Real Clear Politics; by Richard Baehr; May 29, 2008
If you want evidence that the Democrats are taking a huge gamble by nominating Barack Obama as their Presidential candidate, you need look no further than the current state of the race in three Southern/border states.
In 1992 and 1996 Bill Clinton won Kentucky, West Virginia and Arkansas. In 2000 and 2004, George Bush won all three states. In the current Democratic Party nominating contest, Hillary Clinton won all three states by huge margins — 30 points or more in each case. West Virginia (3%), and Kentucky (7%) have relatively small black populations. Arkansas is just over 15% African American (in the same range as Florida and Tennessee).
The three states have 19 Electoral College votes among them, almost as many as Ohio (20). In 2004, Bush won the Electoral College by 286-252. Had he lost Ohio, Kerry would have been elected. In 2008, Ohio will undoubtedly be a battleground again.
Were the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the Democrats would be in very good shape even without Ohio. That is because current surveys show Hillary Clinton winning all three states by solid margins over John McCain. But John McCain trounces Barack Obama in the same three states by over 20% in each case. So with Clinton as the nominee, these states vote as they did when her husband was the nominee. When Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, these states vote as they did when George Bush was running. The differences in the poll results are shocking. Clinton wins Arkansas and Kentucky by 14% and 9% respectively. McCain wins against Obama in the two states by 25% and 24% respectively. This means the shift from Obama to Clinton is a change of over 34% margin in one state, 38% in the other.
Roughly 40% of the voters who are for Clinton will not support Obama in these two states.
The poll results in these states suggest a few things:
(1) If Clinton were the nominee, she would have an opportunity for a broad based national victory. In addition to the three states above, Clinton appears to be the far stronger nominee in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. While both Democratic candidates seem to have a good shot at winning Pennsylvania’s 21 Electoral College votes (the Democrats have won the state 4 straight times), Clinton has a much better shot at winning Ohio (20) and Florida (27). Bill Clinton won Ohio twice and Florida in 1996. In other words, Hillary Clinton has the opportunity to create an Electoral College map that looks more like Bill Clinton’s races in 1992 and 1996, when he won 32 and 31 states and 370 and 379 Electoral College votes, than the much closer Presidential races in 2000 and 2004.
(2) If Obama is the nominee, the 2008 race looks like it will be a squeaker again, with a few tight races in smaller states — Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), Iowa (7), Colorado (9), New Hampshire (4) and Wisconsin (10) being decisive. There is far less margin for error with Obama than Clinton. If Obama is shut out of Florida (which seems likely) and loses Ohio, where he ran very poorly in the Democratic primary and trails in most surveys at this point, he will need to hold all the Kerry states from 2004 and pick up the needed Electoral College votes from the West and Iowa, and perhaps Virginia. (13).
But holding all the Kerry states is easier said than done — with Michigan (18), New Hampshire and Wisconsin all at risk, with 32 Electoral College votes among them, and perhaps Pennsylvania too, another state in which Obama ran poorly despite spending well over ten million dollars on campaign ads for the primary. Some of the same voters who appear to be soundly rejecting Obama in West Virginia, Arkansas and Kentucky, also populate Pennsylvania and Ohio, though not in the same percentages.
At this point, Obama appears to be the all but certain nominee. This is despite Clinton winning the same number or perhaps slightly more total popular votes, and winning virtually all the contested primaries since February when the Reverend Wright story surfaced. Obama’s wins since then have been in states with very heavy African-American voter percentages — North Carolina and Mississippi, and in very liberal Oregon. With almost all super delegates now breaking for Obama, he could wind up with close to a 10% delegate margin, but be only even in the popular vote. This will result from a 5% elected delegate margin (built on low turnout caucus victories), and perhaps a 30% super delegate margin, if the remaining 200 or so uncommitted super delegates break as this group has since North Carolina (62-10 for Obama). A system built on proportional distribution of elected (pledged) delegates will have grossly expanded the popular vote margin to give one candidate a decisive victory among these delegates, which has been used to justify the shift to that candidate of super delegates.
Obama’s caucus victories (he won every caucus except Nevada) were built on enthusiasm from activist left wing Democrats and young voters willing to participate in the several hour process. In the general election, the participation rate will be much higher and voting patterns should mirror much more closely the results in primary states, where Obama has not done nearly as well.
(3) The serious daily tracking polls, Rasmussen and Gallup, show John McCain with a 3-4 % national popular vote lead. This is a stunning result given the general weakness of the Republican Party this year, the low approval ratings for President Bush, the strong perception the county is headed in the wrong direction, the still unpopular Iraq war, the economic slowdown, gas and food prices, and what was supposed to be a consolidation among Democrats for Obama now that the media chorus has awarded him the nomination.
It is I think a reflection of the weakness of Obama as a candidate. Starting with the revelations about Reverend Wright, the Obama campaign has dropped from the semi-celestial status it enjoyed in the eyes of many. The gaffe-a-day express, the foot in mouth disease among Obama advisors, the glaringly weak posture on national security and foreign relations the candidate has put forth (and for which several times he has been forced to backtrack), all have damaged Obama’s chances. Now he is a mere mortal — except to the true believers, and they are not enough to put him over the top in a general election.
He could still win with the huge financial advantage he will undoubtedly have, but it will be close and hard fought, and he will have to be lucky to triumph. The Democrats in their “wisdom” will take a pass on what could have been a much easier road to victory with Clinton.
John McCain may not be the perfect Republican, but he may appear much safer, more experienced, and less of a risk than the untested junior Senator from Illinois for many voters.