There was absolutely no surprise at the results of Super Tuesday. This writer flatly said days before the first vote was cast that Super Tuesday would be anything but super for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and that neither would or could deliver the knockout punch.
There are two colossal reasons that virtually preordained the muddled, confused and frustrating outcome for the two Democratic presidential contenders. The first is the Democrat's winner-not-take-all proportional system and the system of super delegates that they have dumped onto the primaries. Super delegates are at large delegates and can pretty much vote for whomever they want, and under the proportional system delegates can be divvied up according to the vote total that the respective candidate gets in Congressional districts. The idea behind that is to bring democracy with a small d to the vote process and snatch the decision about who gets the big prize out of deal making party bosses at the national convention.
But the first reason for the Democrat's Super Tuesday muddle pales when stacked up against the second reason. And that's the fast emerging and much alarming polarization among Democratic voters, or put another way, the hard lines between those backing Obama and those backing Clinton and the reasons why they're backing them. Exit polls showed two clear things. The overwhelming majority of African-Americans in the South back Obama. The overwhelming majority of Latinos in the Western states back Clinton. The other is that white men in increasingly bigger numbers are backing Obama. And Democratic voters are supporting their picks with passion and zeal.
Latinos and blacks are the two big, strategically placed, and dependable voting blocs for the Democrats. In every election back to Lyndon Baines Johnson's smash victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964, blacks have been the loyalist of loyal foot soldiers for the Democrats. With the surge in Latino voting numbers in the past two decades, Latinos have been just as important to the Democrats and have been nearly as loyal to them as blacks.
The tormenting question for Clinton then is if she eventually gets the grand Democratic prize will African-American voters who have virtually turned their tout of Obama into a messianic crusade back her with the same fervor and more importantly numbers? A lackluster and lukewarm turnout by blacks for her would spell big trouble for her and the Democrats in November.
The equally tormenting question for Obama is if he eventually gets the Democratic grand prize will Latino voters back him with the same fervor and numbers as they did Clinton? The same rule applies to him as Clinton. A lackluster and indifferent turnout by Latinos would spell big trouble for him and the Democrats in November.
Then there's the question of white male voters. They make up nearly forty percent of the American electorate. In every election dating back to Ronald Reagan's big wins over the Democrats in the 1980s and since, they have powered GOP victories in national elections and more importantly have been the sure ticket of GOP presidents to the White House. Bush got a whopping sixty four percent of the white male vote, and he did even better among white males in the South. Their sudden like of Obama then is suspect. The perplexing question is are they voting for Obama because they are truly sold on his message of hope and change, or is there a darker reason? And that is that they hate the thought of a woman bagging the highest office, especially if that woman is named Hillary.
A dirty secret little of the campaign just may be that in this age of supposed gender enlightenment when men profess profusely that they have no problem backing a woman for president many secretly do. This is not idle speculation. Polls have consistently shown that while whites are virtually unanimous in saying that they have no problem voting for an African-American for president, far fewer say the same about a woman.
When the dust finally settles in the fall, the eventual GOP presidential nominee will do his internal fence mending in the party, and will placate the warring other presidential opponents and competing factions. He will have the usual king's ransom campaign chest, the spin of Fox and other major cable TV news outlets and conservative talk radio jocks, the solid backing of millions of conservatives and Christian evangelicals, the sure electoral votes of most of the South and the heartland states, the X factor of race and gender working in his favor against Hillary and Obama, and the hunger to maintain Republican dominance.
The last thing that the Democrats need is a fractured Democratic Party that's hopelessly split into two feuding, finger pointing and irreconcilable factions. That could pose an even greater peril to their bid to take back the White house than the GOP. That possibility is looming bigger and bigger.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).