Thursday 31 January 2008

Who really appeals to US independent voters?

The Obama fans in the British press continue to assert that Barack Obama is the only Democrat who can beat John McCain. Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian and James Forsyth in the Spectator are two of the latest examples; their hero-worship for Obama has never been far from their writing, with Forsyth particularly laughable in his disregard for objectivity. But what evidence is there for their assertions? The polling is mixed: some recent polls put Hillary doing better than Obama against McCain; others put Obama ahead. The truth is that such polls are meaningless until voters properly focus on the choices. Look instead at the record. Which of the two has the strongest record of bipartisanship in the Senate? (Indeed, which of them has the strongest record, period?) And both candidates have appealed beyond what might be seen as their traditional base: Obama's Illinois victory in 2004 transcended racial and political lines, albeit with a loony right opponent; but Hillary also extended her support into some of the most conservative parts of New York State, winning 20% of self-defined Republicans in 2006 and 64% of independent voters. Moreover, McCain is weak on the economy, an area where Hillary could really shine. And finally the idea as Forsyth puts it in the Spectator that
If Obama defeats Clinton, he will emerge as a battle-hardened candidate who has survived the worst that one of the most formidable political machines ever assembled could throw at him
is the purest fantasy. Forsyth can hardly believe that Bill's remarks about Jesse Jackson fall into Willie Horton territory. Bill's remarks were unwise, but Obama's tetchiness in the face of any criticism has been one of his least attractive traits; against real opposition from the formidable Republican machine, it could be his undoing. The truth is, however, that either candidate would be immeasurably better than the dismal John Kerry in 2004 (I'd keep quiet about that endorsement if I were Obama). But Obamaphiles shouldn't exaggerate their guy's strengths or underestimate those of his opponent for the Democratic nomination.

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