Thursday, March 13, 2008

Obama "Can't Win The General Election"

Hillary Clinton's chief campaign strategist Mark Penn made the case today that Obama can't win the general election because he hasn't won the "big" states like Ohio. This follows a statement from another Clinton advisor, Harold Ickes, who argued that Obama's wins in numerous traditionally "red" states also means little in the general election. For those who can't immediately see the flaw in making predictions about the general election that are based on primaries decided solely by Democratic voters, Karl-Thomas Musselman at Burnt Orange Report explains:

Yes, Clinton winning the Texas primary (wait, we can't say that yet) means she will win the state in November! Of course, polling says otherwise and suggests that Obama currently has the state in a tie with McCain while Clinton trails. But maybe that's just because Obama won Texas by the delegates that decide the nomination (wait, sorry, keep forgetting we can't talk about that).

But ok, let's accept that measure of reasoning seeing how history has shown it to be true (insert eye roll). Let's count numbers based upon the states that have been won (without debate or contest, which takes NV & TX (which each claim) and MI & FL off the table for now).

Hillary Clinton Electoral Votes: 180
Barack Obama Electoral Votes: 195

Please be aware that John McCain faces some problems winning the general election because Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee have now made it impossible for him to win 18 states this November by winning their primaries. His only saving grace is that he won most of the big states in the Republican primary (which does seem to raise a bit of a problem because it is my understanding that those are guaranteed Clinton states in November since she won them in the Democratic primary). Hmm. This seems to be a problem! How can both nominees win the state in the general if they won them in the primary?

In other words, this is ridiculous. Yes, the fact that Obama won some states that are traditionally red and are not likely to go Democratic in the fall should not be overstated. But somehow Clinton is in a better position to the win the general election because she can win states that are borderline or traditional Democratic strongholds against Obama? Where's the support for that? Polls for one flatly contradict such an idea, especially when they suggest that Obama is clearly the better candidate to compete in traditional red states. And states that are reliably Democratic are not likely to suddenly turn red simply because Obama is on the ticket.

Really, this is all just an attempt to muddy the waters. Obama leads in the delegate count and in the popular vote, and this is unlikely to change. The Clinton campaign would like to play with the numbers to convince you that their victories bode well for November, but Obama's do not. But it's simply not true. Obama remains in the best position to win in November.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention that I think this strategy is aimed primarily at the super-delegates. No doubt arguments about "electability" and experience are for the primary voter's consumption as well, but the average voter is less likely to sit here and figure out whether Clinton's strong showing in such-and-such state means she's more likely to win the general election. But it is something the super-delegates are probably thinking least those who are inclined to vote against the candidate who has amassed the most pledged delegates and the most votes. I honestly don't think it takes that much thought or brainpower to see through the spin, but then I'm not a Democratic party insider.

UPDATE II: Brendan Nyhan links to other bloggers that try to explain the same concept in more words, but it still comes down to the simple fact that primary results do not translate predictably (if at all) into results in the general election. It just ain't so.

UPDATE III: The Clinton Camp expands on this theme in a memo they released a couple of days ago. Team Obama responds with almost line-by-line rebuttal evidencing great disbelief at the Clinton claims.


adam said...

Their illogic is just sad.

Nat-Wu said...

Well, when you're grasping at straws you have to go with whatever you can reach. The Clinton campaign can't honestly say that despite the delegate count they have the popular vote. They can't say that they actually have a delegate lead. They can't say there's any indication more people want Clinton for President than Obama. So what have they got? An argument that against McCain she'll do better than Obama, even though (and I know they're always unreliable) polls say Obama has a bigger margin against McCain and even has a chance of carrying some red states. Yeah...they have nothing!

TC said...

The current controversy concerning Reverend Wright is an opportunity for Senator Obama to display leadership that could settle the electability question. It's also a test of the determination of his supporters in Texas.