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Will Registered Democrats Save Hillary?

Like a lot of other bloggers, I strongly recommend Tom Edsall's HuffPo piece about where Clinton goes from here if she loses tomorrow. One especially interesting nugget:

Like Mondale in 1984, Clinton is configuring her campaign to win in states where independents cannot vote. "Clinton got killed among independents and those few Republicans who crossed over," an Iowa operative noted about last Thursday's caucuses. After this Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, where independents can cast ballots in either the Democratic or Republican contest, "We are just going to go to the big Democratic states with closed primaries" says a member of the Clinton inner circle.

 Of the upcoming nineteen February 5 primaries and caucuses, however, ten are "open" (meaning that independents can vote for a Democrat) and only nine are "closed" (meaning independents are barred).

And later:

Clinton's calculation that she can best confront Obama in the coming closed Democratic primaries is based in part on detailed analysis of the Iowa results.

The Iowa entrance polls conducted for all the major television networks - including ABC, CBS, NBC, AND CNN -- show that registered Democrats were more supportive of Clinton than either independents or the small number of Republicans who chose to participate in the Democratic caucus.

She virtually tied Obama among registered Democrats (31-32), while decisively losing independents (17-41) and Republicans (10-44). John Edwards beat her by slightly smaller, but still substantial, margins among Republicans and independents, while losing to her among Democrats.

For what it's worth, Mike and I ran into a Clinton insider last night who offered an additional twist on this argument: Not only does Clinton do better among registered Democrats than she does among independents and Republicans. But he thought registered Democrats would be especially inclined to give her a second look after Iowa and New Hampshire because they'd resent having their nominee chosen by a bunch of interlopers.

I think it's a tricky argument to make. For one thing, Obama seems to be broadening his lead among registered Dems in New Hampshire (the latest CNN/WMUR poll has him up 37-32 in that group), which obviously undercuts the substance of the interloper charge. For another, it's not entirely clear how you make this case--I don't think you can come out and say it explicitly. On the other hand, the point is a little subtle to get across implicitly. (That's not to say you can't do it--when you get to a state where only Dems can vote, you can talk about how you're happy to be there because they're the people who are really the heart and soul of the nominating process, and you're proud of your support among them, etc. But I'm just not sure how much bang you get out of that--particularly since, as I say, she'll probably be trailing even among registered Dems.) Finally, this tack also implicitly concedes the electability argument to Obama, which is something you'd rather avoid.

Having said that, maybe partisan Democrats really will resent the "meddling" of independents and Republicans in their primaries--and maybe they'll perceive that meddling to be the reason for Obama's success even though it's not true. (The media narrative will probably help Hillary on that front--I suspect we're going to hear a lot about independents immediately after New Hampshire.) So I'd be reluctant to dismiss the strategy out of hand.

--Noam Scheiber