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Friday, April 25, 2008

Ron Walters on Pennsylvania

Mystifying the Pennsylvania Primary

By Ron Walters
Hillary Clinton has won the hard-fought contest in Pennsylvania 55-45% and for all that this double-digit victory gives her, it boils down to bragging rights, because her net win of delegates was just 6 where Barack Obama’s lead was around 150. So, she is hoping that her increase in the popular vote will give her an argument to go along with her wins in the big states to convince the Democratic party’s Superdelegates that she is the one can win in the Fall.

Going in to Pennsylvania, the Clinton camp also hoped to dampen the effect of the Obama campaign by saying that they out-spent her 3-1 and still could not seal the deal. This was picked up by commentators and analysts who now pillory Barack Obama on television, radio and the printed press for the fact that he has not been able to close the deal and finish off the election to their satisfaction. But there are several good reasons for that.

First, Republicans have been beating up on Barack Obama appearing as
part of the Hillary-Republican-media chorus, attacking his weaknesses with the American people among Democrats and suggesting for that reason Hillary would make a better nominee. But Republicans and conservatives are disingenuous. They really want Hillary to win because they think they have a better shot at her than Obama. She gets the juices of the Right wing flowing and they would come out to do battle for all her sins of the past. Obama, on the other hand, strikes fear in their hearts because he has less baggage and is shown beating John McCain in the polls consistently. That is why some of those Republicans changing party to vote in Democratic primaries right now may be part of a Karl Rove strategy to lift her up.

Others however, want to dance around gender, class and racial implications
Of the election. Some white females are as passionate about wanting to see the first woman elected president as blacks are wanting to see the first black elected. That block has been rock solid for Clinton and has been critical because it adds to the fact that women constitute the majority of voters in every election. The MSNBC Exit poll shows that 47% of the Pennsylvania electorate was female and Clinton won 67% of them, 68% in Ohio where the proportion was about the same.

Meanwhile, age was a factor, since the CNN Exit poll showed that 78% of the electorate was above 40 years of age and Clinton won 57% of them. This crowd is more conservative and more resistant to change, and Obama has not been able to break through I think largely because of the generational fact that Hillary is part of their group at 60 years of age, while Obama is 46. But Hillary is also more moderate in political philosophy and more identified with health care issues that are a favorite of this age cohort.

It should not be lost, however, that an obvious answer to the question of why Obama has not closed the deal decisively with Clinton has something to do with race, something for which he cannot be held responsible. So, pundits need to have more healthy discussions of why whites won’t vote for Obama. That Clinton consistently wins the white vote in large states like Pennsylvania (58-42%) could say something about racial competition, a well known social science theory that where the racial threat to whites is perceived as greatest there will be the most repressive racial behavior by whites. This may explain why Obama does best where the threat is weakest in the largely white states with few blacks, and worst in those states where it is strongest where the proportion of blacks is greater.

Ultimately, the CNN poll shows that the elections reflect a split within the Democratic party on the question of Change with 49% believing in it, 25% thinking Experience is best and the rest Electability. And most believe that Barack Obama will ultimately become the nominee even though they vote disproportionately for Clinton. In summary, these exit polls did not include a breakdown on the racial sensitivity of so-called blue-collar “Reagan Democrats” although Obama lost badly in those areas of Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, the split with respect to age, race and gender may really be a referendum on the extent to which some Democrats really want to change course. That is the primary division that must be healed in this process but I am not at all sure that elections will do it.

Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, Director of the African American Leadership Center and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. One of his latest books is: Freedom Is Not Enough, Black Voters, Black Candidates and American Presidential Politics (Rowman and Littlefield).

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