Polls, Pundits and Prognosticators in Pennsylvania

“And the age, there’s like a part of the country that’s the party of baggage, senior people.  ‘I got some baggage, fine. I’m fine with people who have baggage, I’ll vote for Hillary.’ Younger people, ‘No baggage, I’m the no baggage party.’ So it’s like checking in at the airport, it’s whether you got baggage or not.” David Brooks on NBC’s Meet The Press about the Democrat voters.

First it was we’ll have a winner in New Hampshire, and then let’s wait until Super Duper Tuesday, then we’ll know after Ohio and/or Texas and now we are looking at Pennsylvania on Tuesday but we are holding out hope for Puerto Rico in June. Whew. It’s been a bumpy ride for the Democrats this year. 

So what can we expect on Tuesday? The “punditocracy” has been almost universally wrong. James Carville and Mary Matalin appeared together at Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia on Friday night and one thing they agreed on is that there are no models or history for what is happening this election cycle. Maybe 1952 is something like it, but there is really nothing like it.

But some things never change. Two middle aged white guys are running the campaigns of the candidates of “change.” Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist is Geoff Garin, who replaced Mark Penn two weeks ago. Barack Obama’s chief strategist is David Axelrod. Not that I am opposed to middle-aged white guys, I am happily married to one who gets sexier every year. But how are you going to get change if the only thing that is different is the candidate?

The fact is that Sen. John McCain is approaching his campaign in a different way. I have often lamented the end of the “Whistle Stop Tours” of presidential contests of old. Where candidates meet real people, take real questions and have to think on their feet. John McCain is being forced by his style and his bank account to do this. Cross the country holding town hall meetings and taking every question. He’s trying to rekindle the love affair with the people and the press.

But John McCain is not the contest right now. It is Pennsylvania. Clinton is expected to win Pennsylvania, lose North Carolina and who knows in Indiana? Pennsylvania is the big prize and Obama is closing the gap. The latest NBC poll for Pennsylvania voters in the Democrat primary has Sen. Clinton at 48% and Obama at 43%. 

Within that poll is an interesting sub-group that will be more important in Pennsylvania than in other states: hunters rate Clinton is at 56% and Obama is at 31%. Gun owners are even tougher on Obama with 53% supporting Mrs. Clinton and only 28% preferring Obama.

Any numbers in any state are being skewed by new voters in this election cycle. In Pennsylvania alone, there are 150,000 new registered Democrat voters and 160,000 voters have switched to the Democrat party. These two groups would not be contacted for polls and who knows what they think. We’ve seen this in state after state. The only real consistent factor is blacks tend to vote for Obama and older voters, especially women, are (generally) voting for Clinton in big-state Democrat primaries.

The biggest problem is the squabbling is making Barack Obama look more like a traditional “in the gutter” politician and Hillary Clinton is just doing what is expected. Their current favorable to unfavorable ratings show that. Currently, Hillary Clinton is at 58% unfavorable and 40% favorable. Bill Clinton hasn’t fared well either and his unfavorable ratings are up also. Barack Obama is only at 39% unfavorable but that’s substantially up from six months ago. 

The challenge is how does that measure up to John McCain? McCain’s favorable/unfavorable ratings are about the same at Barack Obama’s at this moment. So how is Obama better equipped to beat John McCain? He’s not. Every week that the Democratic primaries go on, John McCain looks better to the American people. 

Obama talks about his story not being possible anywhere but in America. But his story is of a baby boomer who aspired to an elite university with no real service to his country until his forties. How does that make him any different than the criticisms that the left makes of George W. Bush?

The fact is, Sen. John McCain’s story is an American story of leadership and whether we think he is right or wrong on the issues, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama can match his American story, no matter what the polls say.

So whether we are prognosticators, pundits, pollsters or Pennsylvanians, we don’t know what is going to happen and we are in this until the bitter end.

On Friday, James Carville related the Democratic Primary to a blackjack game. Obama is sitting pretty with a 20 and Clinton has a 15 and has to hit. If she wins Pennsylvania is will be like drawing a 3 and being at 18. To win, she’s got to hit again and will probably get a 9 and bust. But she might get that 3 and hit 21 and beat Obama. Carville’s got it about right: the stressful Democratic primary season will continue for the Democrats until Hillary Clinton busts her hand.