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Clinton's Tactics Backfiring?


NBC News has an interesting story today suggesting that some uncommitted Democratic superdelegates are taking issue with Hillary Clinton's hardball tactics:

The Democratic Party insiders say they believe Clinton's direct attacks against Sen. Barack Obama in recent days are hurting the party and its chances in November, and also say it is showing a calculated, desperate-to-win side of Clinton that they dislike.

Meanwhile, the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Clinton popularity dropping precipitously. She is now viewed favorably by 37% of the country, and unfavorably by 48%, down from 45-43 in early March. (Obama's rating is 49-32, and John Mccaib's is 45-25.)

Now, it's possible this is a reflection of the Tuzla flap. But the poll seems to show that Obama has survived the Jeremiah Wright controversy:

As for the damage this controversy did or didn't do to Obama, it's a mixed bag. Yes, Obama saw some of his numbers go down slightly among certain voting groups, most notably Republicans. But he's still much more competitive with independent voters when matched up against John McCain than Hillary Clinton is. And he still sports a net-positive personal rating of 49-32, which is down only slightly from two weeks ago, when it was 51-28. Again, the biggest shift in those negative numbers were among Republicans.

Here's the upshot. As I've written, Clinton's only chance of persuading an overwhelming majority of superdelegates to contravene the elected delegates is to render Obama completely unelectable. Alas,

negative campaigning is a negative-sum activity. Both the attacker and the attackee tend to see their popularity drop. Usually, the victim's popularity drops farther than the perpetrator's, which is why negative campaigning works. But it doesn't work so well in primaries, where the winner has to go on to another election.

I think we're seeing that happen right now. Clinton can succeed in hurting Obama -- and, indeed, his lead against McCain has disappeared in most polls -- but she'll end up hurting herself even more.

--Jonathan Chait