President Barack Obama obviously is scrambling in his attempt to win re-election. He has proclaimed himself the underdog and has given up his pretense of being a pragmatic centrist compromiser in favor of harsh class warfare rhetoric.
But it's worth taking note of what he has squandered. In 2008, Obama won 53 percent of the popular vote. That may not sound like a landslide, but it's more than any other Democratic presidential nominee in history except Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.
Higher than Woodrow Wilson and Grover Cleveland, higher than Harry Truman and John Kennedy, higher than Jimmy Carter and (but don't bring up the subject with him) Bill Clinton.
Why have so few Democratic nominees won 53 percent or more, as 10 different Republican nominees have? The historical reason is that the Democratic Party has been an unruly coalition of disparate groups -- big-city Catholics and Southern whites for the century after the Civil War -- which usually has been hard to hold together.
Obama's 2008 coalition included two-thirds of young voters and Latinos, majorities of those earning more than $200,000 and those earning less than $50,000, non-college whites in the upper Midwest, and 95 percent of blacks nationwide. Some obvious tensions there.
Now his strategists feel obliged to pick which groups he'll concentrate on to get back up to 50 percent. What's interesting is that his demographic strategists and his issue strategists seem to be eyeing different groups.
The demographic targeters, in their quest for 270 electoral votes, have decided to concentrate on traditionally Republican states that Obama carried in 2008, according to a report in The New York Times. They note that some of these states -- e.g., Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina -- have above-average percentages of college-educated voters, who trended strongly toward Obama.
They add that those three states have more electoral votes (37) than Florida (29) and twice as many as Ohio (18), which were both target states in each of the past three presidential elections. But Ohio and Florida have lower percentages of college-educated residents, and the movement toward Obama compared with past Democrats was relatively minimal.
This may be smart targeting. For years, Democrats have been seeking to regain the majorities they won from blue-collar whites in the days of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. But they are a declining percentage of the electorate, and it's been a long time since they have given Democrats any majority at all for president.
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