13 February 2008

The Chesapeake Current Has Strong Undertows

As expected, Barack Obama and John McCain swept their primary challenges in the Chesapeake Primaries (Maryland, Virginia and DC). But the breadth of Obama’s wins, especially in key constituency groups should worry the Clintons’ campaign. And McCain’s relatively weak wins in a two person race should also alarm the front runner.

Obama won by a 75% to 24% margin in DC, which is not surprising with the large concentration of Black voters. In Maryland, Obama by a margin of 60% to 37%. In Virginia, it was 64% to 37%. It is tough for a well known candidate to shrug off a string of losses of nearly 25% and still seem competitive. Yet instead of acknowledging the situation, Hillary was campaigning in El Paso, Texas and never bothered to call Obama.

It appears like “O” has the Big Mo- momentum. However, due to the Democrats proportionate appropriation rule, Obama is leading in delegate totals by 1210 to 1188 delegates (2010 needed to win). Hillary is expecting to lose next week in Wisconsin and Hawaii before reaching her firewall states of Texas and Ohio on March 4th. But the loss of momentum seems to be eroding Hillary’s base.

Exit polls showed alarming trends for Hillary. In Virginia, Fox News exit polls indicated that Obama won 59% of the female vote and 52% of the elderly vote, which have proved to be key constituencies for Hillary in earlier contests. Obama also took 59% of the blue collar vote, which is another voter group that previously comprised Clintons’ core support. Maryland exit polls showed similar trends.

McCain also won all three of the Potomac Primaries, but the results in Virginia of 50% to Huckabee’s 41% was unimpressive. But Virginia was a winner-take-all state. As it stands, Huckabee has virtually no chance of winning the nomination outright. GOP Delegate totals vary, but McCain has virtually locked the nomination.

The internal numbers from Fox Exit Polls should give McCain cause for pause. In Virginia, 68% of GOP voters considered themselves conservatives and 62% were listeners to talk radio. Given McCain’s tempestuous relationship with conservative talkers, it is not surprising that McCain could not garner a majority. Maybe McCain could take some solace that Virginia was an open primary and independents might be more inclined to vote in the more contested Democrat rate. But Democrat exit polls showed that 68% of independents voted for Obama, so it is dubious that McCain can count on that independent support in November.

McCain can not expect to win by shunning the conservative base or talk radio. While McCain road to the nomination with the support of independents in open primaries, he is not guaranteed that support in the general (with the exception of New Hampshire, where he is practically an honorary citizen).

McCain has tried to close the gap with conservatives by scoring a number of endorsements by party regulars, which has minimal sway. McCain should try to use talk radio to make his case, both to win over reluctant conservatives as well as getting earned media for “The Straight Talk Express”. The internal numbers showed support for McCain as commander-in-chief. So McCain should seek opportunities to burnish that image as well as frame the campaign.

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