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The Limbaugh Effect (for real)

I'm sorry for going back to the math again—I’d much rather remain on a loftier plane—but this is something I think all Democrats should be aware of. I certainly hope the super delegates are as the time comes to decide the nomination.

We all know that Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and other right-wing commentators have been urging Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton in “open” primaries—first, so that they can prolong the Democratic battle in order to hurt both candidates; and second, because they believe Clinton will be more beatable in November.

Now Scott Helman at the Boston Globe has gone over the exit polls and found solid numerical evidence that the trick is working: 119,000 Republicans voted for Clinton in Texas—a state she won by 101,000 votes.

This means that if not for the Republicans, Barack Obama would have won the Texas primary. Senator Clinton would have lost one of her two “must-wins,” she wouldn’t have pulled off her dramatic “comeback,” Obama would have proved he could win a big state, and we almost certainly would have seen the Democratic race moving to a conclusion. Even if Clinton had chosen to keep running, the pundits would have agreed she had little chance, the super delegates would have continued migrating to Obama’s side, and party leaders would have begun encouraging Clinton to leave the race for the good of the party. Instead, the party has to endure at least seven more weeks of division and conflict while John McCain solidifies his support.

Nor is that all Helman’s numbers show. In Ohio, Clinton got the votes of 100,000 Republicans, without whom she’d have won by a narrow 5%—not an impressive victory in a state that was considered “hers.” A week later, 38,000 Republicans voted for her in Mississippi; take those away, and Obama’s showing among white voters suddenly looks a lot better. In all three states, GOP votes probably cost Obama several delegates.

In other words, Hillary Clinton is still a viable candidate for the Democratic nomination because the Republicans made her so. And this game isn’t over: Pennsylvania is not an open primary (only registered Dems can vote in the Democratic race), but the next two biggest states left on the calendar—Indiana and North Carolina—are. There will be no limits there on Republican efforts to keep the Democrats fighting.

Of course, as any responsible journalist would hasten to add, we can’t assume that all those Republican votes were motivated by a desire to hurt the Democrats. Maybe thousands of those Republicans really believe that Hillary Clinton would make the best president and intend to vote for her in November.

Sure they do.

And yes, we need to acknowledge that early in the race a lot of Republicans voted for Obama, many of whom were surely motivated by a desire to see the Clintons lose. But the numbers were an awful lot smaller, and the function wasn’t to gimmick the race to hurt the Democrats as a whole.

No one’s breaking any rules here. In an open primary, people get to vote for whomever they want for whatever reason they want. But maybe we should all bear in mind—maybe those super delegates should especially bear in mind—that it probably isn’t such a good idea to let the Republicans choose the Democrat nominee based on who they think will be easier to beat.

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Facts are Friendly

A phrase we use a lot in our office is "Facts are friendly," that it's good to know what the facts are no matter what they show. Thank you for pointing out these numbers -- I had no idea about them, and they are definitely something to think about.

If nothing else, I hope that your posting will encourage Red Room members and authors (in states that haven't yet voted) to get out and vote for the candidate they want to win. Perhaps that's the only way members from either party can counter the influence of any political games.

- Heather Goyette, redroom.com

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Thanks, Heather

As often as I resent facts and wish they'd go away, I do find them to be useful. And ultimately, yes, friendly. Something I'll always value about this 2008 election, no matter how it turns out, is the number of facts it's forced us to look at and talk about.