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Forget February. What About November?

By Dan Balz
On the eve of Super Tuesday, let's cast our eyes forward to November and the general election match-ups that are now most likely: John McCain against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll is a timely reminder that McCain remains a potentially formidable general election nominee for the Republicans in a year in which energy, enthusiasm and top issues tilt clearly toward the Democrats.

At this point among registered voters, McCain has a narrow lead (50 percent to 45 percent) over Clinton and is essentially tied (48 percent to 47 percent) with Obama. But there are some interesting differences in how key groups of voters split their votes, depending on whether Obama or Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

McCain's rocky relationship with the GOP base long has been his biggest hurdle in winning his party's nomination, but even Republican leaders who have differed with McCain over the years have grudgingly acknowledged that he could be their strongest nominee in the fall.

McCain has appeal beyond the base because of his maverick reputation. His advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform could stem losses among Hispanics otherwise angry at his party. And his national security credentials could be important in drawing distinctions with Obama in particular.

The independent vote is likely to be among the most critical constituencies in the fall campaign. President Bush carried it narrowly in his 2004 reelection victory, but it broke decisively for the Democrats in the 2006 midterm elections.

McCain is competitive against both Clinton and Obama in large measure because of his appeal to those voters. But he does far better with independents when matched against Clinton than when matched against Obama.

The Post-ABC News poll shows McCain clearly leading Clinton among independents, while narrowly losing them against Obama. A similar pattern occurs among moderates: McCain and Clinton now split them, while McCain loses them to Obama.

A general election campaign involving McCain and either Democrat would offer clear ideological contrasts. McCain's views on Iraq are now totally at odds with those of either Clinton or Obama. They are also miles apart on health care and even tax cuts, where McCain has shifted his views since the beginning of the Bush presidency.

McCain already has said he welcomes the chance to run against either and to draw those contrasts, although he has said he would do so in a respectful way. Slash-and-burn does not come easily to McCain, but indignation does. He has taken pains to express his admiration for Clinton and Obama but both sides are preparing for all-out combat in the fall.

The Post-ABC News poll shows that a race between McCain and Clinton would be the more polarizing, at least on the margins. McCain gets more of the Republican vote and less of the Democratic vote when matched against Clinton than when matched against Obama.

The gender differences in the two races are also notable. Against Clinton, McCain has a clear advantage among men -- particularly independent men. He carries them handily against Clinton but loses them just as decisively against Obama.

More interesting at this point is that Clinton and Obama do equally well against McCain among women. McCain and Obama split the votes among independent women, while McCain carries them against Clinton.

Clinton strategist Mark Penn earlier this year predicted that she could win as many as a quarter of Republican women in the fall. The Post-ABC poll suggests she has a long way to go. In the latest survey, her support among Republican women was in single digits -- and no better than her support among Republican men.

With Obama as the Democratic nominee, the electorate would divide far more clearly young vs. old than if Clinton is her party's standard-bearer. In a hypothetical McCain-Clinton matchup, the differences among age groups are relatively minor. But if Obama is the nominee, voters under 35 break decisively for the Illinois senator, while those over 55 go just as strongly for McCain.

Obama appears to have far more appeal in the West than Clinton, which may be one reason Democratic officials like Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano have endorsed him. Democrats see the Rocky Mountain states as an important new battleground and Obama does much better against McCain in the western region than does Clinton. No one at this point has any clear advantage in the Midwest, which will be the other critical region in the fall.

Any hopes Democrats may have that conservatives will revolt against McCain if he is their nominee are dashed by the Post-ABC News poll. About nine in 10 conservative Republicans support him over either Clinton or Obama at this point, although only about seven in 10 white evangelicals back him against either Democrat.

McCain actually does better among conservative Republicans against Obama than does Mitt Romney and does better among white evangelical Protestants against both than does Romney.

The Democratic race may have weeks to run before there is an effective winner. At that point voters will begin to take a more serious look at their November choices. But the optimism and expectations for victory in the fall among Democrats should be tempered by the early snapshot of a race with McCain as the Republican nominee.

