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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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Posted by Methow Ken

11:23 AM, May 08, 2008

Me thinks Bill Clinton's reputation in some quarters as the ''first black President'' may be in serious jeopardy. . . .

In any case: That Senator Clinton would publicly be this direct in saying ''nominate me because I can get white votes and Obama can't'' is somewhat of an eye-opener. . . . then again, maybe not; given Billary's unlimited ambition and will to win no matter what.

And especially after listening to Clinton's post-NC-IN speech: Unless the dam totally breaks on the Supers I am pretty sure she will hang in there at least thru the last primary. She may still win WV by something like 2:1, might win KY by about the same margin that Obama won NC, will probably also take PR by a comfortable margin, and will likely not be totallly embarrassed in OR. MT and SD I'm not sure, but they're small delegate numbers.

It will be an interesting diversion to watch nationally prominent (D)s continue to desperately try and dance around and explain away David's above observation; i.e.:

''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.''

SIDEBAR: Actually, last part of above sentance doesn't read quite right, but I know what you meant. :-]

Posted by Bryan Kesterson

11:38 AM, May 08, 2008

Hillary Clinton needs to exit the race. I never thought I would see the day that a Democratic candidate for President would make an appeal to racism. This is unnacceptable in someone who wishes to be the head of a party that values equality.

Posted by thekaj

11:57 AM, May 08, 2008

I thought that Clinton would start positioning herself towards a graceful exit, pushing party unity, but she's certainly proving me wrong. What an ugly way to go out.

But frankly, this is hardly a compelling argument to make to the supers. Since when has the high school educated, rural, white male demographic been a key to Democratic victory? Yes, she wins this group consistently and decisively. But considering she is still losing the popular vote and delegate count, it goes to show how this isn't the lynchpin demographic.

Secondly, I don't believe that even half of the Clinton supporters who claim they'd vote for McCain would actually do so. What we're seeing in those exit polls is a temporary tantrum of people not getting their way, and thinking they'll blackmail those in the majority into changing their minds. They'd really vote for McCain and risk overturning Roe v. Wade? They'd vote for the status quo in Iraq? They're not going to cut off their head to spite their face.

Posted by JimD

12:22 PM, May 08, 2008

I start feeling a bit ashamed of my liberal-democratic affiliations when I read such knee-jerk interpretations of Clinton's remarks and her campaign spin from otherwise sound writers and analysts.
What in the world makes you think race is the dominate factor among those whites who prefer Clinton's steely determination, street fighting cred and almost encyclopedic knowledge of the issues over Obama's relative inexperience and lack of policy specifics?
Are you starting to believe the popular notion that discerning voters perceive little difference between the two just because they represent similar policy objectives?
What's next? If they don't swing to Clinton it's due to unspoken sexism?
At least give whites, with the good sense to be swing or democrats, some credit.
This primary isn't so much about a white woman versus a black man, as it is a work horse against a show pony.
I listened to yesterday's Clinton campaign conference call - one of the more interesting given the results the night before. I don't know how anyone could possibly interpret any sense of racial manipulation or inference what-so-ever, nor from Clinton's own mouth. We need a broad based coalition to win in November. It has to include many glue-collar, lower middle-class and less educated working folk - who in many parts of the country live a fuller realization of racial integration and comfort than anything we see in our oh-so-progressive Puget Sound, by the way.
How dare you look down your nose at these folks and assume it's all about race.
And how dare you hold our racial attitudes hostage to which candidate we support.
To suggest that all but the smallest number of whites aren't choosing sides based on far more relevant characteristics than race, is something I'd expect from some Faux news hack analyst, not our David Postman.

Posted by JimD

12:33 PM, May 08, 2008

"But itís not at all clear yet why Clinton supporters are so reluctant to switch their allegiance to Obama.
- about for the reason they and the candiate have been saying all along -- come November folks will believe she'll make the better President. Period. How about the simple, fundamental truth right in front of your nose?

Posted by Methow Ken

12:38 PM, May 08, 2008

Perhaps a bit off-topic 4 this thread, but in response to Bryan Kesterson where in talking about (D)s he said:
''. . . . a party that values equality''.

IMO a more objective view of the (D) party; both nationally and within WA State, is that it is a party that most highly values equal OUTCOMES, not equal opportunity (which by definition means that outcomes will be different).

And it is at least a valid historical footnote that it was not that long ago that the (D) party in the ''old south'' was the hard-over party of segregation.

