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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

Obviously, I have a lot of nits to pick when it comes to campaign coverage, but my single least favorite brand of analysis is what I term “Match Game Arguments”: No candidate has ever [blank]. Given various intersections of geography, demography and history, there are literally thousands of plausible-sounding permutations that can be conceived to rule out any prospective candidate.

Let me pick on Steven Stark (whose stuff I usually enjoy), who engages in a few of these arguments today at the Boston Phoenix, and uses it to conclude that John McCain is a slight favorite over Barack Obama. Stark’s four factoids are as follows:

• No Democrat who hails from north of the Mason-Dixon line has been elected since 1960.

• No candidate in the modern primary era has ever been elected in November after failing to win more than one of the nation’s seven largest states in either its pre-convention primary or, if the state didn’t hold a primary, its caucuses.

• No candidate in modern times has ever been elected president with a voting record that could be identified as his party’s most liberal or conservative, yet in 2007 Obama was designated as the former (by the National Journal).

• No candidate arguably since Abraham Lincoln has been elected president with as little political experience as Obama.

Let’s see how easy it is to come up with counterexamples that would rule out John McCain’s candidacy. I’m going to start a stopwatch and see how long this takes me.

• No Democrat who hails from north of the Mason-Dixon line has been elected since 1960.

No President has ever been elected from the Mountain Time Zone.

• No candidate in the modern primary era has ever been elected in November after failing to win more than one of the nation’s seven largest states in either its pre-convention primary or, if the state didn’t hold a primary, its caucuses.

No Republican has ever been elected after failing to carry Colorado in the primaries (McCain lost it to Mitt Romney). No Republican has ever been elected after failing to carry Georgia in the priamries (McCain lost it to Mike Huckabee). No candidate from either party has ever been elected while receiving less than 19 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus (McCain received 13 percent), except when a native son was running (Tom Harkin in 1992).

• No candidate in modern times has ever been elected president with a voting record that could be identified as his party’s most liberal or conservative, yet in 2007 Obama was designated as the former (by the National Journal).

No candidate has ever been elected from the incumbent party when the sitting president had a Gallup approval rating below 40 percent.

• No candidate arguably since Abraham Lincoln has been elected president with as little political experience as Obama.

No candidate as old as John McCain has ever been elected to a first term.

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