By Washington Post editors  |  February 4, 2008; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Dan Balz's Take  
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Next: Romney Promises Super Tuesday Surprise


So what if McCain wins the winner-take-all delagate rich states in the North East like New York, New Jersy, etc? Those states are going to be taken by the Democrats come November anyway.

The Republican's are infighting and it is killing them. The Dems are the biggest winners. The way I see it the states that are going Romney's way are more natural Repuublican states.

A vote for McCain is a vote for the Democrats, and in any other election you would have many more of them crossing lines to vote for McCain, but the Obama-Hillary thing has really got the Dems busy this year.

A vote for Huckabee, if it isn't totally obvious yet, is a vote for bigotry (sorry I had to say it. He is so likable himself, but his supporters are giving him the wrong image). We can wait and see what he get's out of today's votes and we'll pretty much see how much hope the KKK has in the future, and may I say I hope not much.

Of course a vote for Huckabee is also a vote for McCain (but I didn't mean that as an insult to the IQ of the good readers of this publication because of how obvious that is by now).

A vote for Paul. Well, nevermind. He won't have many readers here anyway; they are all on Yahoo and youtube.

Obviously whoever win's the Democratic nomination isn't that important to me because you guessed long ago that I'm Republican.

I can't stand Hillary, although I must admit that she has an iron stomach being able to stick with Bill all these years. And I did hear her say that she would be the one wearing the suit pants in the White House if she won it? But we already knew that was the case 'cause Bill's pant's would be off half the time.

I'm honestly not that familiar with Obama, either his strenths or weeknesses, and I don't have anything wrong with someone who isn't White as President. It may actually be what we need to prove that America has finally moved beyond racial descrimination.

In that department if Obama had Romney's qualifications then he would definitely be a go and I would vote for him. His inexperience is definitely a gamble. Likewise if Romney had Obama's charisma then we would be looking at another kind of revolution. Can you imagine? Romney's presidential looks and appeal to reason and IQ combined with Obama's emotion?

Too bad. Hey, life goes on.

Everyone go out and do the American thing and vote your concience.

Of cource, if you are voting Republican then your concience should be telling you to VOTE ROMNEY now...AND if you are an American VOTE ROMNEY come November.

Posted by: johnandsonia | February 5, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

It will be a sad day for America if our Electoral Choices are Billary, Obasama, or the RINO McPain.

Socialism, Socialism Heavy, or Socialism Light-With Amnesty!

However that Pie get's sliced, the Congress with a PATHETIC 11% Approval, ussurps the Executive Branch.

God Bless America?

Try, God SAVE America-From ourselves!

Posted by: rat-the | February 4, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse

The fact of the matter is that a Hillary nomination would rally the conservative base of the Republican party like no Republican candidate can. I think the Democrats would be in trouble with a Clinton nomination, whereas an Obama nomination would definitely hinge on age, but he just doesn't have the baggage Clinton does.

Posted by: BABucher | February 4, 2008 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Zuckermand, do you really think the Democratic party base will have a tough time getting behind Obama? Are you stark raving mad? That's just a silly statement to make. You argue about the independents...advantage Obama. The GOP will go to it's perceived strength, which is national security, and it will be interesting to see Obama take McCain apart on that issue. With Clinton as the nominee it's going to be "well, can we talk about the economy since I too voted for the Iraq War?" Any advantage the Dems had on that will be gone if Hillary is the nominee. The electorate is starting to put it all together and that's why you're seeing the polls getting tighter than a Hillary sock puppet's cotton sheathing.

Posted by: markiebee001 | February 4, 2008 8:53 PM | Report abuse

This article is a pile of crap.
You can't poll independents. Independents don't want to be polled and won't respond predictably if polled. They are independent unlike the party lemmings that write these articles.

Posted by: hhkeller | February 4, 2008 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Gay marriage was the rallying cry for the GOP base in 2004. You recall the slew of gay marriage amendments and ballot initiatives that popped up out of nowhere during the last election.