Plus it was always ''odd'' (to say the least) how much of a pass WV Senator Robert Byrd got for not just belonging to but for ORGANIZING and LEADING a local chapter of the KKK back in the 1940's. Even in his recent memoir, Byrd says that he viewed the Klan as a useful platform from which to launch his political career. He described it essentially as a fraternal group of elites -- doctors, lawyers, clergy, judges and other "upstanding people" who at no time engaged in or preached violence against blacks, Jews or Catholics, who historically were targets of the Klan.

The historical (D) double-standard on race is quite striking. If anyone cares, for one of the better recent pieces on the history of Sen. Byrd, see following 2005 WA Post piece:
A Senators Shame

Posted by Kyle Alm

12:42 PM, May 08, 2008

The reason why so many white voters aren't going to vote for Obama?

Two words, Operation Chaos. ;)

They are Republicans crossing over to get Hillary through to the nomination.

She is destroying the Clinton legacy by staying in the race.

Posted by Methow Ken

12:46 PM, May 08, 2008

oops. . . : Somehow SeaTimes website appeared to ''eat'' HTML link in my last above post. Let's try link to that 2005 WA Post piece on Robert Byrd again:

A Senators Shame

Posted by Anon

1:31 PM, May 08, 2008

I think Digby on his blog said it the best:

"I think we all see the writing on the wall. Obama has plenty of money and there is no great problem if this thing goes on for a couple of weeks. I think everyone should relax about the campaign and start regrouping around the ideas that brought us here --- one of which is the fact that the mainstream media are tools, that Drudge is a Republican pimp and that our nation is not well served by a bunch of corporate whores who all sit around sipping mojitos on Nantucket playing with our politics like they are a rousing game of cribbage."

Once cooler heads prevail and people start to realize what is actually at stake, most Clinton supporters will rally around Obama because his vision is a progressive vision and it aligns with Democratic party. If they do actually vote for McCain, then they really weren't Clinton supporters since McCain's positions are the exact opposite from Hillary's on just about everything. Also, it isn't as if Hillary is fading into the sunset to never be heard from again. She is going to yield a lot of power in the Senate and she will be able to use that power to interject her policy on the Senate and the presidency.

Posted by P

1:44 PM, May 08, 2008

Democrats will do anything to win elections, as we here in King County saw four years ago. They will cheat, steal and lie their way into power. Historically, the Democrats were the party of the slaveowners. The party of Jim Crow laws. Both Gov. Wallace of Georgia and Sheriff Bull Conors were Democrats, and racists to the bone.

If race will help Hillary win the nomination, then she'll use race. Does that make her a racist? Or, does it make her an unprincipled Democrat? Wait, that was saying exactly the same thing; Democrats are unprincipled.

As to Sen. Obama, does anyone know what he actually stands for, other than repeating "Change we can believe in?"

Posted by JimD

1:44 PM, May 08, 2008

Regarding your update:
How smart do you have to be to realize that the polling responses are more STRATEGIC contributions intended to pump-up the perception of unflinching support for Clinton (or Obama) in this unprecedented political phonomon in a relatively new age of media-savvy activisism?
Yes - I agree with your e-mailer on that point, when expanded.
Where i disagree is the extent to which he, and you, belive race per se is a dominate factor.
I think the irony lies in how those who perceive themselves as racially progrssive are so willing to ignore their own prejudices regarding the racial views of other "whites". You premise is not based on any credible evidence, and therefore offered without sufficient intellectual justice.
The word for that, David is "prejudice".

Posted by JustMe

1:54 PM, May 08, 2008

Why is it that when a Black Liberal loses support , it must be racism. But when liberals like Ted Rall publish cartoons showing Condi Rice as a House N-Wordm there is silence from the liberal media?

Why is it that when Democrats illegally obtain Black Republican Michael Steele's credit report, there is no mention of racism?

But when an elitist black liberal doesn't get votes from other Democrats, who may just happne to be those wage hour working stiff who probably never heard of arugula, it is racism?

All this is a nice build up for the general wherin liberals can claim that the country is racist of Obama loses. And Donna Brazil has the nerve to lecture anyone about "dividing up into groups". Dividing people into groups against each other is the bread and butter of the Democrat Party.

Posted by dsimon

2:48 PM, May 08, 2008

The argument that Obama can't win blue collar white voters is yet another in the specious series from the Clinton campaign that extrapolates primary results to the general election. The problem is that one can't extrapolate primary results to the general election because the general election presents a completely different choice with a different opponent (and often with a far larger eligible voting population and a far higher turnout).

Yes, Clinton is correct that white primary voters without a college degree tend to favor her over Obama to some extent. But that does not tell us whether they would also favor McCain over Obama (or whether they might prefer McCain over herself). Just because one prefers A to B does not mean one would prefer C to B (or A to C, for that matter).

