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June 12, 2008

Both Sides Need Hillary’s Voters, and Both are Wrong About Them


Now that the Democratic nominating contest is over and Hillary Clinton has officially conceded to Barack Obama, the question on the minds of every political junkie – at least, the one that doesn’t involve the vice presidency – is, “What will become of the Hillary voters”?


Eighteen million people, including many women, many seniors, and many swing voters, cast their vote for Sen. Clinton in the primaries. Some of the more vocal Clinton supporters, the sorts who chanted, “Denver! Denver!” at her withdrawal speech, are vowing either to stay home in November, or to cross party lines and vote for John McCain.


According to a CNN poll taken Friday, the day before Clinton’s concession, 60 percent of Hillary voters said they would vote for Obama, while 17 percent vowed to vote for McCain and 22 percent said they intended to not vote at all. Obama supporters believe that these voters will, for the most part, come home and vote for the Democratic ticket in November, regardless of whether Hillary is on it, figuring many of those people are Democrats and will support the candidate whose views on the issues are closest to those of their favorite candidate.


McCain supporters, meanwhile, are counting on bitterness over Hillary’s loss, as well as patterns in her support consistent with the Reagan Democrat precedent, to bring such voters back into the GOP column in the fall.


Both sides are wrong. While Obama holds a clear advantage, Hillary voters, as a block, are unlikely to line up almost entirely behind one candidate or the other, but will almost certainly split between them in subgroups. And yes, the presidency may very well hinge on how the percentages fall among the Hillary-voting group.


Certain elements of the Hillary coalition are likely to back Obama no matter what, including anyone to whom abortion is important; blue-staters; African-American men and women and those generally part of the Obama coalition who simply considered Hillary the stronger of two strong candidates; anyone who identifies strongly as a liberal, a Democrat or both, to the point where voting for a Republican is out of the question; and anyone who likes Obama less than Hillary but more than McCain. This is not to mention anyone who is angry about Hillary losing now, but will be considerably less angry about it five months from now.


Other elements are likely to back McCain or stay home: Middle-of-the-road “Reagan Democrat” voters who see more to like in what McCain has to say than Obama; most of those who gave Clinton her huge margins in West Virginia and Kentucky; the sort of people who post to web sites like Hillaryis44.com and TaylorMarsh.com and say they’ll do exactly that; voters bitter that Hillary lost who will still be angry five months from now; people who usually vote Republican but crossed just to vote for Hillary; those who simply like McCain more personally or feel he “shares their values,” etc; and people who are either uncomfortable with a black candidate, convinced Obama is a Muslim or Marxist or an “inadequate black man,” and/or a practitioner of terrorist fist bumps along with his wife.


Many Hillary voters fit into more than one of those categories; others fit into none; still others fit into what seems like a pro-McCain category but will vote for Obama, or vice versa.


Speaking of vices, there remains the question of whether Hillary will be offered a spot on the ticket. Whether this is a good idea for Obama remains highly debatable. Sure, it would bring some Hillary supporters in, but would also hurt Obama with core supporters and undercut the very idea behind his candidacy. Some have said Hillary has “earned” a spot on the ticket, as though the vice presidency is something that is earned in any way other than convincing the presidential candidate. Also highly questionable is whether die-hard Hillary backers will accept her in the number two spot, or whether anyone votes for president based on who the vice president is anyway.


Obama has a few built-in advantages in the Hillary-voter contest: He’s from the same party, has been endorsed by the candidate herself, agrees with her on most of the issues and opens the contest with a huge lead among Hillary supporters. But as we’ve seen in this campaign so far, very few predictions have actually held up.  


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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