Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Obama’s Flawed Race Strategy: Why the Black Vote Won’t Be Enough

Original Link: http://noquarterusa.net/blog/2008/07/08/obama%e2%80%99s-flawed-race-strategy-why-the-black-vote-won%e2%80%99t-be-enough/

By iam0nly1

Senator Obama plans to win the general election based on African American turn out. It is no secret. The Time’s Jay Newton-Small reports that he’s been vocal about it since August 2007:

“I’m probably the only candidate who, having won the nomination, can actually redraw the political map,” Obama replied to a question about his strategy from a Concord, N.H., woman at a house party last August. Pacing around the old Victorian home, the wooden floor creaking, Obama went on: “I’ll give you one specific example: Mississippi is 40% African American, but it votes 25% African American. If we just got the African Americans in Mississippi to vote their percentage, Mississippi is suddenly a Democratic state. And Georgia may be a Democratic state. Even South Carolina starts being in play. And I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I’m the nominee, goes up 30% around the country, minimum.”

Obama’s entire claim to redrawing the political map is based on his perceived ability to win in Southern states precisely because of African American voters. After all, this is why Hillary’s claim that she alone was capable of winning large swing states that Democrats must win, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, went unnoticed and unheeded by Dean, Pelosi and others. However, this is a severe and dangerous gamble.

As we pointed out a few weeks back, the Obama campaign seems to know that Ohio and Florida are going to be a stretch, so they are looking for alternate paths to 270, which means they are relying heavily on the Southern states, especially Virginia and Georgia. They also discuss the Rocky Mountain states of Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, but frankly, even if he wins those three, and Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire (all three of which will be highly competitive), if he loses Ohio and Florida, he will lose the election 267-271 (this count includes all the states Kerry won). In short, if Obama loses Ohio and Florida, the three Rocky Mountain states and Georgia and Virginia become must win states.

As Senator Obama will still lose the general election with the three Rocky Mountain states if he fails to swing Georgia and Virginia, these two states are of particular interest.

The Obama campaign pulled no punches in revealing their tactic to win to the AP back in June: race.

Obama’s campaign has spent heavily on time and money in Virginia, where a Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won since 1964. In recent elections, however, high-profile Republicans have lost there. And in a sign of how serious Obama is taking the state, Plouffe dispatched to Virginia many aides who helped Obama stage his upset win in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3.

The key, Plouffe told supporters, will be to register new black voters and new young voters in Virginia.

Likewise, Georgia has many unregistered black voters who could turn out in record numbers to support the first major-party nominee who is black, he argued. Plouffe said the campaign also will keep an eye on Mississippi and Louisiana as the race moves into the fall to see if new black voters could put them within reach.

First and foremost, as an African American voter, I feel used and offended by this purely racial strategy. As I have stated before, Senator Obama has done nothing for the African American community and has avoided and ignored our communities during his presidential campaign, but believes in racial polarization and indeed, prejudice within the black community, so much so that he is willing to hang his presidential hopes on it. Second, the Obama campaign needs to do a bit more research before they spend anymore money in Virginia, Georgia, or any other Southern state for that matter.

First, Thomas Schaller of the New York Times reveals the myths upon which Obama has built his dreams:

The first myth is that African-American turnout in the South is low. Black voters are actually well represented in the Southern electorate: In the 11 states of the former Confederacy, African-Americans were 17.9 percent of the age-eligible population and 17.9 percent of actual voters in 2004, analysis of Census Bureau data shows.

And when socioeconomic status is held constant, black voters go to the polls at higher rates than white voters in the South. In other words, a 40-year-old African-American plumber making $60,000 a year is, on average, more likely to vote than a white man of similar background.

So African American voters already vote in numbers congruent to their percentage of the population. Thus, increasing the turnout “30% around the country, minimum” is not just arrogant, but largely improbable.

The second myth is that Democratic presidential candidates fare better in Southern states that have large numbers of African-Americans. In fact, the reverse is true, because the more blacks there are in a Southern state, the more likely the white voters are to vote Republican.

Mississippi, the state with the nation’s highest percentage of African-Americans in its population, illustrates how difficult Mr. Obama’s task will be in the South. Four years ago, President Bush beat John Kerry there by 20 points. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Mr. Obama could increase black turnout in Mississippi to 39 percent of the statewide electorate, up from 34 percent in 2004, according to exit polls. And let’s assume that Mr. Obama will win 95 percent of those voters, up from the 90 percent who voted for Mr. Kerry four years ago.

