In a memo sent out today by the Clinton campaign, the campaign seems to boast that “In Mississippi, he [Barack Obama] won only 25% of Republicans.”
I asked Howard Wolfson on today’s generals-for-Clinton conference call why he thought Republicans had come out for her. At first he argued that it was their message of Clinton’s strength that was penetrating Mississippi’s Republican electorate.
“I think you have seen in both Ohio an in Texas and Mississippi some renewed strength and improvements by Senator Clinton among Republicans,” he said. “We believe that is due to the more recent focus in the campaign on issues like those being addressed on this call. We believe that independents, Republicans and of course Democrats are concerned about questions related to Senator Obama’s readiness to be commander in chief in day one. And as the election turns on those kinds of big issues we have seen our numbers among independents and Republicans increase.”
Since the Clinton campaign actually highlighted that number from Mississippi – a state that Obama won by a margin of 24 percent – it’s worth considering some alternate explanations of her opponent’s suddenly poor performance among Republican voters.
The most benign is simply that the exit poll measures a relatively small sample and is not that accurate.
Another is that Mississippi is, even for the South, extremely polarized and that white Republicans, who had no competitive primary of their own to vote in, showed up to vote for a white candidate over a black one.
Then there’s also the contention – unconfirmable and highly conspiracy-minded, to be sure – that the Republicans for Hillary were following the suggestion of Rush Limbaugh to conservatives before the Texas primary to show up and cast a tactical vote for Clinton in order to prolong the Democratic contest.
When I asked Wolfson about that possibility, he called it “laughable.”
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I understand that might be his spin and the spin of others. But look there is a Gallup poll that just came out that has Senator Obama and Senator Clinton both equally running ahead of Senator McCain by two points. I think the notion is laughable that people are going to vote for anyone for reasons other than the fact that they believe that they are going to be the best president regardless of party. And look, the participation in our party by independents and Republicans is not particularly large. Let’s be clear, there is not an enormous amount of independents and Republicans voting in our primaries but in some states it is about 10 percent some smaller and some larger. The fact is that we are doing better with those groups.”
Wolfson then added, “It’s also with independents. So if you are going to make that argument you are going to have to make the argument that what is true among Republicans is also true among independents and I just think that doesn’t hold water. I think this is an effort by the other campaigns and other to explain away our recent success with independents and Republicans.”
(Mississippi exit polls showed independents going 53 percent to 43 percent in Obama’s favor.)
Also on today’s Clinton conference call, Howard Wolfson further distanced the campaign from the angry comments of Geraldine Ferraro, rejecting the suggestion that her remarks were in any way encouraged or inspired by the campaign.
“We were completely unaware of Mrs. Ferraro’s remarks prior to their being made and we did nothing to encourage them,” he said, adding that Senator Clinton “in fact rejected them.”
Here’s the original memo from the Clinton campaign:
From: Clinton Campaign
Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Re: Keystone Test: Obama Losing Ground
The path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue goes through Pennsylvania so if Barack Obama can’t win there, how will he win the general election?
After setbacks in Ohio and Texas, Barack Obama needs to demonstrate that he can win the state of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is the last state with more than 15 electoral votes on the primary calendar and Barack Obama has lost six of the seven other largest states so far – every state except his home state of Illinois.
Pennsylvania is of particular importance, along with Ohio, Florida and Michigan, because it is dominated by the swing voters who are critical to a Democratic victory in November. No Democrat has won the presidency without winning Pennsylvania since 1948. And no candidate has won the Democratic nomination without winning Pennsylvania since 1972.
But the Obama campaign has just announced that it is turning its attention away from Pennsylvania.
This is not a strategy that can beat John McCain in November.
In the last two weeks, Barack Obama has lost ground among men, women, Democrats, independents and Republicans – all of which point to a candidacy past its prime.
For example, just a few weeks ago, Barack Obama won 68% of men in Virginia, 67% in Wisconsin and 62% in Maryland. He won 60% of Virginia women and 55% of Maryland women. He won 62% of independents in Maryland, 64% in Wisconsin and 69% in Virginia. Obama won 59% of Democrats in Maryland, 53% in Wisconsin and 62% in Virginia. And among Republicans, Obama won 72% in both Virginia and Wisconsin.
But now Obama’s support has dropped among all these groups.
In Mississippi, he won only 25% of Republicans and barely half of independents. In Ohio, he won only 48% of men, 41% of women and 42% of Democrats. In Texas, he won only 49% of independents and 46% of Democrats. And in Rhode Island, Obama won just 33% of women and 37% of Democrats.
Why are so many voters turning away from Barack Obama in state after state?
In the last few weeks, questions have arisen about Obama’s readiness to be president. In Virginia, 56% of Democratic primary voters said Obama was most qualified to be commander-in-chief. That number fell to 37% in Ohio, 35% in Rhode Island and 39% in Texas.
So the late deciders – those making up their minds in the last days before the election – have been shifting to Hillary Clinton. Among those who made their decision in the last three days, Obama won 55% in Virginia and 53% in Wisconsin, but only 43% in Mississippi, 40% in Ohio, 39% in Texas and 37% in Rhode Island.
If Barack Obama cannot reverse his downward spiral with a big win in Pennsylvania, he cannot possibly be competitive against John McCain in November.