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Hispanic, Asian Vote: A ‘Game Changer’ in California?

by David Winston

(Correction Appended)

It’s been a rough week for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Instead of finally closing the deal on the Democratic presidential nomination, he was soundly defeated by New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Pennsylvania primary.

But more than just losing another major state, his failure to attract blue-collar Democrats has raised doubts about his ability to put together a winning coalition in key big states in November.

If that weren’t enough, Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, also re-emerged this week with defiant and impolitic appearances before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Press Club.

Still, I suspect, his campaign is comforting itself with the notion that at least things can’t get any worse. Except they can get worse — and much worse at that.

For the first time in nearly two decades, California may now be in play for both parties, the Democrats’ worst nightmare.

Unlike Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states where Obama’s weakness with “Reagan Democrats” has kept him from wrapping up the nomination, the Hispanic vote and, to a smaller degree, the Asian vote, could well be his Achilles’ heel in California this November.

Democrats will be quick to discount this notion, rejecting out of hand any possibility that this usually reliable Democratic mega state could end up in the Republican column. But even a basic analysis of primary election and exit poll results shows that Obama may have a Hispanic problem every bit as significant as his working-class disconnect that has been so apparent in recent primaries.

Looking at the overall outcome on Super Tuesday, Clinton won the Hispanic vote by a huge 63-35 percent margin. State by state, the numbers are equally remarkable. In New Mexico, her winning margin with Hispanic voters was 26 points; 38 points in New Jersey; 35 points in California; 47 points in New York; 20 points in Massachusetts; and 14 points in Arizona.

Even in his home state of Illinois, Obama only eked out a 1-point victory over Clinton with Hispanic voters, 50-49 percent. Post Super Tuesday, Clinton won the Hispanic vote in Texas, 66-32 percent and in Maryland, 55-45 percent.

While the Hispanic vote will play a key role in a number of states, none is more important or has more potential to change the outcome of the general election than California. Democrats must win California to win the presidency, and in recent presidential elections, Republicans have all but opted out of playing in the Golden State.

It takes an enormous amount of time and money to campaign in California, and for years, the odds didn’t favor Republicans. In 2000, Gore won the state with 53-42 percent. Kerry also carried California handily with 54-44 percent.

But Obama’s weakness with Hispanic voters could be a game changer in California.

In 2000, Hispanics accounted for 14 percent of the California electorate and 21 percent in 2004. One would expect that percentage to be even higher in 2008.

A more in-depth look into the numbers shows Obama’s usual strength with younger voters doesn’t hold true for young Hispanic voters.

In California, Obama won white voters ages 18-29 by a big margin, 63-32 percent. But Clinton won younger Hispanics, who voted more like Hispanics than young people, with 65-35 percent.

Obama is also at a disadvantage in California because the African-American vote, which now gives him more than 90 percent support in most states, makes up a much smaller part of the overall electorate. In 2006, it accounted for only 5 percent of the vote, 1 point less than the Asian community, which is also not good for Obama.

Clinton won Asian voters in the California primary by a staggering 71-25 percent. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also won the Asian vote easily by 62-37 percent.

Ideology may also be a factor in California. When asked to self-identify in the Democratic primary, white voters broke down 58 percent liberal, 32 percent moderate and 10 percent conservative. But among Hispanics, a much lower 43 percent identified themselves as liberal, 41 percent as moderate and 11 percent as conservative. Among Asians, the breakdown was even more favorable to the GOP, coming in as 34 percent liberal, 55 percent moderate and 11 percent conservative.

Arizona Sen. John McCain may have been at odds with a part of the GOP base on immigration and other issues. But as it turns out, he may be perfectly positioned to take advantage of Obama’s Hispanic problem, not just in California, but in blue states like New Jersey as well.

In 2004, Hispanic voters made up 10 percent of the New Jersey electorate. Kerry won the state with 53 percent, close enough to make New Jersey a target state for Republicans in 2008.

Clinton’s 38-point margin over Obama with Hispanic voters in the New Jersey primary, coupled with McCain’s moderate conservatism, could be a potent prescription for a tight race in November with even small movement in key groups like Hispanics or working-class swing voters.

The media are right to focus on the fissures in Obama’s electoral strategy that fail to address his problems with the kind of working-class voters who swung to Ronald Reagan in 1980. But they need to add Hispanic and even Asian voters to the list of Obama spoilers.

For the McCain campaign, they may have to add “California Here I Come” to music on the bus.

David Winston is president of The Winston Group, a Republican polling firm.

Correction: April 29, 2008

The column originally misidentified the percentage of Hispanic votes for Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the Illinois primary. Obama had a 1-point victory over Clinton among Hispanic voters, 50 percent to Clinton’s 49 percent.

