Democrats Face a Dilemma

On Super Tuesday, it comes down to who's got a better chance of defeating McCain.


Heading into the megaprimary day, the question for Democrats is, Who has a better chance of beating Republican front-runner John McCain—Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?

I have often thought and even posted a few times that Super-Duper Tuesday would decide the nominations. That prediction will most likely hold on the Republican side. But I owe a mea culpa on the Democratic side, as the polls changed rapidly in California, the state with the biggest lode of delegates. What looked like a Clinton victory there is now a horse race. If Clinton wins the overall state vote by a few points but loses hordes of the state's 441 delegates to Obama, that will have a tsunami effect across the nation and could push back the Democratic nomination decision as far as a floor fight at the convention in August. (This dual outcome is possible because California's Democrats allocate their delegates depending on the results in each of the 53 individual congressional districts. Clinton could win overall but lose more districts than she wins.)

So the key question remains: Which one can beat McCain? With the caveat that poll numbers at this point are so gossamer as to be close to worthless, I still cite some recent numbers produced by Rasmussen Research using automated telephone surveys:

The latest Rasmussen Reports survey of Election 2008 shows Republican frontrunner Senator John McCain with single-digit leads over Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. McCain now leads Clinton 48% to 40%. He leads Barack Obama 47% to 41%.

In a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted mid-January, McCain was two points behind Clinton, five behind Obama. A couple days later McCain won the South Carolina primary.

McCain has led Clinton in four of the last five polling match-ups conducted by Rasmussen Reports. He has had the edge over Obama in three of the last four polls.

Again, it's way too early make any assumptions about which Democrat could beat McCain. But it's helpful to remember that primaries in each party draw out more extremely ideological voters. Once the campaign heads into the general election phase, the candidate who can best remake himself or herself into a moderate stands the best chance of winning. It'll be fun watching to see who that will be.