Can Obama Really Win?
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Delaware Senator Joe Biden took much heat and made profuse mea culpas for his clumsy but well-meaning quip that Illinois Senator Barack Obama is "clean."
But Biden also noted that Obama is an African-American and implicit in that is that might make him a tough sell to many voters. While race is a big X factor in Obama's bid for the top spot, it's hardly the only factor. The other crucial factor is his record and views on the issues and how they will play to voting blocs in the Western and Border States, and especially the South.
The South has 144 electoral votes. The Border and Western States hold 60 to 70 more electoral votes. They have been the absolute make or break states for presidential hopefuls since 1972.
When Obama's record and views are separated from the myth-making and rock star rapture he's wrapped in, the problem of his electability looms large. Obama got a perfect 100 rating from the NAACP, National Organization for Women, National Education Association, the Children's Defense Fund, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, and the Illinois Environmental Council (during his stint in the Illinois legislature), and a huge plus rating from the ACLU.
He got his perfect rating from them for his Senate votes on labor, education, the environment, choice, civil rights and civil liberties. These are America's top liberal advocacy groups, and they are some of his most ardent cheerleaders.
Meanwhile, Obama bombed badly in the ratings he got from the conservative National Taxpayers Union, National Right to Life, the Gun Owners of America, the NRA, the Federation for Immigration Reform, and the American Conservative Union.
These are some of the nation's top conservative advocacy groups, and they reflect the interests and views of millions of voters on immigration, spending, guns, abortion, and military prowess. These are the voters that will scrutinize his record and his views with a laser eye. They are also the voters that gave Bush Jr. and Republican presidents Bush Sr., Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon their decisive margin of victory over their Democrat opponents.
They are not, as myth goes, mostly beer-guzzling gun-toting, Confederate flag-waving rednecks. They are middle to upper income, with a college degree or education, and live in a suburban neighborhood. In surveys, fewer then one in five label themselves liberal. In the South, the number of those that tag themselves conservative soars to seventy percent. And they have been rock solid Republican for nearly four decades.
Bill Clinton did not alter the political thinking or equation in the South. Bush Sr. in 1992 and Republican challenger Bob Dole in 1996, got fewer white male votes than Reagan and Nixon got. But those votes didn't go to Clinton. Insurgent presidential candidate Ross Perot with his anti-government assault in 1992, and 1996 grabbed a big chunk of them. That helped pry four Southern states out of the Republican column, and put them in Clinton's win column. Even then, Clinton bagged only one-third of the Southern white vote.
Eight years of Clinton's centrist political tilt did not make the South more Democratic Party friendly. Pat Buchanan, not Bush Jr., proved that in the 2000 presidential campaign. His freewheeling shoot from the lip, hard right rants appealed to many white males voters when he ran as an independent candidate in 2000.
Republican Presidential contender Barry Goldwater in 1964 set the ugly tone for how campaigns have been waged, or more particularly, the bash and trash of Democrats with code words and wedge issues since the 1960s.
Republicans have artfully stoked voter rage with piles of code words and slogans that tap the gender and racial fears of millions of voters. Republicans have also played hard on the anger, frustration, and hatred that many American voters harbor toward government. Reagan masterfully crafted the get government off your back line into a solid Republican selling point. He targeted the remnants of the Great Society programs. He crippled funding and further eroded public enthusiasm for social spending.
Conservatives took the cue and fixated many Americans on the government as pro-higher taxes, pro-bureaucracy, pro-immigrant and especially pro-welfare and pro-rights of criminals. The Republican's repeated smear of the Democrats as tax and spend, liberal big government proponents has struck and will continue to strike a chord with many.
Then Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean's awkward, off-the cuff quip in the early days of the 2004 Democratic presidential primary that the Democrats must grab a bigger share of the Confederate flag waving, pick-up truck gun rack display white male vote brought howls of protest, and charges that Dean was a closet bigot.
But Dean got it right. A solid white male vote in the South puts any Democrat in a deep hole before the first ballot is punched. Obama's moderate to liberal views and voting record won't change that. And that doesn't even count the X factor of race.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of the book, The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and the GOP's court of black voters.