wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

What the Kentucky and Arkansas primaries tell us (and what they don’t)

at 06:30 AM ET, 05/23/2012

President Obama lost roughly 40 percent of the vote in Democratic presidential primaries in Kentucky and Arkansas on Tuesday night — results sure to be pored over in the hours and days to come.


Grantwood precinct voters fill out their ballots at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Henderson, Ky., Tuesday afternoon, May 22, 2012. (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley)
Republicans quickly seized on the results to suggest there is significant unhappiness with Obama inside his own party — noting that the incumbent lost four in 10 votes to “uncommitted” in Kentucky and an unknown lawyer (from Tennessee!) in Arkansas.

Democrats pointed out that no one expected either Kentucky or Arkansas to be competitive states in the fall and, therefore, what happened in the two states is entirely meaningless. (Also, they note that Obama received more votes in Kentucky than Mitt Romney on Tuesday; so that even if the two states did matter, it’s hard to conclude the votes were bad for the incumbent.)

So, who’s right? As usual, both sides have a case to make about what Kentucky and Arkansas tell us about Obama — and what they don’t. We sort through the spin below.

What Arkansas and Kentucky tell us

* Obama under-performs a generic Democratic candidate in Appalachia (Kentucky and West Virginia) and in some portions of the South. Of course, we knew that after the 2008 election; just check out this terrific map highlighting counties that went more Republican in 2008 than in 2004.

* There is dissatisfaction within an element of the Democratic Party toward Obama. Democrats dismiss that dissatisfaction as born entirely — or primarily — of racism, arguing that white Democrats in these states won’t vote for Obama because he is black.

While race is clearly an element of the opposition among some Democrats in these regions, it’s far from the only factor. Unhappiness with the policies his administration has pursued — particularly with regards to environmental standards — and a distaste with the national Democratic Party also fuel the discontent, according to politicians and strategists in these states.

* North Carolina could be tougher sledding for Obama than we might have thought. Remember that Obama lost 21 percent of the vote in the North Carolina primary to “uncommitted” and that, outside of the Democratic Research Triangle, there are lots and lots of rural, culturally conservative voters who have a fair amount in common with people in Arkansas and Kentucky. (The same goes on Southeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.) Remember too that in the best year for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996, Obama carried the Tar Heel State by just 0.4 percent in 2008. What does that tell us? He doesn’t have much of a margin for error in November in that state.

What Arkansas and Kentucky don’t tell us

* There are nine swing states in this election. Arkansas and Kentucky weren’t in that group before Tuesday night and they certainly aren’t in it after the primaries in those two states.

* The talking point that Obama got more votes than Romney in Kentucky isn’t entirely on-point. Remember that many areas of the South were Democratic since time immemoriam. And even as those states’ electorates have grown more and more conservative, many of those people have kept their Democratic registration in order to vote in downballot races — sheriff, etc. — where the only action is on the Democratic side. Because of that reality, putting stock in raw vote totals in a Southern primary is a dodgy proposition.

Overall, the showings in Kentucky and Arkansas are certainly an embarrassment for Obama; the question is whether they portend a real enthusiasm problem in the fall.

Obama launches new non-Bain ads as Rattner explains: Obama’s campaign is shifting away from its focus on Bain Capital and highlighting the president’s accomplishments in his first term.

Two new ads out today play up Obama’s commitment to veterans and his successful effort to kill Osama bin Laden, as well as his efforts on Medicare. The ads are the latest part of a $25 million ad campaign this month.

The shift in ad strategy is notable after some blowback for the campaign’s attacks on Romney’s record in the private equity business, most notably from Newark Mayor Cory Booker. But Obama said this week that his campaign would continue to make Bain an issue in the fall campaign.

On that note, former Obama Administration car czar Steven Rattner, who like Booker has criticized the Bain attacks, penned a new op-ed in the New York Times in which he says Bain is fair game, even as he calls the Obama campaign’s ads “narrowly accurate.”

“On Monday, Mr. Obama struck the right balance, emphasizing that he wasn’t attacking private equity but was questioning Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital credentials to be commander in chief,” Rattner wrote.

While not a total endorsement of the Obama ads, Rattner clarifies his remarks and reiterates his support for Obama.

RGA up with new Wisconsin ad: The Republican Governors Association is going up with its seventh ad of the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall race, bringing its total investment in the state to $6 million.

The latest ad contrasts Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s (D) records on jobs and taxes.

The RGA’s spending in the race seems to have made a difference, as polls show Barrett’s personal unfavorable rating has risen significantly in recent weeks. The GOP appears to be on a path for victory, though an internal Democratic poll released Tuesday showed Barrett within 3 percent.

Case poll shows tie ballgame in Hawaii: Former congressman Ed Case’s (D-Hawaii) Senate campaign released a new poll Tuesday showing he and Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) in a virtual dead heat in their primary.

The automated Public Strategy Group poll was conducted last week and showed Case at 46 percent and Hirono at 45 percent. The winner is likely to face former governor Linda Lingle (R) for the open seat of retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).

The poll stands in stark contrast to the last public poll, conducted in February, which showed Hirono leading 57 percent to 37 percent. That was a Ward Research poll conducted for the Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser.

Hirono is favored by the Democratic establishment, which derided a previous Case poll that showed him in much better position against Lingle in the general election than Hirono was.

And that same establishment bristled at this poll as well.

“This is only the most recent example of Ed Case releasing highly questionable polling results that don’t line up with any public or private polling,” said Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Fixbits:

Obama-backing super PAC Priorities USA is up with another ad hitting Romney on Bain.

Sarah Palin endorses Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) for reelection in his contested primary.

Internal polls in the open Democratic primary for Senate candidate Rep. Martin Heinrich’s (D-N.M.) seat show a tight race, with state Sen. Eric Griego and Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham gaining in their own polls and former Albuquerque mayor Marty Chavez slipping in both.

Must-reads:

Secret Service sex scandal: Several say they didn’t break the rules” — Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura, Washington Post

Obama Prospects Improve as Swing State Economies Improve” — Mike Dorning, Bloomberg

Romney sets out to frame campaign themes with weekly speeches” — Philip Rucker, Washington Post

 
Read what others are saying