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How Serious Are The Hillary Defectors?

I was all set to go to the hugely promising Emily's List Gala Reception this afternoon--Hillary! Pelosi! Michelle!--when I received an e-mail informing me I hadn't made the cut. (Though Emily's List operative Ramona Oliver did appreciate my interest and apologize for the inconvenience.*) Fortunately, that means what I'm about to write won't be muddled by things like "interviews" and "observations." (Kidding of course.)

What I was hoping to assess was the seriousness of the Hillary supporters who threaten to bolt in November. On Sunday we learned that 27 percent of these people now say they'll be voting for John McCain, up from 16 percent in June. Could that really be right?

I say no way. I think this bloc consists of two big groups:

1.) People bitter over Hillary's loss but who are pretty strongly pro-choice and anti-war (hence the appeal of the Emily's List event) and who just aren't voting for a pro-life, ultra-hawkish candidate. A lot has been made of the steep rise in the percentage of would-be defectors, but this is perfectly consistent with my story, and may actually affirm it. You'd expect polling to be volatile for a group that wants to rage but has little intention of following through. It's basically costless for them to vent to pollsters--and, between the roll-call saga and the Biden pick, they've had plently to vent about.

2.) People who call themselves Democrats and may even be registered Democrats but who rarely vote for Democrats in national elections. (Recall that John Kerry only won 89 percent of Democrats in 2004.) Some of these people probably voted for Hillary in the primaries as a way of opposing Obama once he became the front-runner. I suspect another chunk didn't vote in the primaries and are just projecting their suspicions of national Democrats onto the Hillary/Obama soap opera (egged on by the McCain campaign, of course). But the truth is most of them weren't voting for Obama anyway.

Bottom line: Barring any disaster tonight and the rest of the week, Obama's going to get almost all the Hillary supporters who were gettable, and no one should lose sleep over the rest.

*Not if I see you first, Ramona!

--Noam Scheiber