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Clinton & Obama Need to Cool It or Lose It

By Bob Beckel

Two things have become obvious about the state of the Democratic nomination for president. The first is that the stars haven'’t been better aligned for Democrats to win the White House since FDR crushed Hoover in 1932. The second is that six more weeks of attacks and counterattacks between the Clinton and Obama campaigns will move them perilously close to accomplishing the otherwise unimaginable job of giving the Republicans another term in the White House.

Just this past week, Clinton supporter James Carville called Bill Richardson’'s endorsement of Barack Obama on Good Friday a Judas-like “act of betrayal”. Not to be outdone, Obama supporter and former Air Force chief of staff Tony McPeak accused Bill Clinton of McCarthyism.

What’'s painful about these almost daily negative exchanges is that they're not going to alter the outcome of any of the remaining contests. All they do is stir up hostilities between both camps, making it increasingly difficult to unite the party behind the eventual winner.

The demographic support base for both Obama and Clinton settled in months ago and is unlikely to change in the remaining 10 contests. Once demographic trends develop and repeat themselves over several primary elections they are extremely difficult to change. Barring some unforeseen events, those demographic patterns make the outcome in the coming weeks predictable:

*Clinton will win Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky -- states which are in line with her base; heavily blue collar, lower income, and with large numbers of older voters.

*Obama will win North Carolina with its large black population and concentrations of upscale professional voters, and Oregon, home to large numbers of educated, higher-income voters with a younger electorate. Also, expect Obama to win the primaries in both South Dakota and Montana.

*Indiana remains a wildcard since its Democratic base is more inclined toward Clinton, but it shares the Chicago media market with Obama and permits independents to vote.

*In open primaries the winner probably won'’t exceed 55% of the vote. Clinton could win up to 60% in Pennsylvania and Kentucky since both are limited to Democrats. Oregon is a closed primary but Obama should exceed 55%.

*Clinton could win the popular vote in Puerto Rico by a significant margin.

Put this all together and Clinton could gain a net of 30 additional pledged delegates with a potential popular vote margin of 400,000. Obama currently leads by 168 pledged delegates and 700,000 popular votes. Assuming the outcome outlined above, Obama will have won more pledged delegates, more states (29-19), and slightly more popular votes when the voting ends in early June.

That leaves Florida and Michigan. Obama could (and should) resolve this mess in the next few days by accepting current proposals that would give each delegation half a vote per delegate, accept the current delegate result in Florida and split delegates in Michigan. Clinton would be hard pressed to reject this proposal, both states would embrace it, and Obama would gain some much needed goodwill, while the impact on his delegate lead would be minimal.

But despite the evidence, Clinton still believes she can win the nomination by persuading enough superdelegates that Obama is unelectable. (Under the scenario above she would need 70% of the 355 undecided superdelegates to buy her argument.) That is an unrealistic dream, but that happens in presidential campaigns. After 2 years of 18-hour days, candidates and campaign operatives are never ready to concede the obvious. Heck, there was a point in late October 1984 when I thought that with a few more weeks Mondale could have beaten Reagan.

To succeed at this delusion Clinton will need to ratchet up attacks on Obama. That will not alter the outcome, but it will have serious and negative consequences for the general election and for Clinton’'s political future. There is little time or margin for error before the damage becomes irreparable.

Most importantly, further Clinton attacks (and the Obama counterattacks) will deprive Democrats of their last opportunity to put together an Obama/Clinton ticket, which is their best resource to beat McCain. To watch that possibility slip away because of futile attacks that will not alter the outcome is painful. Both candidates need to step back, without their suicidal campaign advisers, and consider the advantages of running together.

First, Obama needs Clinton. She relates to the party’'s blue-collar voters that have yet to be inspired by Obama'’s call for change. When the Republicans start “"swift-boating"” Obama, who more experienced in dealing with the bullies than Hillary Clinton? She has a history of taking her critics to the woodshed.

Second, Clinton on the ticket would increase female turnout a good 5 percentage points. That, coupled with Obama’'s ability to increase turnout among black voters and younger voters, should insure a majority vote in November. Of the 126 million voters who went to the polls in 2004, 40% declared themselves Republicans. Only 35% do today.

Finally, George Bush got 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. The Republicans' anti-immigrant stupidity coupled with Clinton’'s appeal to Hispanics will drop the Hispanic GOP vote to under 30%.

Put this all together, package it with a bad economy and an unpopular war in Iraq, and you have 350-plus electoral votes within reach.

Senator Clinton has run a gutsy campaign and risen from the political graveyard several times. By all means Clinton should finish the race, win more states, reject calls that it’'s over, and continue to show no interest in the vice presidency. And of course, Obama could make a fatal mistake of some kind. All that’'s fine as long as she doesn’'t run a scorched-earth strategy on Obama.

But first Clinton needs to accept the fact that continuing to attack Obama will a) not help her gain additional delegates; b) make the general election much more difficult for the Democratic nominee whoever it is; c) not result in more superdelegates; d) make party unity very difficult; and finally, e) remove Clinton’'s option of running for vice president.

If she thinks it over, running for vice president has significant advantages for Clinton. It may not be as historic as being the first woman president, but it is historic. Should Obama fail to win, very few, if any, significant candidates would oppose her for the 2012 nomination. If he wins, the fastest path to the big job is still the vice presidency. Beyond that, Al Gore and Dick Cheney have made the vice presidency a real job where Clinton could pursue major policy goals including another run at healthcare.

Now look at the alternatives. Does Clinton really want to hang around the Senate waiting to be majority leader? Harry Reid isn't going anywhere and anyway there are others in line before her. Governor of New York is a sinkhole of corruption. All of which should be second to the thought of going back to the Senate as junior to “Senior Senator for Life” Chuck Schumer, knowing on a good day the best you can do is get another post office for the Finger Lakes.

Please think it over, Hillary. You'’re a good politician, married to a master politician. In your hearts you know what is written here makes political sense.

Bob Beckel managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign. He is a senior political analyst for the Fox News Channel and a columnist for USA Today. Beckel is the co-author with Cal Thomas of the book "Common Ground."

Copyright 2008, Real Clear Politics


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