Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Debunking the "big state" and "electability" myths propagated by the Clinton campaign

Hillary Clinton's campaign has recently been making the case to "super delegates" that because she has won several "big" state primaries she would be a stronger candidate in the general election. The flaw in this thinking is that she has won among Democrats in these states, and you need to win more than just Democrats to win a state in the general. So just as Barack Obama is very unlikely to win Idaho in November even though he won 72% in a Democratic primary there, primary results in a swing state such as Ohio do not tell us that any Democrat would win the state in the general (especially since John McCain also won a primary election there), nor is it likely that Barack Obama would not win a solid Democratic state like Massachusetts simply because Democrats in that state favored Hillary Clinton in the primary.

New state match-up polls released from Rasmussen Reports confirm this to be true:

New York:

Obama 51, McCain 38 - Obama by 13
Clinton 50, McCain 38 - Clinton by 12


Obama 50, McCain 38 - Obama by 12
Clinton 47, McCain 44 - Clinton by 3


McCain 47, Obama 43 - McCain by 4
McCain 47, Clinton 40 - McCain by 7


McCain 46, Obama 40 - McCain by 6
McCain 46, Clinton 40 - McCain by 6


Obama 53, McCain 38 - Obama by 15
Clinton 46, McCain 39 - Clinton by 7

So a quick sampling of these polls show the following: Obama does significantly better than Clinton in California despite the fact that she won that state handily in the primary, and does just as well as her in New York. Obama does a lot better in a state he won, Connecticut. Both Obama and Clinton lose Ohio by the same margin to McCain, and Obama does slightly better than Clinton in Florida. Overall, these particular poll findings actually show that Obama does better in "big" states than Hillary Clinton in a matchup against McCain, despite the fact that Democrats favored her in most of these primaries.

Of course, polls change, so no one can say this tells us what will happen. But, as it stands right now at least, the Clinton camp doesn't have any hard evidence that supports their claim of a general election advantage. In fact, all of the data has supported the conclusion that Barack Obama is actually the more electable candidate. But again, this is all very far off.

Unfortunately, John McCain is kicking ass in polls right now. He has closed the gap with Obama in national match-ups, and is leading in must-win Democratic-lean states Michigan and Pennsylvania according to Rasmussen. However, this is reflective of the fact that McCain is the firm Republican nominee, while Democrats are still torn between Obama and Clinton. Once we have a nominee, Democratic advantages in these states should resurface (barring a complete party meltdown at the convention, of course!).

Of course, I believe the strategy of trying to win the hardcore Democratic states, plus either Ohio or Florida, is foolish since it failed in both 2000 and 2004. Gov. Mark Warner derided it as an attempt to "launch a national campaign that goes after sixteen states and then hopes that we can hit a triple bank shot to get to that seventeenth state."

But how will we ever win without these "big" states? After spending just a few minutes playing with an electoral vote calculator, I found several easy combinations of states won by Gore in 2000, nearly won by Kerry in 2004, and/or noticeably trending Democratic since that can get us to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency without Ohio or Florida (using Kerry-won states as a baseline):

-Virginia, Iowa
-Virginia, Colorado
-Virginia, New Mexico
-Virginia, Nevada
-Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado
-Iowa, Nevada, Colorado
-Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico
-Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico
-Missouri, Nevada, Colorado
-Missouri, New Mexico, Colorado
-Missouri, Iowa

And, of course, winning these states does a lot more for expanding the party base, helps out Dems in other elections, and, I believe, gives the incoming president a greater mandate... Not only that, it currently looks as it is *more likely* Democrats would win most of these states than either Ohio or Florida. Looking back at the SurveyUSA polling released last week, Barack Obama is the stronger candidate of the two in almost all of these states.

So if some of the supers actually think, as the Clinton campaign wants them to, that maybe the voices of the voters isn't the criteria by which our nominee should be picked but who they think is the more "electable" candidate, might I recommend Senator Obama. He does better in most of the above southern and western states, and the same or better in Florida and Ohio as Senator Clinton. What other criteria should we be looking at?

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