I was watching a clip of Geraldine Ferraro on Fox News the other day, and the ground is definitely being tested for an appeal to Hillary’s female supporters who think she’s been done wrong. (We’ll leave aside the supreme irony of the very architects of the anti-Clinton narrative playing the collective role of Sir Galahad here.) I watched the clip and thought "you know, if the Clinton exit isn’t orchestrated well and I’m John McCain, I go straight for the women."
Krugman is thinking along the same lines:
Mr. Obama will be the Democratic nominee. But he has a problem: many grass-roots Clinton supporters feel that she has received unfair, even grotesque treatment. And the lingering bitterness from the primary campaign could cost Mr. Obama the White House.
To the extent that the general election is about the issues, Mr. Obama should have no trouble winning over former Clinton supporters, especially the white working-class voters he lost in the primaries. His health care plan is seriously deficient, but he will nonetheless be running on a far more worker-friendly platform than his opponent.
Indeed, John McCain has shed whatever maverick tendencies he may once have had, and become almost a caricature conservative — an advocate of lower taxes for the rich and corporations, a privatizer and shredder of the safety net.
But elections always involve emotions as well as issues, and there are some ominous signs in the polling data.
In Florida, in particular, the rolling estimate produced by the professionals at Pollster.com shows Mr. McCain running substantially ahead of Mr. Obama, even as he runs significantly behind Mrs. Clinton. Ohio also looks problematic, and Pennsylvania looks closer than it should. It’s true that head-to-head polls five months before the general election have a poor track record. But they certainly give reason to worry.
The point is that Mr. Obama may need those disgruntled Clinton supporters, lest he manage to lose in what ought to be a banner Democratic year.
I spoke with a well-known pollster recently who said that if women think the country would be safer with McCain over Obama by 10 points on election day, she predicts that McCain will win. While it’s absurd to think that McCain would be better than Obama on women’s issues, these kinds of decisions are — as Krugman says — highly emotional. A pitch to "security moms," combined with an appeal about "elitists in the Democratic party" looking down their noses on working class women just might work.
A lot will also depend on Obama’s choice of VP is. If he decides to pass over Clinton/Napolitano/Sebelius, it will probably largely determine how McCain proceeds, so I don’t expect McCain to blink first. Does Obama try to go after the white male vote and shore up his military bona fides with Jim Webb? Webb’s "Women Can’t Fight" article will no doubt be resurrected. Does Obama try to help himself with Latino voters by picking Bill Richardson? Well, Richardson has notorious women problems (most recently his "Whizzer White" gaffe) that will come back to haunt him. Either choice leaves a huge opening for McCain to make a move.
Hell, if Obama can go after fundamentalist voters, there’s no reason for McCain not to court the ladies.