Do Open Primaries Still Help Obama?

Among the many assumptions swirling around the Democratic race, one has been that open primaries—elections in which independents and Republicans can also vote—benefit Obama. He’s been viewed as the bridge builder with broader appeal. But that appears to be changing. As John Judis points out in the New Republic ,  

[Obama] is now receiving his strongest support from voters who see themselves as “very liberal.” In Pennsylvania, he defeated Clinton among “very liberal” voters by 55 to 45 percent, but lost “somewhat conservative” voters by 53 to 47 percent and moderates by 60 to 40 percent. In Wisconsin and Virginia, by contrast, he had done best against Clinton among voters who saw themselves as moderate or somewhat conservative.

It’s been generally accepted that Obama’s association with the Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers and his “bitter” comment didn’t hurt him much in Pennsylvania or nationally, because polls didn’t show any major backlash. (That is, if you’re willing to buy into the narrative that they mattered in the first place.) But those polls mostly involved likely Democratic voters . In Pennsylvania, which held a closed primary, that obviously doesn’t include independents and Republicans. So whereas those flaps may not have hurt Obama’s support among Democrats, it could turn out they hurt him quite a bit among other voters.

The test will be Indiana, which holds its open primary on May 6. If it’s true that Obama is now pegged as a liberal, Clinton may have a significant advantage. Obama currently holds a lead in the state, but again, those polls mostly deal with likely Democratic voters.

Clinton is even better off if you factor in the “Limbaugh effect” —the theory that Republicans pulled the lever for Hillary in Mississippi and Ohio in order to disrupt the Democratic race. Although again, things may have changed. According to the logic of the Limbaugh effect, Republicans voted for Hillary because they think she’s damaged goods. But now, after six weeks of WrightAyersBitterClingElitistgate, it could be Obama who they see as the more vulnerable candidate, which might lead them to vote for him. If I were Obama, I’d do as much as I can to tick off Rush Limbaugh between now and May 6.