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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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May 8, 2008 10:26 AM

Clinton makes case for white appeal

Posted by David Postman

Well, the actual USA Today headline this morning says "Clinton makes case for wide appeal." But the way Hillary Clinton's comments are being anaylzed this morning it is clear many think she has made a new, and stark, appeal as the candidate for whites.

Here’s what Clinton said, in what is certainly the most-discussed story of the day:

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”

Eli asks at The Slog:

Is Clinton really staying in the race to become the candidate of that portion of white, Democratic America that won’t for the black guy?

Clinton strategists held a conference call yesterday to talk about the Indiana and North Carolina results. Geoff Garin talked about the role race played. Says Greg Sargent at Talking Points Memo:

Put in the context of the Hillary campaign's chief argument that she's the more electable Dem, Garin's overall implication here is that her success among white voters in North Carolina yesterday is "progress" in the sense that it strengthens her case for electability.

In other words, it's an explicit, and unabashed, linking of her claim of electability to her success among whites.

There is something jarring about hearing Clinton talk about her appeal among whites. And that likely has more to do with it coming out of the mouth of the candidate than the reality that campaigns analyze the electorate along racial lines. That's not news.

As the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato told USA Today:

Clinton's comment was a "poorly worded" variation on the way analysts have been "slicing and dicing the vote in racial terms."

But there is another trend in recent exit polls that has me wondering if race is playing an unstated role among Clinton supporters. From CNN:

According to the exit polls, half of Clinton's supporters in Indiana would not vote for Obama in a general election match up with John McCain. A third of Clinton voters said they would pick McCain over Obama, while 17 percent said they would not vote at all. Just 48 percent of Clinton supporters said they would back Obama in November.

Obama gets even less support from Clinton backers in North Carolina. There, only 45 percent of Clinton supporters said they would vote for Obama over McCain. Thirty-eight percent said they would vote for McCain while 12 percent said they would not vote.

Those percentages are higher than those that say race played a role in their decision to support Clinton over Obama. But voters would be reluctant to tell a pollster directly that they used race as a deciding factor. But if so many backers of the white candidate say they would refuse to back the black candidate, one has to wonder if what is being unsaid.

Obama voters appear to be more willing to support Clinton in November. In Indiana, 59 percent of Obama backers said they'd vote for Clinton, and 70 percent of Obama backers in North Carolina said they'd support the New York Democrat.

Throughout the primary season, I figured that just the opposite would be true. Clinton supporters were more traditional Democrats and if their candidate wasn’t the nominee they would be likely to support Obama, even if they thought he was less prepared than their first choice. Obama supporters, I thought, may just decide to stay home if their guy didn’t win because many are new to the party and to politics and much more drawn by the phenomenon surrounding Obama.

I’m obviously wrong about that. But it’s not at all clear yet why Clinton supporters are so reluctant to switch their allegiance to Obama.

UPDATE: A smart guy I know e-mailed to say that race is certainly part of the answer to why those Clinton supporters say they won’t vote for Obama come November.

But he also suggests that part of that is the sour feeling some of them have as Clinton’s chances slip away. He said some of those people feel like a beleaguered minority - and acknowledged the irony of that - but that their frustration will eventually dissipate and many will come around to back Obama.

That makes sense to me. What do you think?

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