In The New Republic, John B. Judis takes a hard look at the fallout of Obama’s “clinging to religion” comments, especially in light of the need for the Democrats to make inroads into heartland states. He comes to the same conclusions that many are coming to: the electoral math just doesn’t favor Obama:
To win in November, a Democratic presidential candidate has to carry most of the industrial heartland states that stretch from Pennsylvania to Missouri. That becomes even more imperative if a Democrat can’t carry Florida–and because of his relative weakness in South Florida, Obama is unlikely to do so against McCain. Ruy Teixeira and I have calculated that in the heartland states, a Democratic presidential candidate has to win from 45 to 48 percent of the white working class vote. In some states, like West Virginia and Kentucky, the percentage is well over a majority.
Some Democrats insist that Obama need not worry about these states because he will be able to make up for a defeat in Ohio or even Pennsylvania with a victory in Virginia or Colorado. But in Virginia, McCain will be able to draw upon coastal suburbanites closely tied to the military. These voters backed Democrats like Chuck Robb and Jim Webb, who are both veterans, but they may not go for Obama. And in the Southwest, McCain will be able to challenge Obama among Hispanics. So to win in November, Obama will have to win almost all of these heartland states. Which is a problem, because even before he uttered his infamous words about these voters “clinging” to guns, religion, abortion, and fears about free trade, Obama looked vulnerable in the region. A look at the white working class’s relationship with earlier Democratic candidates underscores the various reasons why.
His analysis is interesting, as he explains how Democrats have successfully won in the heartland, and why that matters in 2008. With John McCain as the nominee, the Democrats are going to face an uphill battle. McCain is hardly a tool of the political machine, he’s a bona-fide war hero, and it’s going to be hard to paint him as some kind of radical extremist.
The Democratic race keeps getting more and more interesting. Before Obama’s moment of honesty in San Francisco it was looking like Hillary Clinton was inevitable—an inevitable failure. Now, Democrats have to question whether they want to go with the devil they know or a candidate who could end with the same set of electoral liabilities as John Kerry, and then some.
The Democrats cannot win on a bi-coastal ticket. While it’s not at all certain that the 2000-2004 electoral map will be relevant in 2008, it’s as good as starting point as any. Could Obama pick off enough states from the Republican column to win? Possibly, but he could also cause the Democrats to lose key states like Florida or even Pennsylvania. The Democrats cannot ignore the heartland, and when the leading Democratic candidate so brazenly insults heartland voters, it doesn’t help. It truly doesn’t help when the Democratic Party endorses those insults. In the end, Barack Obama may capture the hearts of Democratic primary voters, but he may lose the general election in a landslide.