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Civil unrest over the city's condition ignites Detroit in 1967, resulting in 43 deaths, 7,000 arrests and $50 million in damage.

The Home Stretch

POSTED: October 17, 2008, 12:00 pm

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As the presidential campaign gallops toward the home stretch, the race between Republican candidate Senator John McCain and Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama now hinges upon their respective get out the vote operations, and their ability to turn key voting blocs. With Obama showing momentum in key battleground states and making inroads among independent voters, the McCain campaign will have to rely on wedge issues and surgical strikes over the airwaves to mobilize core constituencies to turn out in record numbers.

Already a detectable pattern appears to be shaping up according to polling data and post-debate reaction after Wednesday’s presidential debate at Hofstra University. Senator Obama appears to be enjoying strong support among younger voters, women, Blacks and Latinos, while he is also picking up steam with undecided voters who tend to be more independent. Senator McCain is drawing support from more conservative leaning white, working class voters, particularly in southern states, older voters, and among men. While each candidate is running strong among his base, the election looks as though it will turn on the ability of either candidate to maximize turnout among their base and expand their support by bring new voters to the fold. Several states are reporting record high voter registration and states that have early voting are seeing a surge in the number of people casting ballots. There is every indication that voting in this presidential election will set a record.

The all important electoral map is starting to shape up as the real focus should be on each candidate’s proximity toward the magic 270 electoral votes necessary to be declared victorious. The infamous 2000 election between President Bush and former Vice President Al Gore was a civics lesson for most of America as the electorate came to understand the significance of the Electoral College and the degree to which the popular vote may not determine the ultimate victor in a presidential contest.

The Civil War Revisited

In many ways the electoral map looks like the nation’s divide during the Civil War, with red states and blue states lining up along the Union v. Dixie axis. Already key states are being tracked to determine which candidate is more likely to reach the magic number. To date, Senator Obama appears on track to secure enough electoral votes to win but there are too many unknowns to predict the outcome at this time with any degree of certainty. In several key swing states such as Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, Obama appears to be in position to take those states. In other places such as Virginia, traditionally a strong Republican state, the Illinois Democrat appears to be in striking range to move the state to his column. He has the support of its Democratic governor, Tim Kaine, an early endorser of Obama and someone who was mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, and the benefit of a dramatic change in the state’s demographics with the growth of its more cosmopolitan northern region. Senator Obama is also positioned well in North Carolina, another state like Virginia that has seen its population change and a surge of Black voters who have returned from the north, as well as a large increase in voter registration. Florida, a state that has become Ground Zero in presidential politics, looks like a toss-up at the present moment.

For his part Senator McCain appears to be holding on to most of the other southern states. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are trending toward the Republican. In many ways, as a recent New York Times article illustrated, old sentiments among whites about Blacks continue to hold sway among voters in those states. Many of the coded messages embedded in the McCain campaign’s communications strategy - William Ayers, domestic terrorism, Christian values, patriotism – plays well among a core group of southern white voters who tend to be less educated, with far less personal contact with Blacks and relatively little experience outside their immediate community. Still, there could be surprises in some of those states if younger white voters, those on college campuses and Black students on the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities turn out in record numbers and vote for Obama. One state that could fit this mode is Georgia, where there is a large contingent of white college students from northern states, a more cosmopolitan and eclectic population in Atlanta, and a large Black voting bloc.

If Ohio and Michigan does indeed break for Senator Obama, the state of Pennsylvania may become a real flashpoint. Long recognized as being important in the electoral vote math, the Keystone State has come to represent the “white working class” voter. Republicans have been hopeful that Senator McCain will enjoy a natural advantage in the state simply based upon the dynamics of race and class. During the Democratic primary Senator Hillary Clinton also suggested that these voters would not break for Obama, who she accused of being “elitist” and out of touch with working class concerns. The McCain campaign picked up on that theme and has been trying to paint Obama as indifferent to these voters. The Obama campaign countered by putting Senator Joe Biden, a Pennsylvania native with a roll up the sleeves, working class persona, on the ticket and taking great pains to establish a real footprint in the state. There is also much at stake for the state’s Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, a former mayor of Philadelphia. The governor already has some baggage with his off the cuff remark that whites in his state would not vote for Obama during the Pennsylvania primary. If Rendell can deliver his state, he stands to be well positioned with an Obama administration. If Pennsylvania falls into the Republican column, and Obama wins, Governor Rendell will find himself on the outside looking in. In many ways November 4 is as significant for Rendell as it is for Senator Obama.

Fear Factors

White, Democratic Union Voters: They could spell trouble for Senator Obama if reports of the extent of their reluctance to support their union’s choice for President hold true. If they walk, or simply don’t vote, a key Democratic voting bloc will be diminished. Their absence in pulling the vote is also critical as unions are the Democratic Party’s ground troops during presidential elections.

Jewish Voters: Already a complex relationship exists between Jews and Black Americans, with each group competing for “suffering rights.” Suspicions among Jews over Obama’s faith and whether he is courting Palestinians in the Middle East conflict has some Jewish voters applying an Israel litmus test to his candidacy.

Older, White Voters: Its true, old people vote. For all the talk about the surge in young voters, senior voters consistently rule the day in elections. Many in this group matured during the Jim Crow era and can’t fathom the idea of a Black President. Still, many will be influenced by their children and grandchildren who don’t have the same institutional memory and are not burdened by racist sentiment.

Uneducated White Voters:
Since slavery, whites with limited education have worked against their own economic self-interest by hedging their bets on racial solidarity than with an alignment with similarly situated Blacks. To see and hear these white voters, who have been crushed in this economic meltdown, speak suspiciously of Senator Obama, explains fully why economic disparities continue to persist in this nation. Mush of their opposition is based upon racial paranoia.

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