Opines Mark Nevins, communications director for Clinton’s campaign in Pennsylvania, in a Reuters article: “You can’t really expect to win the general election if you can’t win Pennsylvania.”
Leaving aside for the moment the fact that Mr. Nevins is going to feel awfully stupid about having made that comment to the press if Clinton ends up losing in Pennsylvania on April 22… Why are there so many pundits, campaign staffers, academics, etc. who seem to fail to understand the obvious fact that Democrat vs. Democrat during the primary is completely different from Democrat vs. Republican in the general election?
When Clinton runs against Obama in the Pennsylvania primary, it’s a Democrat competing against a Democrat, with only Democrats voting on their preferred candidate. The result of this primary is only marginally relevant to the question of whether either candidate will be able to win the state in the general election, because the plain fact is that in November, the vast majority of registered Democrats who vote in November are going to back whoever the Democratic candidate is.
In states with open primaries, i.e., where people can choose in which primary they wish to vote, the results are even less meaningful. Now that McCain has sewn up the Republican nomination, many Republicans in such states will cross over and vote for whichever Democratic candidate they think McCain is more likely to beat in November.
The real question is not who can win the primary, but rather how many Clinton supporters will stay home or vote for McCain if Obama ends up being the candidate, and vice versa. There are polls which claim to try to answer this question, but frankly, I think they have little bearing on reality this far before the election.
According to The Boston Globe, hundreds of thousands of Republicans are crossing over and voting for Clinton in Democratic primaries because either (a) they want to prolong the Democratic fight for the nomination, because the longer it lasts, the harder it will be for whoever emerges to beat McCain, or (b) they think Clinton will be easier to beat than Obama in November.