Skip to main content

Analysis: Candidates up against powerful movements

  • Story Highlights
  • Obama received support of men, young voters, African-Americans
  • Clinton garnered support of women, older voters, whites, Latinos
  • Obama part of movement advocating idealistic, post-partisan approach to politics
  • McCain up against conservative movement; he insists he is a part of it
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Bill Schneider
CNN senior political analyst
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN) -- Some big wins but no knockouts. That's the bottom line for both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain.

As the campaign moves beyond Super Tuesday, both contenders face the same problem: They're both running against a movement. And that's never easy. Movements have passionate supporters who don't like to make deals.

Look at the split in the Democratic Party, among voters polled in 16 primaries on Super Tuesday.

Men voted for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Women voted for Clinton.

Young voters were for Obama. Older voters were for Clinton.

Whites and Latinos were for her. African-Americans were for him.

Democrats who didn't go to college were for her. College-educated Democrats were for him. Video Watch who voted for whom and why »

Obama is the successor to a long line of New Politics Democrats who advocated an idealistic, post-partisan approach to politics. Eugene McCarthy (1968), George McGovern (1972), Gary Hart (1984), Michael Dukakis (1988), Paul Tsongas (1992), Bill Bradley (2000) and Howard Dean (2004) all ran against the politics of the past.

So does Obama. He said at CNN's Democratic debate in Los Angeles on January 31, "I don't think the choice is between black and white, or it's about gender or religion. I don't think it's about young or old. I think what is at stake right now is whether we are looking backwards or we are looking forwards. I think it is the past versus the future."

Don't Miss

  • McCain tries to make his case with conservatives
  • Commentary: Why do conservatives hate McCain?
  • Analysis: Split decision may help Obama
  • Election Center 2008

Obama appeals to well-educated liberals who want a high-minded approach to politics that rises above crass partisanship. Anything that reminds them of the "Clinton wars" of the 1990s is a turnoff -- very likely including Bill Clinton himself.

When Democratic primary voters were asked which candidate would do the best job of unifying the country, Obama was preferred over Clinton 50 to 39 percent.

There is, however, one big difference between Obama and previous New Politics Democrats. None of his predecessors got many black votes. A movement that allies upper-middle-class liberals and black voters looks unusual -- and powerful.

Especially because it has an issue.

Democrats who said their top issue was the economy went for Clinton. Democrats who said their biggest concern was the war in Iraq went for Obama.

"I will offer a clear contrast as somebody who never supported this war -- thought it was a bad idea," Obama said in the Los Angeles debate. "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mind set that got us into war in the first place."

Clinton, on the other hand, has tried to minimize her differences with Obama on Iraq. She said during the debate, "I certainly respect Senator Obama making his speech in 2002 against the war. And then when it came to the Senate, we've had the same policy because we were both confronting the same reality of trying to deal with the consequences of George Bush's action.''

McCain is also facing a movement: the conservative movement, which has controlled the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan. The GOP front-runner insists he's part of that movement.

"I enlisted as a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution," McCain says in a campaign ad in which the Arizona senator is described as "John McCain, the true conservative."

But McCain won the Republican primary vote on Super Tuesday without carrying conservatives. Southern conservatives voted for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Northern conservatives voted for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Video Watch how McCain lines up on some key conservative issues »

That's one reason McCain won: Happiness in politics is a divided opposition.


McCain did best with moderate Republicans. He carried the roughly one-third of Republican voters who support abortion rights, even though he has always been staunchly anti-abortion. He carried the roughly one-third of Republicans who are antiwar, even though he is a enthusiastic supporter of Bush's troop build-up in Iraq.

That's one reason movement conservatives are wary of McCain. He hangs out with the wrong kinds of people. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About U.S. Presidential ElectionRepublican PartyDemocratic Party

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print