Who's looking good coming off the Pennsylvania Democratic primary?
Well, of course, Hillary Clinton. She won by 10 points in yet another big state. Trouble is, her attacks on Barack Obama pushed Clinton's negatives in some polls to nearly 60%.
Does that mean Obama still looks pretty good? After all, he maintains a lead that Clinton will not be able to overtake in elected delegates and probably also the popular vote. Trouble is, Obama has shown once again - as he did in New Hampshire, New Jersey, California and Ohio - that he cannot deliver a knockout punch. The last state where Obama won blue collar white men was Wisconsin, back in February.
Since then, the Democratic contest has looked less like boxing than wrestling - mud wrestling. The candidates and their polarized constituencies maintain a mutual headlock. Obama's backed by blacks, young people, college-educated voters, self-described liberals -- and much of the mainstream news media. Clinton owns older voters, especially white women, blue collar workers, cultural conservatives, gays, Hispanics and Jews. The only question posed by each primary is which of these groups predominate in each state or are most highly motivated to turn out. Pennsylvania, for instance, was a natural fit for Hillary, with its high number of older, female and blue collar voters. By the same token, Barack should clean up in North Carolina.
So if the Democrats remain locked in a grudge match that's increasingly bitter - with a growing number of voters for each candidate vowing not to support the other come November - who's really looking pretty after Pennsylvania?
Well, how about Mark Warner? I'm not suggesting he's going to be the nominee. Apparently he's not interested; that's why Warner's instead running for the Senate. But consider: Mark Warner got elected governor of what had been a reliably red state - Virginia. He was so effective in reaching across party lines (and by all accounts governing well) that his lieutenant governor took over when Warner faced term limits. And, prior to gaining executive experience in government, Warner was a successful businessman.
Other Democrats have similarly impressive credentials. Here in the Tri-State, Indiana senator and former governor Evan Bayh comes to mind. He lost a prior bid for the White House but might have done better this time. How did the Democrats wind up with finalists like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? Both are impressive on many levels. But Obama is a first term senator with the most liberal voting record in that chamber, according to the non-partisan National Journal, and he can cite very few legislative accomplishments. Obama also has no executive experience. But then, neither does Hillary Clinton. Now in her second senate term, Clinton's top accomplishment has been to secure for New York a staggering amount of pork barrel spending. She heads no major committee and has authored no milestone legislation. Her most ambitious foray into policy making was the abortive attempt to nationalize health care in 1993 that is widely blamed for Democrats losing the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
The truth is that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama boast more celebrity than solid accomplishments. Clinton became famous as first lady. Obama was thrust onto the national stage at the Democrats' 2004 convention. If elected, Clinton would become the first woman president, Obama the first African-American. But while you could not say that Margaret Thatcher or Colin Powell rose to prominence chiefly because of identity politics, that is largely the case for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - and those same identity politics are now tearing apart the Democratic Party.
So do the Democrats need to nominate a white man like Warner or Bayh to win the presidency? No. But they may find they needed a centrist, with a record of real accomplishment.
Jack would like to hear from you on the 2008 Election. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.