I’ve been assuming, like most everyone else, that Barack Obama has a far better chance of defeating John McCain in November than Hillary Clinton. Obama has broader appeal to independents and moderate Republicans than Clinton, and might be able to win a few swing states. Hillary has a low ceiling of support because she begins with such high negatives. Obama will greatly increase Democratic turnout because he generates so much enthusiasm among younger and previously alienated voters.
All this might be true, but as the race drags on, and particularly with Clinton’s victories last night, that argument requires some examination. Clinton seems like a tougher candidate than Obama (and she’s surely a meaner one), who would hold up better under Republican attacks. She also would likely be stronger against McCain on the economy, which may well be the decisive issue on voters’ minds this fall, and she probably stacks up better against McCain on national security issues as well. (Her
“3 a.m. phone call” TV ad exposed Obama’s vulnerability on that issue.) Finally, Clinton won last night with key constituencies that the Democrats need in November: women, blue-collar workers, older voters, and Hispanics.
Meanwhile, even with her recent victories, pundits will be demanding that Clinton withdraw from the race. “Stop campaigning,” Richard Cohen, the Great Decider, advised Clinton in a Washington Post column last week that was both horribly sexist and entirely undiscerning. “The evidence is overwhelming that since Super Tuesday, the minute that Clinton steps foot in a state, her numbers start to plummet…[I]t could be that Clinton would lose the Democratic nomination even if she were a gifted politician. But she has no such gift. Her smile is strained. She is contained. She seems unknowable, and there is that melancholy Billie Holiday air about her–all those songs about a suffering woman.”
It would have been humiliating for Mike Huckabee to continue after last night’s voting, but it’s rather impetuous to demand that Clinton get out of the race at this point. She just beat Obama by a very sizeable margin in Ohio and a comfortable one in Texas. The total popular vote in the Democratic primaries at this point is a virtual draw: 13,522,829 for Obama and 13,234,833 for Clinton. Polls conducted before yesterday’s primaries showed that a big majority of Democrats wanted Clinton to stay in the race if she won either Texas or Ohio. She won them both.
The odds against Clinton winning the nomination remain long and Obama may well be the better candidate against McCain. But the voters should decide the party’s candidate, not the pundits. I asked a Democratic activist for his opinion of how things would shake out following the vote last night. His reply:
I think that both Michigan and Florida are now going to have new primaries and the winner of those primaries will be the Democratic nominee. When the last 12 primaries are over, Clinton and Obama will be separated by less than 75 delegates–maybe less than 50–with Obama still in the lead. The super delegates won’t want to have to be the decider, so tremendous pressure will be placed on Michigan and Florida to hold new primaries. Florida Governor Charlie Christ already said he would support a new Democratic primary in Florida.