It's a variant on the same argument she raises when she says she wins the big states and battleground states that Democrats will need in November. But if her argument is that she's better against McCain than Obama in those states, then the place to start would be polling data of her and Obama against McCain in those states, not the primary results of her against Obama.

Moreover, even if Obama were weaker than Clinton in attracting blue collar white voters against McCain, he must have some strengths to compensate since national polls have him doing about as well as she in head-to-head match-ups against McCain.

This attempt to link primaries to the general election has been refuted over and over again, yet the Clinton campaign keeps on using it. Maybe they think if they just repeat it enough times, it will be true.

Posted by Postman

5:57 PM, May 08, 2008

JimD, I didn't mean to make you upset. But you miss the point here. The question isn't why do they support Clinton over Obama. You're right, there are lots of reasons, stated publicly, and I don't question that at all.

But the question these voters were asked is what they would do in November if their candidate didn't win the nomination. So then it clearly isn't about her qualifications over his, is it? It's not what is stated, which is a preference based on experience or issues. It is a voter saying, 'I back Clinton and if she doesn't win I'll either switch to McCain or not vote at all.'

So that moves the question quite a bit, I think. These voters are saying something other than why they prefer Clinton over Obama. They are saying they would not vote for Obama -- no matter what.

The pollsters don't ask the question why, and that leaves me to wonder if race -- which Clinton herself knows is a factor in the contest -- plays some role.

Shouldn't we be able to discuss these factors, even if we don't know the answer?

Posted by Blue Eyed Buddhist

8:12 PM, May 08, 2008

They're going to vote for Obama... at least a lot of them are, even if right now they're saying they're not.

I also think that a TON of the much-vaunted-by-Clinton's white vote is actually white women voters who aren't so much AGAINST Obama (because he's black) as they are FOR Clinton, because she's a FEMALE.

She snagged a heck of a lot of female support simply for that reason; a chance for her to make history as the first woman President.

Once the endgame is played out and Obama's the nominee, a goodly portion of those white women who ARE consistently Democratic Party supporters will, in the end, vote for Obama.

Posted by JimD

9:33 PM, May 08, 2008

I regret losing my temper. Let's try this another way:
"'I back Clinton and if she doesn't win I'll either switch to McCain or not vote at all."
There are two groups there - those who'd switch to McCain and those who won't vote at all.
The latter are a bit inexplicable, and either mean what they say, or are pushing the poll to try to help the Clinton campaign. (I think there's a bit of this coming from both sides right now)
But for those who'd switch to McCain, it defies any sort of empathy for the political and social views of the vast middle - once knows as the "Reagan Democrat" working-class - and is snobbishly disrespectful as well to suggest they'd vote McCain over Obama because of skin color, in the absence of any specific data that suggests it.
The unfortunate choice of words in the conference call "We can't win in November with just pinhead elites and blacks," (approximate quote) is none the less, dead on. To borrow a phrase from the idiot who screwed-up Iraq, "We go to the election with the electorate we have, not the electorate we wished we had."
McCain, and Clinton (now that she's morphed from Eleanor Roosevelt into Huey Long) represent well understood , conventional politics. Obama by contrast, is the odd guy out - not because he's black but because he's come out of nowhere with a thin resume, has sailed to the top with little more than his inspirational genius, and is perceived as somewhat of an elite snob (the SF comments and his general demeanor, by middle-America standards).
THAT is a much more logical explanation of why they'd vote McCain instead of Clinton. Hell - they don't much like ANY politician, but they sure feel more comfortable with a devil they know, than one they don't.
"So that moves the question quite a bit, I think. These voters are saying something other than why they prefer Clinton over Obama."
You're failing to give them credit for a more complex political algorithm of competing pros and cons, of which policy objectives and experience are components, not the total determiners. Same with race, age, gender, wives and husbands, religious affiliations, educational qualifications, personal finances...facial expressions, hand gestures.....
"The pollsters don't ask the question why, and that leaves me to wonder if race -- which Clinton herself knows is a factor in the contest -- plays some role."
Of course it plays a role. We ALL know it plays a role - mostly in the phenomenal support among fellow African Americans and democratic elitists like us. But that doesn't mean that those who'd flip to McCain are doing so because Obama is black. His color is only one of many characteristics voters are considering when making this difficult choice - and I dare say, perhaps a less significant factor among many you're willing to accuse of possible racism, than with those of us who'd love elect a black front-man to the world, not to mention the profound domestic symbolism, etc....

