Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Obama's Obstacle

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Obama's Obstacle

Earlier today, there was a comment to another post that raises an interest that's going to be bubbling along throughout this election, so we might as well raise it early and air it out. How much will race play a factor in the presidential race? Will we all wake up on November 5 and discover that, contrary to their claims, a large enough number of people won't be able to pull the lever for an African American candidate that it affects the outcome?

I was involved in a different online conversation about this the other day, and I'll start by echoing my argument then. I won't for a minute suggest that there aren't such people out there. But how strong were they in the Democratic column to begin with? Did they vote for Gore and Kerry, or did Bush win them over? If they just can't bring themselves to vote for an African American candidate, was it ever realistic to expect that they'd vote for a female commander in chief? Has this election basically been a gimme for McCain since the end of January when Edwards, the last white male left in the Democratic field, withdrew? But then again, are these secret racists conservative enough that even John Edwards was outside of their comfort zone?

Regardless of the answers to any of these questions, we also have to consider where these people actually live. There's been a lot of talk about Appalachia, but to some extent, I have to wonder if it's not overblown to some degree. Take a look at the phrasing from this sentence from Newsweek:

But Appalachia is a big place, encompassing 13 states: southwestern New York, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, western Maryland, western Virginia, eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, western North and South Carolina, and northern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Indulge me in this quick geography lesson, but southwestern New York is not a state encompassed by Appalachia. Appalachia extends through parts of a number of eastern states, but it only actually "defines" one or two. For the sake of argument, let's say Obama does have a problem in Appalachia. That may lose him some votes in parts of New York, but the rest of the state is not going to follow the lead of its Appalachian counties. Most of the state of Ohio is not going to wait until it see where its Appalachian areas are coming down. And in Alabama, Obama's primary problem isn't going to be the Appalachian areas--it's going to be all the Republicans there!

I don't mean to suggest that Obama will breeze to victory, but the economy and the war in Iraq both spell trouble for a generic Republican. Obama's run a very canny campaign to get him to where he is, and I see no indication that he's getting ready to start letting it slide. I do find it frustrating, though, to run into this pessimism that because of his race, Obama can't even compete. One of the participants in the previous conversation stated flat out, "Obama CANNOT win." Today's comment in the other post just seemed to take it as a fait accompli that there can be no other result than a McCain presidency. In fact, there's a lot that can be done to prevent such an eventuality. Let's direct our energies in that direction rather than doing an impression of the current Congress and just rolling over for the Republicans.


At 7:33 AM, June 07, 2008, Anonymous Ron said...

The southern tier of NYS is the northern extension of Appalachia. Won't vote for Obama. In fact, most New York State counties are likely to vote Republican in the upcoming election. As they generally do. It's the "urban" upstate counties - Albany, Schenectady, Onondaga, Monroe, and Buffalo (along with all the downstate NYC counties) - that push the state strongly into the D column.

Had she been the nominee, I think many traditionally R counties would have flipped for her. Hillary cleared 70% of the vote in her last senate race was through an concentrated "upstate" strategy.

Obama is likely to win NYS, but more marginally, and more like a typical D.

Obama is also likely to win all of the NE states the same way (watch the NH polls to get a sense of Obama's ability to transcend - or just match - typical D patterns).

That said, I do not believe Obama is in any worse shape than a typical D candidate, despite the "handicap" of being black. McCain has a few things going for him, but mostly the cards are stacked against him. Obama cannot win "deep" Appalachia, but he might be able to pick off a few red states that a white D would not (VA, MO, a few others).

Beyond that, it appears the mid-west and the west could care less what color the man is.

It all makes me think I won't need to move out of the country someday, just to Oregon.


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