In split decision, two worlds and electoral coalitions collided last night

As expected, two worlds collided last night, and each candidate posted a resounding victory. Clinton's 35 percent victory in Kentucky allowed her to own the night and get as good a pledged delegate split as she has gotten all year. But as has often been the case, Obama was ready with a retort: Not only did his 16 percent margin in Oregon (with 9/10th of the precincts reporting) exceed expectations but he clinched a clear majority of pledged delegates last night, allowing him to heighten his claim to the nomination.

Kentucky and Oregon were also shockingly opposite worlds when it came to the voting behavior of key constituencies. In Kentucky, Clinton's victory might have been lopsided but there were few surprises in the exit polls: Clinton trounced Obama among white voters, especially women, the working-class, voters with less education and less income. In Oregon, Obama confirmed that the Northwest is among his strongest territories by accomplishing what he had only truly succeeded in doing in Wisconsin: make inroads in Clinton's constituencies. He opened a small lead among women, voters with no college degree and in almost all income groups. Those groups were still Clinton's strongest, preserving the gender/income/education gap that has been dominating the Democratic primaries, but Obama had no problem with white blue-collar voters in Oregon.

Yesterday's votes were more about Obama than about Clinton. With the New York Senator on the brink of elimination, the main question that had to be answered was how Oregon and Kentucky would impact Obama's candidacy going forward: Would they force him to go through more talk of his electability weakness and his problems among the working class, or would they put a triumphant coda on his march towards the nomination? The size of Clinton's victory in Kentucky ensures a round of stories addressing the former question -- as they should. No presumptive nominee can be trounced by 35 percent and expect to not have that defeat dissected. But the biggest story last night was Obama's declaring that the nomination is "within reach" and welcoming the majority of pledged delegates.

The difference in the votes of blue-collar voters in Oregon and Kentucky also points to the crucial question of the electoral coalition Obama wants to cultivate. A few days ago, I considered the choices the campaign faces in terms of the electoral map, as Obama's consistent weakness in Ohio and Florida is leading the campaign to emphasize the importance of other states like Virginia, Colorado and other Western states. To this alternative electoral map corresponds an alternative electoral coalitions, one that does not put as much weight on the Midwest's white working-class.

Going forward, Obama's hold on the nomination was not endangered last night -- but neither was Clinton's resolve to stay in the race until every contest is finished. It is this dual reality that is making the Democratic primary such a surreal situation in recent weeks. Clinton will only feel strengthened in her self-proclaimed struggle to represent lower-income voters and women within the Democratic Party after last night, but the math has become impossible for Clinton to even get close to Obama -- let alone to take any sort of delegate lead. My calculations now put her 149 pledged delegate away from Obama with 86 remaining to be attributed in 3 states, two of which favor her opponent.

Meanwhile, superdeleates are continuing to flow towards Obama, though the the count this morning is tied so far: Obama got the support of Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney, while Clinton was endorsed by Ohio add-on Craig Bashein. Clinton did get some hope to regain her footing in one metric that only some Democrats insist is important: the popular vote. She netted a 150,000 vote advantage yesterday in her quest to a popular vote majority without counting Michigan.

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  • Taniel - I am glad you make the observation that Obama doe not have a problem with all white blue collar people. Only those in certain areas (i.e. Appalachia).

    He is in a strong GE position because he knows he will not have to spend much money or time in OR and WA to defend them (unlike Gore and Kerry) whilst also knowing that KT and WV are lost causes. This means he can spend his time and money on real swing states, some of which have received very little attention in the past few cycles like CO, VA and NC.

    Contrast this with Clinton, if she was the nominee she would have to spend time and money in OR and WA. Whilst at the same time fighting for KT and WV which poll show she is just a few points behind McCain. The problem comes about that she could be spread too thin and end up with none of those four states. In the scenario I laid out for Obama he would have two of the four without much expenditure. Thereby conserving resources for other states.

    By Anonymous Guy, At 21 May, 2008 12:57  

  • Guy,

    I did not quite say what you are making me say. Yes, Obama has a problem with blue-collar voters in the Appalachia, but it would be blinding ourselves to say that he is not weak among that constituency in major states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Blue-collar white voters have been Clinton's base for months and they have carried her to victory in many states besides West Virginia and Kentucky.

    By Blogger Taniel, At 21 May, 2008 13:15  

  • Taniel--

    If you look at Clinton's county-by-country strength, her best wins even in PA and OH were in counties in or bordering Appalachia. Yes, that means Obama will have to work harder than her in those states, but he is still polling well in PA and OH is not out of reach. We always fight for those states, and he will again. But blue-collar whites haven't held him back in the West at all. The fact is, the blue-collar white demographic is only his Achilles heel because so many blue-collar whites live in Appalachia.

    By Blogger Stephen, At 21 May, 2008 13:57  

  • Taniel - Thanks for replying. As Stephen said the Applachian counties in both PA and OH gave Clinton her strong showing with blue collar whites. She didn`t do well overall in WI (no Appalachia) and in VA and NC she lost out to Obama if you exclude the Appalachian counties.

    By Anonymous Guy, At 21 May, 2008 14:03  

  • The Appalachians are a narrow strip of mountains stretching from Maine to Georgia. This assertion of them being so large an area is silly. Clinton trounced Obama in Ky. in higher income, education, and the youth demographics which shows definitively his weakness is wider spread than he would have you believe. The upper west states are no substitute for the base of the party. He trails McCain in NC and Va. There is no path to the WH for him.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 21 May, 2008 14:31  

  • Anon--

    1: You mistake "the Appalachians" for "Appalachia". Look it up.

    2: The fact that Obama lost among higher incomes and education and the youth in Kentucky only *confirms* that his problem is with Appalachia, not lower income white voters! In the west, he won across demographics, while in Appalachia he lost across demographics.

    3: Yes, he's behind in NC and VA. But he's ahead in PA, WI, WA, OR, CO, etc. etc. VA would be an enormous feather in Obama's cap, and it'll definitely play a part in his strategy, but the fact that he's a few points behind there right now hardly dooms his candidacy. Obama has viable paths to the nomination in which he loses FL, OH, VA, WV, and NC.

    4: The "upper west states" are no substitute for the base of the party, that's true--fortunately the "base of the party" is New England, the mid-Atlantic, and California, which Obama will win handily. The fact that he can't compete in West Virginia and is struggling in Ohio, however, can be more than made up for with strong showings in the West and Midwest.

    By Blogger Stephen, At 21 May, 2008 14:55  

  • Err, a few viable paths to the *presidency* where he loses those states.

    By Blogger Stephen, At 21 May, 2008 15:04  

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