Electability in November?

By Ed O'Keefe

Mar 24, 2008 8:43am

Opinion by Matthew Dowd, ABC News Political Contributor

There has been much discussion in the 2008 presidential campaign especially as it relates to the Democratic nomination process. And there seems to be a concerted effort by the Clinton campaign to point out weakness in the Obama effort related to November electability.

Let’s take a look at some insights gleamed from the last 20 years of elections.

One argument being made is that there is a relationship between primary win in states and ability to win those states in the Fall.

For example, the Clinton campaign likes to point out they won Ohio and Obama lost it, and that this bodes badly for his chances of winning that state in the Fall. The Obama campaign points out wins in red states in the primary process trying to prove their strength.

To put it bluntly, there is no relationship between primary success in any given state and November success in those states.

The big reason is that, even with record turnouts in the primaries, only a small segment of the public goes to vote in the nomination process.

It looks like about 30 million people will vote in the Democratic nomination process; in November more than 130 million will vote!!! A much different electorate at stake.

And I can recall in the 2000 presidential campaign, George Bush won Iowa in the primary, then lost it in November. He lost New Hampshire by more than 17 points in the primary, but then carried it in the general election providing his electoral margin of victory.

There are many many similar examples of this in the last 20 years.

Mark Penn, Clinton’s strategist this year and a major adviser for former President Clinton in the 1990s, and many other Clinton campaign folks, have stated many times recently that superdelegates (as well as Obama pledged delegates) should take into account electability in November in deciding who should be the nominee, and that Obama is the weakest candidate.

First, nearly every public poll out in last two weeks show Clinton and Obama with equal strength against McCain.

This is the case even after two very bad weeks of press for Obama. My guess is after a few weeks of favorable coverage, Obama will again be at an advantage over Clinton looking towards November.

Second, it is ironic the Clinton folks are raising this argument against Obama about electability.

They might recall that as Bill Clinton was headed towards winning the nomination in 1992, his electability in the fall was seriously in doubt. He was more than 15 points behind President Bush in May and June of that year, and in many polls he was in third place behind Ross Perot and President Bush!!!

And we know the end result of that campaign was Bill Clinton taking the oath of office in January 1993.

When talking about electability we should all keep in mind that each campaign will try to use arguments to show they are stronger, and that today’s polls are only a barometer of today.

Electability, like momentum, can be as fleeting a concept, as the deciding moments every week in this process.

This is still Obama’s race to lose at this point.

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