Clinton vs. McCain

CLINTON vs. McCAIN….Jon Chait comments on Hillary Clinton’s now-brighter prospects for winning the Democratic nomination:

The odds of a Republican presidency suddenly got a lot higher. There’s really only one potential matchup that would give the GOP a better than even chance of winning: John McCain versus Hillary Clinton. McCain is a popular personality who can attract the support of voters who aren’t inclined to support his party. Clinton is an unpopular personality who loses the support of voters who are otherwise inclined to support her party. If she wins the nomination, it will be because she’s a polarizing figure who rallies Democrats as the object of Republican attacks.

I think this considerably overstates McCain’s appeal. It’s true that recent matchup polls show McCain doing well against Hillary, but honestly, does anybody think those polls are even remotely meaningful nine months before the election? I don’t. Two months ago those same polls showed Hillary trouncing McCain.

There are two things that keep me from being worried about a Clinton vs. McCain matchup. The first is that this simply looks to be a Democratic year. Tick off the reasons: Americans don’t like to keep a single political party in the White House for more than eight years (it’s only happened once in the postwar era). The war in Iraq is unpopular. The economy is sinking. The 9/11 effect has worn off. Conservatives are tired and plainly lack new ideas.

Second, I don’t think McCain is nearly as attractive a candidate as a lot of people think. Again, tick off the reasons: He’s 71 years old. He’s a dead-ender for the war. (Do you think “a million years in Iraq” will play well with moderates in November?) A lot of his independent cred has been shredded over the past couple of years. He’ll get evangelical votes, but he won’t get their enthusiastic support, the way George Bush did. Ditto for nativist votes. He’s got a long, very conservative voting record that’s never really been exposed to a national audience. The Keating Five scandal will get revisited. Press ardor for McCain will likely diminish as his campaign becomes less open, as it’s bound to do.

Sure, Obama can get some independent votes that Hillary can’t. On the other hand, Hillary can get some women’s votes that Obama can’t. The same is true for McCain. He might get some independent votes that, say, Rudy Giuliani can’t. But Giuliani might be able to appeal to social moderates better than McCain. Every candidate has strengths and weaknesses.

So far, though, no one is paying much attention to McCain’s weaknesses. But he has plenty of them, and once the national campaign really starts up they’re going to become very, very public. He’s just not nearly as strong a nominee as a lot of Beltway folks think he is.

Bottom line: Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama can beat McCain. They’d have a Democratic tailwind at their backs and a Republican opponent with plenty of negatives — and both of them are smart enough to run campaigns that make the most of those negatives. Nine months is a long time and anything can happen, but I’m not afraid of McCain. He’s eminently beatable.