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Looking ahead to the general election

The New York Times piece on John McCain's alleged relationship with a lobbyist has ruined any chance Hillary Clinton had of catching Barack Obama.
/ Source: National Journal

With Ralph Nader's decision to mount another bid for the presidency, last week's New York Times story about Sen. , R-Ariz., and the campaign of Sen. , D-N.Y., potentially in its last throes, there is certainly much to discuss this week.

One thing is for sure: Nader's candidacy is the least consequential of all the above.

There is no doubt Nader's presence on the Florida ballot in 2000 effectively cost former Vice President Al Gore the election and put Texas Gov. George W. Bush into the White House.

Nader pulled approximately 97,000 votes in Florida. Exit polls showed that 47 percent of his supporters in the state indicated Gore was their second choice, compared to 21 percent who indicated Bush was their second choice. In the end, Bush's final margin was 537 votes. So, there's little question about Nader's effect on the Democratic candidate.

His role in Bush's election has effectively cost Nader his credibility on the left. If anything, he is reviled on the far left for having run. His total vote nationwide dropped from about 2.8 million in 2000 to about 460,000 in 2004, when his candidacy caused barely a ripple.

What's more, the major-party nominee configuration that appears virtually certain to occur this year -- Illinois Sen. vs. McCain -- would significantly marginalize Nader.

Obama and McCain are the top vote-getters, winning more voters who do not identify themselves with each candidate's respective party than their rivals. Furthermore, Nader supporters this time around are likely to be on the fringe of the process and probably won't be inclined to vote for a major-party candidate.

A matchup between Clinton and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee might create an opening for an anti-establishment left candidate, but certainly not an Obama-McCain race.

Recent general election polls of a two-way matchup between Obama and McCain are very close, with Obama sometimes having a slight lead.

While it is not hard to conjure up many scenarios for Obama to lose, Nader is one of the least likely factors to make a difference. Frankly, his candidacy this time around is sad and more than a little pathetic.

Meanwhile, the Times story on McCain that appeared last week should be reported to the FEC as an illegal contribution to the Arizonan's presidential campaign. The article asserts that, during the period leading up to his 2000 presidential campaign, aides to McCain were seriously worried about the appearance of a friendship between their candidate, who was then in his early 60s, and a female telecom lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, then in her early 30s.

Both McCain and Iseman were warned about how the relationship appeared, and the story has now become a thorn in the side of the McCain campaign.

First, had the story been published at almost any other point in the last six months, it likely would have killed any chance of McCain winning the GOP nomination. If it had come out during this fall's general election campaign, it would have killed his hopes in November.

But the story being published now, after he has effectively clinched his party's nomination but before the general election campaign has begun, has done more to repair the relationship between McCain and conservatives than he ever could have done on his own.

Attention is being focused more on the last throes of the Obama-Clinton nomination fight and the galvanizing effect it has had on conservatives. It is important to note that those conservatives, who loathe McCain, hate the mainstream media, and the Times in particular, more than the Arizona senator's moderate appearance on issues.

Finally, there is the Democratic nomination. Out of politeness, the Democratic establishment is holding off on calls for Clinton to drop out of the race until after the Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont nominating contests on March 4. Democrats owe her that much.

However, Clinton victories in those states with sufficient margins to generate the delegates needed to overtake Obama are extremely unlikely. Once she comes up short, the calls for her to get out will begin. Within a few weeks, this is precisely what should happen. Maybe sooner, maybe a bit later -- but it will happen.

If the political situation were not futile enough, the financial reality certainly is. There simply will not be enough money for her to go on.

The irony of the Times' McCain story is that if it hurt anyone, it was Clinton.

If she still had a chance of catching up with Obama, it was dependent upon her getting some traction on one of three criticisms of Obama.

The first is the claim that Obama lifted lines from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's speeches (a valid argument). The second is that he was breaking his pledge to rely on federal matching funds and abide by spending limits in a general election.

Finally, there was Michelle Obama's recent remarks about being proud of her country for the first time in her adult life. The Times story effectively ended any chance that these three attack lines would get any traction. Game, set and match.