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clinton and obama

In 2006 the Democrats executed a remarkable turn-around that promised to pave the way to the White House. Two years later the Party has wandered from that path, with potentially disastrous consequences.

The 2006 CNN exit poll data tell a story that needs repeating. In Ohio, African Americans voted 85% for Brown. Seventy-two percent of those with incomes under $15,000 voted for Brown and 64% of those with incomes under $30,000 were Brown supporters. Once you get above $30,000 the support for Brown goes down steadily, the higher the income. Then come the union members–75% of them voted for Brown. In short, Brown’s most enthusiastic supporters were African Americans, low income people, and union members. Without them Brown would have had a much closer race. The poll also asked whether voters felt they were getting ahead, staying the same or falling behind. Seventy-six percent of those who felt they were falling behind voted for Brown.

Moving to the too-close-to-call-until-Allen-conceded Virginia senate race we see a similar pattern. Eighty-five percent of African Americans supported Webb. As for income, 64% of those with incomes under $15,000 were Webb supporters as were 59% of those making under $30,000.

In Pennsylvania, 90% of African Americans supported Casey–an incredible number. The income figures for Casey parallel those of the other winning Senate candidates with 76% of those with incomes under $15,000 supporting Casey. Sixty-eight percent of union households also supported Casey.

I could go on and cite similar figures for other winning Democratic senate candidates, but if this party is to retain control of Congress and capture the White House in 2008, they had better remember who it was that got them where they are: people of color, the poor, and union members. Without them they would have won none of those 1966 races or they certainly would have been a lot closer.

These are people who probably don’t read blogs, who are trying to get by on what little income they have, who know the playing field has already been tilted so steeply it looks to them like an unclimbable cliff. They are people who maybe long ago should have lost faith in democracy, who should have joined that still growing largest party in America–the nonvoters, but they did not. These are people who the GOP has been trying to intimidate out of voting, who after 2000 and 2004 could have been expected to give up hope. But they did not. In their optimism, in their refusal to quit on democracy is a message we should all take to heart as we ponder the current Presidential contest.

This election is about whether America will help level the playing field that has been tilted away from these people by Republicans who believe the heart of democracy lies in those who live in mansions and ride in chauffeured cars not in those Americans who go to work each day and just try to make ends meet.

As anyone who has followed the closely fought Democratic Presidential contest knows, the triumvirate of voters who were largely responsible for those 2006 victories have had a wedge driven between them. The two candidates have accomplished what the GOP could not–split the coalition into warring camps. In 2008 African Americans who have overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama now openly wonder if they can support Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile the low income and union voters who won Clinton Ohio just as they won it for Sherrod Brown, wonder if they can support Obama.

The biggest question that the Democratic Party faces is whether the winning combination of 2008 can be put back together? If it cannot, the Party might as well concede the White House. Yet Party leaders seem to be ignoring this serious split, naively figuring none of those groups will desert the Democratic candidate for John McCain.

McCain could pull a Ronald Reagan and capture enough of the blue collar and low income vote to win the election. Meanwhile, African Americans could just stay home. That the possible has now become the plausible constitutes a major casualty of this divisive campaign. The mistake the Party made with what became known as the Reagan Democrats was to assume leaders of these groups could move the rank and file. if 1980 taught anything it was that those days were over.

To ask Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to not campaign hard for the nomination would be a mistake, but as they engage in this contest they need to remember to not alienate voters they will need in November. They need to remember the lessons of 2006.

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