"Shouldn't we be able to discuss these factors, even if we don't know the answer?"
Yes, and race has been discussed and discussed for over a year now. That's not my point. I'm just alarmed when I hear an otherwise well-informed, politically astute and intellectually credible journalist take such an ignorant swipe at the good will and integrity of those who strongly believe Obama should not be president. It represents the ugly side of where this could go - unfounded charges of racism - which only reinforces the perception of disrespectful and ignorant eliteism that will, mark my word, send even more to McCain if we're not careful.

Again, sorry for losing my temper. I live with one foot in both worlds, a profound respect for each, and an admitteted contempt for the social bigotry I may have mis-attached to your premise. There's a real story under the surface here, and it's much more complex than "whether race is an issue"..
Jim Detwiler

Posted by Jesse Hart

11:40 PM, May 08, 2008

JimD, I come from both worlds as well, and I think you are choosing to turn a blind eye to racism because that is what feels most comfortable.

The mere fact that we all say that Obama is black, not white, is a vestige of racism. It's why those of mixed race were allowed on the black car of the train, but not the white car.

The fact is there are subtle reminders of racism everywhere in our society, which most of us are happy to ignore. Do you really think it is coincidence that our neighborhoods and schools are still so racially segregated even though this is not officially sanctioned by law?

We may not feel comfortable talking about racism, but it is naive to be so dismissive of the possibilty that a good chunk of voters are allowing racism to influence their decision, whether consciously or not.

Posted by JimD

9:32 AM, May 09, 2008


As I posted, "of course" race is a factor. My complaint is with David's question to the effect:
What else OTHER than race COULD possibly cause a Clinton supporter to vote for McCain rather than Obama? My answer is, plenty!
If Obama were white there'd still be plenty of reasons - in their view - to prefer McCain if Clinton loses the nomination. In a nutshell, the concern seems to center around his ability to actually implement the policy objectives he and Clinton share, and he's too green - not black - to run the country. McCain is just liberal enough, and has a commanding history of experience and accomplishment, to be a better choice to many if they can't have Clinton. David's proposed assumption that's it's all about race insults the political and intellectual integrity of the "working class" clinton supporters, as if they're too stupid or ignorant to look beyond race.

If David wants to talk about race, what draws the most discomfort is any acknowledgement that Obama's race is indeed the very reason many find him the more attractive candidate. Ferraro stepped in deep do-do with some poorly crafted syntax, but she's right - of course. The Obama supporters so willing to pronounce those not voting for him as racially motivated, should take a reality check on how race may be affecting their choice for POTUS.

Don't get me wrong - I'm totally on board with Obama if he becomes the nominee. But I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that his race is a significent component of why I WOULD like to see him be president, as it is with many, if not most of his supporters - certainly among fellow African Americans. And I frankly have to question those who won't similarly articulate what's surely part of their decision, since I have trouble believing they'd choose such a GREEN first term Senator over Clinton in the first place if not for the racial component he brings to the race, and all it would man to this country - and the world - t elect a black president.

What I find most objectionable about David's premise is the tone of class bigotry and prejudice all too common among affluent and trendy white democrats, which assume's a higher moral ground than those of lesser standing. I'd suggest that racial bigotry and prejudice runs the economic scale, and the more significant difference in class groups is the extent to which some are willing to misrepresent their true racial feelings. Instutionalized racism is alive and well in the highest quarters, including the supposedly more enlightened liberal class. Segregated schools and neighborhoods? Look to the many liberal democrats - including many fashionable Obama supporters - who talk a politically correct game but have chosen white suburbs and private schools. Many lower class whites don't have this option, and have to live the racial integration others just give lip service. If you truly have one foot in both worlds, Jesse, you know this is true.

I'm also a bit frustrated that David is missing the real story here, perhaps in denial of his own racial attitudes which necessitate the need to disqualify democrats who won't vote for Obama. (fair game, if David's going to question the racial motivation of others) While there are some for whom Obama's race is obviously a disqualifier, there are a great many more, in my opinion and according to the polls (which do ask these questions and publish results available to reporters and others, i.e.: Zogby) who are making a more credible and reasoned decision to vote for McCain if they can't vote for Clinton.

Shame on the Obama supporters who will now play the race card instead of acknowledging the more credible reason their candidate may lose this election.

Recent entries

May 8, 08 - 01:49 PM
Larsen throws superdelegate support to Obama

May 8, 08 - 10:26 AM
Clinton makes case for white appeal

May 7, 08 - 07:33 AM
Clinton's win last night means little this morning

May 6, 08 - 02:18 PM
Join me now to live-blog and chat about primary results

May 6, 08 - 11:17 AM
Reichert makes endangered list







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