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Political Suicide

By Susan Estrich

It was bound to happen, I suppose, even if everyone knows better. The fact that all you accomplish when you cut off your nose is to spite your face doesn't stop people from doing it every day. So why should Democrats be different?

The latest poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal confirms the worst fears of Democrats: that what should be a Democratic year could become a Republican one. For the second time in a row, the pollsters have found that roughly 20 percent of Clinton's supporters and, yes, 20 percent of Obama's say they will support McCain if the Democrat who isn't their first choice ends up running against him.

Twenty percent of the Democratic base voting for McCain? The pollsters call it "some hardening of feelings among some of the most core supporters of both Democrats." I have a different name for it: political suicide.

This is how a Democrat could lose an election after eight years of a Republican administration that has taken the economy into recession, the country into an unpopular, costly and dubious war, and bailed out Bear Stearns instead of the thousands of hardworking Americans who were taken advantage of by subprime lenders and are now losing their homes and their life savings. This is how Democrats could end up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

A hard fought campaign for the nomination is bound to leave some bruises. That's why the conventional wisdom that the earlier you wrap up a nomination the more it's worth holds true more often than not. But the fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, whatever it is, is most definitely NOT an ideological battle, NOT a fight for the proverbial "heart and soul" of the Democratic party, NOT a choice between two people who disagree with each other on a wide range of issues. They don't.

When it comes to the war in Iraq, Clinton and Obama are on one side, and McCain is on the other. When it comes to abortion, Clinton and Obama are on one side, and McCain is on the other. When it comes to access to health care or support for education or women's rights or civil rights, the reality is that Clinton and Obama are on one side and McCain is on the other. When you think about who they will appoint to high office, to the Cabinet and the courts and the Supreme Court of the United States, the bottom line is that Clinton and Obama will be looking at precisely the same pool of people, and McCain will be looking at an entirely different one; Clinton and Obama will appoint Justices who share the values of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, and McCain will appoint those who share the values of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

According to the polls, Obama's supporters right now dislike Clinton even more than Clinton's dislike Obama. Among Obama voters, Clinton's disapproval rating is a significant 43 percent; among Clinton voters, Obama is viewed negatively by 29 percent. What that suggests is trouble on all sides.

Some of those hard feelings are likely to fade once the nomination is decided. But given how far off that day could be, the danger is that the negative views could get more widespread and more entrenched, that things could get worse before they get better.

Could McCain win? He could, if enough Democrats forget that in the end policy should count more than personality, and the real fight is for the country's future and not the party's crown.


Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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