Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Obama's gaffe and what it means

Unsurprisingly, Barack Obama's comments about people in small town America being bitter about their economic hardship then clinging to verities of old such as guns and God and becoming hostile towards immigrants, free trade and people who are different have been gleefully seized upon by his opponents. Is it not concerning that John McCain and Hillary Clinton are now hunting as a pack?

That aside, perspective is urgently needed. Ed Kilgore on Real Clear Politics provides it. The gaffe (and it was a gaffe: a much too sweeping a comment that left him open to his opponents' attacks) has presented the Clinton campaign with an opportunity to emphasise that Obama has had some relative difficulty in swaying white, middle-class America to vote for him thus far. There is an under-current to all this but the argument neutralises a core element of Obama's claim on the nomination. He has emphasised that there is large portion of his vote that just won't transfer to Hillary. Now she is emphasising the same and what's more those white, small town, economically alienated, socially conservative Democrats will be attracted to McCain. For some figures see the 'Obama and Clinton's petulant vote' post. Super-delegates get ready to play piggy in the middle (but you're used to that, right?)

Where does this leave things? In limbo really. Clinton will win Pennsylvania by a healthy margin. She will probably win Indiana by a narrower margin. Obama will have a very healthy win in North Carolina. Narrow advantage Clinton on April 22nd/ May 6th. Obama still well ahead overall. Things will have moved a millimetre towards Clinton.

More broadly, either Democrat candidate will face a challenge in converting all their opponent's vote later in the year. In this, both Clinton and Obama have a point. But they both have a three month Presidential campaign in which to achieve the shift. The polls in August rarely relate to the result in November. As James Carville never tires of pointing out on Meet the Press, Clinton was third place in the polls in July 1992 and Kerry was 14 points clear in Summer 2004.

So what to do? How about deciding the nominee on the basis of who has the most delegates? And it would be a very brave decision indeed for the super-delegates to flip the candidate with the most pledged delegates....

Is that John McCain I can hear whistling in his bath?

Postscript: Clinton's ad following Obama's comments can be seen below:

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