Since the Pennsylvania primary finished up the night before last there has been a dizzying tornado of spin from pundits about Obama's continuing, "problem," of not being able to break into Hillary's constituency. The loudest of these cries came from Republican pundits, like Pat Buchanan or Joe Scarborough, incessantly crowing that Obama losing Pennsylvania is somehow indicative of greater problems within his campaign and will surely doom, DOOM him in the fall. This same sentiment is echoed so frequently by the Clinton campaign and its surrogates one would assume it to be a HRC4Prez-approved talking point. Before I get to exactly what about this phrase nearly induces an aneurysm in my brain every time I hear it, I want to take a second to examine Pennsylvania and Hillary's win.
Before the primary, many had described Pennsylvania as the more democratic doppleganger of Ohio: Slightly larger in population, filled in the middle with a low income electorate with low-level education, and holding a closed primary, where she, by her campaign's own admission, does much better than in open primaries where Republicans and Independents can vote. Top it off with the fact that Hillary is a the hometown girl, growing up in backwater Scranton firing rifles with her granpappy, and the state seems tailor made for a Hillary win. Indeed, some of Hillary's largest favored demographics where more prevalent in the state than they were in Ohio: White women represented 46% up from 44%, Catholics represented 36% of the vote up from 23%, and voters over 50 representing a whopping 59% of the vote up from 46%. On top of it all, blacks represent a lower population in Pennsylvania than in Ohio, and they came in at 15% of the total vote down from 18%. Incomes and the other factors were distributed fairly similarly between the two states, with the exception of a good portion more (27% to 16%) post-graduates in PA than Ohio (counter to the conventional wisdom, though, this group swung about 11 points to Clinton while the High School and lower level went 6 points to Obama – I assume this has to do with Rendell's endorsement and the relative age of post-grads in the state being higher) while those who only has some college had a correspondingly smaller portion. However, in spite of all this demographic advantage, the institutional advantage of Rendell and most of the state's mayors, and the fact that PA has a slightly larger population (about 5% more people actually voted in PA over OH), Hillary came away from PA with a smaller popular vote margin than OH (14,704 less votes) and a full 1% less overall victory margin down to 9.4% from 10.4%.
Discount for a moment that this is the single tightest race where one candidate had a home-state advantage over another, with Obama averaging victory margins of 42% in Hawaii and Illinois while Hillary was averaging 30% in New York and Arkansas before doing less than a third that well here. Even ignoring the favorite son, or daughter as the case may be, bonus factor, to say Obama did not begin to eat away at Hillary's base is simply in defiance of the facts. Obama kept at 41% of the woman vote, while gaining 3% in the male vote to win the majority 51%. He lost 8 points among voters making $100-150k (perhaps they were concerned about their capital gains?), while keeping the margins for those making $30-100k essentially the same, gaining 9 points among those making $15-30k (up to 45% from 36%), and gaining 4 points among those making less than $15k to take the majority (up to 53% from 49%). These last two demographics seem particularly interesting because those white-collar, bitter, gun-clingers all those in the elite pundit class said would be offended and were Hillary's strongest base of support seem to be bleeding away to Obama, if these polls are to be believed. This conclusion seems to jibe with the fact that Obama gained 4 points among White Men, going to 43% from 39%.
The biggest evidence of Obama's progress into Hillary's base of support shows most clearly in the age breakdowns. While the under 50 crowd kept margins more or less the same (Obama lost a bit among the 18-24 year olds which he made up for in the 30-39 crowd), Obama gained 6 points among the 50-64 bracket (up to 43% from 37%), and 11 points among the 65+ crowd (up to 37% from 26%). Clearly Barack is making up ground, if only by inches. However, this progress was still attained in spite of Hillary's massive in-state advantages and 6 weeks of some of the roughest press coverage Barack has had to deal with to date. The question, therefore, is not so much one of why Barack Obama can't close the deal, but why Hillary Clinton cannot hold onto her steadily depleting coalition. I think this slow bleed is represented more clearly when viewed through the national prism that shows Obama's lead in polls breaking above the 50% mark while Hillary's is slowly dropping into the 30s.
Pundits have been harping that Obama has had multiple chances to, "close the deal," in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. They ignore, of course, Obama winning well publicized, contested battlegrounds where Hillary had a likely shot, like Wisconsin or Maine and others. Perhaps all the more aggravating, the choice of words somehow implies that Barack Obama had a limited time frame to shut Hillary Clinton down before the bomb goes off and he loses the nomination, even after being far ahead in every metric. As though, somehow, if she could just maintain the remotest, fantastical chance of winning this contest long enough it would slip out of Obama's hands. As though the nomination belonged to Hillary Clinton all along and Obama had a mere few months to completely blow her out of the water or she gets the prize anyway. The fact is, he is closing the deal, as he has been all along. Jumping backward all the way to February when that original Obama prediction spreadsheet was leaked, we can tell that his campaign understood from the beginning that this would be a marathon, not a sprint. Moreover, the phrasing ignores the fact that Hillary certainly has not, "closed the deal," either, in spite of having multiple chances to do so, including Iowa, Nevada, Super Tuesday, Wisconsin, Texas/Ohio, and even PA. Certainly she won a few of those, but never by enough to make a difference. Never enough to change the game. The marginal Texas/Ohio gains were obliterated by Obama's huge win in Mississippi the next week. This PA, "tide changer," netted Hillary a whole 10 delegates, a number more than likely to be marginalized, if not totally erased, in less than two weeks. The overall problem I have with the argument, I suppose, is it tries to frame the narrative in such a way as to declare that Obama has feet of clay and Super Delegates should beware. Even if this faulty assertion were to be the case, it ignores the fact that there is a sincere lack of a viable and stable alternative.