Barack and Michelle Obama sent a message to the media early in the primary season. Barack said:
"I'm confident that I will get her Clinton votes if I'm the nominee, it's not clear that she would get the votes I got if she were the nominee."
Then Michelle said on supporting Hillary Clinton:
"I'd have to think about that. I'd have to think about that, her policies, her approach, her tone."
The logic behind those statements went unquestioned by the media. Ever since, the media has begun saying how Obama supporters would defect from a Clinton candidacy, ruining the Democratic party and handing the election to Sen. John McCain.
last week put that thesis to shame. Gallup polled Democrats on their likelihood to defect from a Democratic candidate and crossover to support McCain: 28% of Clinton supporters chose McCain over Obama, while only 19% of Obama supporters abandon Clinton for McCain.
Enough said for the lazy analysis in the media.
This is bad news for Obama come a general election. Clinton has very strong support among women, and this election offers a classic scenario they know well: A lesser experienced man gets all the breaks on the way to being promoted to a better position. The media forgets sexism and intently focuses only on race.
Furthermore, Clinton has strong support among Latinos. Some of those Latinos may defect from Obama to McCain as the Arizonan can boast a reasonable record on immigration. McCain has no plans to demagogue illegal immigration in the general election, which would hurt many Republicans with the Latino vote.
Clinton also has strong support from older voters. Those voters may choose to vote for McCain over Obama. Obama has created a generational divide in his campaigning and chosen to cede seniors to Clinton. McCain proves popular with seniors, and white seniors may prefer McCain to Obama. In his speech on race, many pundits thought Obama threw his white grandmother "under the bus" by pointing out her racism. I think this will hurt Obama in this age group.
Nevertheless, so-called McCain Democrats (defectors) appear to exist. McCain has gained in national polls in recent weeks, running much stronger against either Democrat. If defections come from Democratic candidates in sufficient numbers, it may swing the election to McCain in November.
Yet, the media for the most part has ignored the poll, instead blasting Clinton for remaining in the race. In the words of media columnist Howard Kurtz:
"This is the new media narrative that the former first lady is confronting, that she is prolonging the agony and is just being selfish by refusing to pack it in."
The turnaround is stunning considering the huge controversy over Obama's pastor two weeks ago. Even Obama stated over the weekend Clinton had no reason to exit the race, despite high profile statements from some of his surrogates such as Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D., N. M.).
Blue States vs. Red States
The myopic media coverage made its way into analysis of another recent poll. A
poll showed that Obama has rebounded from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright scandal. The poll showed Clinton and Obama tied at 45% apiece among Democrats. The media said the poll proves Obama is poised to continue his romp over Clinton. Of course, it should surprise nobody Obama has rebounded with Democrats. The media has ensured this with cozy coverage, lauding his speech on race in America.
But we shouldn't jump so fast to conclusions as something critical went missing in their analysis. Here's the money quote many failed to notice:
"While the senator's support among Democrats is little changed, he did slip among conservatives and Republican voters, groups that had shown some attraction to Sen. Obama's message of changing partisan politics in Washington."
Obama had convinced many in the media that his campaign remains different. He will unite the country and overcome the blue state-red state divide with his bipartisan tone. Maybe, maybe not; it's an unproven thesis.
The media missed the true problem with his pastor's well publicized diatribes that appeared in sermons. Patriotism will become an issue, not race. Wright's statements of "God Damn America" will be repeated again and again in the general election. Republicans feel queasy attacking Obama on race, but patriotism has long been fair game.
The attacks won't come from the McCain campaign; he has denounced racial attacks. But given what they did to Sen. John Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran, in 2004, it does seem likely some conservative group will run "swift-boat" style ads on Obama's patriotism. They will talk about him not wearing a flag pin; they will play the tape of his wife saying she's never been proud of her country. Lastly, they will play Pastor Wright's anti-American statements.
Obama's favorability ratings could drop like a stone in middle America, including key swing states such as Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Obama may recover by giving another speech on patriotism. But if the attacks come late in the election, it may be too late for him to recover.
