Setting the South Carolina bar

Clinton, Obama campaigns play the expectations game.

Published January 24, 2008 8:39PM (EST)

More than a dozen polls released so far this month have Barack Obama leading Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, despite the fact that Clinton's surrogate campaigner in chief has made a substantial investment in the Palmetto State.

So what's left to do before Saturday's primary? Set the expectations and pre-spin the results -- and both the Clinton campaign and the Obama campaign are already doing both.

In an "interested parties" memo distributed today, the Obama campaign made the point that Clinton's campaign has gone "all out to win in South Carolina." The memo lists predictions of victory in South Carolina from the Clinton campaign, TV ads purchased in South Carolina by the Clinton campaign, consultants hired in South Carolina by the Clinton campaign and appearances in South Carolina by Bill and Hillary Clinton. The point: Deny the Clinton campaign the ability to spin away a loss Saturday by claiming that it never really tried to win in South Carolina anyway.

The Clinton campaign doesn't seem to be making that pitch exactly -- at least not yet. Rather, Bill Clinton is making the case that his wife doesn't stand a chance in South Carolina, and he's blaming race and gender politics for what he's painting as a preordained result. During an appearance in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, the former president said: "As far as I can tell, neither Sen. Obama nor Hillary have lost votes because of their race or gender. They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender -- that's why people tell me Hillary doesn't have a chance of winning here."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Bill Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton War Room