Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Game Has Changed

Political strategy in a two-party system is not hard to figure out. There's a see-saw balanced on a fulcrum in the middle, and whoever piles more weight on their side wins. The single most effective thing you can do is to control the center, and effectively move where the fulcrum is, pushing it toward your opponent and making more of the see-saw on your side. (This is equivalent to the primary rule of tic-tac-toe: whoever captures the center wins.) Once in a while, you can make a play for the extremes, as Karl Rove did, piling as much weight as you can on the extreme edge of your side where you get the most leverage. But that tactic only works if both sides play for the extremes. If one sides plays for the extreme, but the other side goes for the center, the center will always win. It's kind of like a lobsided game of rock-paper-scissors with red, blue, and purple. Red vs blue could go either way, but purple always beats red, and purple always beats blue. The Republicans understand that, which is why McCain is their presumptive nominee. Very few Republicans are excited about McCain, but the GOP tend to be a practical bunch, and they understood that McCain was their best shot at winning this year. In the exit polls in California, where McCain blew away Romney, "electability" was by far the biggest reason that voters gave for voting McCain.

The Republicans have shown "purple", so now it's up to the Democrats. It should be pretty clear to all but the most ideologically blinded that Obama is the Democrats' best shot against McCain. In a Feb 7 Time matchup poll, Obama would beat McCain 48% to 41%, while a Clinton-McCain race was roughly tied at 46%. In a Feb 10 Rasmussen poll, Obama beats McCain 44% to 41%, while Clinton loses to McCain 46% to 43%. A CNN poll had similar findings to the Time poll. In simple terms, Clinton is "blue" and Obama is "purple". Since blue loses to purple, if the Democrats want to beat the Republicans, they need to put up purple.

Obama has made a hugely successful reach for independents and even for some Republicans. Clinton and Obama both have appeal in the Democratic base, but only Obama has the reach for the center. Look at Obama's remarkable success in "red" states. He's been endorsed by Governors Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Janet Napolitano of Arizona. Obama won southern states Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Louisiana by large margins. Those might be dismissed by his strength in the black vote in those states. But what about Obama's wins in Utah (57-39), North Dakota (61-37), Nebraska (68-32), Kansas (74-26), or Idaho (80-17)? Obama has proven an ability to win handily in a cross-section of states including "white red states".

Some Democrats have been thinking that Bush was so despised that there was no way the GOP could win the White House again in November. Those folks need to wake up and smell the coffee. The race is the Democrats to lose, but they could still lose it if they try to put Clinton up against McCain. I worry that the Democrats tend to be more idealistic, and won't recognize the realities of electability the way the less idealistic Republicans do (as evidenced by the way most of them are holding their noses and lining up behind McCain). Fortunately, this evening's news gives me hope that the Democrats may be coming around on that. Maine, whose Democratic population is blue-collar white folk, the demographic that had been Clinton's most solid base, was projected to be Clinton's win. But the results are in, and it's a strong Obama win, 59% to 40%. That gives me hope, and makes me say "yes, we can!"

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