"I'm never giving up, and I'm never giving in." That was the promise delivered Tuesday night by Sen. Hillary Clinton in her victory speech after having won the Kentucky primary in a 35% landslide. But as expected, she lost to Sen. Barack Obama by a solid 16% margin in the Oregon primary. The bottom-line? It's over. Chappaqua or bust. The proverbial fat lady has just sung her final note. While she may indeed fight until the very (no longer bitter) end, which she should for many reasons, the heretofore valiant campaign of Clinton, with this week's contests, unofficially comes to a close. The only thing that could have saved her was an upset in Oregon.
Welcome to 2008, the historic year in which a black candidate will represent one of the two major parties in the general election. Gives you goosebumps, especially when you think just 40-odd years ago blacks were being sprayed in the streets with high-pressure fire hoses, or refused service at "white-only" restaurants, or worse, beaten and killed simply for being black. America, we've come a long way, baby. Or have we?
Obama faces a mountainous uphill battle if he expects to become the 44th president of the Unites States. True, he has won many states, attracted many new voters into the process, and has a unique message of hope and change that's clearly resonated with many. But the simple truth is, America is still quite a racist country, as evidenced by the exit polling in Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio...states with large swaths of rural, blue-collar, white working class voters. Half of Kentucky's Democrats say they will not vote for Obama in the general election if he's the nominee. Similar numbers in the other states. About 20% say race is the factor. The other 80% are likely too embarrassed to publicly admit their racial prejudice.
Which is why Obama has a problem. A big problem. Kentucky and West Virginia are not the problem directly. As they did in 2000 and 2004, they are sure to vote red in November. But, what's significant, and can't be ignored, is that these states are a microcosm of key swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. States that Obama must win in the general election if he's to become president. Even NBC's Tim Russert, the well-respected pundit who weeks ago declared that it was over and that Obama would be the nominee, said that Tuesday's results "means Senator Obama has a lot of work to do." And the million-dollar question is, can he do it? Can he win over the so-called "Appalachian" voter? Can he pick up the white working class between now and November? Can he convince people who didn't vote for him because he's black to vote for him against the GOP's presumptive nominee, the very white Sen. John McCain, in November? I'm not so sure Obama can overturn centuries of deep-rooted racism, generations of racial intolerance, in just five months. I'm not so sure Obama will "automatically" pick up Clinton's supporters once things "settle down" after he's officially nominated...which is the picture his campaign and his supporters like to paint.
I still fear the scenario I first laid out weeks ago: that voters will give landslide victories to the Dems in the House and Senate, giving them an even greater majority, while putting the 'more experienced, moderate, battle-tested, tough-on-terrorism war-hero' McCain in the White House as a practical balance of power. I hope I'm wrong. I don't think I could stomach another heartbreaking presidential election where the Dems masterfully snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.