by shef, Fri May 30, 2008 at 10:18:12 PM EDT
Crossposted at Ich Bin Ein Oberliner.
Senator Clinton's buzzword in her losing battle to convince super-delegates to support her campaign has been electability. Mostly, she--and her supporters--rely on a supposed demographic strength (for example, "hardworking Americans, white Americans" etc.) and polling data to show just how strong she would be in the general election versus Senator Obama. Here's my argument: Senator Clinton is probably less electable than Senator Obama.
Using polling data and alleged demographic strength is not the best way to determine electability. There is so much unknown about the coming election; it is unlikely that the field will look even close to what it looks like now. Remember, Senator Kerry was ahead in the polls against President Bush at this point four years ago. This isn't to say that polling data is completely useless, it is an important tool. But elections are very volatile, and polling data is a terrible indication of general election strength this far out.
What is more useful is looking at how candidates build and run their campaigns--something that can be done without relying heavily on counterfactuals, hypotheticals, and wishful thinking about the shape of the general election.
Senator Clinton was the "inevitable" nominee before Iowa. Now, her campaign is running out of money and bleeding support. Senator Obama, on the other hand, seems to have almost won this campaign. What's more, Senator Obama's ability to raise money is nothing short of breathtaking.
My point is, the best way to determine electability is by seeing how a person is winning an election. Senator Obama has demonstrably run a stronger campaign than Senator Clinton. He can raise more money; he can respond to crises better (think Rev. Wright...); he can, you know, win more elections (he's won more elections than Clinton has in this race thus far).
The other way people claim Clinton's superior electability is by arguing that Senator Obama is vulnerable to Republican attacks, whereas Senator Clinton isn't--or is less vulnerable. This argument doesn't go through either. Mostly, people assume that Senator Obama is vulnerable because of guilt by association attacks. Senator Clinton, however, is just as vulnerable to these kinds of scurrilous, specious attacks. Consider for example, her husband's pardons. Consider, for example, any potential scandal involving the Clintons. To the people making the attack ads, it won't matter how old (Whitewater) or how stupid (sexism) the attacks are; they will attack. All of this brings me back to how will the candidate respond, not some speculative game: what ads will they make involving Rev. Wright.
In short, there's something ridiculous about someone who is losing in every reasonable metric claiming that she is the most electable candidate. Electability is the ability to win an election. Playing speculative games isn't going to give a very good idea of who is electable. Examining the way someone runs a campaign is.