I Really Don’t Think Obama Has a White People Problem

Deception is always the key to winning.

It’s only a matter of hours before Armando yet again addresses the working class white vote problem that Obama has. Indeed, one may imagine that this was the key to Edwards’ endorsement prior to the Kentucky primary, let some of that whiteness rub off on Obama just in time.

I actually don’t believe that is the case at all, but we’ll get to that later.

The fact is, I think a lot of the electoral problems that Obama is said to face right now are overblown. Let’s all of us not forget that here’s a guy who’s coming out of a very contentious primary where the party has gotten incredibly emotional about its candidates. This is a good thing, and assuming Mrs. Clinton can make it the next few weeks without committing political suicide, she’s going to come out the other end of this election smarter and stronger just as Obama will.

We’ll have to take some time to rid ourselves of the various derangement syndromes we’ve developed, but we’ll move on and we’ll be fine.

But it seems as though the perception of this white voter problem will persist for quite some time. Now, I love getting asked questions because questions allow me to focus my thoughts in directions that I may otherwise ignore, and Fester over at the Newshoggers had brought this up yesterday morning just as I was getting to bed.

Our discussion lasted for a bit, and it really gave me a chance to frame exactly what is happening and where I think things will go. It may sound a little tinfoil hat-y, but that’s okay. I think one of the prime things to remember about this election year is that Obama’s path to success centers around breaking paradigms (how else are you going to beat an inevitable candidate?).

First things first, though, I don’t believe that Obama has a white people problem. Sure, some white folks aren’t going to vote for him because he’s black, but then some voters aren’t going to vote for Hillary because she’s a woman, and some voters aren’t going to vote for McCain because he’s a crazy old bastard. To each their own.

But what’s more important is that beyond the hysterics of how necessary winning the white vote, or the white working class vote, is, it’s simply a myth that you have to. Steve M. over at No More Mister Nice Blog has been doing the preliminary math on this one and has shown that no recent Democratic president has won that bloc. Even Bubba failed to win the good ol’ boy vote.

Fester takes the calculations even further and shows that while Obama is maintaining the same white working class voting levels that recent Democratic nominees have maintained, the proportional share of that vote in its entirety is actually shrinking. Shorter: White people are less important now than they were in 2004, and even less important than 2000.

Plus, let’s not forget that this is a problem that is getting blown out of proportion now because we saw a nasty blow out in a state that carries five electoral votes.


In Timothy Egan’s post for the New York Times, he shows that not all regions of white people are going to go so heavily against Obama.

But this is old stuff. Mundane stuff. Old style demographics and old style politics. This is in the box, old paradigm parsing of the electorate.

As I asked my friend yesterday morning, how did Obama win the primary? Biggest picture possible, he won it by understanding it better than anyone else. We would, undoubtedly, have a different nominee if Clinton and her team had as detailed an understanding of how the primaries worked as Obama did. We can go into all the specifics, and I often do, but when you boil it right down to bare bones, it all came down to the fact that Obama played the primaries like a master plays chess. He knew from the opening day exactly what he was going to do, and exactly how he was going to counteract the star power and the immense advantages that Hillary Clinton had at her disposal.

He was presented with a situation, he assessed that situation correctly, and he plotted out a course to victory. In this regard, much of the arguments about how he can’t transfer success from primaries to the general election are red herrings. They assume that he doesn’t have a model to shift from proportional allocation to winner take all, and that caucuses have no bearing whatsoever on how to perform in the general where there are no caucuses.

Both, I believe, are incredibly wrong.

What has become an increasingly frequent read for me as of late has been Matt Stoller’s and Chris Bowers’ brainchild of OpenLeft; specifically because they have been rooting out some solid information on the organization of the Obama campaign, and I think therein lies the key to victory in the fall.

Simply put, the kinds of organizational infrastructures that Obama has built over the course of this campaign are downright scary. We’re talking about an activist organization that will dwarf the enormity of Move On, message control, and empowering volunteers.

