When the dust settles in a few weeks both Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama will have won a few more primaries, questioned each other’s integrity and capabilities, and failed to wrap up the nomination. Which means the Democratic Party’s super delegates will need to come forward and make a decision.
This is not what they had in mind. Being a super delegate was supposed to be a sure ticket to a big party in Denver come August, not a requirement to anger a powerful leader of the party. Yet that’s what they’re in for. Go with Senator Clinton and the insurgents backing Senator Obama will long remember. Go with Senator Obama and Senator Clinton’s clan will never forget. Denver’s a nice place, but the ticket just got a lot more expensive.
In making their fateful decision, super delegates will likely consider: 1) what’s in it for them; 2) which candidate has the best chance to win in November; and 3) which candidate will have the strongest coattails for the party in November.
The first question is unique to each individual. I addressed the third question in an earlier post. So let’s chat about the second issue for a moment. The headline on Yahoo! Politics today is “Poll: Clinton has better chance than Obama of beating McCain.” Too bad the headline doesn’t really match the content of the story. The story describes an Associated Press poll testing how the two Democrats fair in heads-up competition against the presumptive GOP nominee, Senator John McCain. Senator Clinton leads Senator McCain 50 percent to 41 percent. Senator Obama and Senator McCain are in a statistical tie at 46 percent-to-44 percent.
But come on. It’s April. And this is 2008, the year of the hit-and-miss polls. There’s a long way to go until November. And Senator McCain has gotten pretty much a free ride of late while the Democrats have been perfecting their circular firing squad techniques. The good news for Democrats is that there’s plenty of ammunition available for the general election. Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen recently pointed out a number of flip-flops by Senator McCain that greatly undermines his appeal to indpendent voters and many Democrats. As she notes: “The Bush tax cuts: McCain voted against them as a senator, but now says he would make them permanent as president. Immigration: he cosponsored a bill in 2005 to make it easier for those in the country illegally to become citizens, but now says that if his own bill—his own bill!—came to a vote on the Senate floor, he would vote against it. After Columbine, he called for more gun control; after Virginia Tech, he said more gun control was unnecessary.”
I point this out not to pick on Senator McCain, but to underscore that polls on the November election don’t mean much now. The public perception of the candidates will change considerably and often in the next six months. Both Senators Clinton and Obama have strengths and weaknesses the GOP will exploit. Senator McCain has weaknesses that make easy targets for any Democratic nominee. In other words, there’s no way of knowing whether Senator Obama or Senator Clinton will fare better against Senator McCain in the general election. But both are likely to do well.
Which leaves the super delegates to ponder the issue of coattails. And, of course, their own self-interest.