In one sense, the Democrats stand today about where most observers expected months ago they would be. Iowa was always going to be difficult for Hillary Clinton; that’s why, apparently, some of her handlers advised her to skp the contest. New Hampshire would be the fire-wall. Even if Obama caught fire, the female vote there (unencumbered by the caucus process) would wall him off. And so it has.
But this analysis misses not only the twists and turns that led us to present state of play, but also how these twists and turns might affect that state. Few anticipated that Obama would find his stride the way he has, or that he could inflict a “near death” experience on the Clinton machine. Now that he has, Obama is not the largely spent force many of us thought he’d be after New Hampshire.
The advantage going forward is with Clinton. She’s the candidate of the party’s white base, as the results among less-than-affluent voters in New Hampshire’s population centers confirm. Obama needs to inspire large numbers of voters outside that base to be competitive, at least in states that lack a substantial African-American presence. This will be more difficult to do as the election moves away from “retail” states. Moreover, in many of the upcoming “wholesale” states, Obama will lack access to a large chunk of his potential supporters because they are not registered Democrats. In sum, machine politics will count for more than it has until now and charisma for less.
But Obama now has access to large numbers of African-American voters. Until recently, the conventional wisdom was that this wouldn’t change the dynamic very much because of the Clintons’ popularity among blacks, Obama’s status as an upstart, and his less than conventional life as a minority. But this is where the “twists and turns” come in. Will blacks continue to see Obama in an ambiguous light now that he’s become such a powerful campaigner and one who has inflicted damage on Hillary?
Until we find out, Hillary may have the edge, but this race looks like it’s up for grabs.
UPDATE: Another variable to consider is the demise of John Edwards (whether or not he makes it official). At one level, Edwards voters may be somewhat anti-Clinton, since she’s more connected to those evil corporations and than Obama is. However, Edwards also tends to appeal to less affluent voters, who have been trending towards Hillary. Hillary also figures to gain a good share of Edwards’ female supporters.
My guess, and that’s all it is, would be that Clinton’s appeal to Edwards’ female supporters and his lower income male supporters will offset the anti-Hillary component of his base. In other words, Edwards’ demise may well be a wash.
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