Hillary Clinton trudges on. But the Democratic primary is over: Barack
Obama will be the nominee.
Clinton's hope was to convince super delegates that Obama had too large of
a problem with blue-collar White Democrats to win in November. And to get
past Obama in at least the aggregate popular vote to provide an excuse for
super delegates to overlook Obama's inevitable lead in pledged delegates.
This was always going to be a tough sell. Democratic fortunes depend
heavily on Black turnout, which is volatile. Even if it meant risking the
presidency, Democratic officialdom couldn't be perceived as, in essence,
stealing the nomination from Obama.
Any hope of a pretext for the super delegates to swing to Clinton died last
Tuesday. To keep it alive, Clinton needed to win big in Indiana and run
Obama close in North Carolina. Instead, the obverse happened.
According to the tally of RealClearPolitics.com, Obama has a lead in votes
cast in all primaries and caucuses of 821,000, excluding Florida and
Michigan. Including Florida, which had the names of all the candidates on
the ballot even if none of them campaigned there, Obama has a 416,000 vote
lead. Including Michigan, where Clinton's name was on the ballot but not
Obama's, the lead shrinks to 197,000.
If Clinton runs very strong in the remaining primaries, she might catch
Obama in the popular vote, if Michigan results are included. But no one is
going to buy that as a fair measurement.
So, however the end plays out, Obama will be the nominee. And both
Democrats and Republicans now regard him as damaged goods, due primarily to
his continuing problems attracting blue-collar White votes, which was
manifest in North Carolina and Indiana despite the generally favorable
outcome for him in those contests.
Obama's problem has been crystallized, and perhaps catalyzed, by two
developments. Blue-collar Whites have trouble understanding and accepting
his long association with Jeremiah Wright of troubling rant fame. And
Obama's statement that blue-collar Whites “cling” to guns and G-d, and
manifest prejudice, because of economic insecurity struck them as
condescending and offensive.
The conventional wisdom is that this gives John McCain, the
straight-talking former fighter-jet pilot, a chance to make inroads.
I'm skeptical. Here's why.
McCain undoubtedly would be a more comfortable cultural fit for many
blue-collar White Democrats. However, this is an election in which economic
issues will loom large. And, while it is not the reason that they embrace
guns and God, blue-collar Whites are feeling a great degree of economic
insecurity these days.
The economy, along with the Iraq war, will be the major backdrops of this
election. And there will be three major economic issues on which Obama and
McCain will fight: taxes, health care and trade. On all three, blue-collar
Whites are much more likely to side with Obama than McCain.
On taxes, McCain proposes extending the Bush tax cuts and reducing the
corporate tax rate to be more internationally competitive.
Obama proposes making the tax code even more redistributionist, eliminating
the Bush tax cuts for those making over $200,000 while adopting additional
tax credits for middle-class and lower-income families.
Obama's tax policies would dramatically reduce investment capital at a time
when it is particularly economic important. And, ordinarily, the politics
of envy haven't fared very well.
However, in the midst of heightened economic insecurity, blue-collar voters
are likely to go to whoever promises them the most. And right now, that's
Health care has become a component of economic insecurity, since most
people get it from their employer. McCain has some good proposals to
liberate people from dependence on employers for health insurance. But he
doesn't provide a governmental guarantee of access and affordability, as
On trade, it's straightforward: McCain is an ardent free-trader; Obama is
running as a protectionist. And blue-collar workers believe, mistakenly,
that free trade is the primary source of their economic insecurity.
In an election in which the sense of economic insecurity wasn't so inflamed
and extensive, blue-collar White Democrats might very well vote their
greater cultural affinity with McCain. But Obama speaks more directly to
their economic concerns, if not to their true longer-term economic
Elections get down to: Compared to whom? Just because Obama couldn't win
blue-collar Whites against Clinton doesn't mean he won't win them against