It’s hard to say, but if you put a gun in my head, I’d say John McCain and (very slightly) Hillary Clinton, but the elections revealed weaknesses in McCain and in both of the leading Democratic candidates. McCain blunted Mitt Romney’s challenge, but he failed consistently to win over conservative voters. Hillary Clinton won the big states she had to win, and arrested Barack Obama’s momentum, but she is going to have problems with white male voters. Obama is having trouble with white working-class voters and Latinos. Here is a rundown.
McCain beat Romney in California--that’s the end of Romney. But McCain continues to depend on moderate, non-evangelical Republicans for his victories. In California, conservatives made up 62 percent of the primary electorate; McCain only won 30 percent of them. In Tennessee, 73 percent of the voters were conservatives; McCain won 22 percent. In Missouri, 65 percent were conservatives; McCain won 25 percent. In these states, McCain failed to win a majority of Republicans. And he might face a revolt of these conservatives in the fall. They won’t vote for a Democrat, but they might not vote at all.
One group that is clearly dissatisfied with McCain are Republican evangelicals. In Tennessee, which Huckabee won, 73 percent of the primary voters described themselves as born-again Christians. McCain won 29 percent of these voters. In Missouri, 54 percent of voters described themselves this way; McCain won 24 percent. The other group that doesn’t like McCain is Republicans who think illegal immigration is the most important issue. In California, 30 percent of the Republicans thought it was; 23 percent voted for Republicans; in Tennessee 25 percent thought it was the most important. Only 21 percent went for McCain. It’s not clear how McCain can win these voters over.
Hillary Clinton won most of the big primary states, including California and Massachusetts. Obama won several important states, including Missouri and Connecticut, and, perhaps, more delegates, but many of his victories came in states like Georgia or Alabama that Democrats will not win in November or in caucus states dominated by left-wing activists who are unrepresentative either of the party or the fall electorate.
Clinton got pasted among blacks, but she should be able to win back those voters in November. What’s more troubling is her vote among white males and among independents. In California, Clinton lost white men by a whopping 52 to 34 percent. She lost white independents by 58 to 30 percent. In California, 6.5 percent of those voters who didn’t vote for Clinton said that gender of the candidate was “an important factor.” One must assume that the actual percentage is higher (voters don’t like to admit to prejudice) and that many of those voters who would not want to vote for a woman, but who potentially could vote for a Democrat, did not vote at all in the primaries, but will be around in the general election.
Obama, as I previously noted, had trouble with white working-class voters. In New Jersey, which a Democrat pretty much will have to win in November, Obama won only 31 percent of the white vote. Over 11 percent of those who voted against Obama (a group that might also include some Latinos) said that race was an important factor in their vote. Here, too, one must assume that the actual percentage is higher and that it would be even higher among voters in a general election. Democrats can win a state like Connecticut without winning these voters, but it won’t win most of the big Middle Atlantic and Midwestern states without them.
If the economy plummets, and Iraq goes up in flames, or if there is a conservative revolt against McCain, then Clinton or Obama could win with some ease in November, but if conditions are muddier, and if McCain is able to win over the Republican base, then the Democrats could be in trouble. McCain should be able to hold the Deep South and much of the Southwest against a Democrat. He will do well among Latinos in the Southwest (especially, perhaps, against Obama). In states like Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, he could build a coalition of Republicans, independents, and a share of Latinos.
Democrats will have to win the Far West, the Middle West, the Northeast, and the Middle Atlantic states, and perhaps pick off a border state like Arkansas or Tennessee. White working-class voters make up a majority in many of the key Midwestern and Middle Atlantic states. If a Democrat can’t win a majority of these voters in a state like Pennsylvania, Missouri, or Ohio, they’ll have trouble winning the election. And as February 5 indicated, both Clinton and Obama are going to have trouble with these voters. Who would have more trouble? My feeling is that it’s a standoff. Hillary has less of a handicap than Obama, but she is not his equal as a politician.
--John B. Judis