Why Wisconsin May Be the Most Important Primary Yet

(Via TNR

For nerds like Stumper who monitor the wires for fluctuations in the approval ratings of Laura Bush's hairstyle, Gallup's latest national tracking pollis almost enough to induce a state of statistical shock. Not only does it show Barack Obama leading Hillary Clinton 49 percent to 42 percent overall, but suggests for the first time that eight straight losses--and the "Frontrunner Obama?" headlines that followed--have had a disastrously deleterious effect on the New York senator's natural coalition: Latinos, older voters and women.

To wit. After Super Tuesday, Clinton led Obama nearly two-to-one (63-32) among Hispanic Democratic voters. But now Obama actually leads among Hispanics, with 50 percent support to Clinton's 46. Women show similar slippage, dipping from 53-38 Clinton on Feb. 8 to 46-45 Clinton today. And middle-aged voters are even worse, plunging from from 49-42 Clinton to 51-42 Obama. Is nothing sacred?

Team Clinton will likely dismiss such dismal national figures as irrelevant. After all, they'd say, we're fighting this battle state by state, not coast to coast. But the national numbers do matter at this point. Yes, there's not always a clear line between the big picture and what's happening on the ground--especially when a campaign is actually, you know, reaching out to local voters on TV, radio and the stump. But the loss of support among Hispanics is enough to sink Clinton in Texas, and significant drops among women and middle-aged voters would be spell doom in Ohio. What's more, there's nothing but time between now and March 4--meaning that today's face-off in Wisconsin could be more important (and determinative) than anyone expected.

Here's why. If Obama wins tonight (and takes his birth state of Hawaii), he'll wrap up a perfect 10-0 post-Super Tuesday sweep. The "Frontrunner Obama?" headlines will harden into conventional wisdom, and whatever impact the coverage of his victories (not to mention the victories themselves) has had on Democrats nationwide will only intensify. Without any contests between now and March 4, there won't be much--barring an Obama meltdown--to reverse what we're already seeing in the Gallup numbers. In that case, there's no reason to think that Clinton's key supporters won't keep drifting to the man with the Big 'Mo--making it difficult (if such seepage does trickle down) to keep up in Texas and Ohio.

On the other hand, if Clinton wins Wisconsin, all bets are off. That would shock the pundits, rewrite the headlines and instantly brake Obama's momentum. More importantly, it would likely convince the women, older folks and Latinos who supported Clinton as recently as Super Tuesday to take a second look--meaning that instead of spending the last two weeks of February feebly plugging holes in her sinking ship, Clinton could actually start shoring it up for the stormy days ahead.

Someone get the woman a cheesehead hat. Pronto.