Feature

Who is more electable?

Hillary Clinton

What happened

Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategist Mark Penn argued in a call with reporters Monday that Clinton the Democrat is most likely to beat presumptive GOP nominee John McCain in the general election. “The Republican attack machine redefines the Democratic candidate,” Penn said, and Barack Obama would easily fall victim to this technique while Clinton, who is already well known, would not. An Associated Press poll on Monday showed Obama beating McCain in a hypothetical matchup, 48 percent to 42 percent; Clinton essential tied McCain, 46 percent to 45 percent. (The Washington Post)

What the commentators said

Democrats are “letting Republicans get inside their heads,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post (free registration). “Amazingly,” you hear Democrats worrying “out loud” about whether evil “Republican masterminds” are trying to trick them into nominating Obama, an “innocent lamb who will be chewed up by the attack machine.” The GOP will “go negative,” no matter who wins—they kind of have to, as “none of the fundamentals remotely suggest that this should be a Republican year.” But when Republicans say nice things about Obama, it’s not a “Dr. Evil routine.” It’s because unlike Clinton, he “disagrees with conservatives without demonizing them.”

Obama has shown he can win solidly Republican states, said Kim Zigfeld in the Publius Pundit blog. And that’s supposed to reassure Democrats? “Clinton has won every single one” of the critical Democratic states, except Obama’s home state, Illinois. If he wins the nomination, Democrats will have “pulled a Dukakis (Mondale, McGovern) once again”—choosing a candidate “who lost in their primaries all the states they must win in the general election.” And they’ll send a candidate “utterly without a resume” to battle “a legitimate war hero.” Good luck with that.

The McGovern analogy is pretty apt, said Mark Stricherz in National Review Online. Like Obama, he needed the young voters to turn out to vote. But a key “political law” holds “that young voters are notoriously fickle,” and they didn’t help McGovern, and they didn’t help John Kerry. Obama needs to win over more than “his coalition of blacks and yuppies” and young voters, but that will certainly be a “struggle.” If he has any hope, it’s that his bond with supporters is “emotional and spiritual,” not “ideological,” so it won’t “automatically turn off” other constituencies.

But that’s also why people are calling Obama’s campaign a “cult,” said Dayo Olopade in The New Republic’s The Plank blog. While it’s useful to critically examine all the “warm-and-fuzzies that Obama’s campaign seems to provoke,” the “messiah” criticism seems unfair. Obama has run a “gang-busting” participatory campaign based on his experience as a community organizer, and the “devotion” of his supporters “should not be vilified as such.” It is “legitimately novel philosophical approach,” and it looks more promising than the “nose-holding” support of some Kerry voters in 2004.

“Who can beat John McCain?” is now the central question for Democrats, said E.J. Dionne, also in The Washington Post. But they need to decide soon and get behind one of their two candidates. Both have strengths and weaknesses—“Obama is passion, Clinton is bread and butter. If she needs more flourishes, he could afford to traffic a bit more in the staples.” However, if the Democrats wait until their nominee is chosen not by clear-headed electabilty concerns but in a “mire of rules fights and backroom dealing,” the answer to their central question will be: neither one.

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