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For Superdelegates, Electability Isn’t Enough

A Commentary by Scott Rasmussen

Friday, May 09, 2008

According to press reports, Senator Hillary Clinton sincerely believes she is more electable than Barack Obama. That is the case she wants to make to the Superdelegates who will ultimately decide the Democratic Nomination. As part of her public pitch, Clinton has said, “I'm winning Catholic voters and Hispanic voters and Blue Collar Workers and Seniors, the kind of people that Senator McCain will be fighting for in the general election.”

It is possible to assemble data that shows Clinton would be a stronger candidate than Barack Obama. It’s also possible to assemble data showing just the opposite. The reality is that Clinton and Obama represent different types of general election candidates and it’s impossible to know who would end up as the stronger candidate come November. Clinton is the lower risk candidate with less upside potential while Obama is a higher risk with significantly greater potential in both directions.

If Clinton and Obama were on equal terms at this point, she could probably make a persuasive case that the Democrats should go with the lower risk candidate since the fundamentals are so good for Democrats this year. But, the two Democrats are not on equal terms at this point. Obama has won the most pledged delegates to the convention and will soon have an absolute majority of those delegates. Clinton is asking party leaders to overturn the results of a Primary season on the grounds that she is more electable.

However, the larger reality is that the electability argument doesn’t matter. For one thing, most Democrats remain optimistic about Election 2008 and believe that either Democratic candidate will win this year. From that perspective, even if Clinton is theoretically more electable, it’s a distinction without a practical difference.

More importantly, Clinton’s belief that she is more electable rests upon the assumption that she can get the nomination without tearing the Democratic Party apart. That’s not a credible assumption in the minds of Superdelegates. The conventional wisdom is that handing the nomination to Clinton would create a Democratic civil war. No matter how it was explained, a fair number of Obama supporters would sit out the election or vote for a third party candidate. Some might even vote Republican. The bottom line is that the very process of handing her the nomination would make her unelectable.

But, in that scenario, the problems for Democrats would go far deeper. If Obama is denied the nomination, the collateral damage could reduce the number of House and Senate races that Democrats win this year. Why would any Superdelegate want to risk that?

So, for Senator Clinton, the challenge is not convincing Superdelegates that she’s more electable. Even if she could convince every single Superdelegate of that fact, it’s not enough. The standard now is much higher--Clinton also needs to convince Superdelegates that the party will stay unified behind her if Obama is denied the nomination. Unfortunately for Clinton at this time, that’s a question she cannot answer.

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