The ludicrous idea that votes from Clinton supporters would somehow make up for McCain defectors is merely the latest fairy tale brought to you by those same Washington soothsayers who said Fred Thompson was the man to beat and that young people don’t turn up to vote.
So reads the final paragraph of Frank Rich's column this morning, entitled Angry Clinton Women ♥ McCain?. It is worth reading, full of the cogent observations and pointed prose we have come to expect of Rich. I will leave most of that for you to read on your own. In this diary I want to explore the analysis he makes of the data from the poll itself.
After an introduction in which he establishes the number of issues for which McCain's positions are likely to be anathema to women, Rich begins what I believe to be the heart of his column:
But while the McCain campaign apparently believes that women are easy marks for its latent feminist cross-dressing, a reality check suggests that most women can instantly identify any man who’s hitting on them for selfish ends. New polls show Mr. Obama opening up a huge lead among female voters — beating Mr. McCain by 13 percentage points in the Gallup and Rasmussen polls and by 19 points in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey.
How huge is a 13- to 19-percentage-point lead? John Kerry won women by only 3 points, Al Gore by 11.
Ponder that for a moment. Remember that in the national popular vote, Gore defeated Bush by more than a half million votes, and that Kerry's loss in 2004 was by 2.3%, 50.7 - 48.3. Rich ponders how the McCain campaign can realistically believe it will gain significant numbers of disaffected female Clinton supporters, given that
Even among Democrats, Mr. Obama lost only the oldest female voters to Mrs. Clinton.
He considers the idea of massive defections to McCain to be based on the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence, the few women who have made a scene since Obama clinched. While acknowledging the undoubted sexism and misogyny in the press and elsewhere, Rich points out that the three men most responsible for Clinton's defeat are Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Mark Penn, with the clear implication that it was the attractiveness and political skill of the first, the destructive mouth of the second, and the idiotic strategy of the third that had far more to do with the failed candidacy of HRC than did any press sexism. He further notes that the idea of such mass defections as has been posited by the press
is itself a sexist stereotype
I think it fair to say that were the discussions about the results in the two media organizations sponsoring the poll posted here at Daily Kos, they would have appropriately been labeled "concern trolls." The remarks were often characterized by taking some particular snip from the poll out of any meaningful context and bloviating on how great a threat it represent to any chance of success for Obama in November. There was great concern expressed in particular about Obama losing white men by 20 points, and suburban women by six. Rich puts those numbers in some context, writing
Since that poll gives Mr. Obama not just a 19-point lead among all women but also a 7-point lead among white women, a 6-point deficit in one sliver of the female pie is hardly a heart-stopper. Nor is Mr. Obama’s showing among white men shocking news. No Democratic presidential candidate, including Bill Clinton, has won a majority of that declining demographic since 1964. Mr. Kerry lost white men by 25 points, and Mr. Gore did by 24 points (even as he won the popular vote).
Rich also notes the data from the poll not mentioned in these discussions, data that totally undercut the idea that the poll presented a case of Obama in trouble. Obama led McCain among independents, Catholics, blue-collar workers and Hispanics. The last of these is most illustrative, because in 2004 exit polls showed Bush taking 44% of the Hispanic vote. And what did the this poll's data show? Obama was clobbering McCain, 62-28 (which Rich notes may be why the McCain campaign lists his home state of AZ as being in play).
So why is the press offering this? Let me offer one final quote from Rich which I believe clearly explains it:
That story is minimized or ignored in part because an unshakable McCain fan club lingers in some press quarters and in part because it’s an embarrassing refutation of the Democrats-in-meltdown narrative that so many have invested in. Understating the splintering of the Republican base also keeps hope alive for a tight race. As the Clinton-Obama marathon proved conclusively, a photo finish is essential to the dramatic and Nielsen imperatives of 24/7 television coverage.
The delegate math was such that by February 19, with the Wisconsin primary and the Hawaii caucuses completing a run of 11 straight victories for Obama, it was realistically no longer possible for Clinton to win a majority of the pledged delegates. Although a few people like Chuck Todd did present the math (perhaps so that the media could say they had covered it), the storyline rarely focused on it. It was not until May 6, when Clinton held IN narrowly while losing substantially in NC, that Tim Russert laid down the marker that Clinton had lost, that Obama was then the presumptive Democratic nominee.
