Posted by: coloradokiwi | May 31, 2008

The ability to predict electability

As the Dem primary winds down, there’s quite a lot of noise being made from some of the Hillary Holdouts® (not merely people campaigning hard for her, but the people who have clearly lost touch with reality in the way they make their arguments as to why she should now get the nomination), saying essentially that they are beyond despair because while Barack may have sewn up the nomination, he is unelectable in the general election.

***Aside:  I have to say that some of the twisting and turning and lashing out I’ve seen on the internets from these folks puts me in mind of that moment where the T-1000 splashes into the molten metal at the end of Terminator 2.***

According to a slew of recent polls, of course, this isn’t the case:  either Hillary or Barack would beat McCain in the general election if trends hold.  Barack appears to have a baker’s dozen of religious folks who pepper their language with racially charged rants, but Hillary has, well shit, where do you even begin?  So let’s take it as given that the GOP attacks on each of them may be equally (in)effective, albeit quite possibly with different constituencies (which we already see in their differences, more of which below).  I’d like to focus for now on crunching some numbers and gaming some of this out (caveat:  it’s not like I have all the time in the world on my hands right now, so this post is mostly bereft of links to polls—do that yerself).

One of the arguments that Hillary Holdouts® use is that the “big states” that Hillary won will not necessarily go to Barack.  Mostly this is pure horseshit:  New York will turn red this year?  California?  Um, no.  However this is not entirely without merit, as it appears Hillary is much stronger than Barack in FL and MI, which together make 44 electoral votes (EV).  That’s undeniably a huge liability in an election likely to be close even in a year that favors the Democrats.  Not so fast, though:

The polls also indicate that Barack would be all but certain to pick up recent red states like CO, IA, and NM (21 EV), while Hillary might actually lose traditional blue states like OR, WA and WI (29 EV), which is a net of +50 for Barack that Hillary would cede to McCain.  On the other hand, Hillary looks to pick up WV and AR (11 EV), which are not even remotely in play for Obama. There are a handful of fairly sizable states that could swing either way:  OH (20), PA (21), VA (13), MO (11) and NV (5).  For the record, Barack and Hillary are both very likely to win PA; Hillary is much stronger in OH than Barack; Barack is much stronger in VA than Hillary; both are comparable in being behind McCain in MO and Barack is slightly more competitive in NV.  Overall the trend is that Obama kicks ass in the West and both “corner coasts” (he’s fairly competitive in NC, too), and Hillary kicks ass in the Rustbelt and Appalachia.  Each of them get destroyed in each others’ strong areas.  If I may shoot from the hip for a moment:  the Coasts and the West in particular are populated with libertarian-leaning, pro-environment folks who like political outsiders, at least in the small cities and rural areas; Appalachia and the Rustbelt have a lot of…well, if we were impolite we might call them “racists.”  (So much for nuance, I know.  Sue me.)  But that sort of demography cum psychoanalysis can be left for another day.  For the moment, let’s do some map/number-crunching.

So let’s make some comparisons of their respective strengths and weaknesses, which I dub “Electoral Integer,” which is a factor of the difference between the Kerry blue states they lose and the Bush red states they pick up:


            —Probable pick up:  CO, IA, NM (+21)

            —Possible pick up:  VA, NV, NH, OH (+42)

            —Unlikely pick up:  FL, NC, MO, MS (+60)

            —Possible loss:  PA, MI, WI (-48 )

            —Unlikely loss:  NJ, OR (-22)


            —Probable pick up:  FL (+27)

            —Possible pick up:  OH, AR, WV (+31)

            —Unlikely pick up:  IA, KY, NV, NM, NH (+29)

            —Possible loss:  WA, WI, OR (-29)

            —Unlikely loss:  PA, MI, MN (-48 )

The short story, of course, is that Clinton seems less apt to rock the boat, as it were: we’ll have more or less the same map as before.  Although the pickups in her “home” state of Arkansas and in Appalachia are intriguing, together they don’t add up to huge numbers (probably only 11, 19 at best).  However, without clusterfuck Florida in her column, things look very dicey indeed:  a repeat of the losing Kerry map, with maybe Arkansas added.

Obama has a different set of issues.  On the one hand, he has the potential to “re-make the map” in more significant ways, and with an overall greater margin than Hillary could ever hope for.  However, most of his margins, particularly in some of those bigger states, are smaller.  A significant scandal, a problem with memes in the media, the ability of the GOP to shift the conversation…all of these things could eat into Barack’s broader leads.  On the other hand, the fundamentals look terrific for him, not only in terms of the mood of the electorate, but his campaign’s 50-state strategy of voter registration drives and other campaigning, as well as his ability to out-fundraise and outspend McCain by significant margins.  

In sum:  both Clinton and Obama are electable.  Both also have pronounced weaknesses in certain areas, which make them both liabilities, as well.  Obama’s one advantage is his greater competitiveness in more states overall, which forces the GOP to play defense in many more places, and will probably help Dems in down-ticket races in otherwise “red” states.  Clinton, by contrast, is an albatross for most down-ticket races, and while she’ll have to play defense in fewer places, she’s also less able to play offense.  

There is also this:  when the Obama is accused of being a misogynistic, white-hating, secret Muslim atheist Antichrist, McCain can be accused of being a confused, intemperate, sycophantic, war-mongering social conservative whose advisors advocate on behalf of dictatorships and robber barons.  If/when it gets that ugly, the fundamentals and the degree to of excitement among Obama’s “base” are more likely, in my view, to carry the day.  


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