The 2008 Democratic primary brings to mind a similar contest in 1972, where an experienced champion faced an exciting young challenger. I’m speaking, of course, of the world chess championship, where Bobby Fischer, down 2 games to zero, destroyed Boris Spassky and unequivocally established himself as the best player in the world.
The Clinton-Obama contest has led to confusion: Obama has basically won the election in the sense of being on track to get more than half of the delegates. In that case, how can Hillary Clinton retain the support of 40% of Democrats nationwide? And how did she manage to win Pennsylvania?
I think these questions represent a misunderstanding. The campaign has been viewed as a chess match or sporting contest in which Obama and Clinton, with their similar policy agendas, are viewed as competing on electability, with the idea being that candidates battle it out in the sequence of state primaries. The trouble with this story is that, first, it’s hard to know about the candidates’ relative electability (I’d actually argue that there isn’t much difference in any case) and, second, voters do differ on which candidate they prefer.
After the World Championship, there weren’t too many people around who thought Spassky was the better player. After an election, though, the supporters of the losing candidate don’t suddenly decide they made a mistake. Even after Obama wins, Clinton’s supporters are still allowed to prefer her.
P.S. I’m not saying that I predicted the outcomes in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, etc., or even that they were predictable. Rather, I’m saying that in light of what happened, the Pennsylvania vote shouldn’t seem like a surprise, or something that needs additional explanation (Obama failing to connect with white voters, or whatever).