By Ron Walters
Is Clinton setting Obama up to lose general election? (FCN, 04-25-2008)
I remember that question, “What does Jesse Want?” asked of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. by the media when he had been defeated badly in the New York Primary in his 1984 campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. We had to sit down one day and decide that the nomination was out of hand, but it wasn’t about the traditional meaning of winning, we had an opportunity to further empower our community, as I have previously suggested here.
Hillary Clinton cannot win given the current statistics which have Barack Obama leading by 700,000 popular votes, over 160 pledged delegates and [as of the time this column is written] now tied with super delegates, which gives him the overall delegate lead. She is playing for time to get the best conditions under which to leave the race and a big question however, is, Under what conditions will she leave?
I think the debt issue is off the table. She he does not need to negotiate for Obama to pay her campaign debt, since Bill has way more than enough money to do that. But, Democratic Party leaders are hoping she will get out of the race soon under conditions that favor the party winning in the fall campaign, which means that she does not beat up the presumptive nominee so badly that he limps into the election.
Many people think a “damaged goods” scenario that causes Obama to lose in the fall is what she wants because it would allow Hillary to campaign again for president in 2012. But there is a giant wrinkle in this strategy. If she damages the party candidate in an election that by every measure is poised to take the White House and expand its lead in the House and Senate, it will not endear the new party leaders to her 2012 candidacy.
It will most certainly not endear Barack Obama to support her and he will be a major party leader as a result of his run in 2008. Then, it will not endear many Blacks to support her if she causes their historic hope of gaining the first Black president of the United States to become another dream deferred.
I think her sights are still tied to winning in 2008. She ran hard and won West Virginia and will likely Kentucky trying to send a message to hold out super delegates that Obama cannot win White working class votes.
In a recent interview with USA Today, Clinton said she had a much broader base and, “Senator Obama’s support among working, hard working Americans, White Americans, is weakening again, and Whites in both (North Carolina and Indiana) are supporting me.” This reference to “hard-working White people,” was created by conservatives in the 1980s as a euphemism for Whites, a term which conveyed that they were not lazy, welfare cheating Blacks. This was another racial jibe used by the candidate which raised eyebrows because of the attempt to further blacken Obama.
Frustrated at losing, all the Clinton campaign has left is the argument she and her surrogates are making that the Democratic Party needs blue collar whites, the so-called “Reagan Democrats.” Furthermore they are touting polls which say that if she doesn’t win, Whites, especially White females will stay home.
Well, a recent Gallup poll, found that John Kerry’s numbers are the same as Obama’s with working class voters and he came within 3 percentage points of winning the 2004 election. The study goes on to say that Obama will win the same states as Kerry and that his appeal to Red state voters may be the difference in attracting a few more states.
In fact, in this context where working class voters are the most devastated segment of the electorate, they are unlikely to go as a group to John McCain, but are instead likely to split. Some will indeed go to McCain, some will hold their nose and support Obama and others will stay home. Those who don’t support Obama, however, should be made up by the huge numbers of new voters that his campaign is attracting. His campaign cites voter registration results of: 200,000 new Democrats in Pennsylvania, 165,000 in North Carolina, and 150,000 in Indiana.
Obama’s dazzling performance shows that in order to win you have to know something about political culture. At this moment in history, his attraction to the electorate may overcome race and working class anxiety.
(Dr. Ron Walters is director of the African American Leadership Center and a professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. His latest book is The Price of Racial Reconciliation [University Michigan Press]. This commentary was distributed by NNPA.)