Yes, but can Obama beat McCain?

7:59 pm - May 7th 2008

by Simon Barrow    

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The game looks pretty much up for Hillary Clinton now, as John Zogby makes plain. Lawyers notwithstanding, the hope of seating the ‘lost’ delegates of Michigan and Florida to pull the margin back to under 100 is a pipedream. George McGovern is the first major figure to call on Clinton to stand down. And if Barack Obama can get promises from 40-50 ‘super-delegates‘ in the next day or so, the race for the Democratic nomination should be over.

I’m much more sceptical about Obama than many people I know (including many around here). In practice, I don’t think he’ll be as progressive as is wished or assumed, nor Clinton as regressive as her campaign has sometimes sounded. Andrew Stephen in the New Statesman is right:

Don’t be misled by skin-colour, gender, cleverly crafted images, or oratory: he or she will still be a machine politician who has never actually run anything, and who is beholden to vested interests. Dig beneath the excitement of this campaign, therefore, and the prospects for America and the world are not as exhilarating as they might at first seem. Plus ça change…

It’s deeply disappointing that the tussle has been overtly ‘racialised’ (and, much less noticed by the media and observers, ‘genderised‘) in recent weeks. Religious panning and pandering has also entered the picture in some crude and undesirable ways.

There’s a goodly amount of ‘new deal’ hope invested in Obama, a longing for a change of direction in the drift of American policy internationally and in terms of domestic divisions. I can well sympathise with that. But optimism is not a good political barometer. And much though I dislike the elevation of winning over other issues, I’m unconvinced that Obama has the experience to defeat McCain – which is, after all, the point of the exercise if you’re pinning your dreams on him.

Forget recent opinion polls, they’ll look very different when the real campaign gets underway. With the Republicans portraying him as a dangerous liberal, endless repetition of those Rev Jeremiah Wright clips (excellently analysed by Sunny Hundal), an unconvinced industrial heartland, and the the religious right adjusting themselves to the new context (as they will), the idea that Obama will evade the ‘Hillary haters’ who would otherwise not vote seems very questionable.

Tim Hames may well prove right overall:

Clinton is the 5347 option and Obama is the 5542 one. By this I mean that it is tough to imagine her obtaining more than 53 per cent of the national vote against John McCain, but it is hard to envisage her falling below 47 per cent either. Most of those Democrats who prefer Mr Obama to her (African-Americans, affluent whites, the young) would nevertheless back the New York senator in November […]

Mr Obama, by contrast, has a somewhat higher vote ceiling but a much lower floor to his vote. If Americans decide that they are desperate for “change”, pure and simple, then he is a better vehicle for that mood than a woman who has the history of the 1990s attached to her. If, though, voters are after “change (with reassurance)”, as one suspects is the case, then she is a smarter bet against Mr McCain. A sizeable slice of working-class Democrats who back her may switch to the Arizona Senator if she loses. In the worst-case scenario, the Republican champion may well wipe the floor with Mr Obama.

Today a firm Barack enthusiast told me she’s so disgusted with Hillary’s campaign, she would prefer to see McCain in the White House than her. That may prove to be a rash and dangerous wish.

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About the author
Simon Barrow is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is co-director of Ekklesia, a think tank looking at issues of religion in society from a radical Christian perspective. He is a writer, theologian, consultant and commentator and also blogs at FaithInSociety
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Realpolitik ,United States

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Reader comments

As someone who shares your Obama skepticism, I still think this period where no one is attacking him is one we’ll look back to as the highpoint of McCain’s candidacy. Whilst Obama is far from the dream candidate or the messiah the more zealous of his supporters make him out to be, it remains true he’s a perfectly positioned Democrat facing some of the most favourable electoral conditions possible: A hugely unpopular incumbent and an opponent who both promises continuation of the policies of that incumbent who is looked upon unfavourable by the Republicans’ traditional base.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it could all still go to hell and I’d agree Clinton is the better candidate for a good win, but I’m really not convinced that Obama is as bad a choice as the numbers might suggest. An Obama presidency is likely to be a disappointment but it’s still a highly likely outcome.

