Why Obama Tolerates Clinton's Presence

For some Democrats, watching this primary go on and on and on is like holding a yammering baby in a movie theater. every single second seems like an endless, endless eternity of cringing. How does one square the dislike that Democrats in places like West Virginia and Kentucky have for Barack Obama with the national poll numbers showing him soundly defeating John McCain? As the primary goes on, the opportunities for Clinton backers to feel slighted is magnified -- hence Geraldine Ferraro's opinion still mattering. Well, Clinton sees herself as the representative for the party's white working class voters and women and wants to do their interests justice. She has concluded that, the longer she stays in (until June 4), the more options she has. Though she has banned her staff from speculating about the vice presidency, people close to her -- people who know her -- believe that she would want to be asked to serve and would want to serve, if the situation presented itself. Does Clinton believe that she's going to force Obama's negatives up so high that he loses the election in November and Clinton comes back in 2012? No -- if that was her intention, she'd have gotten out when the getting out was good -- when Rev. Wright was hurting Obama and Obama needed a victory, like North Carolina, to regain some footing. (The depth of worry in the Obama campaign during the Rev. Wright affair can not be overestimated -- they were very afraid.) The Obama campaign is much less dismissive of Clinton than they were two weeks ago. That's in part because Clinton is no longer a threat to them. They're taking cues from their boss -- John Edwards's endorsement was really the first time in a few months that Obama himself could allow himself a real smile, and a real sense of accomplishment, and a real sense that the competition was over.

Question: Democrats don't need to win a majority of working class whites to win the election in November, although in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, they need to limit the Republican margin to less than 10%. Could it be that Obama's coalition and heavy turnout among African Americans will mean that Democrats don't need as many working class whites to win the election, and, correspondingly, the polarized primary has pushed them away from their nominee in general? What accounts for the disparity between the astonishingly high numbers of Democrats in states like Kentucky and West Virginia who say they'd vote for McCain -- and Obama's national lead in the polls? What is his coalition? And how does it translate into the 50 constituent parts of what a national lead actually is? Might Obama's strength in the popular vote be a reflection of Democratic energy in large states and Republican sloth in large states -- rather than a reflection of the coalition he needs to win the general election? States are more internally diverse than regions of states are. In other words -- are the demographics of Obama's coalition so skewed (in terms of previous coalitions) that his national lead will greatly overstate his relative strength in the electoral college? Or is Obama's new coalition so robust as to absorb some of the bleeding of white, working class men in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and still end up winning? Tentative sluff to support the latter theory can be found in Obama's primary victory in Iowa, where turnout far exceeded the expectations of everyone, in Wisconsin and Minnesota and Colorado, where Obama won handily but especially among Obama's core demographic groups, and in the way the campaign has been able to organize 75,000 rallies on a May Sunday in Oregon.

Maybe the coalition will stay the same, but the internal composition of the coalition will change dramatically.