Last night, while talking to a girl at a party, the subject of the presidential election came up. Admittedly, this is the kind of subject I should stay away from when talking to girls at parties, but no one has ever accused me of being socially adept. Anyway, when I stated that Obama has the Democratic nomination pretty much locked up, and that, short of a miracle, even the superdelegates would not be enough to flip things Hillary's way, she was very surprised. Based on the media coverage in recent weeks, she was assuming that Hillary would get the nomination for sure. And this girl wasn't stupid--indeed, based on our conversation I got the impression that she was quite an intelligent person. Obviously, she wasn't as well-informed about the election as I am, but not everyone who is smart follows this stuff as closely as I do, and someone who follows it more in passing could certainly be forgiven for thinking that things were a lot closer than they are. This is one of the many ways that the news media treats the public like idiots. Not all the time, of course--there are plenty of stories out there about how Obama's pledged-delegate lead is practically insurmountable--but the headlines ignore this fact in order to create drama and grab ratings, and in so doing, misrepresent the facts in order to make their stories better. This is how the media treatment of the public as if they're idiots becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; when you report the news as if to idiots, it doesn't give the smarter people the opportunity to grasp nuances of the stories--nuances that as a rule are left out.
I wanted to talk about the fact that Hillary Clinton was incredibly lucky to have Pennsylvania be the state that restarted the primary votes after a six-week break; this concept was foremost in my mind when I created this blog a few days ago. I nearly decided to forget about the whole thing, since it took a few days to get the opportunity to write about it, but after talking to that girl at that party last night, I realized that a lot of people don't know the real story about that situation. Not that I'm flattering myself that anyone actually reads this thing, especially since it's only existed for a few days, but I wanted to go ahead and put this stuff out there, so that on the off chance that someone stumbles across it, it'll be available for them to read.
So, let's get into it. First and foremost, it's important to understand that Hillary Clinton was always going to win the Pennsylvania primary. It's a state in which people register by party and are then restricted to voting in the primary of their own party. So, Republicans and independents, groups that typically break heavily in Obama's favor when they vote in the Democratic primaries, were restricted from participation. Obama's campaign did as much as they could to help people registered as independent or Republican switch their registration in time to participate in the Democratic primary, but considering the fact that a lot of people see their registration status as too important to change just for one primary, this was never going to have that much of an impact.
Another important factor--other than Florida, Pennsylvania has the oldest average age of any state's population in the country. It's been shown over and over again during this primary season that Obama's strength is primarily with the youth vote. A state without all that many young people wasn't going to do as well for him, and Pennsylvania's one of the most lacking-in-youth states in the country. Plus, older people who are Democrats at all skew more towards Hillary Clinton. I tend to attribute this factor more to older women who want to vote for a female presidential candidate and don't think they'll live long enough to vote for another one after Hillary, but there are other factors here. Hillary is of an older generation than Barack Obama, who is only 45--the same age Bill Clinton was when he was elected in 1992. And while I don't like to figure that race plays much of a part in people's decisions on who to vote for president in the year 2008, the fact is that older white people are more likely to balk at voting for someone from a racial minority than younger people are. Since Pennsylvania is both older and whiter than average, it only stands to reason that Obama would have more hurdles to overcome here than in a lot of other states.
Hillary Clinton's campaign has used Obama's loss in Pennsylvania to portray him as someone who "can't close the deal", who can build up plenty of momentum but always gets derailed at the moment when he should be able to finally take the definitive lead. This line of argument ignores two really important points, and the fact that the cards were always stacked against Obama in Pennsylvania is only one of them. The other is that Obama, without a doubt, DOES have a definitive lead in the delegates needed to gain him the nomination. Hillary's 30-delegate lead where superdelegates are concerned doesn't even begin to cut significantly into Obama's 150-delegate lead in pledged delegates. And in order for Hillary to cut into that lead, she'll need either 65% or more of the votes in all 9 of the states and territories left to cast their votes in the Democratic primary--which she won't get--or 65% or more of the remaining uncommitted superdelegates to go her way--which, again, won't happen, especially since Obama does have such a dramatic lead in the popular vote and in pledged delegates.
Would Hillary's campaign be able to argue that Obama was unable to "close the deal" if the first state to vote after the 6-week break was North Carolina? Certainly not--right now, Obama enjoys a 10% lead in North Carolina, and will likely win this state no matter what Hillary Clinton's campaign does. So, were this to have happened on April 22nd instead of May 6th, when it's going to happen, would it have shown that Obama COULD close the deal, where the Pennsylvania results didn't? No, of course not. The fact is, Obama closed the deal a while ago. He doesn't need to show anything else to make it obvious that he is the candidate that has secured the necessary delegates to win the Democratic nomination. At this point, as Paul Westerberg once said, it's all over but the shouting. Obama's loss in Pennsylvania did nothing to change that. It may have made Hillary look better in the press than she would have had she taken a loss, but that improvement in appearance is so much smoke and mirrors, and it'll be shown as such within the next month.