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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

West Virginia Swings for Clinton

May 16, 2008

Welcome to my first column.

Hillary Clinton won an overwhelming victory tonight in the West Virginia presidential primary winning over 60% of the Democratic vote.  Barrack Obama conceded the state to Clinton and did not campaign in West Virginia.  This was a big mistake with ramifications for the general election.

Clinton has not given up the fight and has won an impressive number of primary states – particularly in the big swing states that a Democratic nominee must win in November.  She has out-campaigned Obama in recent weeks but unfortunately it is not making much of an impression with the Democratic super delegates as they remain wedded to Obama.

But the super delegates might be making a mistake.  Obama is in trouble in many key states heading into the fall. That includes Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Michigan and perhaps California.  Obama lost each of those states to Clinton – many by huge margins.  Clinton won New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio by 10 points which are landslide margins in a primary.  Obama has also put Michigan in play for Republicans by his steadfast refusal to have a redo in the primary.  He can forget about Florida - that will be in the Republican column.

One would have to go back to 1968 to find a Democrat who lost the California primary but won the nomination.  Of course, that year was an anomaly as Robert Kennedy won the primary (and very well might have gone on to win the nomination had he not been assassinated) while Hubert Humphrey did not contest in any primaries relying instead on “favorite sons” in various states to control the delegates at the Chicago convention.  That strategy ultimately won.

The problem for Obama is that many of the states he won in the primaries will not be in play in November, and he can’t possibly win.  States like Mississippi, Wyoming, Montana, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Alabama.  His operatives believe he can win Virginia, North Carolina and maybe Colorado.  Those could be close but I wouldn’t bet the farm on Obama in any of those states.

The Obama campaign has further problems in that many of Clinton’s supporters (in some cases nearly 50%) say they will not vote for him in November — and this is a very troubling number.  Obama must broaden his base of support if he expects to win the general election in what should be a very favorable Democrat year.   But he’s not laying the ground work and not expanding his base.

That’s the primary reason it would have made good sense to compete in West Virginia – to ask for votes from Reagan Democrats.  Instead Obama has ignored this vote in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio and both these states are in play for McCain in the fall.  In fact Obama is not improving his standing with voters – he’s actually losing support. 

Whereas the Clinton candidacy should be making Obama a better candidate, Obama continues to rely on a coalition of African-Americans and high-end liberals from urban areas to win the primaries.  There simply aren’t enough of these voters in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, and West Virginia.  The Obama campaign has played not to lose  – relying on a “four corner offense”(to use a basketball metaphor), trying to run out the clock on Clinton.  That’s why Obama has not been able to expand his base of support.  The four-corner offense isn’t designed to add points – it is supposed to keep things status quo.

Many are overrating Obama as a candidate.  Sure he’s a good speaker, but there’s more to being a good candidate than making a good speech.  He makes gaffes and has paid a price.  Voters don’t want a global dialogue about race relations – they want their day-to-day problems solved.  Voters don’t want to hear that they are “clinging” to things like religion and guns.  That’s their own business (even if true).  Voters don’t want mixed signals about whether their President is proud of their country.  They assume he is.  All this has been distracting from the issue of $4 a gallon gasoline.  And what exactly will Obama do to solve that problem?  That hasn’t been part of the big speech.

Simply put: voters want their President to solve problems - not bring on new ones.  Voters are busy making mortgage payments and raising kids – they don’t need a President (or their friends and family members) bringing on more problems to think about.  That harks back to Ronald Reagan, who said, “Government isn’t the solution - government’s the problem.”

Where does it all go from here?  Two weeks in politics is a lifetime.  We simply don’t know.  Clinton will continue to make her case to the super delegates – but they aren’t listening.  She’s winning key states and Obama continues to play the four corner offense.

How about John McCain?  Oh yes, John McCain!  No one is paying much attention to him these days – but he somehow stays near both Clinton and Obama in the national polls and seems to be ahead in key swing states in the all important electoral college.

Democrats need to be concerned and the problem is not Hillary Clinton.