A White, Working-Class State for Obama

Jeff Alworth

By every reasonable measure, the election's over.  The math doesn't lie, and since North Carolina, the flood of superdelegates and Edwards delegates have put Obama on track to seal this thing up by early June.  The tenor of the campaign has shifted, and with attacks on Obama by Bush, we've entered general-election mode.  Hillary hasn't explicitly conceded, but in the new positive incarnation of her campaign, we can hear the concession.  So once again, Oregon's vote looks to come too late to affect the election. 

But that's just if you look at the numbers.  In an equally important dimension--the battle of perception and narrative--Oregon could save the day for an Obama campaign.  For months, a meme has been developed by lazy pundits who say Obama has lost the blue-collar white vote.  Obama got killed in West Virginia, true enough, but since when did West Virginians stand in as representative of all white voters?

Enter Oregon.  Forget the People's Republic of Portland--the Beaver State is plenty hardscrabble.  Obama_waterfront Our median income is nearly $2,000 below the national average, our per-capita income is lower than the national average, we have more people in poverty, and we regularly have higher unemployment.  And of course, we're bone white--90.5%, tenth whitest in the nation.  Come tomorrow night, Obama will have notched another primary thanks to the broad support of whites, and pundits will be reminded that Obama did well with that demographic in Connecticut, Maryland, Missouri, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

And let's not forget the 75,000 who showed up yesterday to watch him speak.  The mostly-white crowd provided an undeniable visual for those who want to pigeonhole Obama.  How to reconcile the idea that he is unpalatable to whites when he can--as a primary-election candidate--draw one of the biggest crowds in recent political memory?

(Admittedly, it appears Obama does have a problem in Appalachia.  Where he does poorly among whites are in the mountains running from Pennsylvania southward [read this fine post for a fine-texture analysis, including a stark map.] Part of this is cultural and historical, and  part of it points to another  reason he does poorly in certain states.  He does worse with older voters in general, and particularly with older whites.  West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio all have an older population, and West Virginia, where he got killed, was the oldest.)

Oregon's central role in this election won't be putting Obama over the 50%-mark in pledged delegates (though we probably will do that).  Rather, it's in reminding everyone that his broad base of support includes whites and poorer voters.  Obama came to Oregon needing to show the depth of this support.  Tomorrow night, that will rightly be the story.
PHOTO: Tobiascoyote

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