Hillary Clinton Fact Wars

Hillary Clinton Popular Vote Fact HubThere is a lot of chatter going on about the “facts” as regards to Hillary Clinton’s bid to come from behind to win the Democratic presidential nomination. The campaign’s The Fact Hub blog contends that “More People Have Voted For Hillary Than Any Other Candidate.” They arrive at this conclusion, which goes contrary to the expert consensus, by including the non-elections in Michigan and Florida.

Meanwhile, Clinton surrogate Lanny Davis weighs in with “The Top Ten List of Undisputed Facts Showing Barack Obama’s Weakness in the General Election Against John McCain,” almost all of which are in fact disputed and few of which say much about the general election.

Finally, MediaBloodhound Brad Jacobson contends that the idea that Clinton can still win this thing is a fiction created by the media, especially the television networks, because they’re desperate to keep the public interest in order to sell more soap.

Let’s take the last one first. Yes, the media have an interest in keeping a horse race going but, no, they’re not engaged in an elaborate plot. So long as Barack Obama hasn’t wrapped up the nomination and Hillary Clinton continues to not only remain in the race but win key contests, they have little choice but to portray this as an active race. Otherwise, they would rightly be accused of taking sides. At the same time, however, almost all of the talking heads agree that Obama is the clear favorite to win.

The popular vote argument has long struck me as silly, frankly, but the Clinton campaign has a reason to want to count Florida and Michigan. Real people in fact showed up to win and more of them voted for her than Obama. That said, including Michigan, where Obama wasn’t on the ballot, is absurd on its face.

This sleight of hand led Davis’ list, which gives a good indication of its overall strength. The next two “undisputed facts” include several about the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, in which John McCain was not a participant. We’re then treated to these gems:

4. Most of his ads were personal negative attack ads against Senator Clinton, meaning attacks on her character and integrity.

5. There were no personal attack ads run by Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania.

Please. There were tons of attacks ads against Obama, they were just run by the American Leadership Project, a 527 organization that supports Clinton.

6. Barack Obama hasn’t won a single major industrial state that historically constitute the key “battleground” states for both parties, i.e., the states in the last three or four presidential elections have switched back and forth between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

7. The reason that he lost can be found in the demographic data: He lost — and Senator Clinton won — by substantial margins blue collar and middle class white voters earning under $50,000 a year, senior citizens, rural voters, Hispanic voters, and women voters — all core constituencies in the Democratic base that must be won if a Democrat is to win the White House. For example, yesterday in Pennsylvania she won Roman Catholics by 32 percent (66034), union households by 18 percent (59-41), and those most concerned about the economy by 16 points (58-42). Only 60 percent of Democratic Catholic voters said they would vote for Mr. Obama in a general election.

8. Barack Obama has lost these same demographic groups in Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, California and New Jersey and other major states that Senator Clinton won. There is a factual pattern of his weakness among these demographic groups in virtually every primary state that cannot be disputed.

This line of argument is quite fair and is at the heart of Clinton’s case to the superdelegates. Under the rules that govern the general election, winner-take-all at the state level, Clinton would have wrapped this thing up long ago. But those aren’t the rules here.

Further, the fact that blue collar Democrats prefer Clinton to Obama does not at all mean that these voters would prefer John McCain, a Republican, to Obama. Indeed, McCain himself is facing the same problem: self-identified conservatives preferred some other candidate to him in every meaningful race. For the most part, the base will rally in November.

The wild card, really, is how many blue collar Democrats and independents who would sit out the race or vote for McCain rather than vote for a black man. While my guess is that number will be small, Dave Schuler’s right that it could be decisive at the margins. But that would be a terrible reason for the superdelegates to deny him the nomination.

Davis closes with two points that are really one: McCain is slightly ahead of Obama in the national polls whereas Clinton is slightly ahead of or tied with McCain. But that’s a snapshot in time; Obama was ahead until quite recently. And Clinton’s negatives are much, much higher than his. Not to mention the fact that we don’t elect presidents in a national popular vote but rather on a state-by-state basis.

