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Who Really Has a Better Shot Against McCain?

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The conventional wisdom is that Barack Obama would be a much tougher candidate against John McCain than would Hillary Clinton. Writing for RealClearPolitics, Froma Harrop, thinks the opposite may be true. The reason is almost counterintuitive: independents could go for McCain over Obama.

Harrop quotes a recent Pew Research Center poll that shows 20% of Clinton voters possibly supporting McCain if she doesn’t get the nomination. She also looks at the predilections of the so-called Reagan Democrats as well as older independent Democrats, both of whom may find Obama too slim on solutions and experience. They’d be ok with the known commodity that is Clinton but they’d be unable to justify voting for a one-term senator with such a slight record.

Right now, polls show McCain losing to either Clinton or Obama with Obama winning by a wider margin. Obviously accepting Harrop’s assertion requires some conjecture as well a realization that polls in March rarely reflect results in November. Obama’s margin may simply be a new vs. old gap that McCain will easily erase once his superior knowledge and experience becomes evident. Or Harrop might be very wrong.

I think McCain would indeed pose a greater challenge to Obama than is the conventional wisdom and I don’t think Clinton would necessarily have a more difficult time against the Arizona senator. While it’s true that Clinton’s elected experience is not much greater than Obama’s, she has made competency a core part of her message, is married to an ex-president and could have an easier time going against McCain’s long record than would a neophyte who says the right things but has yet to prove himself.

At some point, Obama will exhaust his ability to win support through eloquence. The last laps will be all about concrete issues – and you better believe national security will be an issue. He’ll need more than his initial opposition to the Iraq war. He’ll need to convince the electorate he knows what to do now and in the future. Obama, I think, would still likely beat McCain, but no one should assume it will be easy. Or that Clinton wouldn’t have a better shot.