Aa Pennsylvania voters trek to the polls today in the latest contest in the race for the Democratic nomination, we may be able to see some clues how the candidates, particularly Senator Obama, will withstand the pressures of the fall campaign. Giving his recent decision to dodge a debate in North Carolina, the signs don’t look as good for him.
But, then again, that’s me speaking as a relatively partisan political observer, not as an independent voter.
To understand what the voters are thinking, the best (albeit flawed) gage is exit polling. Those polls today could really provide us a window into how well the likely Democratic nominee holds up in the fall campaign. In the most recent big-state primaries, those polls showed late-deciders (those who made up their minds in the last 72 hours) breaking overwhelmingly for Mrs. Clinton. With the help of a media no longer swooning over her rival, her campaign succeeded in sowing doubts about him.
Should late-deciders break again for her, it would show how soft is Obama’s support, suggesting that currently undecided voters might more readily break for McCain come November. Recall how much time Arizona’s senior Senator has spent in the public eye and how little has his junior Illinois colleague. People have pretty much made up their mind about John McCain; they’re still getting to know Barack Obama.
The real question is should the late-deciders break for Mrs. Clinton, would they mean she can win back disgruntled Democrats and pull in some independents in the fall and that despite the hits she has taken, she retains a solid base of support? Or would people just be voting for her as the only alternative to Senator Obama?
There’s another wrinkle in all this. By some reports, Obama has outspent Clinton “by 3-to-1 or 4-to-1” (he pro-Obama Huffingon post has him outspending her by “roughly 2.3-to-1 on ad buys alone.“) If those resources can’t swing late-deciders to him, it seems Obama may have a tougher time in the fall campaign convincing skeptical voters to choose him over John McCain.
While the exit polls may provide insight into Obama’s ability to sway swing voters, the real results will shape the dynamic of the Democratic race. I think Brendan Loy (via Instapundit) is spot on when he writes:
a double-digit win is necessary for Clinton to really claim an unalloyed “victory”; Obama “wins” if he can hold her margin under 5 points; and a Clinton margin of between 5 and 10 points is a murky gray area.