Of course, none of that stuff goes anywhere after the election because it is largely created to drive voter turn-out.

Same thing will happen here, the GOP will paint Obama as out-of-touch on immigration and naive on national defense.

If you watch the GOP debates, these are the issues they are gearing up for.

Posted by: ghokee | February 4, 2008 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I disagree. I don't think the GOP's desire to make this a significant issue will necessarily make it so. Just like "gay marriage".

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 5:53 PM | Report abuse

zukermand - You miss my point. The point is that upwards of 70% of Americans disagree with him.

You should not underestimate the effect this issue has in middle-america. It will be this year's "gay marriage".

As an aside, personally I disagree with him. To me it sounds like more of the same papering over of the issue that has allowed immigration to get out of control in the first place.

Politicians need to get a backbone on this and stop trying to straddle the fence between xenophobes and business interests.

We need immigrants in the country. Most of those that are here should stay. And current levels of legal immigration should be increased.

But it doesn't do anyone any good to continue on the current path, throwing illegals a bone once in a while to ease our guilt and pick up latino votes.

Seal the borders, provide illegals in the country a way to citizenship. Do not waste time on efforts, such as driver's licenses, that merely allow politicians to avoid confronting the problem head-on.

Posted by: ghokee | February 4, 2008 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps we should concentrate on the primary elections that are imminent, as opposed to making wild predictions about fantasy election matchups. Fortune can be fickle and one's standing in the polls can change rapidly. We have a long way to go before election day in November.

Posted by: VegetablesPlease | February 4, 2008 5:41 PM | Report abuse

ghokee, I agree with Sen Obama. I do hope he maintains that position, it is the right thing to do.

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse

All you need to know about Obama's chances in the general election is this recent statement on illegal immigration.

In a 2003 forum on health care, Mr. Obama said he supported the children of illegal aliens' receiving the same benefits as citizens, "whether it's medical, whether it's in-state tuition." Asked specifically whether he included "undocumented" people, Mr. Obama replied, "Absolutely."

Fair or not, this is the wedge issue in the election and Obama can not win having taken this position.

Hillary is right, Obama is untested. Once the American people begin to get past the surface on Obama, his popularity will drop like a rock.

Posted by: ghokee | February 4, 2008 5:31 PM | Report abuse

If I were to speculate, much of McCain's support is likely based on an understanding of his policy platform that is far from its current constitution, and a memory of a political character much at odds with what we've heard from him so far. We should consider that, along with the offsetting likelihood of endless hero-worship and jock-sniffing from queens like Mr Balz, Mr Matthews, and Mr Russert, when we seek to rely on polls of this type.

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Another interesting thing in the post poll was how strongly Clinton's supporters feel about her. Obama's were much weaker, which shocked me. It may suggest that those Independent supporters of Obama are still up for grabs by a reasonable independent Republican candidate, if Obama starts to fall out of favor . . .

Remember how Hillary was able to win over independents and conservatives in NY. I have no idea who the Dem candidate will be or what the outcome will be. But I think the Obama supporters are overly optimistic. This is a candidate that the media is smitten with. That won't necessarily last.

Posted by: skeptic421 | February 4, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

It's funny how we see what we want to see. I disagree, I don't think those margins, this early, are meaningful, much less of a significance to impact my voting decision. I wonder if you could cite another example of a time you changed your voting preference based on a poll at all, much less one so unreliable in terms of predictive value.

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

What was interesting about the Post poll today was that NEITHER Clinton nor Obama have an easy contest against McCain. No Margins of Error were reported, but my guess is the two point spread favoring Obama over McCain and that favoring McCain over Clinton were not statistically significant. In other words, we cannot tell if they are any different than zero. So no point making a big deal out of them (statistics 101, folks). But it certainly doesn't suggest that Obama has a much better chance of beating McCain than Clinton does. And who knows what will happen when the Republicans go after Obama with seriousness? And what if -- gasp -- the media follows suit?

