Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary might well have been one of the most important contests in this year’s battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. No matter how hard the Clintons will try to spin Obama’s sweeping victory as pretty much what was to be expected, they cannot hide fact that the exit polls show some very troubling signs for Clinton heading into her firewall states, Texas and Ohio, on March 4. Here are some of my initial thoughts:
1) This should have been a Clinton stronghold. With 90% of the votes cast by white voters, in a state relatively short on those affluent, high-educated voters that have traditionally favored Obama, this seemed like a natural place for Clinton to prove that the perceived crumbling of her (white, blue-collar, low income, female) voting coalition, witnessed last week in Virginia, was a on-off. Well, it wasn’t. The only significant voting bloc still opting decisively for Clinton were voters 60 years or older. She narrowly bested Obama among women, but that advantage has almost eroded since Super Tuesday. If it’s not the writing on the wall, at least it’s deeply troubling, looking forward.
2) Obama has made a breaktrough with women and low-income voters. To me, this was the most revealing numbers out of Wisconsin. In earlier states, particularly up until Super Tuesday, the Obama coalition consisted of young, affluent, high-educated, high-income males, black and white. It still does. The big difference is that now it’s supplemented by voters in all income categories, and by voters with little or no education. Obama held Clinton to a virtual tie among self-described Democrats, and he won two-thirds of self-described independents. Closing the gender and income gaps must provide Obama with an infusion of his main energy source: hope.
3) Late-deciders went for Obama. This too, is a new development. In most previous states, those who said they decided in the last three days before election day, have favored Clinton. Many theories have been presented as to why that is so, many emphasizing that Clinton is a known commodity, while Obama is still relatively new to the national political scene. Over the last few weeks, though, it seems like voters’ doubts about Obama have vanished. He is now perceived as the more electable candidate, and his campaign narrative of change is trouncing Clinton’s message of experience. That is why the fact that 95% of the ‘experience voters’ voted for Clinton didn’t matter all that much.
4) The Clinton attacks seem to have backfired. I don’t want to overstate this, but among the one-third of voters who said they decided in the last week, Obama beat Clinton by 16 points, a somewhat larger margin than he held among those who decided before that. It could be argued that this could be attributed to Clinton’s more aggressive attacks on Obama in the closing days of the campaign. Clinton’s campaign aired a television ad denouncing him for not wanting to meet her for a televised debate, even though they have already had 18 such debates, and another one is scheduled for Thursday night in Texas. The purpose of the ad was to frame Obama as your regular, cautious politician, and one who’s not interested in coming to Wisconsin to debate topics important to the state. They claim rang false. Likewise with the recent dust-up over Obama’s alleged plagiarism in borrowing from friend and colleague Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts Governor. Similar claims tanked Senator Joe Biden’s campaign in 1988, but this year I have a hunch that voters primarily saw it a an act of desperation from the Clinton camp. If nothing else, both examples serve to show that if Clinton was not seriously contesting Wisconsin, she had a somewhat strange way of showing it.