All personal politics aside, I think bringing in what we here in the UK think of candidates to the mix is largely irrelevant and self-masturbatory in tone, let’s look at the figures. For the last 3 or so months Obama hasn’t really shifted from his position of being a better candidate for the Democrats to choose over Hillary except for a period of high polling for McCain around the time he was announced as the republican nominee.

The fact is, and has been for some months now, that Obama is the only one for the democrats in public opinion that seems to stand a chance at winning back some states from the republicans while also standing as good as Hillary at retaining states that the Democrats still hold.

Now of course all that could change, and I’ve seen people very sceptical of his ability to weather the republican machine, only time will tell. But either way, which should the dem’s use for their bid if they’re sensible? Not the candidate that has to go up against the same republicans having technically lost the public vote for the job within their own party.

Hope you’re right, Alex.

Well, I am actually married into an American family, Lee… so not entirely disconnected from all this. And given the world impact of this election, I don’t think UK or other interest is self-indulgent.

Regarding the figures, the issue is how they will shift after the publicity around the primaries gives way to a direct consideration in the voters minds of Obama-McCain. In the meantime, it’s not exactly clear water:

Absolutely he can beat John McCain. I think we are treating that like a harder hurdle than it really is. Tie McCain to Bush effectively and this could be a blow out! In fact I think there’s a good shot that this will not be close at all. And I certainly hope it isn’t close. A huge win by Obama would give his presidency a real feeling of a new beginning.

yes he can. exit polling suggests that most white working class voters would choose obama over mccain. also don’t forget that in early states like iowa and south carolina, there were twice as many people voting in the democratic primaries than the republican ones.

obama’s veep choice will also be signficant. getting someone like jim webb would help to cover his electoral weaknesses.

finally, i agree that he may have the lower floor but to suggest that he might drop to 42% is absurd. especially given the fact that he’s already been subjected to a lot more negative advertising than people anticipated and come out relatively unscathed.

I believe he can beat McCain too. Quite easily. And for all the dirty tricks that will be used by the Republicans, so will the Democrats…. And all kudos to the Democrats this year for using Republican tactics. About time.

I think you are a bit optomistic about either of them beating McCain. The infighting eithin the Democrats over this long campaign has given him the perfect stick with which to beat them as well as the info the mutual muckraking has dredged up itself.

I’d bet on a narrow McCain victory over Obama as the most likely outcome.

I fear that Falco is right. We’ll see. Easy to beat McCain? A more realistic analysis is:

9. Mr. Plank

Come on liberals, lets get real. We all know that the exit polls don`t mean crap. And the liberal media will keep showing these polls that show Obama leading McCain, but when it comes down to it he will lose. The driveby media did the same thing with Kerry and of course he lost.

Hillary is by far the best candidate for you Dems. but, you guys gotta keep going for the most liberal person you can.

I can`t wait to see this election, you guys are blowin` it!!
Thank you Democrats,
Mr Plank

Mr. Plank, I’d like to start by addressing your argument….

As soon as you give one, that is.

I think we need to introduce our friend across the Atlantic to the common vernacular meaning of the word ‘plank’.

“We all know that the exit polls don`t mean crap”

That’s why we aren’t using exit poll data to supply our arguments. Cheers for playing though.

I read an America blog today where a commenter used the term Oreobama, and a little part of me died inside.

“I think we need to introduce our friend across the Atlantic to the common vernacular meaning of the word ‘plank’.”

And then suggest that he walks it.

“I read an America blog today where a commenter used the term Oreobama, and a little part of me died inside.”

Have you seen the ‘Obama the Messiah’ and ‘Obama the Antichrist’ blogs yet?

Have you seen the ‘Obama the Messiah’ and ‘Obama the Antichrist’ blogs yet? ` BenSix

I doubt I want to.

You really don’t.

Still, they’re far more astute and insightful than anything that gets onto Fox.

Aaron Heath wrote:
I read an America blog today where a commenter used the term Oreobama, and a little part of me died inside.

Are you really that big of a pansy Aaron? Geez!!!!!!!!!!!!
people like you make me want to vomit. politically correct pansies!!!!!!!!

I will make a brave prediction here Obama will win. 52% of the vote.

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