Six weeks of bowling and Bittergate and Pastorgate and nonexistent Bosnian snipers....and for what? The Pennsylvania results have essentially changed nothing. There is seemingly no cure for the chronic Democratic migraine - and the fear, among so many members, that they are tearing themselves asunder.
Memo to the voters of Indiana and North Carolina: Take these candidates, please!
Now that Hillary Clinton has secured her solid Pennsylvania victory, we know two things - both of which we basically knew before:
1. She will slog onward against increasingly heavy odds. (And why shouldn't she, given the fact that she just won another big state and again demonstrated that she is the preferred candidate of the working-class whites who will be crucial to Democratic hopes this autumn?)
2. Barack Obama can't seem to seal the deal, thereby torturing the sizeable number of exhausted Democrats (including many unpledged superdelegates) who yearn for closure.
Obama's attempt last night to spin the defeat was empirically absurd. Hewing to the loser's ritual of flying to the next state while the bad news is still being tallied, Obama shared this assessment of the Pennsylvania race with a group of Indiana supporters: "We rallied people of every age and race and background to the cause."
Problem was, he lost all the older voter categories, starting at age 45. He lost white people, both genders. And with respect to every background, he lost the working-class folks, the union members, and the non-college educated. He lost suburbanites (including two of the suburban Philadelphia counties, Montgomery and Bucks, that he needed to win by comfortable margins), small-town dwellers, and rural residents. He lost the white Catholics and he lost the Jews. He lost the culturally-conservative Democrats on Bob Casey's home turf, Lackawanna County, by a 3 to 1 margin.
And let's return to the racial factor for a moment, because there is a jarring and highly sensitive finding that showed up in the exit polls. Thirteen percent of white voters statewide said that the race of the candidate was important to them; of those voters, 74 percent cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton. This is arguably a warning sign that Obama may face a higher racial hurdle than many observers have generally assumed.
An arguably bigger problem is his persistent deficit among late-deciding voters. I mentioned here yesterday that, in most primaries, Obama has stumbled at the finish line because voters making up their minds during the final 24 hours have tended to break for Clinton, the known quantity. Well, in Pennsylvania it happened again. Eleven percent made up their minds on the last day; 6 out of 10 wound up breaking for Clinton, thereby padding her victory margin.
All told, he appears to have won only five of the 67 Pennsylvania counties. The template for victory was Ed Rendell's '02 gubernatorial campaign, which notched victories in 10 counties - winning overwhelmingly in Philadelphia and its suburbs, then basically hanging on everywhere else. Obama didn't even get the winning margins he needed out of Philadelphia.
So it's easy to see where this campaign is headed: nowhere fast. Clinton's Pennsylvania win (by more than 200,000 votes, slashing his national popular vote lead by more than 25 percent) will gain her some breathing space - forestalling any pro-Obama stampede by the unpledged superdelegates, and prompting some donors to pony up the money that she so badly needs (given the fact that she's currently awash in red ink). She'll net more Pennsylvania delegates than Obama, thanks to her victory, but not nearly enough to appreciably dent his national lead. And Obama will have to reload, yet again, and demonstrate in Indiana that he can relate to, and win over, the lunch-bucket Democrats.
They essentially split the delegates there...he recoups whatever he lost in Pennsylvania delegates by winning a majority of North Carolina delegates...she wins West Virginia...he wins Oregon...she's got the seniors, he's got the kids...she's got the whites, he's got the blacks...she's got the bowlers, he's got the brie-eater...she the whiskey, he the wine...tomato/tomahtoe, let's call the whole thing off.
But nobody seems to know how. And therein lies the danger for Democrats this autumn.
I had more thoughts on Pennsylvania and the Democratic race during an hour-long conversation last night on PBS' "Charlie Rose" show. And so did my betters: historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Washington journalist Al Hunt, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, Time magazine's Mark Halperin, and Jacob Weisberg of Slate.
The video is posted here.
"American Debate" is moving. Today's entry has been cross-posted at the new site, which will be fully operational in early May. The new address, suitable for book-marking, is http://go.philly.com/polman