Message to Hillary. Win Indiana and you're in the money. Clinton will make an irresistible case for the nomination; a case that the three hundred fence sitting superdelegates if they really care about electability ignore at their peril. Here's why Indiana is far more crucial to the Democrat's hopes in the fall than an Obama win in North Carolina. A win for him there is simply a win in another Southern state that is not in play for the Democrats in the fall. A quick look at the demographics in North Carolina tells why it's a pyrrhic win. Blacks make up one third of Democratic voters, and college educated, younger white professionals make up another significant percentage of the state's Democrats. These are Obama's major backers. They were also George McGovern's major backers in 1972 and remember the debacle for him and the Democratic Party.
The voters that make or break a Democratic presidential hopeful are white, male, blue collar, and rural voters, and older women voters. A Hillary win in Indiana is further proof that she can win a good portion of their votes. She doesn't have to win Indiana in the general election to make an iron-clad case for the nomination. Only two Democrats have won the state since 1936; FDR in 1936 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964. But the demographics of the state closely match those of Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as big swatches of America that are tailor made for Clinton.
Take out the state's two big cities, Indianapolis and Gary and Obama's core black voters make up a minuscule percent of the state's voters, less than 10 percent. Take out the area around South Bend, and Obama's core voters of students and young people and they make up just as minuscule a percent of the state's voters. The voters are older, mostly white, heavily blue collar, rural, and many are less financially endowed and educated than Obama's other set of business and professional, college graduate core backers. A big percent are passionate gun owners, devoutly religious, and proudly wear American flags in their lapels and festoon their doorways with the flag. These are the voters that have put GOP presidents in and back in the White House. Even when they don't, they have kept elections closer than they should have been for failed GOP candidates. This election is no different than the others.
Indiana is also a small state that plays like a big state precisely because the voter demographics and issues closely mirror those of the several other big states. The two biggest issues are escalating job losses and affordable health care. In surveys and spot interviews, Indiana voters are just as nervous about these issues as millions of voters in other states. They say that they'll take a long look at the candidate whether Democrat or Republican that can best deal with these two crisis issues. The one constant about Clinton that even the most rabid Hillary haters have not been able to shake is the high numbers that she consistently racks up of voters who think that she'll do the best job in handling these issues. It's been that way from the start of her campaign.
However, just being a good crisis manager on the economy and health care is not enough for a Democratic presidential candidate to dent the wall of conservatism and tradition in the red states and to be competitive with the GOP. They also have to pass or come close to passing the values test. The inflammatory issues of abortion and gay marriage will be no factors this election as they were in 2004. But patriotism, religion, gun ownership, mistrust of big government, the work ethic, and law and order are still deeply embedded values measures. No matter how good a Democratic candidate's stand appears on the economy, an f grade on the values test will sink a Democrat.
The presidential race in Ohio 2004 was a classic example of that. Democratic presidential contender John Kerry had a pragmatic and comprehensive plan to deal with the state's towering job losses. In the end it meant little. Even the most economically strapped white workers with bills piled sky high still demanded to know where the candidate stood on issues of God, motherhood and country. Kerry flunked badly on the values test with many Ohio voters. That helped dump Bush back in the White House. Hillary's Pennsylvania win showed that it still means a lot to these voters.
Indiana will again go dutifully to the GOP as it has for the past seven decades. But a Clinton win among Democrats in the parts of Indiana that most resemble the rest of mid-America is irrefutable proof that she can go toe to toe with the GOP with these voters. The message to Hillary and the tin ear DNC is: win Indiana, and you're in the money.
Footnote: Poll: Clinton Beats McCain In Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio
Quinnipiac | May 1, 2008 10:37 AM
"Winning among white working class voters, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton holds strong leads over Arizona Sen. John McCain - and runs much better than Illinois Sen. Barack Obama - in three critical swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to three simultaneous Quinnipiac University Swing State polls released today."
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).