“Can’t Win”?

When Hillary Clinton allegedly told Bill Richardson that Barack Obama “cannot win” in November—an incident she now denies —she probably didn’t expect it to leak. But the timing couldn’t have been better.

With her shot at the nomination hinging on the whims of the superdelegates, the Clinton campaign is turning the “electability” argument up to 11. (That is, having exhausted the delegates argument, the popular vote argument, and the Florida-Michigan argument.) Their premise is that Clinton is more likely to win swing states than Obama is. In a conference call today, they pointed to a new Quinnipiac poll that puts Clinton two points ahead of John McCain in Florida, whereas Obama trails McCain there by nine points. The same poll also shows Clinton trouncing McCain in Ohio far more thoroughly than Obama would.

The Obama retort is that he would win swing states, too—just different ones—and that he would create new swing states. Today, NBC’s crack team of political oddsmakers drafted the first of many electoral maps, this time projecting that Obama could win the nomination without Florida and Ohio since he would put Colorado and Virginia in play. Blogger Josh Putnam reaches a similar conclusion using polling averages from the 50 states ( via Ben Smith). His map shows Obama turning typically red states like Texas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota into tossups.

Clinton could argue that there’s more risk involved in an Obama nomination, since his would be an atypical path to the presidency. But it’s that same risk—the prospect of the ” reshaping of the electorate “—that excites a lot of Democrats (especially after Kerry’s traditional route failed so miserably in 2004). This is all a little premature, given that attitudes change the second you have a nominee, not to mention after months of general-election sparring. But if there’s a kernel of truth to Clinton’s statement that Obama “cannot win,” it’s that he can’t win in the traditional way.