Its increasingly likely that the Republican presidential nominee will be John McCain, who is also the Republican most likely to win the November election.
Senator McCain has unusual appeal among swing voters, and polls show him running stunningly well in general election matchups -- even in a year that one might expect would be a Democratic romp. So that raises the obvious question: Who would be the stronger Democratic candidate?
The answer isnt certain, partly because Barack Obamas shine could quickly tarnish. In July 1988, Michael Dukakis was hailed as a Democratic hero with a 17-percentage-point lead over George H.W. Bush; four months later, he was a loser.
But one clue emerged in Tuesdays balloting in 14 red states that were won by President George W. Bush in 2004. Mr. Obama won nine while Hillary Rodham Clinton won four and is ahead in the fifth.
Obama would appeal much more to Republican voters, said Susan Eisenhower, a lifelong Republican and granddaughter of the late president. Not all Republican voters, but certainly those who might be somewhat in play.
Ms. Eisenhower is supporting Mr. Obama and said she would be glad to enlist in a Republicans for Obama organization.
When pollsters offer voters hypothetical matchups, Mr. Obama does better than Mrs. Clinton against Mr. McCain. For example, a Cook Political Report poll of registered voters released this week found Mr. McCain beats Mrs. Clinton, 45 percent to 41 percent. But Mr. Obama beats Mr. McCain, 45 percent to 43 percent. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found similar results.
Mr. Obama also has the highest approval rating of any major candidate among independents, 62 percent, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. He also has unusually low negatives, which gives him upside potential.
Mr. Obama does surprisingly well among evangelical Christians, an important constituency in swing states. For example, Relevant magazine, which caters to young evangelicals, asked its readers: Who would Jesus vote for? Mr. Obama was the winner and came out 27 percentage points ahead of Mrs. Clinton.
Politicians from red states have seemed likely to endorse Mr. Obama because many see him as the Democratic candidate who will do better in their states. Politico.com canvassed Democrats in potential swing states and concluded:
During extensive interviews in recent weeks in Republican-leaning states, Politico found widespread belief among current and former Democratic statewide officials that Obama is the more electable candidate with their electorates. These politicians also frequently registered a fear that Clintons personality and past history make her too polarizing to win independent and Republican-leaning voters.
Another way of looking at electability is to wonder whether its more of a disadvantage to be black or to be female. Shirley Chisholm, the black woman who ran for president in 1972, argued in effect that there were more sexists than racists in America. I met more discrimination as a woman, than for being black, Ms. Chisholm once said.
And recent polling and psychology research seem to back that up.
Moreover, my hunch is that a conservative woman like Margaret Thatcher may have a better chance of being elected than a feminist with a distinguished record of standing up for womens rights. For the same reason, Mr. Obama probably has a better chance than a black candidate who emerged from the civil rights movement.
Granted, a general election campaign could shuffle judgments of electability, and it may be unwise -- even offensive -- to cast votes in part on how people with different political philosophies, even bigots, would cast their ballots. Its also true that Mr. Obama has received more gentle press scrutiny than Mrs. Clinton, and if he were the nominee, he would be buffeted, investigated and swift-boated in a way that he hasnt been (but that Mrs. Clinton has).
Then again, voters in many states have only just begun to be acquainted with Mr. Obama, and more familiarity may breed more comfort -- and dispel some of the savage myths about him, such as the one claiming that he is a Muslim who doesnt pledge allegiance to the American flag. Such lies will become harder to sustain.
Moreover, Mr. Obamas charisma has stood up surprisingly well since he first sprang upon the stage in 2004. Some old hands believe that if he casts a spell upon many voters in red states, its not because of some momentary dazzle, but because he truly possesses an exceptional and enduring political talent for connecting with independent voters.
Ive worked for three presidents and known two or three others, said Michael Blumenthal, who started his public career under President Kennedy and served as Treasury secretary under President Carter. And Obama is just about the only politician Ive ever seen who compares to Jack Kennedy.