Thursday, March 13, 2008

On whether Obama's states matter

Colbert did us all a real favor the other night by summarizing Clinton's arguments against Obama. And he really didn't exaggerate the Clinton position much. The Clinton argument is that she's won in states that are key swing states in November, like Ohio. She's also won in large Democratic states like California, New Jersey, and New York that would deliver lots of electoral votes for Democrats. Obama, meanwhile, has been doing well in smaller states that aren't likely to vote Democratic in the fall anyway.

I've heard Mark Penn and Lanny Davis make these sorts of arguments, and it strikes me as a politically stupid argument to me making. If you're trying to win Democrats over to your candidate, why tell people that their states don't matter? Is it really wise to suggest that Colorado, which will be hosting the national convention, is unimportant?

That aside, is their truth to this argument? Actually, it's very difficult to glean lessons for the November election from primary and caucus results. Ohio is, of course, a key state in a presidential election. And maybe Clinton would do better than Obama in the general election. But chances are, whoever the Democrat is will get pretty much all the Democratic votes, and whoever the Republican is will get pretty much all the Republican votes. The key question is how will the independents vote? Luckily for us, Ohio was an open primary, so we have some indication who independents prefer. It was Obama, 50-48. But again, how independents would behave with John McCain on the same ballot is difficult to predict. Clinton's argument also ignores Obama's success in swing states like Colorado, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

The other half of Clinton's argument -- that only she can secure places like CA, NY, and NJ -- is pretty absurd. Either Democrat is likely to win those states, along with Illinois.

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