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Could Someone Have Bridged The Divide?

I didn't watch much of the primary-election coverage last night, opting instead for Celtics–Pistons game one despite an earlier pledge, made in the heat of my anti-Boston fervor, to boycott such a series.  (Funny how that works.)

But, in the brief interim when I was tuned in to MSNBC, Norah O'Donnell made a useful point in breaking down the exit polls. She noted that the percentage of Kentucky Democrats who tell pollsters they'll support John McCain in an Obama–McCain race (32 percent) is roughly equal to the proportion of Kentucky Democrats who voted for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004. On one level, this isn't incredibly encouraging to Democrats, since 2004 was a slightly Republican year and Kerry was beaten badly in Kentucky. Ideally, Democrats should be able to field a candidate who'll do better in the state than Kerry did. But it does suggest that Obama isn't uniquely anathema to Kentuckians, and that race (as opposed to culture more generally) isn't necessarily at the center of his problems there.

Indeed, what's become clear at the end of this primary season is that neither Democratic candidate's appeal is as wide as Democrats would prefer. It's difficult to project what will happen in November from primary results or even general-election polling at this stage, so any such speculation should be taken with a major grain of salt. I think it's fair to say, though, that in general Obama appears to have a problem with working-class whites east of Illinois, and Clinton appears to have a problem with Westerners and more upscale independent-minded voters. This pattern has been remarkably consistent since the beginning of the primary season. My suspicion is that these weaknesses basically cancel each other out, which is why you see both candidates sporting approximately equal-sized small leads over John McCain in national polls.

One wonders, in retrospect, if there were some candidate who could have bridged this divide and appealed strongly to both groups. Somebody like Mark Warner, perhaps, whom the Obama coalition might have embraced as an entrepreneurial, somewhat postpartisan, reformist fresh face, and whom the Clinton coalition might have embraced as a culturally moderate, economically savvy governor of a border state. (Or, if you prefer a different formulation, a "generic Democratic white dude.") The reality is that discontent with Republicans runs so deep that there are a ton of people who are open to voting for a Democrat this year--so many that Democrats can easily win the White House without getting all their votes. Which is a good thing, because--with the caveat that things could certainly change between now and November--it looks like the Democratic candidate probably won't get all their votes.

--Josh Patashnik