There’s trouble brewing with the Democratic election prospects, and it has everything to do with issues and nothing to do with politicking.
The harsh reality facing Democrats in the weeks and months ahead is that spurned Hillary Clinton supporters could make John McCain the president.
A couple of months ago, that statement would have been dismissed outright, but polling shows that today, it’s true.
Prognosticators are saying that this gap in support for Obama is a result of the primaries dragging on and bad blood brewing between the candidates and their supporters.
But that’s only one small part of the story.
Many Clinton supporters have felt this way from the beginning, but it didn’t show up in the polling because Clinton still had a chance to win and McCain wasn’t the guaranteed GOP nominee.
Now, with Clinton almost surely losing and McCain as the Republican standard bearer, the questions asked by pollsters have the weight of fact.
Obama supporters will be appalled by these numbers and some will be surprised. But in both cases, they shouldn’t be.
Clinton supporters aren’t thinking about McCain just because they are bitter or angry about losing, although that is part of it.
In large part, they are thinking about McCain because Clinton supporters have real doubts about Barack Obama and his policies and have a certain amount of faith in the man who nearly took down George W. Bush eight years ago.
People are tempted by McCain because of what Clinton supporters vote for — perceived experience, centrist Democratic policies over more leftists stances, and less dogmatic stances on issues like Iraq.
In other words, perceived pragmatism over perceived idealism.
(I acknowledge politics is all about perception until someone is elected. But for now, that’s all we have.)
Outside of social issues like abortion rights and gay marriage, McCain and Clinton are very similar. And on the pivotal issue of Iraq, Clinton falls directly between Obama and McCain.
She does not support the war, but neither is she ready to pull the plug immediately. She sees real imperatives for a measured withdrawal, including moral obligations to Iraqis who have supported the American mission.
She and McCain even visited my home — Whitehorse, Yukon — in a joint visit to save ANWR.
These two senators have long been similar beasts — centrists in parties that like to live at the extremes of the American political spectrum (recognizing that the entire two-party “spectrum” is in and of itself a fairly narrow political window).
So, if Clinton doesn’t get the nomination, some of those voters are going to take a long hard look at the Republican nominee.
With the additional comfort of a likely Democratic Congress, there is a real possibility of voters parking their support with the aging Maverick.
The polls are suggesting its possible, and being in Massachusetts and listening to family and friends, I can tell you it is true.
Obama is an incredibly compelling man and he is the likely nominee. So, if there are so many Democrats still supporting Clinton, despite the apparent impossibility of winning, the party has to be worried.
The message is that there are millions of Democrats who doubt that Obama is the best choice for president.
Of course, Obama can still win those Democrats over during a general election. However, he’ll have to court those votes without losing the support of the millions of non-traditional voters he has managed to bring into the game.
That is going to be a taught tightrope to walk, for him and for McCain. Because you can bet both will be courting the Hillary voters who aren’t willing to just fall in line with Democratic party line.
Whitehorse writer Michael Hale is a former journalist and political hack who is more impressed with Barack Obama each day and yet finds himself more and more convinced that Hillary Clinton will make a better president. Strange but true.