After the New Hampshire primary, I wrote:
The most surprising thing is that, looking at the exit polls for Iowa and NH, it really seems that Clinton and Edwards were competing for the same electorate. The storyline was that Edwards and Obama were duking it out for the “change” vote. Not so much. Sadly, we might not be so post-racist after all. If you prefer a less cynical speculation, voters might actually want candidates to talk about things other than ‘hope’, like healthcare.
Chris Bowers at Open Left (“The World’s Slowest Loading Website EVAH!”) has crunched some numbers:
Obama is dominating Clinton among African-Americans nationwide, and even stronger in states where campaigning has actually taken place. Edwards draws very little of the African-American vote from Obama, but is competitive for white southern votes. This means that in states like South Carolina (Jan 26th) and Georgia (Feb 5th), Obama’s lead is largely dependent on Edwards staying in the campaign. In Alabama, which will take place on February 5th, Obama leads Clinton 36%-34%. However, that lead would be gone if the 9% of voters who support Edwards, most of whom are white, have to choose only between Clinton and Obama. While there are no recent polls out of other February 5th states, like Kansas and Missouri, given the strength of Edwards in those two states, I imagine the situation is very similar. Further, while Obama’s winning or losing in Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Tennessee is not dependent on Edwards staying in the campaign, for exactly the same reason I cited in the previously mentioned states, Obama’s delegate totals from these other states will probably be better with Edwards in the campaign than with Edwards out of the campaign. In every case, Edwards will take a larger bite out of Clinton’s advantage among white voters than he will from Obama’s advantage among African-American voters.
With Hillary Clinton nudging ahead in Nevada, right now Edwards dropping out would be absolutely devastating to the Obama campaign. If Clinton won Nevada, and Edwards dropped out, Illinois and Georgia might be the only two remaining states where Obama would have an advantage. Barring a spectacular Clinton collapse, the campaign would be all but over. Clinton’s advantage would be insurmountable.
I think the reason some Democratic activists don’t get this is because most Democrats are strongly opposed to the Iraqi War, so they view Obama and Edwards as alternatives, while Clinton is profoundly different. But I have the sneaking suspicion (based on my Mad Biologist superpowers) that many Democrats, particularly whites who often supported the war, at least initially, don’t hold Clinton’s vote against her–there probably is some rationalization of cognitive dissonance going on here. As far as I can tell, Clinton and Edwards are splitting (not necessarily 50/50) the “healthcare vote”, particularly, if they don’t want to be reminded that they initially supported the war, are breaking for Edwards or Clinton, and not Obama (hope isn’t an enacted healthcare plan).