The media, especially on cable, will continue to seek out information they can use to push the idea of a competitive presidential race. They will jump at any possible scandal and then ask if this will damage the Obama campaign. They will focus on the few Democratic elected officials saying they won't endorse Obama while giving far less attention to the substantially larger number of Republican electeds not supporting McCain, because if McCain has greater problems among his electeds than does Obama, it totally undercuts the storyline of a closely competitive race.
The election is not yet over. After all, in politics a week can seem interminable. Yet the indications are increasingly showing that McCain is not likely to be competitive. Rich reminds us of some of the other information that undercuts the idea of McCain being competitive: only 8% of those who maxed out for Bush in 2004 have so far contributed to McCain; open criticism of McCain by important talking heads on the dark side, people such as Coulter and Bay Buchanan; resistance by key figures of the religious right such as Dobson, even before the rejection of the endorsements by Hagee and Parsley; and the increasing number of highly visible conservatives such as Doug Kmiec endorsing Obama. Add to this McCain's serious fundraising deficiencies, a Republican party not as yet healed despite their primary contests having been decided months before that of the Democrats, and it becomes clear that the only thing that has sustained McCain's competitiveness has been the soft ride he has received from much of the press.
I view the NBC-WSJ poll as devastating to McCain. We already know that many voters still have this image of McCain as a maverick, with the implication that he is moderate on issues of importance. But as they learn that he would overturn Roe, that in 2007 he supported Bush 95% of the time, that he opposed SCHIP (etc.), they quickly move away from him. He also seems to be a bit of a human gaffe machine, and his contradictions and misstatements are becoming so evident that even a supportive press is beginning to discuss them.
McCain is totally out of his depth on economic issues. His position on Iraq and related matters is in opposition to at least 60% of the American electorate. His rhetoric on electoral reform is totally undercut by the prevalence of lobbyists in his campaign. These, and similar areas of difficulty for McCain, cannot be kept out of public awareness indefinitely.
Reality Check - that poll was bad news for McCain: Obama is already doing better among key groups than did Kerry or Gore, and now he can focus all of his attention on McCain, whose numbers are inevitably going to suffer as a result.
Further Reality Check - the press wants a real contest, but may be unable to sustain that narrative with respect to the presidential race. There are other contests on which they could then focus, such as whether the Democrats might reach 61 seats (I pick that number in order to make Lieberman irrelevant). Such alternative narratives do not have the reach of one presidential race, but could fill some of the air time and column inches.
Reality Check for blog readers: we will see our share of concern trolls. People will overreact to any story as if it were a magic bullet that might bring down Obama. Perhaps it is the Republican 527's with which Karl Rove is working - but remember, Rove insisted the Republicans were going to pick up seats in 2006.
The presidential election is by no means over. But the dynamics seem in place for the possibility of a major realignment. People have begun making comparisons to 1932: DHinMI has written about the comparison for several months, and I know of at least one sitting Democratic House member from the South who has been quietly talking about the possibility since before Iowa. All of the energy is on the Democratic side. We can and should still be concerned about attempts to suppress the Democratic vote, but since increased turnout is part of the narrative already in play, it will be far harder for the Republicans to achieve such suppression without being caught by the press.
Reality Check - if we keep our focus, if we continue to register new voters, if we put the mechanics in place for turnout operations in November, if we ensure that the slanders and distortions are immediately challenged, if we continue to raise massive amounts of money, if we challenge Republican House and Senate members even in seemingly out of reach contests and thus tie them down - in short, if we simply keep doing everything we have been doing and not lose our focus - this election season belongs to us. It will not just be Barack Obama and whomever he selects as his running mate. It will be House candidates like Charlie Brown and Eric Massa and Jon Power and Larry Kissell and Tom Perriello and Glenn Nye and . . . It will be Senate candidates like Jeanne Shaheen and the Udall cousins and Mark Warner and . . .
Do not be distracted by the fear mongers. Do not be misled by those who attempt to posit a closeness that does not exist. Organize and work like we are behind, like the race is still competitive. But don't worry: we have before us the makings of a massive victory, and selected factoids such as McCain currently having a 6% advantage among suburban women are not to be feared, but rather embraced. They represent a baseline, one from which we will ascend.