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McCain Benefits From Protracted Democratic Race

Despite assurances by Sens. Clinton and Obama that everything will come out rosy in November, Democrats are becoming more and more concerned that the protracted infighting is only benefiting Sen. McCain. The New York Times points out that even the McCain camp is pretty pleased that a steep hill is flattening itself out for them: Democratic operatives have prepared a sustained attack against what they call myths underlying Mr. McCain's reputation for straight talk. "It's going to take a while to tear that down," said Jim Jordan, a consultant who will lead a Democratic Party advertising campaign to aid its nominee. Lamenting the Clinton-Obama fight, Mr. Jordan added, "That's why it would be nice to get this over with as soon as possible." For now, Mr. Obama faces continued fallout from the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. And Mrs. Clinton continues to fend off Mr. Obama's attacks on her integrity. If that has not made Mr. McCain the fall favorite, it has left him in a far better position than a month ago. "Everything about the playing field still tilts against us," said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster. "But the slope is not as steep. As a Republican, things have started to look a little brighter." The New Republic explores how McCain is able to reconcile with his conservative base in private, while swing voters are exposed every night to the latest dirty laundry from the Democratic senators: The problem is that each day Clinton and Obama spend consumed with the other is a day that moves John McCain closer to the White House. McCain's biggest asset is his political brand, which evokes a straight-talking, party-bucking reformer. Among his biggest liabilities is the suspicion he inspires among conservatives thanks to these same attributes. McCain apparently plans to spend the next few months making nice with his base. But anything he accomplishes on this front clearly diminishes his swing-voter appeal and, therefore, his chances in November. Ideally, the Democrats would be exploiting this tension like mad. They would highlight the anti-Catholic, anti-gay ravings of John Hagee, the evangelical minister whose endorsement McCain recently accepted. They would ridicule his chumminess with supply-side Neanderthals like Jack Kemp and his flip-flop on the Bush tax cuts. They'd dwell on McCain's less-noticed association with crony-capitalists during his tenure as Commerce Committee chairman. Instead, something close to the opposite is happening. McCain's courtship of the lunatic right and his ties to K Street have largely been hidden from view, while the Democrats' dirty laundry has been aired for swing voters. The upshot for Democrats has not been good. In late February, a Gallup poll showed Obama leading McCain among independents by 15 points. By March 6, a Newsweek poll put McCain up ten points among this group--and that was before Jeremiah Wright weighed in. Hillary went from down five to down 15 among independents during the same time. Chris Bowers laments that the Democratic campaign has turned into a unprovable discussion of which candidate is more electable : Barring something shocking, like the Michigan delegation being seated as is, the delegate math is clearly laid out before us, and Obama will slowly slog toward clinching the nomination sometime between May 20th and June 21st. For now, unfortunately, we are stuck in a holding pattern of an endless electability argument. I don't think that this sort of campaign will carry with it the benefit of the first two months of the year, where an intense, high-profile Democratic nomination campaign was largely helpful to the party. That is demonstrable by McCain taking the lead in general election matchups over the past two weeks. Without any voting to maintain interest between Mississippi and Pennsylvania, the void has been filled with electability and race (with the latter really being about electability). That is not the kind of discussion that Democrats need to win, because when Democrats talk about electability, no one believes what Democrats say.

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