'Honkies' for Hillary
Posted on: 2008-05-21 11:59:25
Clinton's appeal to working class whites works in Kentucky, doesn't sell in lilywhite Oregon
Hillary Clinton's "W Word" appeal to working class voters seems to have paid off in the Kentucky primary, where she demolished black rival Barack Obama by about 20%, a repeat of the 41 points she won over Obama last Tuesday in neighboring West Virginia.
Her renewed success in these states, often slandered as "redneck," "hillbilly" and "white trash" because of the blue collar white population, is seen as a response to her statement to USA Today that "I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on." Clinton was referring to an Associated Press article which "found how Senator Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There's a pattern emerging here. These are the people you have to win if you're a Democrat in sufficient numbers to actually win the election. Everybody knows that."
While her statement was immediately condemned, it definately resonated with lower income whites in West Virginia, Kentucky and elsewhere who live near large black populations. The appeal did not pay off, though, in heavily white Oregon, which banned legal black residency in the state until the 1960s and whose white Democrats are comparatively wealthy and ideologically liberal. The Oregon primary, held on the same day as Kentucky's, ended with Obama winning 58 percent of the vote to Clinton's 42 percent.
A general rule is that in contests where race is a key issue, whites who live in mixed race areas are more likely to vote for the person or issue perceived to be prowhite, while whites in affluent/and or unmixed areas tend to often vote for nonwhites to prove to themselves or others how "progressive" they are. A similar situation happened early in the Democratic race when Democrats in mainly white Iowa selected Obama. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Iowa caucuses were public, and so many whites were clearly afraid of looking "racist" by not supporting the black man.
Race still was an issue in Oregon though. Older and poorer whites tended to vote for Clinton, while the affluent backed Barack. So did the impressionable young, who cited the corny Obama slogan of "Change" as their reason for voting for him. It is probable that Oregon's comparatively small black population followed the lead of blacks elsewhere, voting racially for Obama at about 90%.
Back in Kentucky the racial dynamics were obvious to all, despite hopeful claims about "class, not race" being the issue. NBC's Chris Matthews commented on the all white crowd behind Hillary as she gave her victory speech: "I thought a giveaway line was "who is best positioned to win in November?" That is not exactly a self crediting commentary. When you position yourself in politics, it's a deliberate effort to try to find a space, not necessarily your own passionate position, or your real position, but to find a place, to triangulate, to try to find a place that appeals to a certain percentage of the voters that will carry you over. And to advertise yourself as the "best-positioned" is not really a statement of authenticity, it's a statement of political positioning. It's a Dick Morris phrase, if anything. It's certainly an odd way to portray it. I think I know what she's saying, which is "I'm perhaps stronger on defense, perhaps I'm white, perhaps I'm appealing to the working class." I do think it's interesting that her crowd was white tonight. That was interesting. Usually they try to mix it up a bit, up near the lectern on purpose, to give it a sense of random selection. It didn't look very random there."
Part of the problem was probably the fact that there were no blacks who support Clinton, and certainly none willing to play token black for Hillary. Supporting Hillary is openly called racial treason by many blacks, and some of her "closest" black allies have deserted her as a result. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign on at least one occasion was caught manipulating seating arrangements at a public event to falsely create the camera impression that he had huge white support.