Bill Galston cautions Obama against a re-election strategy that concentrates too narrowly on minorities and the college-educated. That focus has worked well in some states–notably in Colorado, a case which Obama’s team has studied closely. (On this, Galston cites a Ron Brownstein interview with David Axelrod: White Flight.) The trouble is, America is more like Ohio than Colorado. Obama could be in serious trouble unless he improves his standing with the white working-class.
[Ruy Teixeira] argued [in 2009] that the confluence of demographic, geographic, and attitudinal changes underway for decades heralded a “new progressive majority.” Not only was the political salience of social issues in decline, but also majorities of Americans had endorsed a stronger role for government, guaranteed health coverage, and clean energy. A principal driver of these shifts was the declining share of white working-class voters and the rising tide of minorities and highly educated professionals.
In a less noticed portion of his analysis, Teixeira offered a cautionary note. The white working class “is still an enormous group of voters—still larger than white college graduate voters—and there are good reasons to suspect that the exit polls may significantly underestimate the size of this group.” He went on to observe that “Progressives ignore that large a group at their peril … [their] already large deficit among the white working class—clearly their biggest political vulnerability—could easily become larger. If that happens, any fall-offs in support among their core and emerging constituencies could put the progressive majority at risk, despite continuing demographic trends in their favor.” This is a pretty good description of what transpired during Obama’s first two years…
The seductiveness of the Colorado model is obvious. But the consequences of succumbing to it could be dire. The last Democrat to win the presidency without prevailing in Ohio was John F. Kennedy. The electoral college math worked only because he won South Carolina, Georgia, half of Alabama’s electoral votes, and even Texas, thanks to LBJ’s presence on the ticket. None of these states is remotely within Democratic reach today. Ohio is more than a rich pool of votes; it is the closest state we have to a microcosm of the nation.
Barack Obama’s path to reelection runs through Ohio and the Midwest, not around them. And that means taking seriously the concerns of the voters throughout the region who deserted Democrats in droves last year—Americans unlikely to be moved by an agenda of high-speed rail, cleaner energy, and educational reforms that rarely seem to yield good jobs for themselves or their children