Hillary Clinton held on to win the Indiana primary by a bit more than 20,000 votes, and two percentage points. Losing a neighboring state isn’t usually a path to nomination, but in these circumstances it may well be enough effectively to end the hopes of his rival.
WIth Obama’s nomination looking almost certain now, it’s probably time to recognize Dafydd ab Hugh, who has been predicting forever that Hillary Clinton would not be the nominee. And John Hinderaker’s instinct that Clinton would not be the next president appears to have been validated.
Having been wrong about most of the important stuff this primary season, it is probably foolish for me begin speculating about November. But the urge is irresistible.
I consider Obama the favorite. One can usually predict the outcome of the general election, and come pretty close on the margin, by considering just a few variables: how the economy is doing, whether we’re at war and how popular the war is, which party holds the White House and how long it has held it, and how popular the president is.
This year, these “fundamentals” point to a Democratic victory of at least 10 percentage points.
Weighing against this outcome is, first, the fact that McCain is a better than average nominee in terms of electability. For one thing, he does not have a close association with the unpopular president. In addition, his appeal to independent and centrist voters is well known. Second, Obama may well prove a worse than average nominee. He lacks anything like the experience voters look for in a president, and he’s an extremist as presidential nominees go, a perception that now is reinforced by some of his unusual associations.
At this stage, though, it seems more likely than not that these factors won’t overcome the fundamentals.
What about all those Clinton voters who say they will vote for McCain? The short answer is, if they’re Democrats I don’t believe very many of them. Look for the party and its rank-and-file to rally around Obama.
The fact that many Dems will even say they’ll vote for Obama is evidence that Obama has a problem with swing voters. But McCain will too. His problem will be that, though these voters like him as a man, they are skeptical at best about key policies he favors.
So I think McCain faces an uphill fight. Yet it’s nothing like the fight he seemed to face last summer just to get the nomination. Besides, my very conventional mode of analysis may again prove worthless in this so-far highly unconventional year.
UPDATE: Our friend King Banaian applied models that have been used to predict presidential elections based on the same basic factors I mentioned. He finds that I’m too pessimistic. King says McCain “probably starts. . .in a four-point hole.” He adds that Douglas Hibbs, “long the father of the ‘bread and peace model,'” reports a 6-8% Democrat margin.
Even under my view that the hole is probably larger, I agree with King that we shouldn’t start heading for the exits yet.
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