How Much Does Electability Really Matter To The Dems?

Back in 2000, John McCain made could make what seemed like an extraordinarily powerful argument to Republican primary voters: Nominate me and we are guaranteed to win in the fall.

The numbers backed him up. Toward the end of the ’00 primary season, polls showed McCain leading Al Gore by more than 20 points. George W. Bush, McCain’s G.O.P. rival, was ahead of Gore by just four points.

But Republicans sided with Bush anyway. And now, Democrats may be poised to do something similar.

Simply because his name doesn’t instantly turn off more than 40 percent of the electorate, it’s long been clear that Barack Obama would have a greater upside potential as the Democratic nominee than Hillary Clinton. This is not to say that Hillary can’t win (she’ll certainly be the early favorite against any Republican candidate) or to ignore the possibility that Obama could have more downside potential as well. But Obama could win in a landslide, while Hillary almost certainly can’t.

This is starting to show in polls. Just consider the gaping disparities between Clinton’s and Obama’s performances against potential Republican foes in a Gallup poll released this week. Both Democrats lead every Republican, but the margins are hardly equal:

Hillary against…

Giuliani (+1)

Huckabee (+2)

Romney (+6)

Obama against…

Giuliani (+6)

Huckabee (+12)

Romney (+18)

Granted, certain independents and even Republicans might be less open to Obama once the general election attacks began, but most of these voters are off limits to Hillary from the get-go. For all of this, though, polls consistently show Democrats – overwhelmingly – identifying Hillary as the most electable candidate. And it’s a perception her campaign has seized on and exploited. When she picked up the endorsement of Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell last week, Boswell explained that, “We want to win.”

The Obama-Clinton disparity is starting to look like the McCain-Bush disparity from 2000. It didn’t mean much to Republicans back then; is there any reason to believe Democrats will take these numbers more seriously?

How Much Does Electability Really Matter To The Dems?