Time to have a word in Hillary’s ear

With Hillary Clinton refusing to bow out of the Democratic presidential race, John McCain watches his hopes rise, Karen McCarthy reports from Washington.

A HAPPY ending is looking less likely for the Democrats in November as their nominees scrap and scrape their way to their August convention.

Pundits are calling for Senator Clinton’s withdrawal, Senator Barack Obama’s electability is back in question, and the self-inflicted injury from disenfranchising Michigan and Florida voters continues to fester. The only people celebrating are the Republicans.

Despite a hobbling finish in Indiana and a hammering in North Carolina, Clinton’s appeal to the superdelegates that only she can deliver the swing states, blue states and blue collar workers continues unabated, if not more shrill. Her performance in the two red states means, even if both disenfranchised states were readmitted, she can’t win the popular vote.

Her campaign is taking a new approach to spinning poll data. It shows that she, not Obama, is poised to win the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida — two of which have been necessary since 1960 to win the presidency.

Obama’s failure to win over critical white working-collar voters, his potential to be “swift-boated” by association with his former pastor, and the multitude of polls that show him trailing McCain in battleground states bolsters her argument.

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton beating McCain by up to ten points in critical swing states, while Obama is either statistically even or losing.

According to an NBC poll, 30% of her supporters said they won’t vote for Obama if she loses the nomination. She has also bested him among the core Democratic Catholic and Hispanic voters by 60-36%.

But with Obama carrying the popular vote, pledged delegates and majority of states, a groundswell is demanding that superdelegates should vote in accordance with the popular vote and any backroom deals that would snatch the nomination away from him could alienate black and young voters.

Being held hostage by the punters isn’t what the party intended. After nominating the unelectable George McGovern in 1972 and watching him get demolished in the general election, prevailing wisdom decreed the grassroots had become more powerful than the politicians whose job it was to get their man elected. By 1982 the nomination process was altered to include superdelegates, or party insiders, in an effort to limit the impact of the average punter in primaries. In 2008 the superdelegates are being pressed ganged into the majority’s boat. Or are they?

Despite statistics that question Obama’s viability in a general election, Clinton’s case assumes that the superdelegates would want her if it were not for the consequence of being seen to be stealing the nomination from the first viable black contender.

The evidence indicates otherwise. Since Super Tuesday nine superdelegates have shifted allegiance to the Illinois Senator. Fifteen were undaunted by Rev Wright’s recent controversial speech at the National Press Club and pitched their tent in Obama’s camp the following week.

Not since 1976, when Gerald Ford narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan, has a major party convention opened with the identity of the nominee in question. This time the superdelegates will in all likelihood make the final choice beforehand.

McCain is making this a more competitive race for the GOP who are perceived negatively by the voters. The disparity between his popularity and his party’s disapproval rating is unusual.

It may be explained by the polls, one of which shows most voters have more confidence in his ability to handle a crisis than they have Obama.

Another boon for the Arizona senator is Clinton’s repeated wins in the blue-collar states, which shows Obama is failing to appeal to the Reagan Democrats, leaving them primed to be scooped up by the Republicans for the first time since the 1980s.

The Jeremiah Wright controversy will come back to haunt Obama, waiting to reignite a race issue during a presidential campaign. But McCain has his own albatross. According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 43% of voters think he is too closely aligned with the current administration. A CNN poll indicates President Bush has the highest disapproval rating ever, higher than Harry Truman and Richard Nixon.

McCain also has his own foreign policy challenge by advocating a continuing presence in Iraq, when the majority of voters want the next president to end the war quickly, and he has openly admitted the economy isn’t his strong point when 80% of Americans reportedly believe the country is in recession.

While the protracted competition between the Democrats may be agonising for the party, it is energising voters and exposing potentially damaging surprises sooner rather than later.

Obama has attracted new voters, young people, African-Americans, independents and those with a desire for change. If he wins he will be vindicated for advocating that America’s hunger for a new direction will trump experience, heroism and political ability.

That could be a not so unhappy ending for the Democrats after all.


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