A November 'Electability Guide'

01/02/2008 04:01 pm 16:01:25 | Updated May 25, 2011

Even at this late date, more than half of all voters in Iowa and New Hampshire say they have not made up their minds for sure. Many are still deciding which candidate they think would make the best president. But thousands of others are wrestling with a more cold-blooded question: who can win in November?

Most early head-to-head polls show John McCain and Barack Obama as the strongest candidates in a general election, a reflection of their slight edge over their primary opponents among independents, who make up at least a third of the electorate and often determine the outcome.

But "electability voters" need more than polls. With the stipulation that 10 months is an eon in politics, let's make some educated guesses about the pros and cons of how each of the plausible candidates would do in the Big Show.

Warning: these assessments could be thrown off by unexpected developments, the entrance of a third-party candidate or the particular dynamics of various matchups of Republican and Democratic nominees. Plus, I could just be flat wrong.

The candidates in both parties are listed from least to most electable:


Hillary Clinton

Battle-tested. The dirt on her is so old it won't stick. Sensing history, women voters will come out in record numbers, including independents and Republicans who thought they never would. Steady debate skills would lessen Democrats' jitters. Restorationist appeal: nostalgia for the 1990s, a third term for Bill.

The only candidate who can energize a dispirited GOP, which has been lying in wait for her. Surprise dirt will emerge, as it always does with the Clintons. Women would vote disproportionately Democratic anyway, offering little advantage. Depth of American misogyny unclear. Many Hillary-haters are the very independents she needs. Distaste for dynasties and a return of Clinton fatigue.

Bottom Line
She can win, but she'll need to run a near-flawless fall campaign.

Barack Obama

Fresh, inspiring and embodies what most elections are about: the future. Heavy black vote could tip a couple of Red states into the Blue column, while those against him because of race wouldn't be voting Democratic anyway. Teflon potential: Republicans would have to muzzle attack dogs or risk seeming racist. Strong with independents and college-educated men who have recently tilted to GOP.

Untested against Republicans, who would leap to define him before he could define himself. Name, background and lack of experience may represent too much change. Depth of American racism unclear. While polling shows liberal-bashing has lost its resonance, GOP would try it anyway.

Bottom Line
A roll of the dice, but the only one with a decent chance for a landslide.

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