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Obama Seems to Set His Own Standards for Straight Talk

by David Winston

Last Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) appeared on the “Today” show, looked straight into the camera and told Meredith Vieira and millions of viewers a real whopper. All that was missing was the wagging finger.

The morning show anchor raised the issue of New York Times columnist Frank Rich’s scolding of Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for their cynical assertions that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to fight the Iraq War for another 100 years. Vieira asked Obama, “Are you willing to admit that you’ve distorted his statements?”

Obama, in the finest “I dare ya” tradition of Gary Hart, responded, “No. That’s not accurate. We can pull up the quotes on YouTube.”

Let’s do that, Senator. In truth, the video of McCain’s comments on the potential for a long commitment of U.S. troops in Iraq is clear. Contrary to Obama’s claims, McCain never advocated for a “100-year war.”

Zachary Roth wrote of Obama’s “stepped up attacks on McCain’s ‘100 years’ notion” in the Columbia Journalism Review: “Obama is seriously misleading voters — if not outright lying to them — about exactly what McCain said.” Similar sentiments have been expressed across the ideological media spectrum from Fox News to the Washington Post to Slate magazine.

The videos on YouTube that ought to really matter to voters are those of Obama that show his willing mischaracterization of McCain’s remarks along with his apologists who, when called upon to explain the boss’s dishonest statements about McCain, simply denied they were ever uttered.

When you know a candidate’s every word is on the Web usually in minutes, that kind of denial takes real chutzpah, and David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign manager, apparently has plenty of it. Two days before Obama’s “Today” appearance, Axelrod told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, “He [Obama] isn’t saying that Sen. McCain has said we would be at war for 100 years.” Really?

Let’s pull up some of Obama’s actual quotes on the matter. “We’re now bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests might go on for another 100 years,” Obama said during the presidential debate in Cleveland on April 5. “[Sen. McCain] says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq,” he said at a rally in Houston on Feb. 19.

“And when it comes to foreign policy, John McCain says he wants to fight a 100-year war, a 100 years he says, as long as it takes,” Obama said at a rally in Bangor, Maine, on Feb. 9. Those are just three examples.

A similar denial strategy was attempted on the issue of Obama’s pledge last year to accept public financing in the general election. When Obama first publicly supported the notion, he was still an underfunded and underestimated candidate back in the presidential pack. His support of public financing was not only pragmatic, it also played into the image he was trying to create for himself as a “new” kind of politician, a post-partisan candidate unwilling to sell out to moneyed interests.

Last November, in response to a questionnaire from the Midwest Democracy Network asking whether he would agree to “forgo private funding in the general election campaign,” Obama responded with an unambiguous “yes.” He also pledged, “If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”

Well, McCain agreed; but in February, when asked by The Associated Press about Obama’s stated intention to take public financing, his spokesman Bill Burton said, “There is no pledge.” I suppose it depends on what the meaning of “pledge” is. What really changed over those three months was the size of Obama’s bank account.

Both of these controversies — Obama’s distortion of McCain’s “100 years” statement and his decision to renege on his public financing promise — create a nagging suspicion that the man behind the curtain isn’t quite the wonderful wizard we’ve been led to believe.

Instead, Obama and his campaign are looking all too familiar these days –– typical politicians suffering from a sense of righteous entitlement that they believe gives them permission to depart, on occasion, from the usual political rules. Fudging the facts about what McCain says or doesn’t say is all right because this candidacy operates on a different moral plane.

Breaking a campaign promise is acceptable when the end — Obama’s ascension to the presidency — justifies the means. Until recently, it all seemed to be working for them.

But, as Obama’s stumbles and gaffes have finally begun to get media scrutiny, he and his spokesmen have been forced to take another approach, a kind of “thesaurus” strategy.

Instead of denial, they revise, explain, clarify and refine his statements while maintaining their inherent rightness. His remarks are misunderstood, distorted, misconstrued, mischaracterized, misrepresented or taken out of context by his political opponents or unfriendly media.

Obama certainly didn’t mean his white grandmother was a racist. He really didn’t like Ronald Reagan and those who said he did were just playing a “Washington trick.” Of course, Obama would have left his church had not his pastor retired and acknowledged that his statements “deeply offended people and were inappropriate.” Just for clarification, Jeremiah Wright has made no such public acknowledgement.

His remarks about bitter working-class voters in small towns turning to guns and religion were just a matter of poorly chosen words. He’s very sorry if anyone was offended, but the “underlying truth” of what he said remains.

All candidates say things in error. They misspeak. They get tired. A staffer makes a mistake. It happens, and explanations are sometimes necessary.

