Obama’s geography lesson

We wanted to launch this blog in time to cover the 2008 presidential primaries, but we can’t guarantee that those primaries will be at all exciting. Things on the Republican side seem fairly volatile, but the Democratic campaign has been in a holding pattern for most of the year, with Hillary Clinton holding a double-digit lead in almost every national poll and Barack Obama stalled in second place.

Clinton is not the inevitable nominee, but the race is hers to lose. Not only is she leading nationally (a fact that does matter), but she’s ahead in almost every state poll. (Go to Dave Leip’s Atlas of Presidential Elections to see her breadth of support.) One key to her success so far is her overwhelming support in the Northeast, which has been her home region for only eight years, or since she moved to New York to run for the US Senate. This is a huge disadvantage for Obama. Only once has a cool, calm liberal with a base in well-educated suburbia won the Democratic nomination in recent years: Michael Dukakis in 1988. Dukakis swept primaries and caucuses in the Northeast and West and did well enough in the Midwest to make up for disastrous showings in the South. True, there are obvious reasons why Obama could run better than Dukakis did in the South — not only because he can appeal to the large number of black voters there but because the Democratic primary electorate has become somewhat more liberal since 1988 (partly because so many white conservatives have moved into the Republican camp). But there is no way that the South is going to be Obama’s strongest region; the South tends to support centrist candidates and establishment candidates, and Clinton wins on both measures.

Current polls have Clinton ahead of Obama by wide margins in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and, perhaps most importantly, New Hampshire. This is Dukakis territory, and it was Paul Tsongas territory in the states that held contests before he withdrew from the race in 1992. If Obama can’t at least break even in what has traditionally been the home base of reformist liberals, it’s hard to believe that he can be a serious threat to Clinton’s nomination.

UPDATE: New Washington Post poll has Clinton at 53 percent nationwide and at 65 percent in the Northeast. Another New Yorker, Rudy Giuliani, is way ahead in the race for the Republican nomination. If these polls hold up, we will have the first general election between two Northeastern candidates since 1944. The region may be steadily declining in its share of the US population (and share of the Electoral College), but that fact may enhance to the Northeast’s appeal in the rest of the country. It’s been a long time since people could plausibly argue that Eastern bankers run America.