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February 07, 2008


Matt Yglesias commented on this too but I think this criticism is bordering on nitpicking choices of words rather than its predictive merits. The strongest, supposedly wrong argument runs something like this:

1) Obama did really well in the South because he can rally the African-American vote.
2) McCain lost the South to Huckabee
3) If Obama can pull the South and McCain can't, the GOP will lose this historic stronghold and therefore the election.

It is true, as Yglesias said, that a Democrat always wins the Democratic Primary and vice versa. But it is also true that Obama polled better in the South than Clinton and Huckabee better than McCain.

It's not that all those people who didn't vote for McCain will turn around and vote for Clinton or Obama, which is what that argument seems to be saying.

I know I'm being overgenerous, but I think we can interpret the extrapolations as predicting the two candidates' ability to draw voters.

The people who voted in the primary are very likely to vote in November and they will vote for their party. But what about all the people that would have voted in November if the right candidate had been there but won't budge for the wrong one? McCain's loss to Huckabee seems to reasonably indicate that he can't draw southerners to him. Independent voters, evangelical voters who'd rather not vote than vote for McCain, etc. Meanwhile, Obama does seem like the right person to inspire southern African-Americans to come out and vote.

It is wrong to say that McCain will lose the South because he lost it to Huckabee in terms of direct causality. I don't think it's wrong to analyze McCain's losses there as evidence of a larger trend.

Does that mean that McCain needs Huckabee? Nope, but I do think he needs VP that will cement his administration as a traditional conservative, and ideally, has an appeal in the South. Huckabee fits the bill.

Would you incredibly smart political wonks stop making me agree with people like Limbaugh? McCain's losses in the South are important. It's easy to exaggerate the importance, but it's not like Huckabee, "kindof" won in the South, or they traded states. As a bloc, McCain lost the South and that says something about his how people view him.

I guess that it is conceivable that Obama could beat McCain in a few Southern states, but other than maybe VA, this would only be part of a national landslide, not margin that puts him over the top. So it is not really a factor in that match up.

in other news, I think that a mea culpa from Brendan (normally a spot on analyst) is in order for his hand-wringing around the time of the SC primary about whether Obama can be competitive with whites on Super Tuesday. The extrapolation from SC that his argument was based on was only slightly less silly than the arguments debunked in this post.

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