attacks on Obama, it's worth keeping an ear peeled for Bill. The former president's attacks have not been well-received, generally and in Ohio he brings one notable albatross -- NAFTA.
Blue collar Ohio Democrats see NAFTA as the cause of tens of thousands of manufacturing job loses throughout the state. Permanent trade status with China is a bird of a similar feather and equally loathed. Bill Clinton had war rooms built to pass both and both are inextricably linked to his economic legacy, a legacy Hillary increasingly leans on to differentiate her experience and record from Obama's. NAFTA and permanent trade with China maker Clinton appearances in Ohio on Hillary's behalf a bit cumbersome - especially as Hillary tries to downplay any previous enthusiasm she displayed about free trade.