Obama's unifying message sounds wonderful, and I wish it were possible. But I believe it won't happen in this election. Whether some people like it or not, the presidential election map still comes down to the electoral college math plain and simple. States still appear blue and red on close observation.
Turning back to 2004, George Bush beat John Kerry by 286 electoral votes to 251. Two key swing states in the election were Florida and Ohio. McCain maintains solid margins over Obama in both of these states according to the running average at
. McCain has even pulled ahead of Obama in the blue state of Pennsylvania.
Should Obama lose those states, he would need to find other swing states to turn the tide. Some had pointed to Missouri as one of those states or Virginia, but a new
has McCain opening up a wide lead in Missouri over both Clinton and Obama. The blue state-red state divide stays intact.
Clinton polls marginally worse than Obama in national polls against McCain. But she fares much better in the swing states of both Ohio and Florida. If she were to win one of those races, now McCain would be behind the eight-ball needing to pull off some upsets. Winning the national vote guarantees nothing in a presidential election -- just ask Al Gore.
The Delegate Race Looks to the General Election
Clinton likely wishes the Democrats used the electoral college to determine the election or winner-take-all. She would have sewn up the nomination with her big states already. Instead, Obama leads because of proportional representation of delegates and wins in many caucuses.
The Democratic delegate system has come under intense scrutiny. The close and quirky contest has revealed several problems for the Democrats that they may have to solve to avoid a brokered convention come August in Denver.
First, the Democratic party has to deal with two renegade states that attempted to buck the primary system: Florida and Michigan. The party penalized the states by nullifying the primaries and declining to seat their delegates. The Republicans, on the other hand, removed half of the delegates maintaining the competitive nature of those primaries. Clinton scored "victories" in both of the contests, which have been questioned.
The wins appeared valid to others, especially Clinton. In Michigan, Obama's campaign decided to delete his name from the ballot in the state in preference to focusing on South Carolina. This was a campaign strategy -- not a requirement. At the time, Clinton had great support among superdelegates and unions in the state. Voter turnout was small.
In Florida, all of the candidates pledged not to campaign there in adherence to the approved early state primaries schedule. Again, the strategy favored Obama. He did not have to waste resources in a state where Clinton held huge leads in the polls. Voters in the sunshine state turned out strong for Clinton, and she won handily on huge voter turnout. She, in fact, received several hundred thousand more votes in the state than the winner of the Republican primary, McCain.
But a new
by Wayne Barrett throws new light on these two states. Barrett argues that Republicans were critical in leading the charge to move up both of these primaries, and in Florida tied the bill to ensuring a paper trail to electronic voting. Worse, the Democratic party did not have to create such a harsh punishment for the two states. It makes one question why Howard Dean's 50-state strategy shrunk to 48 states.
The Clinton campaign has been pushing for these wins to count. The Obama campaign has been coy about their status and has not made any effort to support a re-vote or any other simple solution. It's a stalemate at this point where the delegates stay in limbo.
The Democratic delegate system is complex having both pledged delegates and superdelegates. Pledged delegates are mostly decided by either caucuses or primaries, basically representing the voters. Superdelegates are elected officials or party officials with strong ties to the party. A superdelegate vote counts for the same amount as a pledged delegate.
The system sounds decidedly undemocratic. Yet in this very close race between Clinton and Obama, neither side seems likely to arrive at a majority without winning a large number of the superdelegates, approximately 796. Clinton holds a slight margin of superdelegates, while Obama holds a wider margin among pledged delegates. She requires more superdelegates than Obama to win the nomination.
If the contest continues an essential tie, the superdelegates will be forced to decide on a candidate. It would be a first since the system was created in 1980 by the Democratic party and many hope it happens before the convention in August.
Those superdelegates will have to decide on the electability argument, and I think many may find Clinton has a better chance to defeat McCain in the general election based on an analysis of electability in swing states and their effect upon the electoral college.