Obama’s hurdles in the general election

Patchwork Nation

Click here for original publication.

Tuesday was the last hurdle of what had become a 16-month obstacle course toward the Democratic presidential nomination. As Sen. Barack Obama claimed the title of nominee last night, most of the buzz was on the historical significance. It was a poignant moment in American politics, his anointing as the first African-American presidential nominee of a major political party. But it wasn’t the strongest finish. Senator Obama crossed the line with another split decision, winning Montana but losing South Dakota. He capped off the primary season by performing well in the college towns and minority communities that have been his strongholds. Despite inspiring millions of voters with his message of change, the presumptive nominee has work to do in the general-election campaign to win over his Democratic rival’s core constituencies: working-class voters and seniors. For her part, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman to be a serious major-party presidential contender, signaled that she isn’t leaving the stage quietly. First came the leak early yesterday that she would “be open to” the vice-presidential slot. Next, in her speech Tuesday night, she did not concede but rather asked supporters to go to her campaign website to share their thoughts about what her next step should be. Then, she added to her popular vote total with a solid victory in South Dakota, beating Obama 55 percent to 45 percent. “You had the last word in this primary season and it was worth the wait,” Senator Clinton told South Dakotans in her speech from New York. Clinton carried 52 of the state’s 66 counties, including the two largest, both “Emptying Nests,” which tend to have more older voters than the average county. Minnehana “where the water laughs” County – home to South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls – gave her 56 percent of the vote, and she won Pennington County with 52 percent. She also took 11 of the state’s 17 “Service Worker Centers,” counties where many people struggle to make ends meet and are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. Obama won in the “Minority Central” counties of Corson, Mellette, Ziebach, Shannon, and Buffalo, which have relatively high percentages of native Americans. He also carried the “Campus and Careers” counties of Clay and Brookings. Most of the state is considered “Tractor Country,” which tends not to get much attention from candidates because residents there make up a such a small portion of the electorate. In Montana, Obama had a better showing with 56 percent of the vote, while Clinton received 41 percent. He won seven of its 11 “Service Worker Centers” including the most populous county, Yellowstone, in the south-central part of the state. He also took three “Emptying Nests” counties and the state’s 17 “Evangelical Epicenters,” which have large numbers of evangelical Christians. Of course, Montana is unlikely to land in the Democratic column this fall – one reason Obama didn’t revel in his victory there on Tuesday. Obama opted to give his celebratory speech Tuesday in St. Paul, Minn., at the Xcel Energy Center, the same site where Sen. John McCain will accept the GOP nomination three months from now. On the night when Obama sealed the Democratic nomination, Senator McCain spoke in Kenner, La., just outside of New Orleans. He took on Obama and indicated the themes he’s likely to stress between now and the general election: his independence and integrity, which made him popular with independents when he ran in the 2000 Republican primary. Battlegrounds are likely to be counties classified as “Monied ’Burbs,” as well as those characterized as “Boom Towns,” where the population is rapidly diversifying. In both community types, John Kerry and George W. Bush nearly split the vote in 2004 – and they contain a large percentage of the electorate. As attention turns to the general-election campaign, a key question is whether Obama will be able to make more inroads in places that have largely been Clinton country. She has a sizable base of voters, many of whom live in Service Worker Centers, Emptying Nests, and Immigration Nation counties, where the rising bloc of Hispanic voters are concentrated. Blue-collar workers and seniors have a track record of coming out to the polls. Perhaps winning greater support from those constituencies will be a factor in Obama’s choice of a running mate. Another question is whether the college towns that have supported Obama will continue to be his in November. History suggests that a candidate cannot count on young people to turn out, a column in The Wall Street Journal recently noted, which Patchwork Nation’s blogger in Ann Arbor, Mich., seemed to validate. Obama’s mixed-race heritage may also affect how some people vote. Forty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, many Americans are proud that an African-American has a shot at the White House, but the primary season has also shown that in many places being African-American is not an asset. As for how the issue of patriotism might factor into the campaign, McCain’s status as a war hero will probably cement his victory in “Military Bastions,” and perhaps play well in places like small-town Pennsylvania, which Obama probably needs to win to become president. McCain seemed to wrap himself in the flag Tuesday night. Obama, meanwhile, has come under criticism for not wearing a flag pin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *