Democrats' primary battle takes toll, but long view looks rosy
Clinton's positive rating has dropped, while Obama's image as a uniter has taken a hit.
In the short run, the Democratic Party is paying a high price for its fiercely contested presidential nomination race.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead of taking aim at presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have trained their sights mostly on each other. Calls for Senator Clinton to drop out of the race have sown resentment among her supporters, while Senator Obama still faces questions over his affiliation with a preacher now famous for incendiary remarks.
Both Clinton and Obama are taking a hit in their poll numbers. Clinton, fresh from the embarrassing revelation that she had misremembered landing under sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia in 1996, is now viewed positively by only 37 percent of voters, according to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Obama's positive rating has held mostly steady – now 49 percent in the same poll – but following the flap over his former pastor, his image as a uniter has declined. A CBS poll shows 52 percent of voters believe Obama would unite the country, down from 67 percent last month.
Perhaps most alarming for the Democratic Party, several polls also show that at least 20 percent of Democrats would vote for Senator McCain in November if their preferred Democrat does not get the nomination. If such a high defection rate were to hold all the way to November, that could hand the election to McCain.
"A lot of this is fallout from this dragging on too long and from open sores that are smarting," says John Zogby, an independent pollster. "It's going to be difficult healing these wounds."
Still, there are two ways to look at this, analysts say. One is to say, if it's this ugly in March, imagine how bad it will be if the nomination race drags all the way to June, when the final contests are held, or even to the convention in August. The other is to stand back and say: It's only March. Once the Democrats have a nominee – even if that's not decided until August – the party will rally around him or her and have plenty of time to take on McCain.
"Of course Democrats are concerned," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. "They'd love to have a nominee organizing for the fall. And they are concerned about the vicious things being said back and forth."