It’s the political equivalent of “tastes great!” vs. “less filling!” among light-beer lovers: the Clinton-Obama battle over who will be a better general-election candidate based on the primary results. The Clinton campaign says she’d be the better fall candidate because she’s stronger with her party’s core of white working- and middle-class voters in Democratic states. The Obama campaign argues that he’d be better in the fall because he can attract independents, bring new younger voters to the polls, and compete in traditionally red states.
Who’s right? Neither side. Why? Because they are both arguing from the false assumption that primary contests can provide a guide to the fall campaign. Look back across recent political history and you’ll be hard-pressed to find such a link
In the case of the current battle, we’re divining, for example, whether Obama can draw white voters based on those who have decided to vote in Democratic primaries. We don’t really know how this historic contest between a woman and an African-American is playing with white voters who are not part of the primary process. Maybe race and gender matter a lot less than they would have a few decades ago; maybe such voters are sitting this round out and will flock to the white guy in the fall. We are unlikely to get a persuasive answer to this question until the fall. Nor do we have any real clue about whether Clinton’s showing among white working-class voters would mean much of anything should she be the Democrat to confront John McCain … or whether a campaign focused on the economy as opposed to national security would pull such voters to either Democrat. Can we guess? Sure. Can the primaries offer us actionable intelligence? Highly unlikely.
Not much to add to that, but I thought I’d throw the link out and acknowledge that some media outlets do indeed recognize the silliness of arguments about primaries predicting generals (Obama’s “I put red-states in play” argument or Clinton’s “I win big (swing) states” argument being two examples, that may or may not be true, but are not really supported by primary results alone).