If that happened, the black vote would yield Mr. Obama 37 percent of Mississippi’s statewide votes. To get the last 13 percent he needs for a majority, Mr. Obama would need to persuade a mere 21 percent of white voters in Mississippi to support him. Sounds easy, right?

But only 14 percent of white voters in the state supported Mr. Kerry. Mr. Obama would need to increase that number by 7 percentage points — a 50 percent increase. Mr. Obama struggled to attract white Democrats in states like Ohio and South Dakota. It strains credulity to believe that he will attract three white voters in Mississippi for every two that Mr. Kerry did.

Keep in mind that this analysis (and the speculation that Mr. Obama will generate unprecedented black turnout in the South) does not consider the possibility that white voter turnout will rise, too. Passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act led to an upsurge in black voting in the South, but it also caused many white Southerners to register and vote as well — for the Republicans.

If you live by the racial sword, you will die by it as well. While it is unlikely that Senator Obama would garner more of the white vote than Kerry did (which he needs to in order to win the state), if white turnout also increased, he would still probably lose the state.

But let’s look even closer at the specific states. Schaller’s take on Georgia is not particularly optimistic:

What about Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, the three states that are routinely cited as new possibilities for the Democratic column this fall?

Mr. Obama can write off Georgia and North Carolina for the same reasons that Mississippi is beyond his reach — although the math in those two states is slightly less daunting.

Newton-Small is a little more optimistic about Georgia:

Though he may have a legitimate shot in Georgia, he currently trails McCain by a margin of 12.3 percentage points, according to an average of Georgia polls by the non-partisan website RealClearPolitics.com.


There is no question that Obama can turn out Southern blacks: African-American voter participation in the 2008 Georgia primary, which Obama won by 36 percentage points over Clinton, increased 85% over the 2004 primary, for example. And there’s lots of room to grow from the last general election; in 2004 just 54.3% of the 1,090,000 registered blacks in Georgia voted.

But black votes alone cannot win him Southern swing states like Georgia, according to David Bositis, senior political analyst at the non-partisan Joint Center, which tracks black voter trends. “In states that could potentially flip it isn’t just about increasing black turnout. They have to be states where Obama can win a fairly significant portion of whites,” Bositis said. In the Georgia primary Obama edged out Clinton among young white voters, but lost white voters over the age of 45 by more than 20 percentage points, according to CNN exit polls.

As for Schaller, he believes Virginia is his best hope:

Virginia, however, is the one Southern state that Mr. Obama has a reasonable chance of winning. And it’s precisely because the home of Robert E. Lee, as NBC News’s political director, Chuck Todd, has suggested, is seceding from the Confederacy.

The demographic makeup of the electorate in Virginia is unlike that of any other state in the South. The black population in Virginia is, as a percentage, among the lowest in the region. And during the last two decades, the state has also experienced a huge influx of upscale non-Southerners, who have taken over the Washington suburbs of northern Virginia. (Florida is a perennial target for similar reasons. With a relatively small black population, a big Hispanic voting bloc and a large contingent of relocated retirees from the North, it is the least Southern of the Southern states.)

While these states are slim possibilities, it’s important to note that to turn them blue, Obama will have to churn out the green (perhaps this is the reason he chose to forego public financing?). But while Obama is throwing millions of dollars at states that have not gone to Democrats since 1964 (Virginia), and 1992 (Georgia and Bill), he’ll be opening the door even wider for Republicans in actual swing states.

Mike DuHaime, political director of the Republican National Committee, doesn’t argue with Obama’s fund-raising advantage. But he disputes the notion that Obama can afford to keep throwing money at long shots once the campaign really heats up in the fall, and he contends that Obama’s defense of vulnerable states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio will be much more expensive. “It would take a major swing to swing these [Southern] states,” says DuHaime. “I don’t fault them for trying to expand the map, but we have better opportunities in other states that are just as big, if not bigger — Pennsylvania, Ohio, for example.”

Obama thinks he can win simply by essence of being black. Not only is this insulting, prejudicial, and frankly predictable at this point, but it’s flawed, and will fortunately cost him the election.

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