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The Spouses Speak Out
On Electablity Issue

The Democratic obsession with "electability" is now moving to the candidates' spouses.

In recent weeks, John Edwards has said he can win in the South and appeal to rural voters, Barack Obama argued he can increase turnout among blacks and young people by 30 percent, and Hillary Clinton said she was the better general election candidate in part because Republicans have already spent years researching her past. Edwards or Obama, she implied, would provide fresh and untested targets for the opposition.

Elizabeth Edwards last week joined in the debate, saying by nominating Clinton, Democrats would fire up Republicans in a general election. "I do not think the hatred against Hillary Clinton is justified," she said in an interview with TIME Magazine. "But you can't pretend it doesn't exist, and it will energize the Republican base. Their nominee won't energize them, Bush won't, but Hillary as the nominee will."

So at a rally on Sunday night in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a crowd of several thousand ready to be electrified by one of their favorite politicians instead was treated to another treatise on electability. Bill Clinton, traveling with his wife on a two-day Labor Day swing through Iowa and New Hampshire, devoted much of his speech to introducing Hillary Clinton and praising her work in the Senate. But then he went into a detailed defense of his wife's electoral prospects.

The former president obseerved that George W. Bush won the majority of counties in New York in 2000 (Al Gore still won the state as the most populous areas are heavily Democratic). But in 2006, when Hillary Clinton ran for reelection, she won the vast majority of the Bush counties.

The ex-president even noted a recent survey by a Canadian polling group called Angus Reid showing that more than 40 percent of residents in Germany, France and other European countries wanted to see Hillary Clinton elected president, putting her far-ahead of the other candidates. Clinton noted Americans like to make their own decisions, but argued this was a very important consideration because many countries have been frustrated by the policies of the Bush administration. "You want to fix America's standing in the world, elect Hillary," Clinton said.

In short, "this electability thing is a canard," Clinton argued.

So who's right, Elizabeth Edwards or Bill Clinton? Hard to tell. A recent Pew survey showed 47 percent of independent voters held an unfavorable opinion of Clinton, a worrisome number since Democrats are highly reliant on independents to win elections. Only 36 percent of independent voters had unfavorable impressions of Edwards and 33 percent of Obama. On the other hand, 16 percent of independents said they didn't know enough to rate Obama or Edwards, while Clinton has been on the national scene so long only 5 percent say they didn't know enough about her.

--Perry Bacon Jr.

By Post Editor  |  September 4, 2007; 10:31 AM ET
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