Taking Evan Bayh Seriously (well, Half-seriously)

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THE PLANK MARCH 24, 2008

Taking Evan Bayh Seriously (well, Half-seriously)

I am grateful to Chris for the Tom Lehrer interlude. I also agree with Chris that, insofar as Evan Bayh's argument about electoral votes is a trial balloon from the Clinton campaign, it's both patently self-serving and ultimately self-defeating. Among other things, it's not clear that the candidate who wins a state's primary is actually more likely to win that state in the general election. Shortly after Clinton's big win in Ohio, for example, hypothetical general election matchups showed Obama doing just as well--apparently because, despite defections among blue-collar white voters, he still picked up some independents and Republicans. Arguments like these are one reason why the Clintons have such a hard time getting political traction even when they're right on principle.

Having said all that, I am not prepared to dismiss entirely the idea--floated on a few occasions by Clinton supporters--that she might be stronger in the states that matter most for the general election. If Obama's problems with Latino and blue collar whites persist, he might have a harder time than she would in Florida, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennyslvania -- all states where Pollster.com has Clinton running stronger right now. (Obama also seems to put New Jersey into play.)

That's a lot of electoral votes to cede. Even if you assume, as some Obama supporters do, that he'd run stronger in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain states, she'd come out ahead.

The huge, elephant-size caveat here is that predicting November matchups this far out is very hazardous business. The new Gallup poll suggests Obama has already made up much of the ground nationally that he lost becuase of the Reverend Wright controversy.  And if Obama supporters decide to stay home on election day because they decide Clinton came upon the nomination illegitimately, I assume the poll numbers we're seeing now will look a lot worse for her.

So, as I've said many times, the best strategy is probably not to weigh electability much--if at all. (And that goes for the superdelegates, too.)

--Jonathan Cohn

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