Wednesday, April 23, 2008

After Pennsylvania, Obama's still winning

So anyone who watched MSNBC (or any other news outlet) last night saw Hillary Clinton giving a triumphant speech to her jazzed supporters in Philadelphia and an optimistic Barack Obama giving a passionate speech to his supporters in Evansville, Indiana. Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary by 8.5%, according to the Pennsylvania Secretary of State, though the returns were incomplete at the time of Clinton’s victory speech last night, so she claimed at 10% victory. She also claimed that it looks like it’s curtains for Obama, or at least that she’s catching up to him in the primary race. But the fact is that there are still reasons for Democrats to be hopeful that Obama will come out on top, no matter what Clinton says.

1. Barack Obama cut Clinton’s approval in Pennsylvania by more than half. After the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio, Hillary Clinton enjoyed a 26% lead over Barack Obama among Pennsylvania Democrats. Over the past seven weeks, Senator Obama erased that number by 17½%—testimony to his strength as a candidate and his ability to campaign.

2. Obama’s trending up, Clinton’s trending down. If you look at the numbers in Pennsylvania and nationwide, Barack Obama’s approval has been going up over the past two months, while Hillary Clinton’s has been going down. While Hillary’s national approval led Barack Obama’s by nearly 10% back in February, that lead has flipped to a 50%-40% lead in Obama’s favor as of this week. He’s gaining among almost all demographics—his numbers increasing among blue-collar voters, the uneducated, Catholics, women—all groups that Clinton had previously led in.

3. Clinton’s negatives are on the rise. With every negative ad that Clinton runs, Obama is knocked down a peg or two, but that results in Clinton getting knocked down a couple pegs more. While this will no doubt help McCain in the fall, it’s keeping Clinton from advancing in the primaries, and earning her resentment among voters and superdelegates.

4. Superdelegates continue to break for Obama. Since March 4, Hillary Clinton has picked up twelve superdelegates, but Barack Obama has picked up 84 of them, many of which actually switched from supporting Clinton to Obama. Obama’s latest superdelegate gain is Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma, who had previously stated that he intended to stay out of the contest until the convention in Denver this August. Clinton still leads in overall superdelegates, but the trend is that any superdelegate who decides to break his or her neutrality is more likely to break for Obama and not for Clinton. There’s no reason to think this will change.

5. Clinton can’t catch Obama in pledged delegates. Even though Clinton won Pennsylvania by 8.5% last night, this single-digit victory still only netted her 9 delegates (give or take a couple—her actual number will be computed later, but it won’t be much more or less than 9.) Clinton would have to win all the remaining primary contests by more than 70%, and no reasonable person would suppose that either Clinton or Obama could pull that feat off.

All this is not to say that Clinton’s continued vicious attacks on Obama won’t just hand ammunition to the McCain campaign and turn voters off of the Democratic Party at a time when the Democrats are poised to win with strong margins not seen since 1964, but the fact remains that Obama is still the most likely Democratic nominee—even if Hillary Clinton destroys him and effectively hands the presidency to John McCain.

The question that I’m sure is on everyone’s minds is this: considering that Hillary Clinton is the wife of the most popular Democratic president of the past forty years, and considering that she’s had years to line up support for her presidential run, and considering that she’s long had greater name recognition than any of the candidates, why can’t she close the deal?

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At Friday, April 25, 2008 at 4:06:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Kurt - thanks for the succinct and articulate analysis of where things are after Pennsylvania. Your breakdown certainly paints a different picture than that found in the mainstream media. Perhaps HRC's alleged "momentum" is little more than media fabrication?

At Friday, May 2, 2008 at 10:14:00 AM EDT, Blogger Kurt Kaletka said...

anonymous--Yeah, I suspect Clinton's so-called "momentum" is media fabrication. She'd long been favored to win Pennsylvania by over 20 points, so when she won it by a mere 8.5 points, that indicated slippage for Clinton—but that's not how the media played it. They want a horse race, so they started acting as though there's some kind of there there.

Watch for more of this in coming weeks, specifically regarding West Virginia and Kentucky. She's got a massive lead in both states and always has, so when those states vote for Clinton, expect the media to talk about her campaign as if it's coming back from the dead. As with anything, what matters are the trend lines: is she doing better in these states than she had been? Worse? About the same? That's where the real story is. If Obama's catching up to her in West Virginia and Kentucky, then that's just further evidence that her "viability" argument is only so much gas to pass.

Nothing will stop the conservative media from pushing Clinton's candidacy, though. They want her as the nominee more than anything, and always have.


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