Is Obama Really Better Against McCain?

Polls showing Barack Obama as more likely than Hillary Clinton to beat John McCain in a matchup this fall have never made much sense to me.

I've always seen Clinton as a bigger threat to McCain because of her more moderate record and her vote for the war. Yet these polls have proliferated in the media and on the Internet for months now.

What makes Clinton a tougher general election rival for McCain? She's a known, moderate quantity. She's been about as fully vetted as any candidate for any office, ever. Her vote for the Iraq invasion will help her with middle America in a general election, although it obviously hurt her with left-leaning Democratic caucusgoers and primary voters.

Lastly, she so successfully revamped her image and remade herself before entering the presidential race, she proved she possesses the skills necessary to transition from a magnet for primary voters to someone able to woo the more moderate general electorate. Before Clinton won office, she was someone who drew boos on the national stage. There's still a bit of that, but the volume has been turned way down. She has moderated since 2000 and transformed herself into a proven navigator of that most obstreperous of mazes: the U.S. Senate.

This past weekend, however, I found an even better explanation--from columnist Jonathan V. Last of the Philadelphia Inquirer--of why her performance in the primaries thus far makes her a stronger Democratic contender in the general election. So I offer it, below:

Obama's support comes in large part from reliably Republican states such as Idaho, Utah, Georgia and South Carolina. Democrats have no chance in those states come November. Meanwhile, Clinton will have won at least eight of the 11 largest states, including must-win battleground states such as Florida and Ohio (and Pennsylvania).

Remember, too, that Obama's coalition is composed of more reliably Democratic base voters: African Americans, voters making over $100,000, and young voters. These are groups that Democratic candidates carry most easily. If Clinton is the nominee, she can take these groups for granted.

By contrast, Clinton's coalition--women, older voters, whites making less than $50,000, Catholics, Hispanics--would be McCain swing voters in a race against Obama. Obama hasn't been successful in wooing those voters yet, so it's unclear why anyone would believe he will finally carry them (and then defend them from a very appealing McCain) in November.

In other words, if you look at the underlying fundamentals of the race, and not just the theoretical polls, Clinton can make a strong case that she is the candidate better suited to challenging McCain and winning the White House.

By Bonnie Erbe