Obama v. McCain

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Obama this morning held a press conference with reporters in Los Angeles where he made it clear that he believes that the increasingly likely candidacy of Senator John McCain in the GOP race will help Obama win the Democratic contest. Obama made his case on two fronts. First, that his early opposition to the war in Iraq is much more credible a response to McCain’s unwavering support of the war — fulfilling my colleague Joe Klein’s smart prediction last night. And second, that Obama is the only candidate that can draw Independents away from McCain.

“There’s going to be a contest with John McCain, potentially, somebody who’s been very firm and clear on his position on the war,” Obama said. “And I don’t think it’s adequate for us to go into that argument suggesting somehow the difference is somehow in execution. I think the problem with the war in Iraq was with its conception. And if we go in there saying, ‘Well, it just was not managed well by George Bush,’ then Senator McCain, I think, will be able then to come back and argue, ‘Well, we reduced violence in the surge’ and we’re now getting it right in his framework. And I totally dispute that but I think it’s easier for me to dispute given my long-standing belief that it was a strategic error on the part of the Bush administration.”

On a political level Obama made the case that only he has a track record of bringing in new voters and appealing to Independents.

“In terms of electability, I believe that I am attracting new voters and Independent voters into the process in a way that Senator Clinton cannot do,” Obama said. “I think that’ll be particularly important in Senator McCain is the nominee on the Republican side. We can’t start off with just the same playing field and expect to win. We’ve got to broaden the playing field; we’ve got to expand the electoral map.”

And here’s the money quote I bet we’ll be hearing again: “I’m confident that I will get her votes if I’m the nominee, it’s not clear that she would get the votes I got if she were the nominee.”

To be fair in head-to-head match ups in national polls McCain beats Obama by 1 percentage point and he beats Hillary by 2 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics poll averages. And Hillary still leads Obama in national polls by 9 percentage points, though that’s down from last autumn when she led by 28 percentage points.

This raises some interesting questions. If McCain is the nominee, does Obama have a better chance of beating him than Hillary? And, for the more immediate future, can Obama capitalize on that perception and McCain’s frontrunner status and translate that into votes on Super Tuesday?