Moving on to Pennsylvania

Jim Henley makes the case that, if he were a Democratic superdelegate, he would want the campaign to move on to Pennsylvania.

In a “marriage-length” campaign window, the Obama campaign has time to work its magic, then the magic has time to work off. That may be what we saw in the interminable two weeks between Wisconsin/Hawaii and Texas/Ohio. In particular, Obama’s failure to win Texas after at least a brief time even or leading in the polls, and his lopsided loss in Ohio, would scare me.

The general-election campaign will be marriage-length. By November, America will have a chance to be heartily sick of both major-party contestants. So I want to know Obama has staying power. Pennsylvania should provide a great test of this. Let the yinzers and Iggles fans and hicks endure both candidates for six weeks. See if Obama’s appeal endures. If it does, he’s your guy. If not, and you’re an organization Dem, you really have to be leery of giving him the nod. If he can’t overcome Sekrit Muslim Communist Agent smears and pseudocontrarian jibes about cultism in the primary of the somewhat liberal party, how is he going to beat the same tactics in the general election?

I think that, from a Democratic perspective, there’s a certain amount of truth to this. If Obama were to lose Pennsylvania, I do think that that would be a large blow to his campaign, and if he only maintains a small delegate lead, I think the Ohio-Texas-Pennsylvania loss trifecta would make a “superdelegate victory” for Clinton a little more bearable. As a consequence, it looks like the superdelegate race is going to be a big deal after all.

Let’s be honest about what a Democratic primary victory means for the general. No matter how hard John McCain tries, the odds of him picking up California are negligible, so Clinton’s win there doesn’t have much meaning. And New York and Massachusetts are Democratic gimmes as well. Folks, let’s be honest about something else, too–does anybody seriously believe that Texas is in play? Especially with immigrant-friendly John McCain as the GOP nominee? Ohio’s win for Clinton, on the other hand, does matter–especially since it was an open primary where the GOP nominee was pretty much a lock. A Pennsylvania win is a big win, too. Even though it decidedly went for Kerry last time, McCain’s nomination puts it back into play.

On the other hand, Obama picked up the crucial swing state of Missouri (which usually picks the winning presidential candidate in the general), and has a lot of appeal in traditionally Republican states–he won by huge margins in a lot of red states. Indeed, recent polling in my state of Kansas show that Obama is much more popular in the general than Clinton, which I can attest jives with my own anecdotal experience. I know quite a few folks around here who would vote Obama over McCain and McCain over Clinton, which is another crucial consideration. Of course, despite all that, let’s not forget that Obama’s wins were, in the end, in mostly GOP states. No matter how much Howard Dean might hope for it, Obama isn’t going to win Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah, etc. (I will say honestly, though, that Obama would put Kansas in play, if my feel for state politics is correct–but Kansas is starting to trend purple, and I’m not sure if “red state” is going to apply to it a decade from now.)

Throwing a bigger monkeywrench into the works would be if Michigan and Florida opt to submit plans to the DNC to seat their delegates via another primary or caucus–which looms as an ever-real possibility. I know that conventional wisdom says that Clinton won them once, she can win them again, but I’m not as convinced of that. But if they were to vote again, and Clinton did pick them up again, however narrowly, I think that the ultimate winner of the Democratic nomination would be tough to predict.

If Clinton were to pull out wins in Pennsylvania and keep Florida and Michigan the second time around, Obama’s claim that she would be “stealing” the nomination with superdelegates after losing the pledged delegate total would be a lot harder to spin. On the other hand, Obama victories in any one of these states and a lead in the pledged delegates would probably be a good argument for the superdelegates to side with Obama.

The bottom line, though, is that the superdelegates are increasingly likely to decide the DNC nomination after all, no matter what some fancy pants, ivory tower pundits have had to say about it.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Phoney Baloney says:

    Obama has Dems fired up as never before. Democratic primary turnout is _double_ that of Republicans, even in so-called “Red States” such as Texas and Virginia. Having a contested primary makes people perceive that their participation counts, and therefore they participate. This is how Democrats win. If Clinton had the nomination by now, the Republicans would already be popping Champagne.

    Obama is beating Hillary Clinton because people like him better, see? That’s how people win elections, see? Hillary Clinton has got too much baggage, and she is phony and uninspiring. Obama is inspiring, without the baggage. McCain (co-chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq) is popular with the 30% of the country that still approves of Bush. Obama will sweep the rest.

  2. R. Alex says:

    A Pennsylvania win is a big win, too. Even though it decidedly went for Kerry last time, McCain’s nomination puts it back into play.

    Not very decidedly… 2.5% in Pennsylvania compared to 2.1% in Ohio and 5% or so in Florida. The media for whatever reason just called Pennsylvania very, very early and Ohio rather late.