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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama and Racial Voting

There is a new and (no matter whom you support) disturbing CW dominating analysis of the Democratic nominating contest at the moment. It’s that Obama is becoming the “black candidate,” repelling the white and brown voters who will determine the ultimate outcome. Indeed, this point of view is feeding the Clinton campaign’s efforts to downplay an expected Obama win in South Carolina this Saturday. After all (suggest the pundits, not the Clintons), SC is just about black folks, who won’t matter down the road. Typically, Dick Morris is the bluntest in publicly presenting this point of view, but I can tell you, it’s endemic in the DC chattering classes.
Totally aside from the corrosive effect of such race-based political assumptions–including the planted axiom that white and Latino voters don’t want to be on the same bandwagon as African-Americans–they strike me as a being over-simplistic from even a cold, amoral perspective. Here’s a new flash for the punditocracy: there are African-Americans who live in states other than South Carolina.
A case in point: the most under-discussed story about the Nevada Caucuses was that (according to the entrance polls) the African-American vote was a large as the Latino vote. Among the latter, it was widely reported that Clinton won by a little better than two-to-one. But among the former, Obama won by better than five-to-one. And lest we forget, Clinton was running even with or even ahead of Obama among African-Americans nationally until very recently.
In the February 5 states, African-American voters will almost certainly outnumber Latinos in a majority of states, will be crucial in quite a few (e.g., Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, New Jersey, Delaware, plus Obama’s own Illinois) and will be a significant factor in others, including California. If Obama’s margins among black voters match what he won in Nevada–not a bad bet, given the “racialization” of the campaign–then he can lose white and Latino voters substantially and still be competitive.
In other words, it’s not all that clear which candidate would ultimately benefit from a “racialization” of the nominating contest. And to use Mickey Kaus’ infelicitous term, Obama’s “ghetto” may be bigger than the pundits realize.

4 comments on “Obama and Racial Voting

  1. Badger on

    I agree that it was the Obama campaign that injected race into the primaries. Why would the Clintons want to deliberately alienate African-Americans who have long been loyal to them and set up a situation where even if she gets the nomination she loses in the general because disgusted black voters stay home? And didn’t Obama just say something like he knows her voters will vote for him, but he doesn’t see his voters voting for her?
    On the other hand, I would guess that there is a faction of the party who would love the scenario I just mentioned because then they could blame it all on the dreaded DLC. It’ll be all about how the Democrats lost again because we “forgot” our base and chose another “DINO”.

  2. azoy on

    Why are so many so sure that insertion of race into the Dem primaries was Clinton’s doing? Rep. Rangel in his interview with NYTimes said otherwise. See e.g. this disgusting (and obviously scripted and coded) rant by Obama’s national co-chair Jesse Jackson Jr, made the morning after NH: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNrlSn7ndAA
    Ed Kilgore explains with his usual clarity, why that might have been a risky, but possibly good move for Obama. Destructive for the Dems, of course, poisonous for all of us, but good for his nomination. Ed, I would be very interested in your opinion on who really started this particular ugliness.

  3. sagacious on

    I agree with your analysis. The Clintons are during a lot of damage to the Democratic party. Not only will Hillary’s name at the top of the ticket galvanize lots of GOP ers to the polls, but because of the race baiting she & Bill have engaged in many African Americans will likely stay home, if McCain is not at the top of the ticket as well. If McCain is at the top they will vote for him.
    I think this Schneider analysis, while a few years dated, still applies to today and the Clintons have done irreparable harm to the Democratic party.
    CNN’s Bill Schneider gave an almost textbook version of this line a couple years ago on CNN …
    Judy, how dependent are Democrats on the African-American vote?
    Without black voters, the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections would have been virtually tied, just like the 2000 election. Oh no, more Florida recounts!
    What would have happened if no blacks had voted in 2000? Six states would have shifted from Al Gore to George W. Bush: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oregon. Bush would have won by 187 electoral votes, instead of five. A Florida recount? Not necessary.
    Right now, there are 50 Democrats in the Senate. How many would be there without African-American voters? We checked the state exit polls for the 1996, 1998, and 2000 elections. If no blacks had voted, many Southern Democrats would not have made it to the Senate. Both Max Cleland and Zell Miller needed black votes to win in Georgia. So did Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Bill Nelson in Florida, John Edwards in North Carolina, and Ernest Hollings in South Carolina.
    Black votes were also crucial for Jon Corzine in New Jersey, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, and Jean Carnahan in Missouri. Washington state and Nevada don’t have many black voters, but they were still crucial to the victories of Harry Reid in Nevada and Maria Cantwell in Washington.
    Nebraska and Wisconsin don’t have many black voters either, but Ben Nelson would have lost Nebraska without them and Russ Feingold would have lost Wisconsin, too, in both cases by less than half-a- percent. Bottom line? Without the African-American vote, the number of Democrats in the Senate would be reduced from 50 to 37.
    A hopeless minority. And Jim Jeffords’ defection from the GOP would not have meant a thing — Judy.

  4. Papadave on

    I fear (and fear is the right word) that the Clinton racialization strategy will backfire. The obverse of the notion that whites and latinos won’t support a candidate who is both actually black and is seen as the “black candidate”; is the possibility that blacks will not support a candidate whom they see as uniting those groups against them, in the general election. If the GOP were to nominate Giuliani or Romney, I think most black voters would hold their noses and vote for the Clintons no matter how offended they are by the Clinton’s marginalizing strategy. But it is now much more likly that the GOP will nominate McCain, and he is not associated with racial politics. The whole Clinton strategy assumes that black voters won’t have anywhere else to go no matter how much they are marginalized and taken for granted. But they just might stay home on election day, and if that happens no Democrat can win the White House back.


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