The Superdelegate Quandary

In most cases, undecided superdelegates are trying to figure out which presidential candidate is best for them in the context of their unique political situation, their district, their down-ballot candidates. The CW is that outside of a few places in the Northeast, Hillary Clinton would weigh down the ticket: that she's too polarizing, that she has too much of a history, that Republican candidates would energize their base by running against her.

There is truth in this, and many superdelegates have pledged their support to Obama for precisely this reason.

But there's another side to the argument.

In this Sunday's New York Times magazine, here's what NRCC chairman Rep. Tom Cole had to say about which candidate he'd prefer his candidates to run against:

"I happen to think Hillary Clinton is a stronger candidate in the end" .... "You couldn’t raise money against Obama right away like you could with Clinton, that’s true, and so maybe by the time you were able to raise money it wouldn’t matter. But he’s ideologically well to the left of Hillary Clinton, for all his rhetorical gifts, and I also think he’s got a national-security deficit. I think she’s a plausible commander in chief, and I don’t think he is. It may not matter. But those two areas are where we would fight the election, and with McCain, I think we contrast with him very well.”

Against Obama, John McCain and the Republicans are going to front national security. They'll run on "who'll keep your safer" -- they'll try to force members in swing congressional districts to own -- or disown -- Obama. There is much more a messaging function in having Obama as the candidate, where Clinton would clearly provide the energizing function.

To this Democrats will respond: the Rove-style national security attacks against Democrats don't work. 2006 proved that.

But there are many Democrats who fear that they _do_ work, which is one reason why Democrats on Capitol Hill are powerless to end the war as rapidly as possible.

Obama provides a clean contrast with McCain on the war, and to the extent that Americans are ready to choose a "side" on Iraq, Obama has the upper hand. But Iraq has not been his trump card in the primary -- indeed, at least about half of Democrats do not believe that Clinton's 2002 vote disqualifies her.

Democrats may be tempted to conflate John McCain's national security arguments with the Bush-Republican national security arguments. Superficially, they sound alike. But McCain has much more standing to make them -- registered voters say this, not me, as does McCain's biography and life.

Obama supporters bristle at the notion that Obama will become as polarizing to Republicans as Clinton is right now. We will see. The net effect of the competitive Democratic Primary may well be that Obama becomes less of a unifying figure and more of a, well, Democrat.

He is certainly capable of enraging critical parts of the Republican coalition, like pro-lifers, who can now raise money off an off-handed comment from this weekend. Speaking about abortion, Obama said he would not want his daughters "punished with a baby." Then he said he would not want his daughters "punished with an STD." (Read the Brody File for the full context).