In responding to Hillary Clinton’s “offer” of the vice-presidency, Barack Obama made the point that he is the candidate who is leading: He has won the most states, the most popular votes, and the most delegates. The question is, Is this the end of the discussion of who ought to be the party’s standardbearer or the beginning? Clinton’s counter argument has been that many of Obama’s wins have come in red states that a Democrat can’t carry in the general election, while she has won such true blue states as California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and she is leading the polls in Pennsylvania. Obama says that he would carry those states as well.
If, as it appears will be the case, the race for the Democratic nomination turns into a lobbying contest for superdelegates, which candidate is better positioned to argue that he or she will be the stronger candidate in November?
The case for Clinton: Yes, Obama has won the most states, the most popular votes, and the most delegates. However, many of his delegates come from red states that John McCain will carry in November: Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi (which votes today). The superdelegates should take into account that these delegates will not translate into electoral votes. The last two elections have been decided in “battleground” states such as Ohio, which Clinton won decisively, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, where she holds a substantial lead in the polls. These industrial states with large blue-collar white populations are precisely the states where Obama does poorly (except for his home state of Illinois, which is a true blue state). No Democrat can win the presidency without carrying these states, and the trends of this election year suggest that Obama will have trouble carrying them. She can further redraw the electoral map by using her strength among Hispanic voters to carry New Mexico (which went for Gore in ‘00 but Bush in ‘04) and Colorado. Obama has not done well among Hispanic voters and cannot count on being able to expand the party’s base into the Southwest.
The case for Obama: He can redraw the electoral map by carrying southjern states with large black populations:
South Carolina 29.0%
A massive black turnout along with the usual Democratic vote in these states would give Obama a chance to break through in the Deep South. One could add Louisiana, North Carolina (where Obama has a nine-point lead in the polls), and Virginia, which is trending blue, to this list of states that are potential Obama pickups.
I realize that there are other arguments. Both candidates will attract new voters–young voters, in Obama’s case, and Republican women, in Clinton’s case. But in the end the superdelegates will focus on electoral votes, and, though I hate to acknowledge it, I think Clinton has the better case. If I were a Democratic superdelegate, I’d rather bet that Clinton will carry the Rust Belt trio of Michigan/Ohio/Pennsylvania than that Obama can pick up states in the South.
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My purpose in writing this post is not to favor Senator Clinton – whose campaign I find to be despicable and who I would not vote for under any circumstances – or Senator Obama, for that matter. Rather, my intention is to address the looming issue of the legitimacy of the superdelegates. The media are promoting the idea that if the superdelegates should simply ratify the results of the nominating process, and that it would somehow be undemocratic to allow the superdelegates to choose Clinton when Obama is leading the race by every measure. I disagree. The superdelegates are a part of the nominating process for a reason. The Democrats recognized after the debacles of 1968 and 1972 that the party had been taken over by special interest demographic constituencies who cared little for the party as a whole but rather were interested in promoting their own agendas. The superdelegates were created as a check on popular passions and to ensure that veteran politicians who were actually concerned about winning elections would have a say in the nominating process. This was a good decision and a necessary one. If the superdelegates agree with something like the analysis I put forward and cast their votes for Clinton, that ought to be seen as a legitimate outcome. It is within the rules of the convention. In fact, it is in the rules for just this sort of a situation, in which calculating politicians can reckon that the frontrunner is not as viable a candidate as the challenger. The idea that Clinton would be stealing the nomination from Obama is not an accurate representation of the process. She would be stealing it fair and square, within the rules.