Clinton Coalition Crumbling ...
by Paul Hogarth, Wed Feb 20, 2008 at 06:47:25 AM EST
I wrote this for today's Beyond Chron.
Barack Obama's 17-point victory last night in Wisconsin was not just his ninth consecutive (and overwhelming) win since Super Tuesday. The big news was how far he cut into Hillary Clinton's base - beating her among working-class voters, winning middle-age voters decisively, and almost tying her among white women. Clinton still holds an edge among seniors, but there's evidence that she's losing support from Latinos - which could prove fatal in the Texas primary on March 4th. Clinton's decision to go negative backfired, raising serious questions about how she could stage a comeback at this point. And like last week before the Potomac Primary, the Democratic race had a last-minute "scandal" that was supposed to give Clinton a surge - only to not materialize. That's because voters have already made up their minds.
Remember how pundits predicted that black women would be the "swing voters" of the Democratic primary? With a black man challenging a white woman, they wondered how Obama could take these votes away from Clinton - given her husband's "strong appeal" among African-Americans. South Carolina put an end to that theory, as did every state giving Obama 80-90% of the black vote. Bill Clinton tried to marginalize Obama as the "black candidate" - which may have permanently tarred his reputation in that community.
Then there was the notion that Obama was just "the candidate for young people." His campaign inspired historic youth turnout that won him the Iowa caucus, but would their parents vote for him too? I had expected Obama to win Wisconsin because of Madison's huge campus community - but his 36-point margin in Dane County doesn't explain why he won the state so easily. Obama beat Clinton among every age group in Wisconsin except seniors - winning 55% of voters between the ages of 50-64. Clinton can no longer count on middle-aged voters.
Finally, the media wrote off Obama as the candidate of "wine-and-cheese liberals" - the favorite of upper-income educated elites who can't connect with working people. The San Francisco Chronicle even boiled down the race as being between "beer drinkers" and "wine drinkers." But Obama won Wisconsin voters who never went to college - and prevailed by ten points among those who make less than $50,000 a year. His edge among working-class voters raises questions about how Clinton can win Ohio or Pennsylvania.
The one group that stuck with Clinton in Wisconsin was seniors, and she only barely won among white women. Clinton still leads among Latinos, but evidence now suggests that she's losing them too. A new national Gallup poll gives Barack Obama a four-point lead among Latinos. Clinton won the Latino vote in earlier primaries, but she cannot rely on that support in Texas like she did in Nevada, Arizona or California.
With her base eroding, Hillary Clinton went negative - and it backfired. After a series of hard-hitting commercials, a majority of Wisconsin voters called her attacks "unfair" - while fewer said the same about Obama. The Clinton camp had said for weeks that they would win the nomination with super-delegates if necessary. On Monday, an aide even suggested going after pledged Obama delegates at the Convention - in other words, directly thwarting the will of the voters.
After a disastrous PR flap, the Clinton camp denied that statement. But it's fair to draw a basic conclusion: they are getting desperate, and are grasping for any method to win the nomination - whether it is ethical or not.
But that doesn't mean that Clinton has given up yet. Last week - on the eve of the Potomac Primary - Clinton was supposed to get a last-minute surge from a tasteless remark made against her on MSNBC. David Shuster said that the Clinton camp was "pimping out" her daughter, Chelsea, on the campaign trail - which elicited a harsh rebuke and Shuster's apology. Like how the media slammed Hillary for crying in New Hampshire, it was the type of misogynistic attack that had rallied women to her side.
The voters, however, didn't feel like it mattered - at least not enough to vote for Clinton. She lost Maryland by 23 points, Virginia by 29 points, and Washington DC by 51 points.
This week, Barack Obama was supposed to be in trouble for "plagiarizing" a speech made by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Obama and Patrick are actually close friends - and both admitted to freely using each other's material. But the Clinton camp made a big deal out of it, and the media dutifully ran the story. Conflicting polls out of Wisconsin suggested Clinton could win, and a national poll on Monday showed the race tightening.
In the end, that didn't matter either. Obama won Wisconsin decisively, and early results from Hawaii show him winning there by a landslide. He now goes into the March 4th primaries - Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island - favored to win the nomination. With the Clinton coalition crumbling, Obama is likely to do better than expected in those states.