Politically Uncorrected: The Other Woman in the Race

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If John McCain wins this race, it will be because of the woman he put on the
ticket. That, in sum and substance, is the prevailing opinion of the
moment-about both the presidential contest and Sarah Palin.

Maybe so!

But a compelling counterargument can be made for an equally persuasive
proposition: if John McCain wins this race, it will be because of the woman
Barack Obama didn’t put on the ticket. Hillary Clinton has become the other
woman in this race. And the "other woman effect" is transforming the 2008
presidential contest.

Nowhere is there a better place to see this playing out than in
Pennsylvania. Joe Biden had seemed a good fit for Obama’s running mate in
the Keystone State. His roots in the working class Scranton area and wide
recognition from media coverage in the Philadelphia television market made
him a popular choice. But that was before Palin was named to the Democratic
ticket. Now state polls show the race much closer. The most recent Real
Clear Politics average has Obama’s once comfortable lead down to below two

In Pennsylvania as elsewhere, Palin is propelling the shift away from the
Democrats. But how she is doing it may be as worrisome to Obama as the fact
itself. Palin is melding the now enthusiastic Republican base vote with
substantial numbers of the blue collar, working class, and older voters that
Clinton won convincing in the primary. Palin’s pro-life, pro-gun positions
and small town roots and values make her very appealing to this demographic.
But it is Clinton’s absence from the ticket that provides Palin with the
opportunity to make that appeal

It may get worse. Losing the Clinton, blue collar voters is a complication
for Obama, but losing the Clinton, suburban, middle class, college-educated
women is a calamity. They are pro-choice and favor gun control, and Palin
will not have an easy time attracting them. Yet her appeal is undeniable. In
Pennsylvania the Quinnipiac Poll shows McCain actually leading by 6 points
in the Philadelphia suburbs, home to thousands of middle class,
college-educated women.

Nationally the other woman effect looms equally ominous for Obama. McCain
now leads the popular vote in most national polls. And a big part of
McCain’s lead has been fueled by white women moving to the McCain/Palin
ticket. The ABC post convention poll showed a 20 point swing from Obama to
McCain among white women. Most other national polls have recorded a less
sharp but similarly dramatic swing away from Obama by white women.

Doubt that the Democrats are having second thoughts about leaving Clinton
off the ticket? Don’t take our word for it. Here’s Joe Biden talking off the
cuff in New Hampshire: "Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified
than I am to be vice president of the United States of America. Quite
frankly it might have been a better pick than me."

Quite frankly, Senator Biden, a lot of other people think so too. One of
them might be a guy named Obama who has to be more than a little discouraged
seeing his lead evaporate as Clinton supporters and kindred souls desert his

But it’s not just the Democrats talking publicly about the electoral cost of
the Clinton snub. Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin herself
has spoken candidly about Clinton’s omission from the ticket, telling ABC’s
Charles Gibson: "I think he’s regretting not picking her now, I do."

Probably so! One doubts, however, if Palin herself much regrets Clinton’s
absence from the ticket. It’s allowed her to reach out to disaffected
Hillary voters.

If Obama loses, not putting Clinton on the ticket is going to look like the
bonehead political decision of the century. Not only did Obama give McCain a
chance to galvanize his base by naming Palin to the ticket, but he also gave
McCain a hunting license to reach out to all the disaffected Clinton
supporters who were left in the lurch with no place to go. Now, thanks to
the other woman effect, they have a place to go. And they are going there in

The milk is spilt; the toothpaste is out of the tube. It’s not clear what
Democrats can do to regain momentum and salvage at least some of the voters
he has lost. Obama has transformed a probable rout into a likely

Cable news sources are speculating about a deal where Joe Biden resigns the
ticket for the good of the party, etc., etc., and Hillary replaces him. Not
a good idea! And if you doubt that, check with George McGovern who pulled
such a stunt in 1972, turning a difficult challenge into an unmitigated
disaster for the Democrats.

So what other options does Obama have? Few it would seem. Damage control
mode may be his best choice at this point. Some of the blue collar, social
conservative, white women have gone for good. Finding a candidate who shares
their view and values trumps policy issues for many traditional voters. As
polling shows Palin now has the edge on Obama when voters are asked which
candidate best understands the problems of everyday life. Here as elsewhere
the absence of Clinton and the presence of Palin are having a huge impact on
the race.

Obama may yet muddle his way through all of this. College-educated, middle
class women offer him opportunity to counter the other woman effect. Most of
these voters identify with Obama’s policies. Nevertheless, many of them were
disaffected by Clinton’s primary loss and disappointed she was not named to
the ticket. Current polls show that about 25% of Clinton primary voters are
not supporting him.

These women are not yet lost to the Obama candidacy. But neither are they on
board. And Obama probably can’t win the electoral votes of the battleground
state without them. If Obama is going to pull this one out, he should start
there. And he must start soon.


Politically Uncorrected is published twice monthly. Dr. G. Terry Madonna is
Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, and Dr.
Michael Young is Managing Partner of Michael Young Strategic Research. The
article can be used in whole or in part with appropriate attribution. The
views and opinions found in this article represent the authors’ views and
opinions and not those of any institution or organization with which they
are affiliated.

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