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"Flag City" Just Another Media Myth About Obama

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Yesterday's Washington Post had a front-page piece on Findlay, Ohio -- the "Flag City" -- where small-town voters in the ultimate swing state still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. What the Post didn't report is that Findlay voted 2-1 for George Bush in 2004, and in 2006 rejected Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown (who won a landslide victory statewide.) It's just the latest example of the media projecting the myth that the presidential race is somehow close, and grasping for non-existent trends to keep it alive.

But reality says otherwise. Women and Latinos who supported Hillary Clinton are flocking to Obama, despite the narrative that Democrats are "divided." State-by-state polls consistently show Obama on his way to surpassing 270 electoral votes -- with hints that November could become a rout. Even national polls with Obama ahead by double digits are dismissed as "outliers," along with the constant reminder that Michael Dukakis blew a 17-point lead (without any context of two very different candidates). The media won't admit that the presidential race is over, and Obama is going to win.

Eli Saslow's Washington Post article was the worst example of "journalism by anecdote" -- where a handful of interviews in a town most readers have never heard of is supposed to suggest a national electoral trend. Apparently, some Findlay residents believe that Barack Obama is "a gay Muslim racist born in Africa who won't recite the Pledge of Allegiance." That Findlay's official nickname is "Flag City, USA" only feeds the perception that it's Middle America -- and the fact that it's in Ohio (whose electoral votes swung the last election) suggests that where goes Findlay, so goes the nation.

But the Post failed to do what took me about five minutes to look up online. According to past election results, Findlay doesn't represent Ohio -- much less the nation. In 2004, George W. Bush got 11,866 votes there compared with 5,724 for John Kerry -- a two-to-one margin that far outpaced Bush's statewide victory. Even in 2006, when Ohio swung Democratic and booted out a longtime Republican Senator, Findlay stuck with the G.O.P. incumbent by a twelve point margin.

If the Post interviewed voters in Harlem to gauge what's going on with the Obama-McCain race, they would be ridiculed for asking a sample of voters who don't "represent" America. But here they get away with painting a picture of this election based on a small Republican town.

Saslow's piece did indicate one statistic that's supposed to alarm pundits about Obama's chances in November -- one in 10 Americans falsely believe that the Illinois Senator is a Muslim. But more Americans than that believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, or that Iraq was linked to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When we hear malicious rumors meant to undermine Obama's candidacy, journalists fail to ask if those who believe them would ever support him in the first place. As Randy Shaw wrote, Barack Obama is perceived as a weak candidate because he's failing to get the racist vote.

But anyone who closely follows the election online knows that Obama has solidified the Democratic Party base -- and is on a clear path to winning the presidency in November. After Hillary Clinton suspended her primary campaign and endorsed Obama, pundits wrote (and still write) stories about disgruntled Hillary supporters who will vote for John McCain in the November election. Women are not supposed to vote for Obama because, according to Geraldine Ferraro, he's run a "terribly sexist campaign." Latinos are supposedly too racist to vote for a black candidate -- and pundits say a sizable number will vote Republican (ignoring the party's xenophobic jihad on immigration policy.)

But the facts are getting into the way of that theory. A recent poll shows Latinos breaking 62-28 for Obama over McCain, with other polls showing similar results. When you consider that Bush got 40% of the Latino vote in 2004, it's obvious that Latinos are deserting the G.O.P. in droves. Along with labor's unprecedented get-out-the-vote effort to target that community in November, Obama is likely to pick up either Colorado, New Mexico or Nevada -- and possibly all three states.

And McCain has more to worry about Republican women deserting him than vice versa. Not only have Democratic women united behind Obama, but polling shows McCain's anti-choice record (once women hear about it) is going to be a huge liability. "I'm sure there are female Hillary Clinton voters who will go for John McCain in the general election," said Katha Pollitt in The Nation, "but I don't think too many of them will be feminists. Because to vote for McCain, a feminist would have to be insane."

Obama will win the general because he has a solidified lead in all the states John Kerry won in 2004 -- even swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. While the blue states won't be enough to win the presidency, it prevents Obama from having to play defense -- giving him 252 electoral votes in the bag and shifting the battle into traditionally Republican states.

To surpass the magic number of 270, Obama just needs to win all the Kerry states, Colorado (where he's been consistently ahead in the polls) and Virginia (whose demographic shift favors Democrats.) But Obama is likely to also win Iowa and New Mexico (Gore won both), and he's ahead in Ohio -- regardless of what people in "Flag City" believe. Florida will be tough but winnable, while Nevada, Montana, Missouri and North Carolina are all still in play. Even Georgia -- where Obama is firing up the state's many black voters and young voters, coupled with former Congressman Bob Barr playing spoiler for McCain -- could generate an upset and help Obama win that state.

But what's even more encouraging is how Obama's strategy differs from John Kerry. In 2004, Kerry's chances dwindled as the campaign zeroed in on fewer swing states -- precluding the odds of winning and not leaving much room for error. When he stopped advertising in Arkansas and Missouri to focus on Ohio, he reduced his supporters in those states to mere bystanders. But that won't happen this time -- with superior resources and more grassroots supporters, Obama is running a "50 state strategy" that will give all his supporters something to do. The campaign is even putting money in states like Texas where they have virtually no chance of winning -- but a little help could put Democrats running in targeted races over the finish line.

Nevertheless, the mainstream media still acts like this is a horse race -- even when their own national polls show Obama winning by double digits. Newsweek recently had Obama up by 15 points, while the Los Angeles Times had him up by 12 points -- but the press dismissed these polls as mere outliers. Of course, polls are just a sample of the electorate -- and you can never be sure if a single poll is a fluke or an accurate trendsetter. But when a series of polls start showing the same pattern, it becomes impossible to ignore.

Naturally, nervous Democrats refuse to believe that these latest polls show Obama is going to win -- because they're still haunted by the ghost of Michael Dukakis (who famously blew a 17-point lead in 1988.) But Obama is not like Dukakis, Kerry or Gore -- who failed to excite their base and resisted fighting back at the right-wing noise machine. Not only has Obama proven a willingness to be a "street-fighter" in this campaign when he faces attacks, but the Democratic base is likely to turn out in droves for him -- regardless of what they think his chances are at prevailing.

Because the media is fixated on the narrative that Democrats are divided and Obama is a "weak" candidate, they focus on any sign of his vulnerabilities without an overall context of what it means for the presidential race. The fact that some voters in "Flag City" think that Obama is a Muslim doesn't mean he will lose Ohio -- and it certainly doesn't belong on the front page of the Washington Post. Democrats should work hard for Obama in the general election regardless of what the odds are - but they shouldn't let the media's myth cow them into believing John McCain has a shot.

In his spare time and outside of regular work hours, Paul Hogarth volunteered on Obama's field operation in San Francisco. He also ran to be an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention.