Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Electability Gambit

Since Hillary Clinton managed to pull off a much narrower than expected victory in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary this week, suddenly the American media are questioning Barack Obama’s ability to win the general election battle against John “100 Years War” McCain? Gimme a break. Once more, the media strive to create a horse race where there isn’t really one. As analyst Charlie Cook, founder-editor of the Cook Political Report newsletter, writes in National Journal,
The good news for Hillary Rodham Clinton is that she’s winning a lot of battles. The bad news is that the war is pretty much lost. Sure, she won Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary by a strong 9 points in the face of being outspent on television ads by Barack Obama 2-to-1. She also won Ohio, Rhode Island, and at least the primary part of the bizarre “Texas two-step” primary-and-caucus combination on March 4. But today, she is 133 delegates behind Obama, 1,728 to 1,595, according to NBC News. At this point last week, she trailed by 136 delegates. Since then Clinton has scored a net gain of 10 delegates in Pennsylvania, according to NBC, but has lost a few more superdelegates, so she has made little headway.

If this contest were still at the point where momentum, symbolism, and reading tea leaves mattered, Clinton would be in pretty good shape. Everything she has needed to happen is happening now. Obama is getting tougher press coverage and critical examination. He’s also getting rattled a bit, and he didn’t perform well in the recent debate in Philadelphia. Clinton is winning in big, important places, but it’s happening about three months too late. ...

As long as Clinton is winning, she can’t quit. But even in victory, she isn’t getting any closer to securing the nomination. This political purgatory will continue if she manages to win Indiana but loses North Carolina--hard to drop out but harder to see winning the nomination. If she loses in both states, then her campaign’s donors and creditors, as well as superdelegates and party leaders, are likely to intervene. But that can’t happen as long as she continues to win.
The Clinton folks are now trying to get the media to swallow the ludicrous proposition that Senator Obama is somehow unelectable, even though he’s well ahead in this race. It might work; reporters covering the 2008 presidential campaign have already shown themselves to be gullible, and suck-ups, to boot. How else to explain their willingness to accept the fallacy that McCain is some kind of political centrist, or that he’s a straight-talker, rather than the abject flip-flopper he is in reality?

But blogger and political analyst John Cole dismisses the Clinton camp’s assertions out of hand:
If Barack is such a bad candidate, and he is so unelectable, and it is such a bad idea to have him as the Democratic nominee, why can’t Hillary beat him?

Why is she behind him in every conceivable metric? Why is she behind in pledged delegates? Why is she behind in the popular vote (and don’t insult my intelligence by trying to pass that sheer nonsense the morons at certain pro-Clinton blogs are lapping up)? Why are super delegates flocking to Obama, while Hillary has picked up only a handful in the past few months. Why has she won fewer states? Why is she trumpeting her narrow delegate pickup in [Pennsylvania], when it is less than the number of net delegates Obama picked up in a variety of other states? Why is she behind in fund raising? Why was she unable to turn her double-digit lead a year ago into any actual primary wins? Why, with her starting financial advantage and name recognition, was she held to a tie on Super Tuesday?

Why to those questions and a hundred more like them. If your candidate is so much better, why is Obama kicking her ass? Why?
Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, further shreds Clinton’s contention regarding Obama’s unelectability in an interview published yesterday in National Journal. When asked whether there isn’t some legitimacy to Hillary Clinton’s argument that only she can triumph against McSame in the must-win big states in November, Plouffe responds:
Well, let me just [address] the big state question--you know, they point to California, New York, Massachusetts. We are going to carry those states comfortably. Yes, she did win Ohio and Pennsylvania in the primary. If you look at polling matchups of McCain versus Obama and Clinton in Pennsylvania, we perform roughly equal. We’ve won a lot of big battleground states--Colorado, Wisconsin, Washington state, Iowa, Virginia. North Carolina, by the way, is going to be a big battleground state in 12 days, so I guess by their definition they need to win there. So this is kind of a ridiculous argument that, you know, they are trying to latch on to.

I mean, I think her electability issues are the following: she’s got a high unfavorable rating. It would be the highest unfavorable rating for any presidential nominee in recent history. Fairly or not, the majority of voters don’t trust Senator Clinton. Those two points are related, obviously: her unfavorable rating, and the sense that voters do not find her honest or trustworthy. And I do think she has limited appeal with independent voters. A Democratic nominee has to be competitive with independent voters. Ideally you’d win them. John McCain has unique appeal with independent voters. Senator Clinton has difficulty matching up with him with independent voters. She’s got less appeal to Republicans, and I also think she’s not going to create the kind of turnout we will in the African-American community and with all voters under 40.

So I think she’s got real limited range here, and we think that we will be just as strong as she will be in the core battleground states like Pennsylvania, like Ohio. But the question is, in Iowa, in Wisconsin, in New Mexico, in Nevada--these are states that have always been very close, that a Democratic nominee has to carry. And we’re doing much better than she is against John McCain.
Once more, it seems the only way that Clinton backers can get ahead in this contest is by trying to tear down Obama. That neither reflects well on her, nor will it benefit the Democratic Party when Obama finally becomes the nominee. A good part of the reason I switched my allegiance from Clinton to Obama is because the senator from New York seems willing to use ugly Republican’t tactics against a fellow Dem. That’s not sportsmanlike, nor is it at all politically smart. It gives McCain material to build on in the general election, and in the meantime it’s damaging both Hillary Clinton’s national standing and--much worse, in my book--the standing of her previously very popular husband, former President Bill Clinton.

It’s time for Senator Clinton to find a graceful way out of this race, to accept the fact that Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic candidate--and most likely the next president of the United States. All she’s doing now is making it easier for Republican’ts to put up a decent showing in the latest White House race, and invite trouble for the Democratic Party, despite McCain being just an older version of George W. Bush. And we all know how electable he would be nowadays.

READ MORE:Party Fears Racial Divide,” by Jonathan Weisman and Matthew Mosk (The Washington Post); “Dems’ Suspense May Be Unnecessary,” by Elizabeth Drew (Politico); “On Course for Another White Guy Election,” by Thomas B. Edsall (The Huffington Post); “Media Conventional Wisdom Shifting Towards Belief Clinton Could Defeat Obama?,” by Joe Gandleman (The Moderate Voice); “Heading Toward the Danger Zone,” by Bob Herbert (The New York Times).

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