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What-ifs, Part Xvii

Ben Smith has an interesting take on Charles Krauthammer's claim that Clinton only learned how to run against Obama "late in the fourth quarter." The winning offensive scheme, writes Krauthammer, was "back to the center -- not ideologically but culturally, not on policy but on attitude. She changed none of her positions on Iraq or Iran or health care or taxes. Instead, she transformed herself into working-class Sally-get-her-gun, off duck hunting with dad."

In response to which Ben writes:

Clinton couldn't have run as this candidate at the beginning of the cycle. John Edwards occupied that space, with biographical authenticity, through January. February was a month dominated by coastal elites -- New York City, Boston, Los Angeles -- and African-Americans. Clinton could plausibly have done even worse if she'd run around talking about abandoning Nafta and protecting gun rights.

Then, in March, Clinton's transformation was driven by the calendar. (Just as Obama's redevotion to clean coal has been. This is normal politics.) The final quarter of the delegates are to be won in states where working-class white voters provided the key to victory. And Obama has always won enough of those -- from Iowa to Indiana -- to put together a very slightly bigger coalition than Clinton, a coalition which hasn't changed much, despite both candidates' best efforts.

I mostly agree with this. Except that, even with Edwards in the race, and even with those demographic complications, I think fighter-Hillary could have been marginally more successful than inevitable, ready-on-day-one Hillary. (Within reason, of course. Carrying on about gun rights would have been a stretch. Downing a few high-profile boilermakers would have been fine.) And, of course, a marginal improvement could have won her the nomination.

For evidence, I'd just refer you back to our friends at First Read (whom I've been leaning on pretty heavily today):

Take Missouri, for example. Had Obama not won a single swing-state primary (not caucus) on Super Tuesday, Clinton would have had a VERY powerful talking point that night, because she would have won every state primary (not caucus) that matters. But Obama's Missouri squeaker (which probably was only possible because of the shared media market of St. Louis and because of McCaskill’s endorsement) made the focus on the delegate fight, rather than states won.

Agreed. And, given the final margin, I think fighter-Hillary might have won there.

--Noam Scheiber