George Barack Dukakis

Posted: May 29, 2008 12:01 AM
George Barack Dukakis

On Saturday the Democratic Party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will likely remove all barriers to Senator Barack Obama’s nomination. In doing so, Democrats will select a nominee who has been routed repeatedly in crucial swing states by an opponent with the highest negative approval ratings ever to run for an open seat presidency.

Last week, Mr. Obama delivered a victory speech having just lost Kentucky by a 2-1 margin to Hillary Clinton. The week before, he lost West Virginia by similar margin. Before that he lost Ohio and Pennsylvania.

For a party so eager to get back into the White House, the Obama nomination is a curious move.

Mr. Obama is certainly bright, and his political team is sharp. But he just cannot connect with white working-class voters. He believes he can find votes elsewhere. In fact, he and his strategists might even think losing the general election is inconceivable.

All of the leading political indicators are in the Democrat column. Voters are uneasy about the slow-growth economy, President Bush is extremely unpopular, and the nation is embroiled in a lengthy, costly, and unpopular war. By all accounts the Democrats should have it wrapped up. Yet almost every national poll shows Mr. Obama tied or behind John McCain.

And Bill Clinton knows why. The only successful Democrat nominee since 1976, Mr. Clinton transformed his innate understanding of white working-class concerns into two presidential terms. His political persona appealed to blue-collar Rust Belt workers, hardscrabble Appalachians, and inner-ring suburban voters.

Mrs. Clinton too has demonstrated the same keen political skill. Unfortunately for her, the left-wing of her party has grown weary of the center-left Clinton political brand. They found an ideological match with Mr. Obama.

Still, most political strategists will concede a Democrat cannot win the presidency without winning over a majority of white working-class voters. In fact, no Democrat has ever done it. States like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where many of these voters live, are vital to winning the presidency. Lose any two and all is lost.

Democrats should look back to 1972 and 1988. Like Mr. Obama, George McGovern and Michael Dukakis carried the enthusiastic majority of liberals, college students, and African-Americans. They also conceded white working-class voters to the Republicans.

Mr. Obama, of course, acknowledges the flawed Democrat strategies of past elections and promises a new political coalition. He points to the multitudes of new voters he has brought into the political process. Mr. McGovern also touted his ability to inspire and mobilize young voters. In fact, his support among college-aged students equaled or surpassed Mr. Obama’s current support.

Further, Mr. Obama’s political team does not see a problem with white working-class voters. They just see problematic states and will compensate those ones by winning Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Virginia, Iowa, and possibly Ohio. Ohio is included to avoid the wholesale discrediting of this strategy. Although, they are probably writing it off as well.

While recent tracking polls give Mr. Obama an advantage over McCain in Colorado, his overall western state strategy seems to ignore an important variable. Mr. McCain has cut his political teeth winning elections by appealing to the self-reliant and forward-looking voters who populate the western states.

Moreover, while the immigration issue has caused Mr. McCain problems with the Republican base, it uniquely positions him as a viable alternative to Mrs. Clinton’s Latino supporters in those states.

Virginia is another matter. Democrats have made significant inroads there winning the governor’s mansion in 2005 and a senate seat in 2006. However, the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state was Lyndon Johnson. An Obama victory in Virginia is very far from a sure thing.

Add the DNC’s disenfranchisement of primary voters in Florida and Michigan, and Mr. Obama’s prospects in those two states seem tenuous at best.

A year that was supposed to hold enormous promise for the Democrat nominee now seems like a flashback to past defeats of them. And Mr. Obama, who touts himself as a new type of political leader, now seems like a practitioner of old and failed political strategies. Oh, how history repeats itself.