The Gender and Other Gaps

Michael Finnegan writes for the Los Angeles Times that women voters overwhelmingly prefer Obama to McCain.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found a wide gap last week: Women favored Obama over McCain, 52% to 33%.

The survey also found that voters who cast ballots for Clinton in the Democratic primaries preferred Obama over McCain, 61% to 19%.

Over the weekend, Frank Rich argued that the groundswell of female Clinton supporters moving to McCain was mostly a myth, based on anecdotes not supported by data.

How huge is a 13- to 19-percentage-point lead? John Kerry won women by only 3 points, Al Gore by 11.

The real question is how Mr. McCain and his press enablers could seriously assert that he will pick up disaffected female voters in the aftermath of the brutal Obama-Clinton nomination battle. Even among Democrats, Mr. Obama lost only the oldest female voters to Mrs. Clinton.

But as we know from our Groundhog Days of 2008, a fictional campaign narrative, once set in the concrete of Beltway bloviation, must be recited incessantly, especially on cable television, no matter what facts stand in the way. Only an earthquake — the Iowa results, for instance — could shatter such previously immutable story lines as the Clinton campaign’s invincibility and the innate hostility of white voters to a black candidate.

The problem with these artificially created narratives is, of course, that many in the electorate buy into them. For example, “everyone knows” that Republicans are better on national security than Democrats. History says otherwise, but no one argues with The Narrative. Thus old propaganda perpetually re-seeds itself.

So, there probably are some Clinton-supporting women out there who have switched to McCain, in part because they’ve inferred from media that’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s why it’s so important to get the fact about McCain out to the public and not allow right-wing “swift boat” games to overwrite the facts.

For example, Michael Finnegan writes that many people don’t realize McCain opposes reproductive rights.

In the days since Clinton abandoned the race and endorsed him, the political arm of Planned Parenthood and other women’s groups have rallied behind Obama and joined forces to attack McCain. Among other things, they have highlighted McCain’s opposition to abortion rights. The Republican’s moderate image, they say, has misled many women into thinking he supports abortion rights.

“It’s astonishing the extent to which that’s just assumed about him,” said Hesla.

The argument that Obama must choose Clinton as a running mate or risk losing women voters has been rebutted by reality. What about those white working-class voters Clinton managed to win over in the waning days of her compaign? Thomas Schaller argues that having Clinton on the ticket would not help Obama win “swing” states.

With the notable exception of Arkansas and its six electoral votes, what state would Hillary deliver that Obama is not already going to win? Forget all this talk about the parts of the Democratic coalition to which she appeals. If he cannot pull together the elements of that coalition himself he’s going to lose anyway in swing states, whether those are states that he won in the primary, like Colorado or Virginia, or states that he lost, like Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Conversely, if Obama can reassemble the two halves of the Democratic coalition, he’s going to win the swing states and the election, despite the intraparty tensions that arose during the primary. (The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll seems to indicate he’s already made substantial progress.)

His fate in swing states does not hinge on having a polarizing figure like Hillary Clinton as his running mate. Whatever advantage she offers him in bringing in skeptical Democrats will be offset by losses among Clinton-fatigued independents and soft Republicans. Many despise her, and if they’re looking for an excuse to vote against Obama, picking Clinton as his running mate will provide it.

Then there are those three states where Hillary Clinton has personal ties. There’s no scenario in which Obama loses Illinois and New York and wins 270 electoral votes. Her help in two of the three states is moot. As for Arkansas, political scientist Jay Barth, an Arkansas native who teaches at Hendrix College in Conway, says the level of skepticism toward Obama is so high locally that an Obama-Clinton ticket might not take the state’s six electoral votes anyway. Put simply, Hillary Clinton is not this year’s version of Lyndon Johnson in 1960.

I’ve thought the Hillary as Working-Class Heroine phenomenon would likely be short-lived, anyway. In all her years in public life she had never been remarkably popular among white working-class voters. She managed to whip up some enthusiasm in that demographic through a well-targeted media campaign combined with the fact that her opponent is, um, black. I don’t see her owning those voters enough that she could deliver them in November, especially since the top of the ticket is still, um, black. Some of that innate hostility of white voters to a black candidate is not a myth.

Along with Schaller’s argument, Salon published a piece by Ed Kilgore arguing that Clinton should be Obama’s running mate. (Ed Kilgore is one of those “Democratic strategists” that many of us feel are more of a drag on party strategy than an asset, but he makes a good living.)

First, Kilgore argues that a “unity ticket” would bring the two feuding halves of the party together. Matt Yglesias demolished the “unity ticket” argument last May, and if anything the recent polls show us the two feuding halves are coming together quite nicely, thank you, without the “unity ticket.”

Kilgore also makes a lame “well, who else you gonna call?” argument. There are a wealth of veep possibilities, I say. They all have their minuses to go with the pluses, but then, so does Senator Clinton.