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The Nation

Chaos? Not in Pennsylvania

John Nichols

There was a ridiculous amount of hype about right-wing talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh's campaign to get conservative voters to switch their party registration and vote in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary for Hillary Clinton.

Limbaugh's line was that Clinton was the weaker Democrat and so Republicans should keep her in the race -- either in hopes that she might somehow become the nominee or that her continued candidacy would undermine frontrunner Barack Obama.

But self-identified conservatives split almost evenly between the two candidates. Indeed, exit polls had Clinton and Obama splitting right-wing votes at a rate of 52 Clinton to 48 Obama -- less than her overall margin.

The ideological measure is the most useful one, since the actual number of voters who told exit pollsters they were Republicans was so small -- 3 percent -- that the polls could not provide credible measures of support levels for Obama and Clinton. Among self-identified independents -- 14 percent of the electorate -- Obama won 55-45.

Among the more than one in 10 Pennsylvania voters had registered as Democrats since the beginning of the year -- some of them Republicans, many independents and political newcomers -- more than 60 percent backed Obama.

And in the traditionally Republican counties around Philadelphia, Obama won some and lost others to Clinton by narrower margins than he was losing statewide. In Montgomery County, for instance, it was Clinton 51, Obama 49. In suburban and exurban counties to the west of the city, such as Delaware, Chester and Lancaster, Obama won by comfortable margins.

Limbaugh-inspired chaos on behalf of Clinton? Forget about it.

Clinton won Pennsylvania with strong support from mainstream Democrats -- union members, low- and medium-income workers, those without college degrees, people who are most worried about the economy.

The 82 percent of primary voters who proudly identified themselves as Democrats chose Hillary Clinton by a 56-44 margin over Barack Obama.

They were deciders, not Limbaugh-inspired agents of chaos. And, interestingly, the vast majority of Clinton and Obama voters say they'll back the Democrat in November. Indeed, the levels of Democratic loyalty displayed in the exit poll numbers were comparable to or better than in many past presidential primary contests.

Of course, there will be partisan cross-over voters this fall. But with more than a quarter of Republicans rejecting the essentially uncontested candidacy of John McCain in that party's primary, there is good reason to believe that whatever chaos there is will merely be a Democratic challenge.

John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

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