With my usual caveats about the utility of polling this far out from an election, Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll shows John McCain well ahead of either Clinton or Obama. McCain leads Obama 50-41 and Clinton 49-42. This sample showed Clinton narrowly ahead of Obama as well.
What does this mean? This far out, not much. However, it does indicate that McCain was the right choice for the GOP. After eight years of Bush, the GOP needs a figure that can reach out to independents. It was the shift in independent voters to the Democrats that made 2006 such a bloodbath for Republicans. McCain, even though conservatives have their issues with him, is someone who can attract independent-minded voters. In some ways, all the conservative backlash to McCain may help him—conservatives aren’t going to hand the election over to either Hillary or Obama, and the conservative backlash makes it more difficult to paint McCain as an extremist. Independent voters want someone who will exercise independent judgement—and McCain’s maverick rep helps him there. He wasn’t a “maverick” because it made him popular, or he would have pulled a Hagel on Iraq, he was a “maverick” because he was doing what he thought was right. Independent voters want to see that in a candidate, and McCain has that strong appeal.
On the Democratic side, Clinton is down, but not out. She’s going to fight on, and while some argue she has no realistic chance at the nomination, that isn’t going to stop her. In essence, the Democrats are stuck with a Catch-22. If they nominate Clinton, people will walk away from the party, and someone like Nader could break 10%. If they nominate Obama, they’ll marginalize older voters (who vote in droves) in the hopes of attracting younger voters (who eventually grow up and become Republicans). Plus, if Obama gets the nod it means key states like Ohio and Pennsylvania could be in McCain’s column. The electoral math doesn’t favor Obama—no Democrat will win Georgia or Mississippi. Winning Kansas and Nebraska is great if your goal is to beat Clinton in pledged delegates, but those states are so likely to vote Republican in November that they’re virtually irrelevant to the general election.
I would hate to be a Democratic superdelegate right now. There’s no good answer: either vote for Hillary in the hopes that she’ll peel off a state like Ohio from McCain and squeak in, or vote for Obama in the hopes that the Electoral College math will somehow add up. Neither of those options are particularly good ones.
At the beginning of the year, having a Republican nominee running ahead and the Democrats in a brutal internecine war would have been one of the least likely outcomes of this race. Then again, perhaps that’s why politics can be so interesting to follow…