Washington Babylon — April 24, 2008, 10:12 am

Campaign ’08 and Howard Dean’s Tears

There are a lot of people who still think that presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama essentially can’t lose the November presidential election (or, more to the point, that John McCain can’t win). Maybe. But most Democrats watching the campaign for the past few weeks are likely experiencing some level of fear and trepidation–especially now that Obama outspent Hillary Clinton by a factor of three or four in Pennsylvania and still lost by nearly ten percentage points.

As John Stewart said on the Daily Show last night, McCain probably spent Tuesday night “giggling like a gorilla watching a cat play with string, while resting his aching balls in a chilled bowl of Howard Dean’s tears.”

(See Robert Novak’s column today for a more nuts and bolts account of emerging problems for the Democrats and Obama.)

Obama’s core constituencies seem to be the youth vote, African-Americans, and the highly educated, which works fine in the Democratic primaries but may not be nearly as powerful a coalition in a general election. As a reader recently wrote to me, “[Hillary Clinton’s] constituencies are roughly even in size to Obama’s, but seemingly ignored by the media as irrelevant. That’s a recipe for disillusionment if they are constantly denigrated or dismissed.”

Meanwhile, Republicans sound increasingly confident (at least about McCain’s prospects against Obama or Hillary, if not the G.O.P.’s congressional prospects, which appear grim). I spoke yesterday with Kenneth L. Khachigian, a former Reagan White House staffer who served as a senior advisor to McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000, and who is currently at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. He said that Obama’s early success in the primaries made him overconfident and now, “When he’s not giving a speech and is challenged, he hesitates and looks shaky.”

He continued:

During the primaries, the Democrats are talking to themselves. But Hillary finally figured out that she had to campaign against him in a general election fashion, so she’s crawled to the center and pushed him to the left. I’m not sure he can fix that during the primaries because part of his appeal to the left wing of the party is that he’s espousing their views. What has served him in the past may not serve him now or in the future. The key to a McCain victory is to shove him to the left and to emphasize his inexperience. Right now both of those things are on display, thanks to HRC. McCain should be sending her flowers every day.”

Khachigian said he felt very good about McCain’s chances, though he acknowledged it was still too early to tell much. “I paraphrase politics by saying, ‘The Masters begins Sunday on the back nine.’ Everything ripens up in a presidential campaign in October.” He also predicted that no matter who wins the Democratic nomination, the party would unite in the fall. “Anger and emotion are running high now, but they want to win,” he said. “They’re not going to unite in a nanosecond but everyone will be holding hands by October.”

Khachigian, of course, is a Republican and he might be overly optimistic about McCain’s general prospects. I certainly wouldn’t bet against Obama yet, given the political climate and his campaign skills. Still, the presidential outlook for the Democrats increasingly looks murky.

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