The RealClearPolitics Web site has an interesting graph that tracks the candidates’ poll numbers in the three weeks leading up to the March 4 primary, based on an average of seven polls. On February 15, Clinton started out at 50.3%, Obama at an even 40%. As he had done in most other states, Obama immediately started to narrow the gap. By February 21, the day of the Texas debate, Clinton was still in the lead, but barely: 48.8% to 46%. The debate decided nothing; for the next several days, both sides were flat. On the 24h, two days before the Ohio debate, Clinton began a descent and Obama an ascent. He peaked at 47.7% on the day of the debate and flattened out. She continued to decline, hitting bottom on March 2nd at 45%. Obama was sliding too. The next day, the eve of the primary, they were tied at 46.8%, but her trend was up and his was down. Obama held the lead from the Ohio debate to March 3, but March 4 was Clinton’s day.

So what happened? The national media attribute her success to Roy Spence’s 3 a.m. ad, and I’m all for one of our own getting the credit, but I think Clinton’s success had less to do with her than with Obama. His performance level has dropped. He wasn’t on his game in the Texas debate, and he was downright bad in the Ohio debate. Maybe he has been sick–a correspondent pointed out that he was blowing his nose at the rally the night before the Texas debate–but I think he’s got a different kind of bug. He has begun to read his own press clippings and, worse, believe them. When I watched the Ohio debate, I could practically see him grow a glass jaw. Clinton hit him again and again, and he didn’t fight back. He let her bully him in the discussion over Louis Farrakahn’s endorsement. He said he renounced it and Clinton said he should reject it and he argued a while and finally said, “OK, I renounce it and reject it.” Weak!

Here Hillary has been running ads suggesting that she is stronger and would make the better commander-in-chief, and he played right into it. I think women got the message a lot more clearly than the message of the telephone ad: Hillary Clinton is tougher than Barack Obama. He needs to watch a tape of Tom Craddick as speaker of the House, claiming absolute power, ignoring personal privilege speeches against him, doing whatever it takes to survive. I feel as if I am watching a rerun of an old movie, starring Michael Dukakis, who wouldn’t fight back, co-starring John Kerry, who wouldn’t fight back. Only two people in America have more baggage than Hillary Clinton, and she’s married to one of them and trying to succeed the other. She hammers him for his dealings with Tony Rezko, but he can’t find a way to mention that her brother, Hugh Rodham, made $400,000 in fees for lobbying for presidential pardons, including one for fugitive financier Marc Rich, who gave $70,000 to her Senate campaign.

I’m afraid that Obama wants the love more than he wants the presidency. And Hillary knows it. She’s tougher. Ask Tom Craddick.