Fester accurately characterized the Obama organization as one that cultivates low energy supporters to medium energy supporters, medium energy supporters to high energy, and the already high energy are turned into ridiculous super supporters (this done through the wide cast net for organizers).

And I have to thank Matt who put the seed in my head a couple months ago as to the significance of the caucuses. Those were the dry runs of the network, so to speak. Voter turnout wins you elections, mobility and enthusiasm wins you caucuses and, to this end, the dry runs were a total success.

In short, while no one was looking, that “cult” has actually been turned into one wicked political force, one that goes beyond “movement” based on political astuteness. This is, of course, the out of the box part of the Obama strategy, mixed in with a little fifty state action to boot.

The details on how things are going to run when they get down to the wire are beyond me, but when you put the pieces together, what you have is a candidate who is going to compete and drop a lot of resources in every single state out there. He’s not going to focus just on the swing states, he’s going to go after every state, and he’s got the organization and resources at his disposal now to do so to the point where John McCain is not going to be able to consider very many states safe ground at all.

At the same time, Obama’s chief goal is not necessarily going to be just to maximize Democratic turnout, he’s going to do that, don’t worry, but it’s also to squeeze voters out of every nook and cranny. This, also, is a key factor of the infrastructures that he’s built. He’s going to essentially create new voters. This is a risky proposition, but it comes with an added benefit.

You see, on the more conventional front, McCain is going to be scrambling to protect his own territory which will open the swing states like never before. McCain’s also going to have to bail out of some safe territory, and I’m thinking he’s just not going to have the resources to defend the Northwest, and some of those states are going to fall as well.

But the “secret weapon” will be the voters Obama brings to the polls that few will see. If you’ll notice, Obama has consistantly outperformed polling throughout the primary season. Why is this? Because Obama pulls a significant number of voters that don’t make it through “likely voter” filters. In the primaries, that doesn’t make much of a deal because you still go from one state to the next; you either choose to play in that state or you don’t.

But when you are looking at the general election where it is all happening on one day, and you are at a resource disadvantage and you have to figure out what states to play in, you have to rely on polling to tell you where you can put your resources and get some beneficial returns, and where you need to pack it in, and where you are going to be safe.

This concerted effort, successful concerted effort, might I add, to pick up uncommon voters that Obama will employ will effectively blind McCain without him knowing it. Again, when we look at polling accuracy, another thing that has struck me is that while Obama tends to outperform polls, the internals from his campaign have been largely accurate.

In other words, they know exactly what they are reaping when they sow voter seeds, and they know exactly what they are going to collect.

So I return to an earlier question; why hasn’t the Obama campaign been more aggressive about answering the white voter problem? It’s true, they haven’t really been on the offensive with that question, and I think a lot of it is that they don’t care. All they really want is to ensure that that question doesn’t manage to lose the nomination, which is where Edwards came in, at least in part.

There are plenty of reasons why the Edwards endorsement was significant, but one of the reasons was that it cut incredibly short the discussion about the West Virginia blow out and the demographic debate.

Frankly, I don’t see the Obama campaign as being overly concerned about the white vote, or even going into the general election as damaged goods in general. Not too damaged, mind you, but deception is always a key to victory, and I think some of the strategy that the Obama campaign has hidden up its sleeves has a definite guerilla quality to it.

Of course, I could be completely wrong, I often am. Admittedly, some of this sounds pretty out there, but just as understanding the playing field was a key component to Obama’s primary success, so was breaking paradigms. That’s what he did with fundraising, and that’s what he did with using the proportional allocation system like a judo master uses leverage. In a way, I suppose you can say that if the game as it’s normally played doesn’t suit him, Obama changes how the game is played until it does.

In the end, I don’t think Obama has a white person vote. As I’ve said before in the past, if some white people won’t vote for him, Obama’s going to find other people to make up for that discrepency. I also wonder how important demographics are going to be this year. Demographics are destiny, so they say, but I think he’s changing the game.

