With her victory by ten points in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton has re emerged as a very viable candidate for the Democratic nomination. It is obvious that the party is severely split and that both she and Obama are like two punch drunk boxers slugging it out without a knock out coming. They each have their own base in the Democratic Party, and neither is gaining or losing adherents to the other. Clinton is strong with the lower class, union based, non college educated wing of the party that is deeply worried about employment and the difficult economy. They are not much interested in being inspired by rhetorical flights, but are preoccupied with putting bread and butter on the table. Those voters are especially concentrated in the once prosperous industrial Midwest, such as Ohio, Michigan, and now Pennsylvania. The days of high paying blue collar work are over.
Except for race, the single most important variable in explaining the election results so far has been age. Younger voters are more likely to lean to Obama, and older voters, especially white women, are committed to Clinton. All of this makes sense if one looks at the nation's problems. In Pennsylvania, the voters were most concerned with the economy, with the war in Iraq and medical coverage.
One would think that with the endless conflict in Iraq, the increasing problems in Afghanistan, the souring economy, the medical care crisis, the legacy of Abu Ghraib, Katrina mismanagement, and the violations of civil liberties the Bush and Republican legacy would be in tatters. We might expect that those negative impressions would spill over into McCain's campaign. The Democrats and the People seem to be generally in agreement: the nation does not need a third term of George W.If that is so, then why does McCain run equal in the polls against either one of the Democratic candidates?
The long drawn out campaign for the nomination has ripped the Democrats apart. About 20% of the faithful of each of the two candidates say they will defect to McCain if their candidate does not win. Personality, not issues, is driving much of their sentiments and that is not good for the Democrats. Now that they can finally win based on the record of the past eight years, and now they are experiencing substantial defections.
In any other year, a bipolar split would result in a compromise candidate coming forward to lead the Democrats. But who would that be? The nation is obviously not turning to Kerry, Kennedy, or John Edwards. The obvious choice would be Al Gore, but neither he nor the nation wants to go that route again. So the Democrats are left with a difficult script. They have allowed their convention to be scheduled too late this year-August. So while McCain is raising money, healing his party, telling his story of heroism and patriotism, the Democrats are busy whining about lapel flags, mean spirited ministers, and a wayward husband whom we all know.
Democrats have a long and distinguished history and have given the nation some truly great presidents and leadership. But sometimes they are their own worst enemies who just annoy the country at a time we need reassurance and creativity.
Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.