Clinton’s PA Win Expected, but McCain Should Hope for Obama Ticket in November
Clinton’s win in PA was projected for weeks, with the real debate more centered about whether it would be a narrow victory or a 10-point win like in Ohio and New Jersey. Her near 10-point margin in the state proved once again she has a much broader base of support than Obama. She won 60 of the 67 counties, and exit polling showed big margins for her with Catholics, females, blue collar “Reagan Democrats”, super voters and senior citizens. She even won narrowly among white males, which have tended to favor Obama in past polling. Undecided voters broke for Clinton by a near 60/40 margin in the remaining 7 days of the race, a clear indication she had thwarted his momentum in early April stemming from both self-inflicted wounds about his comments about how people in small towns in PA “cling to guns, religion, etc.” when they are bitter about their economic anxieties, as well as a shabby debate performance on 4/16 in Philadelphia when tough questioning from the media kept him on the defensive for most of the evening.
For Obama, exit polls showed his strengths primarily among voters 45 years and under, affluent/white collar voters and black Democrats. Among those who registered for the first time, they broke for him by a 62/38 margin, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Clinton’s home-grown advantages and institutional support in the state, even with the unprecedented turnout of more than 2 million votes cast, up from 1.2 million in 2002 which was the last time the Democrats had a contested statewide election between Rendell and Casey for governor. Obama needed a big win in the Southeast counties (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery), where our polls showed he was up by 5 points, but with a big enough undecided to affect the outcome; he ended up narrowly losing there 52/48, which meant probably Clinton scored big with soccer moms, Jewish voters and Rendell’s influence. The other key region for Obama was the Mid State/Harrisburg region (Adams, Dauphin, Cumberland, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks and Perry), where Democrats tend to be more affluent, white collar and up-and-coming professionals, and therefore more like Southeastern PA Democrats and less like the blue collar, culturally conservative Democrats you get in the West. Obama split these counties 50/50 with Clinton. As expected, he won Philadelphia by a 2:1 margin, and also carried the counties of Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Dauphin, Center and Union.
However, the significance of a Clinton win in Pennsylvania really brings to light Obama’s problems as the probable nominee in the fall, unless the delegate math changes enough to deny him the nomination which is unlikely to happen. Obama’s problems attracting support from Reagan Democrats in the primary will not go away easily, and our recent polling in Democratic-leaning, congressional and legislative races in the state shows that if Clinton is not the nominee in the fall, Reagan Democrats are more comfortable with McCain than Obama, while others may simply stay home. For instance, our polling in three key regions of the state where support from Reagan Democrats is crucial, those being the Southeast, the Johnstown/Altoona market and the Northeast – all Democratic leaning areas in voting patterns – showed Clinton either beating or narrowly losing to McCain in a hypothetical match-up race for the fall, but McCain besting Obama by anywhere from 13 to 25 points in these same districts. In one district, even 11% of Democrats said they would vote for neither McCain nor Obama, which means blue collar Reagan Democrats may not be particularly enamored with either candidate, but also means the Democrats may have a turnout problem in November if Obama doesn’t repair his image in the state with this critical swing group.
McCain is able to make inroads with these voters partly because they are comfortable with him, he has strong ties to veterans and senior groups, and polling nationwide shows he is fairly likeable among voters of all stripes, including a very low negative except among staunch, conservative Republicans. Also, we suspect that because voters are familiar with McCain’s long and distinguished record of service, they can literally visualize him as president sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, while perceptually they still don’t have the same comfort level with Obama. This is why polling shows casting a vote for president is as much about liking the person as it is about their positions on issues, which is why Democrats are favored to win the White House when voters are asked “generically” which party they want to see win in November, but when faced with a McCain/Obama or McCain/Clinton match-up more directly the nationwide polls show a much tighter race. Clinton’s key argument that she is the only candidate who can win the key battleground states like Texas, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Michigan and now Pennsylvania, is now a more powerful argument the super delegates can no longer afford to ignore, because an Obama ticket puts Pennsylvania back in play, a state the Democrats have had the luxury of taking for granted for years because it hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since, well, you guessed it….Ronald Reagan.