Salient Factors

Democratic Party, elections

According to Patrick Healy of the New York Times, “racial considerations emerged as an unusually salient factor” in yesterday’s West Virginia primary. Do tell.

I’m not going to link to it, but if you want to check out the latest by Armando, he’s still ranting about the problem Senator Obama has with white working-class voters and how nobody wants to talk about it (although seems to me everyone is talking about it) and that this problem must be “addressed,” but of course Armando himself doesn’t address it (see Kyle Moore).

Before I go any further, I want to explain once again that I am from a small mining town in white working-class southern Missouri , so please don’t call be an East Coast elitist for what I’m about to say: For the record, I don’t think racism is the only factor causing older, poorer and less educated whites to prefer Clinton. I suspect the “less educated” part is at least as salient. These are, after all, the same people who through the years have voted against their own best interests time and time again because they are so easily manipulated by the Right. Just tell them that if Democratic Candidate X is elected the Democrats will take away their Bibles, and you can count on them to vote Republican.

In spite of yesterday’s blowout, I agree with Michael Tomasky that it’s unlikely West Virginia would go for the Democratic nominee in November, even if that nominee is Hillary Clinton.

Clinton people are positing West Virginia as a “swing state” of just the sort that Democrats have to win. But in truth, West Virginia isn’t much of a swing state at all. It’s basically a Republican state now at the presidential level. It’s remotely possible that if Obama (assuming he’s the nominee) chooses exactly the right vice-presidential nominee, and campaigns in just the right way, he could carry the state. But only remotely. The truth is that West Virginia quit being a swing state in 2004, or possibly even 2000. Even if Clinton is the nominee, if her people are counting on West Virginia’s five electoral votes, they’re barking up a tree that doesn’t have many branches they can hold onto.

And this – the fact that most Democrats expect to lose West Virginia in November – governs national Democrats’ emotional response to Clinton’s win tonight. The Obama people figure that they can hit 270 – the number of electoral votes they’ll need to capture the White House – without West Virginia.

Clinton supporters point out that no Democrat has won the White House without West Virginia since 1916. Tomasky says that 1916 isn’t relevant now.

That was the beginning of the union era in America. We are now in the twilight, at best, of that era – at least until a Democratic president changes that equation. But for now, Obama can win the White House without West Virginia. Clinton could, too, if she somehow became the nominee. She’d have to. But the emotional factor works against her tonight. Most Democrats just don’t expect that they can paint West Virginia blue.

Matt Yglesias writes, tongue in cheek,

What’s even more interesting is that no Democrat has won the White House without carrying Minnesota since 1912 (it went for Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party) so given that Obama won Minnesota and Clinton won West Virginia, McCain is guaranteed to win the general election unless the eventual nominee can somehow completely replicate the social and political conditions prevailing in pre-WWI America. The outlook, in short, is very grim.

One of the reasons I support Obama is that he has the potential of putting together a whole new Democratic/progressive coalition that will entirely change the old voting patterns that, increasingly, work against the Dems. Senator Clinton continues to run a 20th-century campaign based on 20th-century assumptions, which is one of the reasons she’s losing.

Steve Benen writes,

For that matter, I’m not sure if the swing-state argument is the most compelling one for the Clinton team. Even if we designate West Virginia as a swing state (it’s a dubious proposition in light of Bush’s 13-point victory there four years ago), Obama seems to have just as strong a swing-state case to make, if not more so — he’s won Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The Obama campaign points out that, overall, Obama’s support among white voters is comparable to that of Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. That is to say, the white vote hasn’t been helping the Dems all that much for a while. Democrats really do need the African American vote, however, which Clinton is unlikely to get. I’m not sure if Armando has addressed that problem, however.

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13 Comments

12 Comments

  1. uncledad  •  May 14, 2008 @11:22 am

    News Flash:

    White southern voters who don’t like black people won’t vote for OBAMA!

    Who knew!

  2. wmr  •  May 14, 2008 @2:11 pm

    I was under the impression that the original basis of Obama’s appeal was that he could bridge the partisan divide, unite Republicans and Democrats, and heal the broken system in DC.

    Now it appears that he cannot unite his own party nor bridge the divides within it.

    How then is it likely that he can do better in the sort of no-holds-barred contest the Republicans will wage once the primary is over?

  3. maha  •  May 14, 2008 @2:57 pm

    wmr — His appeal to me is that he is putting together a new coalition of progressives who represent, IMO, the only viable future for the Democratic Party. He won’t get the racist vote or the idiot vote, but I’m hoping the racists and idiots are a minority. We’ll see.

  4. Swami  •  May 14, 2008 @3:26 pm

    I don’t get Hillary’s claim about no Democrat winning the White House without winning W.Virginia. Her statement might hold true in a general election, but it is irrelevant when applied to the primary, which she is trying to do. It sounds convincing, but it is comparing apples to oranges at this stage, and can’t be tested for truth or accuracy apart from the general election.

