Richard Reeves

Obama vs. Clinton: Win Win!

LOS ANGELES -- The story so far: David Geffen, the ultimate Hollywood guy, says that he has discovered Hillary Clinton is "ambitious" and, like all politicians, a liar. She responded by saying that the shy and retiring Barack Obama should give back the $1.3 million Geffen and his pals raised for him last Tuesday out here. Then a plot turn, a "pseudo" Democratic campaign debate in Nevada, where George Stephanopoulos of ABC News proved conclusively that a nice boy from New York cannot pronounce "Nevada."

I am also a nice boy from New York and have spent some time trying to figure out how to get it right, and I now pronounce that it is unpronounceable -- at least for outsiders. It seems that the correct pronunciation is "Ne-VADD-uh," though most everyone in the world says "Ne-VODD-A."

I think. Who knows? Certainly not George. They booed and laughed at him as he moderated the debate.

It was not the candidates who were "pseudo" in Nev ... that state. It was the "debate"; none of the Democrats actually spoke to each other or even appeared together. Obama did not even appear. Perhaps he was busy trying to figure out how to wire-transfer back the Malibu money. He didn't miss much, just a lot of suits whining that Hillary won't say her mistaken 2003 vote to go to war in Iraq was a mistake.

That does not mean the "debate" was a waste. Many of us, after all, learned that Carson City is the capital of Nevada. No small thing. We can all stop looking for domes in Las Vegas and Reno.

Democrats are fun. And it is fun to make fun of them. Having said that, they are the party that will elect a president in 2008. Their stars are lined up in the right order above the White House. This is why I think that:

The race for the Democratic nomination right now is certainly between the senator from New York, Hillary, and the senator from Illinois, Barack, with John Edwards, out from under John Kerry, waiting back in third place, hoping the front-runners trip each other up. Perhaps that will happen, but I doubt it. Obama and Clinton actually help each other. If Obama can defeat Clinton, he will be established as a national figure of unquestioned presidential stature. If Clinton beats Obama, the more likely result, she will have shed her "Can't Win!" albatross.

Obama will soon have to face the "Where's the beef?" questions that did in Gary Hart, a once-upon-a-time media meteor drawing big and enthusiastic crowds and delivering a rather vague message that translated into: "New and improved." Obama has passed his screen test; now he has to show he's ready for his close-up. But if he beats what Geffen calls "the Clinton Machine" -- a machine Geffen used to fuel before he was drawn to the new face -- Obama will simply be in a different class than he is now.

If the formidable machine-driven Mrs. Clinton can roll over this shining new face, they won't be passing out leaflets, as someone did in Carson City, saying that she is unelectable.

It is not a bad hand the Democrats have to play if they go on to Las Vegas.

More than that, if you listen to Republicans this day, most of whom pretend they have forgotten the name of that fool in the White House, they sound like all they're holding is a pair of deuces -- or jokers.

At the moment, the race for the Republican nomination is focused pretty tightly on Sen. John McCain and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, two candidates of charisma, with Mitt Romney in the Edwards position. But the whispering campaign on that side of the aisle is unusual in my memory, because supporters of both the front-runners say the same thing into the delicate ears of reporters and columnists.

Ask Giuliani folks about McCain, and they whisper, "Yeah, people like him now, but he's nuts!"

Ask McCain folks about Giuliani, and they whisper, "Yeah, people like him now, but he's nuts!"

They all -- Republicans, that is -- seem convinced the other guy is going to blow it by blowing up in public.

So, whatever Democrats are saying about each other now, it looks like it's their year. Clinton vs. Obama is win-win!

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