The Magazine

The Clinton Voters Jump Ship

Obama’s shrinking base.

Feb 15, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 21 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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In New Jersey, it was worse. Chris Christie was outspent by a millionaire incumbent in a state Obama won by 15 points. Christie won by 5 points, and the exit polls showed defections among the same groups who had been against Obama in the presidential primaries. Where Obama had been only -3 among white men, Christie was +34; where Obama had run even with older whites, Christie was +25; where Obama had been competitive among non-college educated whites (he was only -4 in the general election), Christie was +34. In the rural south, Obama had won Gloucester and Salem counties easily. A year later, they went for Christie. In heavily industrialized Passaic County, Obama had won by 21 points; Christie came within 8.

Which leaves Massachusetts. There were no exit polls for the January special election. One approximation comes from a Public Policy Polling survey conducted a few days before the election, which concluded with Scott Brown ahead by 5 points. Brown was +12 among white voters (Obama had been +20), and the poll suggested that Brown did very well among middle-aged voters: He was +14 among those age 30 to 44 and +3 from age 45 to 64. Among these groups Obama had been +18 and +20. The town and county results tell the same story. Plymouth and Worcester counties are two ethnic, blue-collar strongholds that went heavily for Clinton in the primaries, by 21 and 25 points, respectively. Brown won them by similar margins: +26 in Plymouth and +23 in Worcester.

Caveats abound, of course. This is an exercise in apples and oranges, comparing Democratic primary voters with general election voters. It artificially claims three distinct Democratic candidates as generic proxies for Obama—and even uses a preelection poll sample in lieu of actual exit poll data. This can’t count for science, even on the Internet.

But if we accept that the comparisons are at least marginally valid, then Obama is not encountering some new, unanticipated resistance from the electorate. Instead, it may be that his general election triumph was the aberration—that his coalition was never as strong as the financial panic of September 2008 made it seem. It would mean that he is now returning to his natural base of support and that the Jacksonians and others who resisted him in the primaries have turned away once again from his charms.

But it also suggests something more, that the Democratic party is now the party of Obama, for good and for ill. While the president is no Jacksonian, his party has many in its ranks. Democratic officeholders should be concerned about their voters fleeing not just from Obama but from their party as well. The president may be in the process of trimming the Democratic base back into something that looks an awful lot like his own primary base.

A few weeks ago Representative Marion Berry, a Jacksonian from Arkansas’s First District, recounted an exchange he had with the president. Asked how he was going to prevent a midterm disaster on the scale of 1994, Obama replied, “Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.” Which may be precisely the problem.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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