by Todd Beeton, Wed Mar 26, 2008 at 11:28:53 AM EDT
As I wrote yesterday, Democratic registration in Pennsylvania hit new heights this week as Monday's deadline to register to vote in the April 22nd Dem primary passed. While it's unclear whom the party switchers benefit more -- as I've written before, Hillary Clinton has made inroads recently among both Independents and Republicans -- there is some evidence that perhaps this surge of new Democrats just may benefit Obama.
Although the final numbers are not yet in, so far registration has swelled 84,801 since the 2006 elections -- that's 11% of the 790,000 people who voted in the 2004 Democratic primary. Last week alone 50,347 people became Democratic voters, according to Pennsylvania's State Department, bringing the state party's total to over four million for the first time ever. Since the beginning of the year, 86,711 Republicans and Independents have switched affiliations, and in just the last three weeks 34,104 new voters registered as Democrats. Significantly, 64% of those who changed parties were in the 12 largest counties -- urban areas that have large African American and educated white populations, demographics that are Obama's strength.
Which led one local political scientist to utter those fateful words:
"I think he has a chance to pull off an upset here," said Ray Owen, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Pittsburgh. "The rates of changes in registration and new registrations indicate that some independents are joining the new voters in registering Democratic."
We're already seeing Obama assert himself in polling in Pennsylvania, having gained three points on Clinton in the latest Rasmussen Poll, bringing her margin down to 10 points, her smallest lead in the state since her March 4th victories. Add to that Obama's recent ad blitz and his forthcoming bus tour of the state, if history is any guide, polls are likely to close even more. But you have to think the Obama campaign would like to tamp down any "upset" narrative that might spring forth. We have seen this movie before after all. Remember New Hampshire, California and Ohio one can hear the Obama camp shouting, when polls showed him closing the gap, indeed even pulling ahead of Clinton, but her overperformance relative to expectations on election day went on to feed into a "she's alive" narrative that the Obama campaign would like to avoid in April. Right now, there is movement away from the sense that Pennsylvania is must-win for Clinton in favor of the notion that her victory is a foregone conclusion and instead that North Carolina is actually must-win, a narrative that the Clinton campaign is already pushing back against.
[Ace] Smith told Trail Mix that Barack Obama starts with a large advantage here and that if Clinton were to win on May 6, "it would probably be one of the greatest upsets, probably in the last 10 years." But Smith also said he expects North Carolina to be competitive and said the Clinton campaign will put in place "one of the biggest, deepest grassroots organizations that this state's ever seen."
Does Clinton have to pull off the upset to have a chance at the presidential nomination, as some commentators have suggested? Smith said no. "There's no question that a huge upset win in North Carolina would be great for the campaign," he said. "Is it absolutely necessary? The answer is we're just looking to run a strong campaign here."
The Clinton campaign has benefited most from expectations management thus far in the race. One wonders if this time team Obama can take a page out of their playbook and manage them a little better this time, although ultimately it's up to voters who have tended to break for Clinton on election day in these three key Clinton country states. What Obama needs to do to end this thing is to dramatically overperform expectations on April 22 and the only way to do that is to go all in in PA, risking inflating his poll numbers perhaps above reality. Making sure it doesn't backfire on him again is the fine lilne he's going to have to walk.