The bottom line:

1. Obama will almost certainly be the nominee. He’ll be ahead in both the delegate count and the (meaningless but still cited) popular vote at the convention. Barring some major scandal, it will be virtually impossible for the superdelegates to buck those facts and hand the nomination to Clinton, especially given that Obama would be the first major party presidential nominee of color.

2. Obama probably should be the nominee. He’s a much more attractive candidate than Clinton in almost every conceivable way. Despite probably being at least slightly to Clinton’s left on most key issues, even a lot of conservatives seem to like him. Clinton has firm negatives that approach 50 percent and the race has made her less, not more, attractive.

3. Clinton has every right to keep fighting. While she can’t win it before the convention, neither can Obama. And, as Dave Schuler is fond of noting, this is her last shot at the brass ring.

4. The Democratic nominating electorate has not expressed a clear preference. While she made a major tactical error in not contesting several caucus states, handing Obama artificially large victories there, she’s won every key state except Obama’s home of Illinois and would almost certainly have won Florida and Michigan in legitimate contests.

UPDATE: Steven Taylor and Josh Marshall argue, correctly, that “it is simply a fallacy to claim that winning a state’s Democratic primary means you’re more likely to win that state in the general election or that your opponent can’t win it.” It is, however, presumably an indication that you’re more likely to win said state than your opponent, given that you start with the support of the base.

The counter-argument, I suppose, is that perhaps you’ve won because you’re more extremist than your opponent and thus appeal to the rabid ideologues that vote in primaries but not to the more moderate voters needed in the general. But that’s unlikely to be the case here as Clinton is, if anything, more pragmatic than Obama.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Pug says:

    I agree with your summary with one small quibble. I think the surprising thing about Michigan is that Clinton got only 55% of the popular vote when she was the only candidate whose name appeared on the ballot. Saddam and Fidel always did much better than that.

    I think if there had been a campaign there Obama would have won the state, mainly because John Edwards was still in the race and would have taken more votes from Clinton than from Obama.

    Of course, I could be wrong. That would be nothing new.

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    I think you are missing the real story behind this race. Think how painfully flawed Hillary is as a candidate. Even the reliable left commentators have been noting how much they don’t want to see the Clinton circus back in DC. Despite her bravery under sniper fire, she is not an appealing candidate.

    But she is still wining major contests like PA. She is somewhere between one or two percent behind to in the popular vote to slightly ahead depending on how you count the votes. The best case count of delegates (super and otherwise) puts her trailing by about 7%. In short, as flawed as she is, a significant percentage of the democratic primary sees her opponent Obama as even less appealing. The democrats have somehow found a way to find the two people most likely to lose in November and are almost evenly split on which is worst.

    We will have to see how the election plays out, but I suspect that it will be easier for the GOP to bring home it’s base than the democrats. Both Hillary and Obama are hard left. They have plenty of positions that will infuriate the right. The very reason that there is any question about the right coming home to McCain is what is going to make him attractive to the independent and ‘Reagan democrats’. To put it another way, McCain is essentially tied in the polls with Hillary and Obama. That has him running about 15% ahead of generic democrat vs generic republican. Of course there are plenty of issues (economy, Iraq, terrorism, pork in politics, etc) that can change the whole narrative. But that’s why we bother to have the election.

  3. KJ says:

    Remember, the bigger the lie and the more often you tell it, the more people believe it.

    Elect HRC and we will get what we deserve.

  4. Bruce Moomaw says:

    Actually, Obama and Hillary — at the end of this thing — are almost certainly going to be both so close in terms of their total vote and their relative strength against McCain that — dare one say it? — we’ll all actually be free to pick the one that we honestly think is better qualified to be President. (By the way, even if you count Florida and DON’T count any of the caucuses — which arguably were unfairly biased against Hillary supporters because they tend to be old and so have trouble attending caucuses — Obama STILL leads Hillary by 29,000 in total primary votes, unless you also count the hopelessly biased Michigan primary.)

  5. Bruce Moomaw says:

    Postscript: there have been two polls I know of showing how an honest replay of the Michigan primary between Hillary and Obama would have turned out out. Rasmussen showed them running dead even; just yesterday, Public Policy Polling gave Hillary an edge, but only a 4-point one.