Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hillary's Endurance: The End of the Line for the Democrats?

Does Hillary Clinton really have a case for staying in the race? It's all about ego now, right? The math and the momentum are now beyond her, and the most compelling news stories this week discuss how diminished she'll be if she returns to the Senate (no power, no platform).

I'm not sure, but as I've said all along, the longer Hillary stays in the race, the better.

Josh Patashnik made an interesting argument the other day:

... what's become clear at the end of this primary season is that neither Democratic candidate's appeal is as wide as Democrats would prefer. It's difficult to project what will happen in November from primary results or even general-election polling at this stage, so any such speculation should be taken with a major grain of salt. I think it's fair to say, though, that in general Obama appears to have a problem with working-class whites east of Illinois, and Clinton appears to have a problem with Westerners and more upscale independent-minded voters. This pattern has been remarkably consistent since the beginning of the primary season. My suspicion is that these weaknesses basically cancel each other out, which is why you see both candidates sporting approximately equal-sized small leads over John McCain in national polls.
But note John Sides, a GWU political scientist and blogger at the Monkey Cage, who suggests that the Democrats won't be all that divided come autumn (via LAT):

Pundits seem to be converging on a new conventional wisdom: that the drawn-out and extraordinarily competitive Democratic presidential primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton has cleaved the party in two.Many voters insist that they will not support any Democratic candidate in the general election except their original favorite, according to exit polls, and that has caused party elders to fret about whether the eventual nominee will be able to unify the party and defeat presumptive GOP nominee John McCain....

Both parties can rest easy. Despite ugly battles and policy differences that sometimes seem intractable, the reality is that presidential campaigns tend to unify each party behind its nominee. Political scientists call this phenomenon the "reinforcement effect." It was described in 1940 in the first major study of a presidential campaign. The study's authors -- Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson and Hazel Gaudet -- noted that voters tended to "join the fold to which they belong," with Democrats gravitating to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Republicans to Wendell Willkie. These voters were not blindly following whichever shepherds their parties nominated, the study concluded. Rather, their partisan loyalties reflected their underlying values, and the parties' nominees solidified their support by emphasizing these same values as the campaign unfolded....

But what about those Clinton supporters who say they won't vote for Obama in November...?

What about those white working-class voters Obama has had trouble attracting? Will they rejoin the Democratic fold in November?

They probably will because class differences have not divided Democrats in recent elections. For instance, in the 2004 election, 86% of white Democrats without a college degree voted for Kerry, as did 92% of those with a college degree. White Democratic voters who made less than $50,000 a year were just as loyal to their presidential candidate as those who earned more, according to the National Election Pool's exit poll. Democrats were largely unified across class boundaries despite Republican attempts to portray Kerry as an effete cosmopolitan out of touch with "real" Americans.

But if Obama, an African American, wins the nomination, as is expected, race could make the 2008 election different from previous presidential contests. There are certainly some white Democrats who won't vote for a black for president. An imperfect indicator is those Democratic primary voters who supported Clinton and said race was a factor in their decision. In the Kentucky primary exit poll, this group constituted 17% of all Democratic voters.

Nevertheless, in the voting booth, partisan loyalties may prove more powerful than racial prejudice. Benjamin Highton, a political science professor at UC Davis, studied 357 contested House races in the 1996 and 1998 elections. He found that white voters were no more or less likely to support black candidates than white ones. Prejudice against blacks still exists in many forms, but it does not guarantee that large numbers of Democratic voters will abandon an African American nominee for his white Republican opponent.
Actually, a lot depends on the campaign itself:

The trouble is that Mr Obama's efforts to suppress the race issue are doomed to failure ... The Republican political machine, which demonstrated its mastery of the arts of character assassination in the two Bush presidential contests, will have no compunction in exploiting the Wright relationship and portraying Mr Obama as an anti-American in the general election, even if the Clinton campaign and the media observe a self-denying ordinance on the race and patriotism issues, as they broadly have so far.

The certainty of a no-holds-barred attacks by the Republicans brings us to the potentially most tragic aspect of this election. If ever there was an election the Democrats ought to win this is the one. Yet on the basis of the primary results so far, they are all too likely to lose it. Mr Obama may be marginally ahead of Mrs Clinton in the popular vote but the Democrats seem to have forgotten that all the votes cast so far have been by their own supporters. In the general election their candidate will have to win over Republicans and right-leaning floating voters. Most of the evidence so far suggests that the Repulicans will find it much easier to frighten voters about the prospect of a President Obama than a President Clinton.

In that case, Obama might in fact be better off pushing for an early Hillary exit, before the remaining primaries. This year's going to make '88's Atwater-style politics look like the county fair, by the time the no-holds-barred GOP 527s get into the action.

The way
MoveOn's going after the GOP already, I wouldn't blame them.

See also, "
The Last Straw? The Netroots' Patience is at An End."