Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Weekend in Bittertown

Back on March 12 after the Mississippi primary, Barack Obama was leading Hillary Clinton by 1611 delegates to 1480. Today, a month and no primaries or caucuses later, CNN puts his lead at 1631 to 1488, a net gain of 12 delegates for Barack. The primaries resume next week in Pennsylvania on April 22, followed by Indiana and North Carolina on May 6.

All Barack had left to do was show up for his campaign rallies and secretly revel in the media sniper fire Hillary was taking on Bosnia, trade deals, and $109 million tax returns. But then Barack got caught on tape at a private campaign fundraiser in San Francisco portraying small town Americans in Pennsylvania and across the Midwest as bitter and clinging in frustration to guns, religion, and various xenophobias.

Barack’s supporters will forgive these remarks and many will even agree with him. But as far as large portions of middle America is concerned, strike one was Michelle Obama never being never been proud of America, strike two was Reverend Wright, and Bittertown is strike three. While Barack may still win the Democratic nomination, the real problem will come against John McCain in the fall.

The Democratic Party’s blue state base is very strong, 18 states plus DC worth 248 of the 270 electoral votes needed to elect the next President. They have won these states in all four of the last elections (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004).

Here are the states the Democrats have the best chance to pick up: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Ohio. They also have a fair chance to pick up Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. That’s a lot of chances to win.

But what do all of these states have in common? Most all are places with lots of small towns where people like to hunt and attend church and don’t like to be called xenophobes. And John McCain will be a very appealing candidate in all these places. So the Bittertown blunder could close off all Barack’s chances to win in November.

It gets worse. Bittertown could cost Barack some of the blue state base, such as Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. There’s talk McCain could be competitive in New York and Massachusetts. Pretty soon Barack Obama is getting only the 111 electoral votes Michael Dukakis got in 1998, the 49 electoral votes Jimmy Carter got in 1980, the 17 electoral votes George McGovern got in 1972, or the 13 electoral votes Walter Mondale got in 1984.

On the other hand, if this gaffe forces Barack to get out into these states, he might learn how to talk to small town America. And if he crafts a message to appeal to some of these states, that message would do well in all these states.

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