    Maha, I don’t want to call you an east coast Elitist, but if you live in Westchester County, you’re no longer considered in the hoi polloi by New York standards. The Bronx, now that’s a different story.

  5. Dave  •  May 14, 2008 @3:33 pm

    Also, wmr, we should consider that there’s still an active primary underway, with two people running for the nomination, and with one party running a “scorched earth” campaign. Maybe we should wait until the contest is settled and we have a single nominee before we judge that nominee’s ability to unite his own party and bridge the divides.

  6. uncledad  •  May 14, 2008 @3:46 pm

    “His appeal to me is that he is putting together a new coalition of progressives”

    Exactly, if the only way democrats can win is by appealing to a bunch of intolerant fools that consistently vote against their own economic interests, then what’s the point? A milk toast center-right democratic president would be no different than a milk toast center-left republican president!

  7. lemma  •  May 14, 2008 @4:43 pm

    Two unusual thing happened to me today.

    A dear friend who used to be an ardent republican confessed to me he thought Obama may be the way to go after the excesses of the power grab by the Bush administration.

    My lovely Brazilian hairdresser who NEVER talks politics said she was praying for Obama to win. She started the conversation and said the country was in such bad shape like Brazil used to be before Lula she knew God sent Obama. I don’t necessarily endorse her view, but after a 15 year acquaintance with the woman, it was startling.

  8. wmr  •  May 14, 2008 @5:05 pm

    uncledad, I disagree and the difference is appointments. I don’t think this country can survive another four years of Republican-run federal agencies and new right-wing judges. If it takes appealing to idiots to avoid that, I think it’s worth the trouble.

    Dave, if you think this is “scorched earth”, you must have slept through the last two general elections.

    My concern is that after Denver will be too late. I’ve got plenty of problems with Hillary, but her supporters will be critical to a Democratic victory in November.

    I must be more pessimistic than most of you, because I rate the future of the Democratic party as less important that the future of our country–and I believe those are the stakes.

  9. maha  •  May 14, 2008 @6:09 pm

    I’ve got plenty of problems with Hillary, but her supporters will be critical to a Democratic victory in November.

    wmr, Obama’s supporters are also critical to a Democratic victory in November. In no way does Clinton’s support among white working class Americans trump Obama’s support among other constituencies, particularly African Americans.

    In fact, a current Quinnipiac poll says that white working-class Americans will support McCain over either Obama or Clinton and by about the same margins. This says there is absolutely no evidence that Clinton would do better than Obama among white working class voters in November. The Dems have lost the majority of white working class voters in the past several presidential elections. This includes Clinton in 1996.

    I sincerely believe either Dem could be McCain, but I think Obama has a better shot at it. He will put some western and possibly some southern states in play that Clinton could never get.

  10. Bonnie  •  May 14, 2008 @8:25 pm

    “I sincerely believe either Dem could be McCain,” I sincerely hope you mean “beat” McCain because I would really hate it if either became McCain. 🙂

  11. wmr  •  May 14, 2008 @8:27 pm

    Oh, please, give me some credit. Do you really think I would come here to argue that Obama’s supporters are dispensible?

    On the other hand, do you think the booing when Edwards praised Clinton during his endorsement will encourage her supporters to get on the Obama bandwagon?

    Do you believe there can be “a new coalition of progressives” which includes disaffected Republicans and Independents, but not Clinton’s supporters?

    If Obama is as great a politician as you all believe, why does it have to be a matter of one group trumping another?

    The divides are not as deep within the party as they are between the parties. If he can’t bring the Democrats together, I don’t see how gains from outside the party can make up the difference.

    And we need to win in November with as many votes as possible, or we’ll see another election that fell off the back of a truck.

  12. maha  •  May 14, 2008 @9:20 pm

    Do you believe there can be “a new coalition of progressives” which includes disaffected Republicans and Independents, but not Clinton’s supporters?

    Yes; especially if by “Clinton supporters” you mean the small-town, poorly educated, white working-class voters Hillary has decided to claim as her base.

    If Obama is as great a politician as you all believe, why does it have to be a matter of one group trumping another?

    This is Hillary’s game. She’s the one who decided to make it a scorched-earth campaign. Go ask her about it.

    The divides are not as deep within the party as they are between the parties. If he can’t bring the Democrats together, I don’t see how gains from outside the party can make up the difference.

    SHE sure as hell can’t bring the Dems together. If she somehow manages to swing some backroom deal to get the nomination, watch African Americans (their votes count as much as white peoples’ these days, you know), younger progressives, and many moderate independent voters stay home. And her good buddies the white working class voters will mostly vote for McCain.

    It is the height of stupid to carp at Obama for not bringing the party together while Clinton and her groupies are working like hell to shred it apart. It’s also the height of stupid to think Clinton has a better shot at McCain than Obama does. The evidence says otherwise.

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