McCain and Clinton are known entities. Obama has received minimal scrutiny in the press. His numbers are likely to go down if that were to ever happen.

Posted by: skeptic421 | February 4, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse


I just looked at the poll myself, and the only thing that should matter to Democrats who want a Democrat in the White House should be how Hillary fares against McCain compared to how Obama fares against McCain.

According to the Post-ABC poll (and several others, as another poster pointed out with a link), McCain would beat Hillary, but Obama would beat McCain.

Posted by: ericp331 | February 4, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I see. You made it up.

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I missed that quote. Where did you get it?
If you missed that, you haven't been watching Hillary Clinton over the past 16 years. Some of the HRC hatred, no doubt, is misogyny. But you don't get 30% of the country hating you without prompting much of it yourself. Call if "polarizing," "divisive," or, if you prefer, "tough," but she clearly isn't one to unify the country. And, contrary to what many on the Left believe, she (and her husband) aren't just poor innocent victims who were smeared by the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy -- they played an important role in this drama.

Posted by: RyanMcC1 | February 4, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Clinton: "You're either with me or against me"
Posted by: TomJx | February 4, 2008

I missed that quote. Where did you get it?

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I think it is clear that Clinton makes a better candidate against McCain than Obama would from virtually any angle that you choose to break it down. The ultimate difference, besides who gets the Independent vote (which is always critical) will be which party is best able to energize their party's base. At the moment, the enthusiasm is on the side of Democrats, but Obama would energize GOP voters while depressing Democrats and Clinton would do just the opposite.

That being said, as a Democrat, I am thoroughly pleased with my choices and will support either candidate wholeheartedly in the general election.

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

A presidential Administration is a team sport. Think about the type of people each of them would appoint:
McCain: Alioto and Roberts (and not just to the Supreme Court - that's what his Cabinet is going to wook like).
Clinton: "You're either with me or against me" - iow, Bill's old friends who didn't bail and switch to Obama. They've made a lot of promises to a lot of people already.
Obama: the best people he can find, including Republicans.

Posted by: TomJx | February 4, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

November will be a full ticket. The polls should try including a pres/vp ticket match-up. Might the DEMS have it all, West, East, North, South if it's Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton vs. McCain and anyone? I hope they have four person debates with both VP candidates on the stage.

My hope is that the 2006 congressional results are still telling.

Posted by: tjm4 | February 4, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

I think it is clear that Obama makes a better candidate against McCain than Clinton would from virtually any angle that you choose to break it down. The ultimate difference, besides who gets the Independent vote (which is always critical) will be which party is best able to energize their party's base. At the moment, the enthusiasm is on the side of Democrats, but Hillary would energize GOP voters while depressing Democrats and Obama would do just the opposite.

Posted by: diksagev | February 4, 2008 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Also, the GOP Base's hatred for a candidate, or lack thereof, will not determine my vote.

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I just read the poll results to which Mr Balz refers. You should, too. You will understand Mr Balz's sudden interest in November perfectly. Let's just say the movement of Edwards voters, and all the rest of the Dem trends, don't paint such a pleasing narrative for Mr Balz to type for us. Always resourceful, Mr Balz decides to "Forget February" instead.

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Another poll

shows that in a Clinton v. McCain contest, McCain wins. Same poll, Obama v. McCain, Obama wins. It doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Hillary is running against a headwind.

Posted by: valuddite | February 4, 2008 3:54 PM | Report abuse

McCain v. Obama=Election night is over at 9:01 and President Elect McCain in bed by 10 PM (just as well, we don't want him tired and cranky when he gets his finger on the button). Obama's prospects against McCain represent a lot of audacity but no hope. Obama can fool the American voter, but I doubt he will fool Putin or Bin Laden (unless, like Obama's voters, they are transfixed to the Oprah show).

