How to beat Obama

Reihan Salam:

Last week's Pennsylvania primary demonstrated that Barack Obama is not unbeatable. This might sound a strange way to put it. Hasn't it always been true that Obama is beatable?

Well, consider an alternate reality in which Obama had won Pennsylvania. His people certainly thought long and deeply about this alternate reality--why else spend a staggering $12 million on one state's primary? Hillary Clinton would have dropped out. Obama would have shown that he can win white working-class votes in a big, diverse, populous state. Way back after the Iowa caucuses, he playfully observed that everywhere he goes becomes Obama country. What if, amid a deluge of ads, after spending the better part of six weeks crisscrossing Pennsylvania's white ethnic inner suburbs and rural counties, he had managed to turn them into Obama country? There'd be no denying that he had the political Midas touch.

The Obama campaign, a far shrewder, more effective, more creative operation than any we've seen in Democratic politics in years, didn't spend that extraordinary sum for laughs. One has to assume Obama's rapid-fire responses to Clinton's attacks on guns and security were a dry run for the general election. Yet he didn't win in Pennsylvania, even against Hillary Clinton's near-penniless campaign, full of mutinous senior advisers eager to jump ship, even with a media cheering section to urge him on.

Not only did Obama not expand beyond his core constituencies--as always, he was crushed among Catholics, an atypically big slice of Pennsylvania's Democratic electorate, and white working-class voters--he lost ground with affluent professionals, the group that has powered his historic fundraising success, with weekly churchgoers, and with the moderates who have until recently seen him as one of their own. He lost Greater Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia suburbs by wide margins, and he also lost the northeastern part of the state by a whopping 66 to 34 percent. In a new Brookings study of Pennsylvania's political demographics, William Frey and Ruy Teixeira identify this region, centered on Allentown, as key to the state's political future. If Pennsylvania's Northeast keeps trending Democratic, the state will become solidly blue. But if a Republican candidate can hold the line or make some modest gains with the region's white working class voters, the picture looks very different. And as it turns out, the GOP may have a candidate who can do just that in John McCain. As Hillary Clinton's campaign slow-marches to its unhappy end, she is offering lessons not only for how McCain can defeat Obama--she is pointing towards a possible bright future for the Republican brand....

He goes on to look at the demographics that can make a Republican majority for McCain. I think the larger point is that money and big ad buys do not translate into victory for a candidate who has been limping since Super Tuesday. He has not won much of anything since the Wright revelations, much less his condescending statements about voters who were rejecting his message. He also has not been winning the big states or the Hispanic vote. He will probably have similar money advantages this fall, but McCain has been effective without a money advantage this election already.


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