Clinton campaign senior adviser Mark Penn has written a memo explaining why he believes Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is far better equipped than Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to beat the Republican who (at least at this precise moment) seems likeliest to be the GOP nominee.
Obama has been slamming McCain on the stump a lot these days, presumably to let voters imagine how he would go at it, and to assuage fears he’s not tough enough for a general election — that he can’t punch or take a punch. Lots of Edwards supporters — and maybe even Edwards himself — share this concern.
So Mark Penn lays it out: "Hillary is the Democrat who can beat him — because she has the strength and experience a president needs to get America on the right course and to defend it against future threats. …Sen. Obama has been telling voters that he is the one to beat Sen. McCain because he gave a speech against the war in 2002 and because he is currently attracting independent voters. But those arguments don’t hold up to current polling, to history or to what is likely to happen in a general election.
"First, there is no support to Sen. Obama’s assertion that his 2002 speech makes him a stronger choice in a general election. Recent history shows that voters look to who they believe can end a war and protect us against future wars. No one believes that if Hillary had been president she would have started the war. In fact, Hillary is backed by prominent anti-war leaders because they believe she is uniquely able to end the war responsibly.
"Based on recent polls, there is nothing to support Sen. Obama’s arguments about his prospective performance against Sen. McCain — both Sen. Obama and Hillary start off within the margin of error against Sen. McCain. Yesterday’s Fox poll showed both in a statistical tie with Sen. McCain. And Hillary’s negatives are fully factored in, whereas the same cannot be said of Sen. Obama because he is — by his own admission — not as well known.
"Sen. Obama’s support among independents comes from Democratic-leaning independents, voters who are likely to back the eventual Democratic nominee. He has no overall advantage in the polls against Sen. McCain. But such voters have very little information about Sen. Obama. And once the Republican machine begins to methodically attack him, he will lose independent support.
"So in a head to head against Sen. McCain, Sen. Obama has no advantage with swing voters. The 2004 election was determined by two key groups — women concerned about security and Latinos — and against Sen. McCain those groups could again prove decisive. President Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 and Sen. McCain, unlike other Republicans, has been supportive of immigration reform. These are two groups that enthusiastically support Hillary."
He then concludes with a hint towards the Obama-hasn’t-been-fully-vetted argument, saying, "if Sen. McCain is the nominee, Hillary is the one well-positioned to beat him. Already well vetted, she is ready to stand up to Sen. McCain on national security and put together a winning coalition of voters that will take back the White House."
And so I ask you from the press desk at a McCain rally in Atlanta, where "Johnny Be Good" is blaring in the background — which Democrat would be most likely to beat Johnny Mack? Hillary or Barack?