When was the last time a candidate delivered, in essence, a victory speech after a 35-percentage-point drubbing?
That's what Barack Obama pulled off Tuesday night in Iowa. True, he was on the cusp of winning the day's Oregon primary. But those results weren't in yet when he took the stage in Des Moines; what was known was that Hillary Rodham Clinton had trounced him in Kentucky's Democratic presidential primary, following her even bigger landslide the week before in West Virginia.
Talk about the audacity of hope. More like audacity in defeat.
Obama sought to focus attention on a self-declared milestone -- winning a majority of pledged convention delegates. That's a purely symbolic mark; much like Clinton's spin on the popular-vote total in her race with Obama, it doesn't lock down the nomination for him. "Pledged" delegates, after all, can stray when they convene for the party's late-August confab in Denver.
Obama, though, succeeded with his message. Here's a sample of Wednesday's headlines -- Los Angeles Times: "On this Tuesday, Obama's nomination appears nearer"; Washington Post: "Obama Takes Delegate Majority"; New York Times: "Obama Declares Bid 'Within Reach' After 2 Primaries."
It added up as the latest example of the strategic suppleness that so often has marked his campaign. His staff out-organized Clinton's in Iowa, and Obama's victory there infused him and his supporters with a sense of possibility crucial to fueling his candidacy.
Over the next month -- up to and including the raft of contests on Super Tuesday (Feb. 5) -- Obama and Clinton basically fought to a draw. But his team was better-prepared than hers for the campaign's next phase, especially in caucus states. The lead in pledged delegates he racked up into early March gave him the cushion to withstand the solid -- sometimes sweeping -- victories she has scored since then.
Running a smart, well-organized campaign doesn't ensure success in politics. But it helps.
-- Don Frederick
Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at latimes.com/topoftheticket.