Obama, Clinton, and The Electoral College
I recently heard someone say that the Clinton’s campaign’s potential efforts to grab Florida delegates rested on a “weak argument,” because the state wasn’t contested. But I must say I don’t think that’s right at all. Florida saw about the same number of voters participate in its Democratic primary as New York — a slightly larger, significantly more Democratic state. Which strongly implies the vigorous surrogate campaigning (and Obama’s television advertising) did have an effect, because, proportionally, voter turnout in the Florida Democratic primary was heavier than in New York.
The pattern is clear. In large primaries where the electorate mirrors that of the nation as a whole, Hillary wins going away. Obama’s continues mostly to be a boutique, niche campaign, heavily dependent on flooding caucuses with liberal activists and college students. When there’s a more even playing field for moderate income voters — his campaign is far less impressive. For all the talk about electability, his candidacy looks very much like a Gary Hart or Bill Bradley insurgency, with a classic emphasis on left-wing Democratic voter cohorts and students. It is actually Hillary Clinton’s campaign that has demonstrated far greater strength with the purple state swing voters who will decide this election. In Missouri, for instance, Obama’s victory was put together in blue counties the Democrats typically win even in bad years (ie., metro Saint Louis and KC), whereas Hillary’s 49% of the vote came heavily in the redder rural and exurban counties in which the Democrats must show strength if they’re to take such purple states in November. Louisiana was similar. And Obama, of course, lost heavily in two other purple state primaries, Tennessee and Arkansas. (actually, make that “three” other if you include Florida).
Those who say Illinois and Massachusetts don’t tell us much about the general election are right. Deep blue states will remain so. But caucuses don’t tell us much about the general election, either. Because when you reduce voter participation to, say, 20% of what it would be in a primary (I’m thinking of Washington State vs. Massachusetts, for example), you naturally get a subset of the voting population that is better educated, more affluent, and, yes, more likely to be heavy with Obama supporters. There’s nothing “unfair” about Obama’s wins here. Rules are rules. But you’ve really gotta be drinking the Obama-aid to infer anything about his potential strength in the Electoral College from such contests.
When you analyze the returns from purple state primaries, it is abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton represents the country’s best chance at taking back the White House from the Republicans. Obama’s is a classic but under the radar, left-liberal insurgency candidacy. He may have been temporarily able to deflect media scrutiny of his ideology by eschewing discussion of issues. But that situation will not hold indefinitely. It also may be the case that 2008 will be such a good year for Democrats that we can get a guy like Obama elected — and that’s an exciting prospect. But Hillary is really the safer bet to prevail in November.
I urge Clinton supporters to stand firm, to fight tenaciously for her candidacy, and to go on to help her take Texas and (purple state) Ohio. I also urge the Clinton campaign to strongly resist any proposals to caucus Florida and Michigan. We need to get the most electable candidate nominated this summer.
And for you Obama supporters, think about three little words: The. Electoral. College.