What do you call a candidate who wins 90 percent of the African-American vote, between 30 percent and 50 percent of the Hispanic vote and 40 percent of the white vote in a tight Democratic primary race?
A general election loser.
Apply those percentages to the general election, and the candidate will bomb. In 2004, President Bush won 43 percent of the Hispanic vote, 58 percent of the white vote and 11 percent of the African-American vote. That means that John Kerry did better among Hispanics than Barack Obama has done in the Democratic primaries; better among whites than Obama has done in the Democratic primaries; and almost as well among African-Americans. Obama’s coalition is Kerry’s, but weaker.
In a general election, candidates must appeal to the broadest base of support in order to win. Relying on small coteries of like-raced voters simply will not do it. And the simple fact is that Barack Obama will gain the Democratic nomination by winning intellectual centers, black voters and just enough whites to beat a deeply flawed Hillary Clinton.
This is not a winning coalition. It is, in fact, a recipe for disaster against John McCain.
The black vote counts for a far greater percentage in the Democratic primaries than it does in the general election; McCain can lose virtually the entire black vote and still win handily (Bush did it in 2000 and 2004, Bush’s father did it in 1988 and Reagan did it in 1984 and 1980).
McCain will do far better among whites than Hillary did. Obama cut especially into Clinton’s main base of support — whites — by exploiting her gender, winning 40 percent of white males in Indiana and 45 percent of white males in North Carolina. McCain is far more appealing to white men than Clinton. Hillary is perceived as a shrew — most men find her unpalatable. If Obama could not win more than 45 percent of white men in North Carolina running against Clinton, how can he hope to beat that percentage against McCain?
And then there’s the Hispanic vote. For a Democrat, Obama is shockingly unpopular among Hispanics — he won just 32 percent of California’s Hispanic vote in the Democratic primary. McCain, by contrast, is incredibly popular among Hispanics — he routinely wins 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in his Arizona Senate contests. Such percentages will not translate directly to the general election, of course — there are more registered Hispanic Democrats than Hispanic Republicans. But those percentages bode ill for Obama, who will struggle to overcome racial barriers, as well as an immigration-friendly Republican like McCain, who also shares many family values with Hispanic Catholics.
These numbers are not likely to change significantly before November. This is because Obama has established himself as a candidate — he is a mixed-race Adlai Stevenson carbon copy with better rhetorical skill. His association with Jeremiah Wright will not win him additional white votes; his elitism will not win him additional lower-class votes; his racial appeal does not have the same appeal to Hispanic voters.
This leaves McCain in the unexpected position of November front-runner. He will almost certainly win Florida and Ohio, and he will challenge in Pennsylvania. He will retain the states President Bush won, as well.
Democrats expected a political realignment in 2008, with a strong new coalition led by young voters. Instead, they may end up with 1972 all over again.