5.28.2008

Preparing for Puerto Rico, and the Michigan question

This Sunday, Puerto Rico will finally have a day in the national political spotlight by holding its Democratic primary. Of course, the contest is less important than Puerto Ricans were hoping just a few weeks ago. After all, countless scenarios were devised in which the island's vote was to be the last-minute decider, perhaps even allowing Clinton to regain the delegate lead; indeed, we believed for a long time that Puerto Rico would allocate its delegate on a winner-take-all basis before plans were clarified in favor of proportional allocation.

Hillary Clinton is widely held as the favorite of this contest given her lead among Hispanics. After all, it is because of the Latino vote that Clinton survived for so long, as they allowed her to win Texas and handily defeat Obama in California. But Puerto Rico voters are a very different voting group than Hispanics living in America and whose set of concerns and economic condition is very different, so it is important to not overstate Clinton's natural advantage. That said, the only poll released until today had Clinton leading by 13% (that was back in April). Today, we got another poll:

  • This survey, conducted by Quinlan Rosner Research for Univision, shows her leading 51% to 38% in this race that will allocate 55 delegates. Among the most likely voters, Clinton leads 59% to 40%.
To overtake Obama in the popular vote (well, in a count that the press could hold as legitimate), Clinton will need a big win and a huge turnout. But Puerto Rico's vote now seems like an afterthought, which probably frustrates the press corps more than any one else.

Meanwhile, two general election polls were released by SUSA's ongoing series of testing vice-presidential match-ups:

  • In Iowa, Obama leads McCain 47% to 38%. When VPs are added, John Edwards helps the ticket the most but Republicans lead in a number of scenarios. These are based mostly on name recognition so I will not spend more time detailing them.
  • In Michigan, meanwhile, McCain is ahead 41% to 37%. Obama only gets 60% of the Democratic vote.
  • SUSA only polled Mitt Romney as a Republican VP, as the former Massachusetts Governor can call Michigan as something of a homestate (which he won on January 15th, prolonging his candidacy). The McCain-Romney team lead all Democratic tickets, from a range of +3 if the Dem VP is Edwards to +19 if it is Webb or Kaine, two Virginians who are largely unknown in Michigan.
The Michigan question has to be troubling Democrats, as there have now been a series of polls showing the Arizona Senator edging the probable Democratic nominee. While the state featured tight contests in 2000 and 2004 (Al Gore and John Kerry both carried the state by less than 5%), the Democratic nominees posted a small lead throughout the campaign and Michigan was generally rated as a "lean Democratic" state. But with McCain's increasingly undeniable strength in the state, the likelihood of Michigan's 17 electoral votes being at the very center of the general election campaign -- replacing Florida as the third member of the holy trio, alongside Ohio and Pennsylvania.

This is obviously a dangerous development for Democrats, as two of the three largest battleground states would then be blue states -- and both are must-win states for them to recapture the White House. Michigan is too much a part of the Democratic electoral college base for the party to afford seeing the state joining the rank of toss-ups.

The delegate mess in which the Democratic Party is still stuck will not help Obama's cause, though the roots of the problem are obviously deeper. Michigan might be one of the only states in which voters partly blame Democrats for their worsening economic condition, as Governor Granholm's approval ratings have plummeted in the past few years. Furthermore, this is a state in which Obama's weakness among blue-collar voters could hurt him if he does not recapture that electorate by the fall, as the union vote is an important one (albeit a declining force) in the state.

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