Respected Democratic political scientist John B. Judis has an article in The New Republic which seems to say that Barack Obama surely cannot win the presidency against John McCain -- especially after his San Francisco comments.
To win in November, a Democratic presidential candidate has to carry most of the industrial heartland states that stretch from Pennsylvania to Missouri. That becomes even more imperative if a Democrat can't carry Florida--and because of his relative weakness in South Florida, Obama is unlikely to do so against McCain. Ruy Teixeira and I have calculated that in the heartland states, a Democratic presidential candidate has to win from 45 to 48 percent of the white working class vote. In some states, like West Virginia and Kentucky, the percentage is well over a majority.
He then describes the three models of candidates needed for a Democrat to win over these voters: The Unacceptable Republican (someone they couldn't have a beer with), The Acceptable Democrat (whose social positions don't frighten them), or The Empathetic Democrat (someone who feels their pain).
According to Judis, the first two options are out of the question for both '08 Democrats, and the third model? He thinks Hillary's got Obama beat there.
The flaw is that Judis bases his argument for an "adequate" 43 to 44 percent share of the white working-class vote to win a national majority on numbers that he and Teixeira crunched in the summer of 2007. The huge numbers Democrats have racked up around the country in the 2008 contests -- largely due to Obama increasing the turnout among African Americans, the young, and suburban professionals -- proves the pie has expanded since their calculations. White working class voters will still be a major part of the Democratic majority come November, but their share might not be as large as he thinks.
Judis should also reconsider his proposal that Hillary is more able to connect with working class whites than Obama. After all, the country knows more about his battle with the Clintons than how he was raised by a single mom and Midwest grandparents or how he just finished paying off his student loans a few years ago. Hillary also keeps Mark Penn on her staff, who Judis and Teixeira used as a prime example of those who blamed Al Gore's 2000 loss on his pursuit of white working-class voters. If she goes on to the nomination, he will surely be back at the message helm.
In that very same book, they also note how Republicans have become clumsier in using race to divide the electorate, and how Democrats' updated positions on affirmative action (as Obama proposes to make it more needs-based than race-based) and similar issues have caused blatant racially-charged attacks to backfire. So Judis might take his own observations into consideration on whether Obama's skin color will be that much of a hindrance.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of Barack Obama's electoral death are greatly exaggerated.
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