Pennsylvania superdelegates and coattails

Democratic superdelegates have taken Hillary Clinton’s argument for free action seriously, but she’s not likely to be happy about it. While Hillary will probably win the state by double digits and could sweep the rest of the contests, these superdelegates wonder whether Hillary or Barack Obama will provide better coattails to down-ticket races in November. Her high negatives have become a point worth considering, they argue:

The prospect of a Hillary Clinton victory in Pennsylvania’s April 22 Democratic primary isn’t swaying some of the state’s superdelegates, who are hanging back while they calculate whether rival Barack Obama might prove a stronger draw at the top of the ticket in November.

While the New York senator is leading in polls, some undecided superdelegates — elected officials who get an automatic vote on the party presidential nomination regardless of the primary’s outcome — say they are concerned that her nomination would motivate greater numbers of Republicans to turn out in November to vote against her, and other Democrats too.

“If we nominate Senator Clinton, it is possible we are going to stir up the passions of people on the far right who otherwise would not be very excited about this election,” said Representative Jason Altmire, a freshman Democrat in a competitive re-election race. “And I do have that concern.”

The issue is critical for Clinton, whose hopes of winning the nomination depend on sweeping up most of the superdelegates nationwide to offset her deficit among delegates picked in primaries and caucuses.

Clinton’s negatives have been fairly constant during this campaign, but it didn’t stop the party establishment from attempting a coronation in 2007. Better candidates dropped away, discouraged by the Clinton machine, or failed to receive backing, such as Bill Richardson, a candidate with much lower negatives and a much better résumé. The same people who question her coattails now are ironically the people most likely to have benefited from her husband’s coattails over the years.

Barack Obama managed to out-organize Hillary and maneuver around the Clinton machine, in part on the negatives question. However, as he’s begun getting vetted, his own negatives have begun to rise. More to the point, though, is the fact that Obama hasn’t done much to get other Democrats elected, and in fairness because he’s so inexperienced that he hasn’t had the chance. No one can tell whether Obama has the stomach for the kind of down-ticket campaigning the Clintons do, putting the energy of his organization to work fundraising and stumping for Democrats Obama hardly knows. The Obama movement is a personality movement, not closely related to party affiliation or policy, and those tend to stay individual.

If the superdelegates put their money on Obama for his coattail effect, they had better hope that he can replace the Clintons in party building. Just as with his argument for the presidency, they’re going to have to go on hope and not much else.