One of the accepted political axioms of this election season has been that Sen. Barack Obama (DIll.), despite winning 10 straight state and territory Democratic primary elections, would not be able to compete with his opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y
It became the mantra of the Clinton campaign heading into the Texas primary, with an estimated quarter of the Texas electorate consisting of Hispanic voters, many of them quite fond of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
But as the Texas campaigning grew more testy (as Clinton’s oncedouble- digit poll lead shrank to a deficit two days before the vote), there was a resurgence of rhetoric suggesting that Hispanics and Black candidates were at odds, and the difference was Black and Brown.
This election, however, has proven to be the myth-buster of all elections, where accepted political axioms have been discarded as soon as the votes have been counted. The myth that a first-term, U.S. Senator, from a centrist state like
Illinois, with no national pedigree, would even be able to challenge in a race that featured such well-known names like Clinton, Biden, Edwards and Dodd, was quickly dispelled.
After the Iowa caucuses, everyone knew who Barack Obama was, and while some still discounted his Iowa victory, they were now ready to disbelieve. When the pollsters and pundits too quickly pronounced Hillary Clinton dead in New Hampshire, she confounded their “punditry” and found herself grinding out a win in the Granite State, reaffirming her frontrunner status.
But then Obamamania caught fire, and singed both Hillary and her husband in South Carolina, setting the stage for a Super Tuesday showdown that was supposed to end, once and for all, the Obama “fairy tale.” Instead, Obama more than held his own on Feb. 5, winning more states and more delegates, though losing in New York and California.
What then followed was an amazing string of victories that established Obama, a neophyte on the national scene, a supposed lightweight compared to Clinton, as the party’s front-runner.
Throughout, it was alleged that Obama did not have a broad enough base to adequately represent all Democrats, because he was deriving most of his electoral support from new voters, young voters, more educated voters, Black voters and independent voters (as if that were a crime).
It was reasoned that he wasn’t getting blue-collar voters, female voters, older voters, white male voters and Hispanic voters, who preferred Clinton. A funny thing happened on the way to the nomination.
Obama began to draw from those demographics as well, and began to outpoll Clinton. He got working class voters in Wisconsin, female voters in Illinois, older voters in Nevada, white male voters in Virginia and older voters in Maryland. Still, he had real, not fairy tale, hurdles to overcome with the Hispanic community.
Even one of his Illinois supporters, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, criticized the Obama campaign’s lack of cohesion in reaching the Hispanic voters in his home state. It was especially troubling since Obama had won the Hispanic vote in both his unsuccessful run against Cong. Bobby Rush (D-1st) and his successful U.S. Senate election.
Certainly, the fault is not with the Hispanic voters, who have shown that they will vote their interests, and not skin color, and have a history of recognizing that they have much affinity with the Black electorate. But Obama has shown that he can reach out to Hispanic voters and is not out of step on some of the more crucial issues – immigration, jobs, education and ending the Iraq War in a swift, but reasonable way.
The reality is that Hispanics have surpassed Blacks as this nation’s largest minority and Obama could no sooner ignore their interests than he could ignore the interests of women, especially since Hispanics have been known to vote as much as 70 percent Democratic in recent elections (despite a noticeable misstep in voting 40 percent for George Bush.) Those seeking to drive a wedge between Black and Brown voters in this election (including some Black and Brown pundits and activists), miss the point.
While one Latino columnist in Texas noted that a vote for Obama would put Blacks ahead of Hispanics on the national stage (thus, arguing that a white woman would at least preserve the status quo), others have realized that Obama seems to have struck a chord with younger voters, including younger Hispanic voters. Obama won 59 percent of the vote among Hispanic 30-44 year olds, the largest age bloc, in Illinois.
That represents a future that is not governed by skin color, but by shared interests. It also suggests an opportunity for a new coalition that will change the face of politics and the entire country. Lou Ransom is executive editor of the Chicago Defender. He can be reached at lransom@chicagodefender. com.
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