Meanwhile, the big winner of the Democratic fist-fighting is Senator McCain. A Gallup poll released Wednesday found that 19 percent of Mr. Obama’s supporters said they would vote for Mr. McCain in the general election if Mrs. Clinton were the nominee. More startling, 28 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters said they would defect to Mr. McCain if Mr. Obama were the nominee.Kristof makes an interesting leap here. I haven't seen any evidence that the high rate of potential "defectors" has much to do with the battle for the democratic nomination being protracted and contentious. I know that conventional wisdom says that the nominee must "unite the party" after primary season and there's something to be said for the argument that a protracted battle leaves less time for that mythic unification. But I'm not convinced that the "fist fighting," to borrow Kristof's phrase, is actually going to make democrats vote for McCain.
Democrats are getting more press. McCain took part in the ultimate photo op in Iraq and couldn't get anywhere near the ink that the democrats have been getting. Many pundits are suggesting that this increased attention is bad for Clinton and Obama. The argument goes something like this: you have more opportunities to screw up when eyes are on you.
My sense, though, is that the democrats have much more name and face recognition. McCain's coming off like a Bob Dole or Mike Dukakis, i.e., a "that other guy." And in an election where affect is clearly playing a gigantic role (Clinton and Obama share so many stances, yet people feel so differently about them), that kind of recognition matters.
Yes, a lot of Obama supporters say they'll go McCain if Clinton gets the nomination, and vice versa. First of all, I don't believe a lot of them. I'm an Obama supporter and there's a part of me that will have trouble voting for Clinton, knowing what I know about her voting record in the senate (supporting the patriot act, supporting the patriot act's renewal, supporting Bush's expanded war powers, etc.), but I couldn't bring myself to vote for McCain. I suspect I'm not alone.
And, again, I'm not even sure democrats saying they'll defect necessarily stems from the fact that the primary season has been long and heated. In fact, there's something to be said for the length and the nature of the "battle." They're honing their messages, which is good practice for the campaign vs. McCain. They're fostering public discourse.
Of course those two advantages rely on the candidates staying on message, avoiding ad hominem mud-slinging, and operating above the non-issues on which the press fixates. And, admittedly, their campaigns have not always done those things.