Posted by: dyinglikeflies | February 4, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

As a European I am interested in your campaigns, but not really involved. So, I mostly took a very unbiased stance as to whom I would support in the hypothetical case, that I was able to vote. Lately I admit I have developed a penchant for Barack Obama. Mostly because, I am fed up with politics as usual in Washington, too. The diplomatic row over German troops in Afghanistan was a stark reminder that botched American politics indeed do have an impact on us Europeans. This morning I read an excerpt from Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" and that clinched it for me.

No Hillary, no McCain, no Romney please, let this young man have a go. Besides being bright and a fast learner, he inspires even an old cynic like me to the hope, that there can be change.

Posted by: old_europe | February 4, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

"Geez, didn't I see these same kind of polls before New Hampshire and Nevada?" Right, and she cried again today at Yale which should be worth a couple more sympathy points.

Posted by: RollaMO | February 4, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Go ahead and believe that the Washington Post is slanting things toward one of the Dem candidates, but after tomorrow, all their slant is going to be in benefit of McCain. Expect to see "experience" become a major buzzword. After 7 years of lying for the Bush administration, they don't want to lose their education contracts through a Democratic administration. McCain will be business as usual and that is exactly what they need.

Posted by: fishingriver | February 4, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Nothing will serve to unite the conservative base like Clinton being the democratic candidate and we will lose the White House.

They dislike McCain, they dislike Hillary more and the prospect of this divisive duo regaining the White House.

I just saw a poll showing McCain winning against Hillary by several points if she is the candidate and McCain losing to Obama by several points points if Obama is the candidate.

Posted by: crenza | February 4, 2008 3:07 PM | Report abuse

There is another factor that will affect the vote in November: a galvanized, highly motivated republican electorate.

Now, I'm sure it seems as though the republicans aren't very strong right now, as they are turning out in small numbers and show only lukewarm support to their probable nominee, but wait until they get a chance to run against Hillary Clinton.

Whether the reasons are fair or not, they HATE her. They will stop at nothing to prevent her from becoming President, even vote for John McCain.

If Obama is the Democratic nominee, then most Republicans will vote for McCain, but they won't be too excited about it; they won't make phone calls, ring doorbells and bring the whole neighborhood, etc.

If Hillary is the nominee, she loses to McCain. If Obama is, then the far right will choose to sit this one out.

Posted by: gmalis | February 4, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Geez, didn't I see these same kind of polls before New Hampshire and Nevada? Hummm.... Think I'll wait until tomorrow and see for myself instead of trusting the Obamedia!

Posted by: brigittepj | February 4, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Sen. Barack Obama has erased Sen. Hillary Clinton's lead among Democrats nationally, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll out Monday. The two are in a virtual tie, with Obama at 49 percent and Clinton at 46 percent.

The survey represents a dramatic turnaround in the race from a few months ago when Clinton had a significant edge over Obama.

With 1681 delegates up for grab, what Candidate do you believe will accumulate the most delegates on Super Tuesday?

Posted by: jeffboste | February 4, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse


I don't understand your gripe. Balz is citing Washington Post-ABC News polling numbers.

Posted by: ericp331 | February 4, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Ah, yes, the "blame the biased media" canard. Why is it so hard to imagine that Hillary Clinton, for all her strengths, is a poor campaigner? Or, alternatively, that Barack Obama is very good (quite possibly the best of his generation).
The media, certainly, is not perfect. They're too often biased towards the "good story" and focus on the trivial or unimportant character issues while substance too often goes unnoticed. But that's a challenge for the Clinton campaign to overcome. If they can't do it, they have only themselves to blame.

Posted by: RyanMcC1 | February 4, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

It's so subtle and delicate, but if one sniffs really hard, I think one detects a whiff of Mr Balz's intent to assist the Obama campaign at a critical juncture.

Of course, I'm kidding, Mr Balz is as subtle as a bull in a china shop. One might think he believes his readers stupid and he's got to really spell things out.
Why is this the state of the high end of the political press of the most powewrful nation in the history of the world? It's depressing.

Posted by: zukermand | February 4, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

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