Obama Got His Number

Barack Obama hasn’t had the best luck in the polls this cycle. Over the past six months, he lagged far behind Hillary Clinton in national polls, he was teased by glowing numbers before his New Hampshire collapse, and he had his candidacy pigeonholed because of hard evidence that he doesn’t appeal to Latinos and women.

But today the numbers finally started to play nice. A new national poll from Time suggests that Obama—not Clinton—is the stronger candidate against McCain. In hypothetical matchups, Obama beats McCain by seven points while McCain ties Clinton. That, despite the fact that Obama still trails Clinton by six points among Democrats. This jives * jibes with a bunch of other polls that have Obama as the stronger general election warrior. It seems Obama, aided by independents, is more electable in the general election than in the Democratic primary.

In a primary race that is increasingly becoming about personality —not issues—electability is going to start to matter again. Primaries are now explicitly about what’s best for the party—not just what’s best for a state or the country. This is where John McCain’s early(ish) coronation helps Democrats—despite talk otherwise . The opponent across the aisle is no longer abstract. Previously, with a wide-open Republican field, there were too many calculations to make. Voters going to the polls now have to judge which candidate can best take down a moderate, independent-courting Republican. Obama now has the concrete data to combat the Dems’ concrete Republican opponent.

Moreover, this helps quiet the “all-fluff” criticisms that have dogged Obama. Who cares if hope and change seem like they shouldn’t be electable messages? Polls show they are!

The Democratic campaign has evolved from a primary to a primary-general election hybrid. McCain is the sometimes-talked-about elephant in the room—they’re running as much against one another as the Republican nominee. As the candidates run out of things to say about each other, they’re going to start talking about Johnny Mac a whole lot more. And as of now, Obama has more to brag about.

*UPDATE Feb. 11, 4:40 p.m.: A loyal and hawkeyed reader points out that I totally misused the word jive. It should have been jive. Sorry for dancing around the appropriate wording.