Hillary Clinton’s Big State Fantasy

With Pennsylvania finally behind us, the Democratic presidential primary circus now moves on to North Carolina and Indiana. Two more weeks of Senator Hillary Clinton claiming that Senator Barack Obama can’t win the big states. Two more weeks of her chiding him for failing to close the deal.

The gist of Senator Clinton’s argument is that only she can win the big states needed by Democrats to win in November against Senator John McCain. The argument is not entirely spin. Senator Clinton has proven her ability to win over the conservative Democrats needed for victory in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These are important states. Pennsylvania, for example, went Democratic in every presidential election between 1992 and 2004, albeit, not by much. In 1988, however, then Vice President George Bush defeated former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in the Keystone state. The reason, according to many, is that Governor Dukakis couldn’t appeal to the Reagan Democrats — the same Democrats Senator Clinton is winning over.

But that was then and this is now. Soon-to-be-president George Bush had the benefit of the President Ronald Reagan’s help in appealing to conservative Democrats. Although the Reagan Administration limped through its final years, its coattails were much stronger than that of President George W. Bush. Nor was the economy as troubled as it is today. Nor was there a divisive and unpopular war being waged. Democrats have a lot of advantages in 2008 they lacked in 1982.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other big states will be hard fought. And many Reagan Democrats will find Senator McCain an attractive candidate. But it is also interesting to note that polls show Senator McCain barely ahead of Senators Clinton and Obama even though he’s been cruising above the bruising Democratic civil war. Eventually the Democrats will unite and concentrate their fire on Senator McCain instead of one another. It is unlikely Senator McCain will go up in the polls as a result.

Democrats are evenly split between two strong candidates. This does not mean that a vote for one is a vote against the other. While that’s certainly the case for some, this year Democrats seem to be for their candidate more than against the other. Senator Clinton won California, New York and Massachusetts — all big states.

But no one realistically thinks they’ll go for Senator McCain in November. Even in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the vast majority of Senator Clinton’s supporters will rally behind Senator Obama. Her argument implies her supporters will stay home in November or, worse, vote Republican. That’s simply not true. Nor would most of Senator Obama’svoters desert her in the general election. Once the nomination is settled, the vast majority of Democrats will realize the need for change. Senator McCain isn’t a break with the past. Either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama would be.

Then there’s the fact that Senator Obama has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to win over independents and moderate Republicans while Senator Clinton tends to polarize these voters. This means Senator Obama can go after the voters Senator McCain needs to win better than Senator Clinton. It also puts into play states like New Mexico and Colorado if Senator Obama is the nominee, electoral votes that would be solidly GOP if Senator Clinton gains the nomination.

Over the next two weeks Senator Clinton will repeat her claim that Senator Obama cannot “close the deal” in spite of his financial edge. This, she points out, shows voters are having second thoughts about him.

Excuse me, but wasn’t she the inevitable nominee? The wife of a former president with higher name recognition, a larger mailing list and fund raising base than any non-incumbent Democrat presidential candidate in recent history?

Senator Obama has been on the national stage for four years, beginning with his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. Senator Clinton has been part of the national consciousness since 1992. Who was it that failed to close the deal? Senator Obama is running against a political institution. That he remains ahead in the popular vote and among pledged delegates is a remarkable feat. That Senator Clinton failed to wrap up the nomination months ago is a remarkable failure.

So we’ve got two more weeks of the Clinton campaign spin. It will be interesting to see if the talking heads challenge or amplify her case. They need something to talk about for at least another two weeks. And so does she. 

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