Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lancaster Area Key in PA Democratic Primary, Terry Madonna tells Rotary

"Expect the unexpected in this race," prominent local pollster and political commentator Terry Madonna told the Rotary Club of Lancaster Wednesday afternoon.

"About six months ago, it was the inevitability of Hillary Clinton's nomination," he said.

"And then we had the inevitability of Rudy [Giuliani]."

"There's a saying that New Yorkers retire, go to Florida and die, and so did Rudy," Madonna joked, referring to the former New York Mayor's failed electoral strategy.

Also, Mitt Romney was very high in the polls at one point, and McCain was told that he couldn't win the nomination without having raised the big bucks that Giuliani and Romney had.

Madonna also said that caution is due when pointing to experience as a predictor of electoral success.

"Three of the most qualified people to be President on paper were James Buchanan, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge."

"Today, they are consistently rated by historians as among the worst," he said.

"I'm reminded, by the way, of the fact that there was another guy from Illinois who served two years in the Congress - that was all, in the lower house - 6 years in the Illinois state legislature in the House and that was his total experience. I'm talking, of course, about Abraham Lincoln."

"There are times in American political history when having little experience and no record is an advantage because the voters end up in a mood where they don't like what's there."

"When the party in power gets chucked out," Madonna continued, "the American people are willing to do some unusual things."

He pointed to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Richard Nixon in 1968 as such unusual occurrences.

As for the election next Tuesday, Madonna thinks it's likely that Barack Obama will win Philadelphia and its suburbs.

"Pennsylvania is divided with the East for Obama and the West for Clinton," he said.

He pointed to sectional and demographic differences, arguing that Clinton's strength is with the less affluent "bitter-gate folks," referring to the recent controversy over remarks made by Obama.

"Swing areas are the Lehigh Valley and here," Madonna argued.

Recent polls, he said, show Clinton ahead by 4-6 percentage points statewide.

Madonna said that neither candidate will make it to the required 2025 pledged delegates to secure the nomination.

"There are only one of two ways this will be settled," he continued: "by one of the candidates dropping out or by the superdelegates."

"The Democratic Party's problem is that no matter who wins this, someone is going to be unhappy," he said.

As for the general election, Madonna believes that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, conservatives will rally around John McCain, who will emphasize his personal narrative as a war hero and a "maverick."

"McCain's fundamental problem is closeness to [President George W.] Bush," he said.

Madonna predicted that if Obama is the nominee, he will be accused of being inexperienced.

He proclaimed, "Barack Obama is probably the best speaker in American history since William Jennings Bryan" but went on to note that both politicians were bigger on inspiration than on substance.

Terry Madonna is a Professor at Franklin & Marshall College and the director of its Center for Public Policy. He also directs the F&M Poll, the results of which are frequently cited on the national news networks.