The Democrats' Obama gamble

Richard Baehr:

If you want evidence that the Democrats are taking a huge gamble by nominating Barack Obama as their Presidential candidate, you need look no further than the current state of the race in three Southern/border states.

In 1992 and 1996 Bill Clinton won Kentucky, West Virginia and Arkansas. In 2000 and 2004, George Bush won all three states. In the current Democratic Party nominating contest, Hillary Clinton won all three states by huge margins -- 30 points or more in each case. West Virginia (3%), and Kentucky (7%) have relatively small black populations. Arkansas is just over 15% African American (in the same range as Florida and Tennessee).

The three states have 19 Electoral College votes among them, almost as many as Ohio (20). In 2004, Bush won the Electoral College by 286-252. Had he lost Ohio, Kerry would have been elected. In 2008, Ohio will undoubtedly be a battleground again.

Were the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the Democrats would be in very good shape even without Ohio. That is because current surveys show Hillary Clinton winning all three states by solid margins over John McCain. But John McCain trounces Barack Obama in the same three states by over 20% in each case. So with Clinton as the nominee, these states vote as they did when her husband was the nominee. When Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, these states vote as they did when George Bush was running. The differences in the poll results are shocking. Clinton wins Arkansas and Kentucky by 14% and 9% respectively. McCain wins against Obama in the two states by 25% and 24% respectively. This means the shift from Obama to Clinton is a change of over 34% margin in one state, 38% in the other.

Roughly 40% of the voters who are for Clinton will not support Obama in these two states.

The poll results in these states suggest a few things:

(1) If Clinton were the nominee, she would have an opportunity for a broad based national victory. In addition to the three states above, Clinton appears to be the far stronger nominee in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. While both Democratic candidates seem to have a good shot at winning Pennsylvania's 21 Electoral College votes (the Democrats have won the state 4 straight times), Clinton has a much better shot at winning Ohio (20) and Florida (27). Bill Clinton won Ohio twice and Florida in 1996. In other words, Hillary Clinton has the opportunity to create an Electoral College map that looks more like Bill Clinton's races in 1992 and 1996, when he won 32 and 31 states and 370 and 379 Electoral College votes, than the much closer Presidential races in 2000 and 2004.

(2) If Obama is the nominee, the 2008 race looks like it will be a squeaker again, with a few tight races in smaller states -- Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), Iowa (7), Colorado (9), New Hampshire (4) and Wisconsin (10) being decisive. There is far less margin for error with Obama than Clinton. If Obama is shut out of Florida (which seems likely) and loses Ohio, where he ran very poorly in the Democratic primary and trails in most surveys at this point, he will need to hold all the Kerry states from 2004 and pick up the needed Electoral College votes from the West and Iowa, and perhaps Virginia. (13).

But holding all the Kerry states is easier said than done -- with Michigan (18), New Hampshire and Wisconsin all at risk, with 32 Electoral College votes among them, and perhaps Pennsylvania too, another state in which Obama ran poorly despite spending well over ten million dollars on campaign ads for the primary. Some of the same voters who appear to be soundly rejecting Obama in West Virginia, Arkansas and Kentucky, also populate Pennsylvania and Ohio, though not in the same percentages.


I think it could be even worse for Obama than Baehr suggest. He won states in February that he probably could not win today as voters got to know more about him. the Rev. Wright controversy still resonates and it will effect voters in states that earlier voted for him. Many of those states are states he is unlikely to carry anyway

With him now leading much of the focus has turned to his flaws. Hillary Clinton has her's too that would be a bigger part of the conversation if her chances had not become so tenuous. I think if the Rev. Wright CD's had gone viral in December and January she would have had the nomination locked up by now. That timing is going to give McCain a weaker candidate to run against.


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