But when one sets himself apart as a new kind of leader, above the crass partisan politics of the past, he raises expectations. But instead of meeting them, Obama seems to believe he deserves a standard all his own.

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Democratic Primary Is Damaging to Clinton, Obama and Country

by David Winston

This year’s Democratic Party nominating process has become a depressing spectacle. Not long ago, party leaders were crowing about their choice of two “historic candidates” who would lead the party to victory in November. Today, the contest has devolved into a prima facie case of the perils of gender and race politics.

In three short months, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) have managed to take lemonade and turn it into lemons. They and their campaigns have created a deep and increasingly bitter divide within the Democratic Party, unfortunately along racial and gender lines.

But it also is unfortunate for the political process and for the country.

The candidacies of Clinton and Obama are proof of how far we have come in righting wrongs of the past. While Republicans may benefit from the nasty turn this campaign has taken, no one who cares about the country ought to revel in this kind of primary fight.

But one cannot ignore the irony of the situation. The Democratic Party, which has spent the past thirty years promoting identity politics and the policies that go with it, now finds itself being torn apart by the very candidates who represent those politics.

Yet, it is the Clinton and Obama camps that must take responsibility for the negative tone of this campaign. Obama has claimed the mantle of the first “post-racial” presidential candidate, but his close relationship with a pastor of undisputed racial animus and virulent anti-Americanism has put his own character and judgment into question.

The Clintons have played the race card as well, whether it was Bill Clinton’s comparison of Obama to Jesse Jackson after the South Carolina primary or various Hillary supporters raising questions about Obama’s electability. But the Obama campaign’s comparison of Geraldine Ferraro’s comments to those of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was equally cynical.

When it comes to gender, Clinton has tried to have it both ways. She cried in New Hampshire. In Ohio, she harshly scolded, “Shame on you, Barack Obama”; and in a tone reminiscent of the OK Corral, challenged him to “meet me in Ohio. Let’s have a debate about your tactics and your behavior on this campaign.”

In recent weeks, as Obama has sent out a parade of mostly male party leaders to call for her exit, Clinton and her supporters, have taken to characterizing the effort as the “boys” against the “girl” in the race.

But it was “sniper-gate” that illustrated her attempts to be both victim and take-charge leader at the same time. Playing for sympathy, she told several audiences the story of her 1996 trip to Bosnia, joking that in the White House there was a saying, “If a place was too small, too dangerous or too poor, send the first lady.”

But then, she proceeded to portray herself as a kind of “G.I. Jane” on a perilous mission for the president, dodging bullets on the tarmac as she dashed to the safety of the motorcade. Winston Churchill once talked of the Boer War saying, “There is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at without result.”

We all now know Mrs. Clinton was never under fire, but her tall tale definitely got results — just not the one she hoped for. As Sen. Clinton was trying to climb out of her self- imposed foxhole, the Obama camp went over the top comparing Bill Clinton to Joe McCarthy for a comment he made that they claimed questioned Obama’s patriotism.

Both candidates are to blame for the tenor of the campaign, and both candidates are beginning to pay a price with the voters.

In Gallup Poll daily tracking earlier in March, Obama beat McCain by 2 points, 46 percent to 44 percent. The most recent tracking, on March 29, shows a 5-point switch with McCain now beating Obama 47 percent to 44 percent. In the earlier poll, Clinton was leading McCain 47 percent to 45 percent. The newer numbers show McCain over Clinton, 48 percent to 44 percent. The poll had a 2-point error margin.

The most devastating numbers, however, are Gallup’s data showing that the bitterness between the Clinton and Obama voters could take a real toll in November. During polling March 7-22, a staggering 28 percent of Clinton voters and 19 percent of Obama supporters said they would vote for McCain if their candidate loses the nomination. Who are these voters?

Gallup found they are independents and conservative Democrats, the very swing voters who were the key components of Ronald Reagan’s winning majority coalition. It’s unlikely those numbers will remain that high. But the very fact that such a significant number of voters are willing to defect to the Republican nominee in this kind of negative political environment belies the argument that once the nomination process is over, the two Democratic candidates’ supporters will all come together in a Kumbaya moment.

Meanwhile, the Gallup Poll found McCain’s favorability had increased 11 points, reaching an eight-year high of 67 percent. The contrast between McCain and his potential rivals couldn’t be more stark.

Clinton and Obama have spent the past three weeks alternately sniping at each other or trying to explain one political problem after another. McCain has spent his time in more presidential endeavors, meeting with world leaders, giving major policy addresses and visiting the troops in Iraq. This week, voters will see his campaign focus on McCain’s lifetime of service to the country.

Obama and Clinton have given McCain an unexpected opportunity to reach voters with a positive message about himself, his hopes for the country and his solutions to the problems people care about. And this could go on for months.

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