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Is Obama Really More 'electable' Than Hillary?

Frank Rich certainly thinks so. Andrew Sullivan does, too. As for me, I'm not so sure. The crux of Rich's argument seems to be that Obama (unlike Clinton) disarms conservatives--pointing to the kind words people like Peggy Noonan and Rich Lowry have had for him--and that Obama's race would actually be an advantage in a general election campaign, in that it would prompt the GOP to engage in their cynical brand of racial politics, which in turn would drive white swing voters into the Democrats' corner. I hope those two things are true, but color me unconvinced for the moment.

But I think the biggest doubt about Obama in a general election campaign has to be the (gulp) experience question--not about whether he's experienced enough to be president (I think he is) but whether he's experienced enough to run a sufficiently tough general election campaign? Riffing on Noam's new Obama piece, Ezra Klein raises the question of whether Obama's "counterpunch campaign" would work in a general election:

When you let the other side start all the fights, you let their framing rest as the foundation -- even if it's a contested foundation -- for the ensuing conversation. So every fight Clinton has picked with Obama has been about his "inexperience." Obama's response, depending on the subject, has been about Hillary's national security hawkishness, her DC insiderism, her caution, her doublespeak, etc. It's not been nearly as effective in constructing a coherent, negative, narrative against Clinton.

In answer to this, Obama basically says: Look how well I'm doing. And he's right! His campaign is doing very well. It seems entirely possible that they'll win Iowa, and with it, the nomination. But that's not necessarily because they've been running a great campaign, but because the primaries simply work differently. They are not, remember, in the lead nationally. They are possibly in the lead in Iowa. And specific things are happening there: Edwards has been launching the ceaseless attacks on Clinton that Obama won't, dragging down her numbers even as he slightly undercuts his. That won't happen in the general. The media has turned on Hillary a bit. That can't be relied on against the Republican in the general. Lots of people can see Obama at his best -- on a stage, under the lights, in person. That won't happen in the general. Etc, and so on.

As Ezra goes on to note, it's possible the Obama people recognize the counterpunch strategy is better suited to a primary than a general election campaign and would switch tactics should he win the nomination. And I, for one, think the whole exercise of backinig a candidate because of his or her supposed electability is a fool's errand. But the emerging CW that seems to be forming--that Obama is more electable than Hillary--is probably just as wrong as the old CW that Hillary was inevitable.

--Jason Zengerle