By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
New America Media
Clinton and Obama’s divvying up of North Carolina and Indiana between them further deepens the two perils the Democrats face. One is that neither heavy hitter can deliver the knockout punch that the Democrats desperately need to get on with the business of mounting a united front against McCain. The other is the much talked and much worried about peril of a divided party and what that means.
There are two big reasons that preordained that the Democrats would find themselves in this muddled, confused and frustrating danger. The Democrats’ winner-not-take-all proportional delegate system and the system of super delegates that they dumped onto the primaries was a prescription for disaster. The idea behind this was to bring democracy with a small d to the vote process and snatch the decision about who gets the big prize out of deal making party bosses at the national convention. This supposedly would ensure a smooth oiled, happy-faced, party convention, and a coronation for the party’s pick.
The result has been just the opposite. The fractious, contentious, and much too long drawn out battle between Clinton and Obama has ploughed open a split among the Democrats that goes beyond the standard cheering that voters give to their favorite candidate. This split has exposed fundamental class, race and even personality differences between the Democrats.
Blacks, young, college educated voters, and young women in near record numbers back Obama. Latinos, blue collar whites and older women heavily back Clinton. The Democrats can’t win without these groups hitting the polls in big numbers. They also have to hit the polls with passion and zeal.
In every election back to Lyndon Baines Johnson’s smash victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964, blacks have been the most loyal foot soldiers for the Democrats. With the surge in Latino voting numbers in the past two decades, Latinos are now just as important to the Democrats, and have been nearly as loyal to them as blacks.
African-American voters have virtually turned their support of Obama into a messianic crusade. If Clinton ultimately gets the nod, the usual 80 to 90 percent of black voters that back Democratic presidential candidates, will back her. But they won’t back her with anywhere near the same fervor, and worse for the Democrats, with the same massive numbers that they would Obama. And many say so. They grumble loudly that if it’s Clinton they’ll vote for McCain, or stay home. That’s not an idle threat. In exit polls, nearly one-fourth of Obama supporters say that if their guy doesn’t get it they’ll vote for McCain or sit it out.
The same rule applies to Obama with Clinton’s backers. The overwhelming majority of Latino voters are Democrats. The majority will back Obama if he’s the nominee. But many will also be sorely tempted to back McCain who’s far more immigration reform and citizenship rights friendly and has actively courted Latino voters, or not vote at all.
Blue collar, white male voters pose the greatest peril of all to Democrat’s chances. Clinton has racked up big numbers with them, and a huge percentage of their vote. Even before the controversy over Jeremiah Wright broke, and Obama’s perceived insulting crack about blue collar whites and their penchant for guns and religion turned many of them away from him, he hadn’t made much headway in bumping up his numbers among them. They make up nearly 40 percent of the American electorate in every election dating back to Ronald Reagan’s big wins over the Democrats in the 1980s, and since then have been the sure ticket of GOP presidents to the White House. But a large percentage of them are conservative Democrats and independents. They like Clinton’s quasi populist economic message and have been her trump card in the primaries. In exit polls, many of them have minced no words and say that race does matter. That has translated out to one quarter of Clinton backers who say that if Obama is the nominee they’ll vote for McCain or be Election Day no-shows.
McCain will do his internal fence mending in the GOP, and placate the conservatives and evangelicals; he’s already started that by pledging to put anti-abortion, strict constructionist judges on the Supreme Court. He will have the usual king’s ransom campaign chest, the spin of Fox and other major cable TV news outlets and conservative talk radio jocks, and the sure electoral votes of most of the South and the heartland states. He’ll also have the X factor of race and gender working in his favor against either Obama or Clinton. Finally, he’ll have the hunger to maintain Republican White House dominance.
A Democratic Party hopelessly balkanized between two stubborn Clinton and Obama factions would have a Herculean task to stand up against those odds. A Democratic loss, and the party will go down as a laughingstock that blew the best chance any party had in winning, and then beat itself.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).