Is Obama McGovern? Are Clinton’s Negatives ‘All Out There’?

By Jennifer Parker

Apr 24, 2008 9:26am

Lanny Davis, the former aide to then-President Bill Clinton, had some mighty nice things to say about fellow Yalie George W. Bush in 2005, calling him "a sincere and kind man and a good friend.’

He has been less charitable in this election cycle when it comes to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois.

Davis, a fundraiser for and supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, and until this election cycle a critic of "gotcha" politics — has penned myriad op-eds raising the issue of Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

On the Huffington Post yesterday, Davis penned "The Top Ten List of Undisputed Facts Showing Barack Obama’s Weakness in the General Election Against John McCain."

Some of his "undisputed facts" are both disputed and not facts. Most glaringly, the laughable assertion that "There were no personal attack ads run by Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania."

Hello?

(And let’s not even discuss Clinton’s ad featuring an image of Osama bin Laden. While I’m on an aside, can I just say that however much I enjoy RealClearPolitics,  its notion of taking the average of a bunch of polls– some of them respectable, some of them ridiculous — is only slightly more scientific than the Di Bruno brothers’ sandwich poll?)

But back to this morning’s discussion points —

Davis concludes his missive, saying "To all Super Delegates: you decide who is riskier as a general election candidate. The candidate whose negatives, driven by the right-wing hate machine in the 1990s in particular, are all out there and already taken into account. Or a candidate who is still virtually unknown to most of the electorate, with Republicans clearly looking forward to filling in the blanks with the facts about his record of which many general election voters still are not aware."

Republican Rich Lowry of the National Review, who says he’s more sympathetic to Clinton than Obama, argues that this is wrong.

"Hillary’s negatives aren’t ‘all out there,’" Lowry writes. ‘She’s perfectly capable of creating new, damaging ones, as she did with the Bosnia story. Plus, Bill is always a wild card, in terms of what he’s going to say, what is going to be revealed about his business dealings, etc."

That said, Lowry agrees that "if you could wipe the slate clean of all that has happened in this nomination race and just pick the most electable candidate, Hillary would be the safest bet for the Democrats: Nominate her (with Obama as the VP) and win Ohio, and the presidency is yours. With Obama, things get more complicated."

At the New Republic, John Judis is also an Obama skeptic, writing that if you "look at Obama’s vote in Pennsylvania, you begin to see the outlines of the old George McGovern coalition that haunted the Democrats during the ’70s and ’80s, led by college students and minorities. In Pennsylvania, Obama did best in college towns (60 to 40 percent in Penn State’s Centre County) and in heavily black areas like Philadelphia."

The problem with this coalition — its "ideology is very liberal. Whereas in the first primaries and caucuses, Obama benefited from being seen as middle-of-the-road or even conservative, he is now receiving his strongest support from voters who see themselves as ‘very liberal.’ In Pennsylvania, he defeated Clinton among ‘very liberal’ voters by 55 to 45 percent, but lost ‘somewhat conservative’ voters by 53 to 47 percent and moderates by 60 to 40 percent. In Wisconsin and Virginia, by contrast, he had done best against Clinton among voters who saw themselves as moderate or somewhat conservative."

Obama’s supporters in Pennsylvania were also more secular, like the McGovern coalition. "In the early primaries and caucuses, Obama did very well among the observant," Judis says. "In Maryland, he defeated Clinton among those who attended religious services weekly by 61 to 31 percent. By contrast, in Pennsylvania, he lost to Clinton among these voters by 58 to 42 percent and did best among voters who never attend religious services, winning them by 56 to 44 percent. There is nothing wrong with winning over voters who are very liberal and who never attend religious services; but if they begin to become Obama’s most fervent base of support, he will have trouble (to say the least) in November."

- jpt

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