Photo: New England Patriot bumming after losing the big game yesterday, which everyone assumed they were going to win. Moral: this can't be the Democratic Party on election day 2008.
(Update, Feb. 12: Please visit VichyDems' home page for more up to date info and analysis of the primary race, including on "electability." Thanks!)
(Update, Feb. 14: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery -- even if it's just coincidental: ""I've got two great quarterbacks. One can win the game for me by three points, one by a touchdown. I'm very pragmatic, so I'm going for the one who can win by a touchdown." (Texas Rep. Charles Gonzalez, on why he's backing Obama.))
IN A NUTSHELL: Even with McCain surging, Obama still can beat him by seven points -- a touchdown -- while Clinton, at best, would win by two points -- not even a field goal, but a safety. The close Super Bowl yesterday was fun, but this isn't a game. Close isn't fun. If we want a Democrat in the White House -- if we think that electing a Democrat is more important to our nation right now than which specific Democrat we elect -- then we need to win big. Long-time readers know that I don't consider Obama perfect by any means, though I do prefer him to Clinton for a number of reasons. But only one reason matters now: by the critical test of "who can win big?" Obama's the intelligent choice.
HERE'S WHY: In my last post, I emphasized how important the six-point spread between Obama's and Clinton's electability is, because, let's admit it, six points is within the margin of error in a national election: a last-minute Swiftboat-style ad campaign, a disaster (natural or terrorist) that increases people's patriotism and support for the (Republican) incumbent, or fraudulent manipulation of Diebold's touch-screen voting machines can easily swing the vote count by that much. We don't want a candidate who can barely beat the Republican; we want the candidate who can beat him by the largest margin possible. Hell, we won the popular vote in 2000 and still lost the election! What we should try for is a blowout, because if the Democrat wins by a lot then he/she has a mandate, and because even if something goes wrong, we may still eke out a victory.
Today let's look at the key state for Democrats: California. It's practically impossible for a Democrat to with the Presidency without taking California. There, as well as nationally, McCain's looking increasingly strong in hypothetical matchups against both Clinton and Obama, but Obama still has a significant edge over Clinton in electability and remains the Democrat most likely to beat the Republican, according to a Field Poll cited in the S.F. Chronicle yesterday:
The head-to-head matchups between the Republican and Democratic candidates highlight both Clinton's loosening hold on California voters and McCain's growing strength in the state. Clinton now clings to a bare 45 to 43 percent lead over McCain in a projected California presidential vote, down dramatically from her 17 percentage point margin just two weeks ago. Obama now holds a stronger 47 to 40 percent margin over the Arizona senator, but that's only half the 14 percentage point advantage he had in mid-January.
I don't like the fact that McCain's gaining on both, but that's temporary -- once a front-runner emerges in a primary, he or she always gets a short-term bounce as people jump on the bandwagon. The important thing is that even as McCain gains ground -- and he's going to gain more once tomorrow's voting locks in his nomination -- Obama clearly retains more traction: not only does he retain a much larger seven point advantage over McCain, but he's slipped less in proportional terms: once McCain broke out as the Republican front-runner, Clinton lost FIFTEEN POINTS -- losing 88% of her advantage!! -- while Obama lost only seven points, or 50% of his advantage. Versus McCain, he's falling "less fast" than Clinton, which both suggests he he will have less ground to gain back once the novelty of McCain-as-the-nominee wears off and the real grind begins, and that he has more traction with voters with which to do so.
After tomorrow, I predict McCain will beat Clinton in hypothetical matchups, but Obama may still retain an edge, which is a very big deal. And during the general election grind, Obama will do better: it's becoming a truism that time is Obama's friend, that the more people see of Obama the more they like him and the more they see of Clinton the less they like her, a trend supported by Obama's ongoing surge among undecided voters and independents.
So again: we don't have the luxury of squabbling about details. The Republicans have utterly screwed up our nation, we're heading for a serious recession, job losses already have started, the Iraqis aren't making any significant political progress, et cetera et cetera et cetera. It's much more important that we elect a Democrat to start cleaning things up than which Democrat it is. What we need isn't a woman or a black or a liberal or a moderate, but a winner. It doesn't matter which quarterback we like; it matters which quarterback is playing best against the other team. Or, as James Carville might say, "it's the electability, stupid!"
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