Demographics is an iffy game for Obama to play; he’s running as an African American in a country that still has problems with its racial woes. I think the key to combatting this, the path to victory is not Obama carving up the demographics in a 50%+1 manner, but to combat the whole thing with superior organization.

And that’s exactly what he has in his corner. It’s not a guaranteed win, nothing ever is, but if what he has cooking up in his campaign is even close to as powerful as I think it is, John McCain may have a very unpleasant November waiting for him.

4 Responses to “I Really Don’t Think Obama Has a White People Problem”

  1. Ginny in CO says:

    You’ve done a masterful job of weaving together all the loose ideas floating around in my mind the past week or two.

    The whole paradigm shift has struck me ever since Edwards dropped out and Obama had taken off. In 4 decades of watching this game, I could not believe how much he had changed it.

    After the last 7 elections that never saw the change we needed in voter engagement, this is blowing us old farts into something that brings to mind the headiness of adolescent love. It’s hard to not just give in to the desire to wear the goofy grin even while keeping the feet from skipping.

    One of the dKos diaries yesterday got into the idea that while everyone else has been playing chess, Obama’s been playing GO.

    Who knows, maybe my kids will eventually find the world has become a place they are willing to bring their own kids into and I will have some grandkids to tell stories about Barack and the way he changed politics before he ever got to the White House.


    πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  2. Hey Ginny. Thanks. I fully understand your sentiment, but we’re talking about two levels of change here, I think. I mean, and I should have put that in my analysis, and I think I meant to, but this is as good a time to address it as any.

    There are two levels of change. On the one hand, Obama is building one of the biggest coalitions where his supporters REALLY believe in him. And this speaks much more to what you’re talking about. Every politician has supporters that truly believe in their candidate, and I fully respect that, but Obama I believe took that to a new level.

    And then the stuff above is totally separate from that. This is pure on the ground strategy where, as you mention, everyone’s playing one game, and he’s playing another. From a casual, or even better than casual point of view, you don’t see it, but there it is. Once you start asking questions, why is he winning all these caucuses, and why has he lost all of the big states but still kept Clinton from the delegate lead from beginning to end? And then how is he going to pivot and transform this into a national strategy.

    The answers really do start pointing you in this direction where you have to ask yourself, has anyone really done this in electoral politics?

    Political machines get passed down from one to the next. McCain’s, for instance, is an amalgamation of the lobbyists he has curried favor with, and Bush’s team (note, Karl Rove is a consultant). Clinton inherited her campaign from her husband.

    Obama built his organization almost from scratch, and we’re seeing it’s effectiveness. I mean, you really want the scope of how effective his organization is, he lockedin the nomination back in early March; locked it in so well that it has allowed him to weather wright and rezko, and bitter and just about everything that has come down the pike.

    That points to an awesomeness of organization that McCain will not be able to rival in the slightest.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by and don’t be a stranger.

  3. tg says:

    Interesting analysis, and you make some good points. I’d certainly agree that Obama’s campaign has made some very smart moves. But three caveats. First, Hillary’s campaign made some really truly boneheaded moves to give Obama the opening. And second, while “brilliant” is a fair word for Obama’s campaign, they haven’t been brilliant enough to put Hillary away in–how long has it been?–three months that they’ve had her on the ropes. And third, if his tactical skill is so great, what does it then say about his true level of popular support that he can barely beat Hillary despite outfoxing her at every turn?

  4. jonathan says:

    A vote for Obama still requires a “willful suspension” of the truth. As a voter who is being asked to consider the “most liberal member of the Senate”, I am amazed at how Obama has changed his rhetoric to sound mainstream and Clintonesque, while anyone who can read his history
    of associations(the radical Wright,Ayers,Acorn) and the willfull blindness of the media outlets to his bs factor.Everyone knows McCain. He’s a Republican. Big surprise! Who is Obama? He does not want us to know and he is a clever card player.As a voter, I don’t play cards with a shark in a suit…

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