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How lucky can Republicans be?
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Bill Shipp column for April 27, 2008


Tuesday's presidential primary results produced another stark indicator of the disaster facing Democrats this fall.
At the beginning of this election season, it looked like the 2008 campaign would represent salvation at last for the beleaguered Democratic Party. Our Republican president is breaking records for unpopularity, and scandal continues to dog Washington Republicans. Campaign cash that had gone overwhelmingly to national Republicans has shifted heavily in favor of the Democrats.
Now, as their presidential nomination battle slogs on, Democrats appear increasingly likely to fumble away the golden opportunity to take the White House. Many cable talking heads agree. Their analysis goes like this: The egos of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband are unnecessarily prolonging the nomination fight, even though she has no hope of winning. The talking heads believe that if she would just get out of the way, the party's stronger candidate, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, could get on with the business of beating the Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and the Democrats would be better off.
The national media is right that Clinton has no chance of winning the nomination. If anything became clear Tuesday night during Clinton's big Pennsylvania win, it is that no matter what happens in the remaining primaries, Obama's biased media allies will interpret it as a sign of Clinton's impending demise. The next Clinton stumble, be it on May 6 or later, will be used by the press to declare her dead and gone once and for all.
The press is also correct that the Democrats' hope of winning the presidency is slipping away because of the fight. They are right for the wrong reason, however.
The reason Democrats are blowing their opportunity is not because of the length of their primary battle. It is because, once again, Democratic primary voters are determined to nominate a weak candidate.
Obama has a very high, even insurmountable, hill to climb to win the presidency. His race is certainly a major factor, but it is not decisive. Even his liberalism, while an obstacle, is not the biggest one he faces. Obama's most difficult problem (like John Kerry's in 2004) is his total cultural disconnect from voters outside the urban elite of our big cities.
Kerry is a Massachusetts politician married to a billionaire and living in Boston's most exclusive neighborhood. Obama is a Harvard-educated lawyer who lives in intown Chicago, and who won his U.S. Senate seat on the strength of metro Chicago's dominance of Illinois politics (plus some great luck in drawing a series of fatally flawed opponents).
Neither Kerry nor Obama was raised in truly wealthy households, but the backgrounds of both are very different from those of most Americans. Kerry is the son of a diplomat who attended prep school in Europe for a time. Obama talks about his Kansan mother, but he was raised in Hawaii and attended an elite private high school before heading for the Ivy League.
The Clintons certainly have their faults as candidates and as people, but both spent almost two decades in Arkansas politics, and they understand how people outside the nation's elite live in ways that Kerry and Obama never can. You don't run for office eight times in Arkansas without learning to appeal to folks you would never meet at the Yale Club.
Obama's much-ballyhooed comment about rural Pennsylvania voters being "bitter" was probably insulting to some, but its significance is much deeper than that of a run-of-the-mill gaffe. It revealed that he has a sense that someone who lives in Donora, Pa. (or Dublin, Ga.), is a specimen of another species to be examined and explained to his fellow urban elites. He has as much connection to them as any of us would have to a Martian.
The depth of Obama's rural disconnect and the electoral problem he faces are revealed by the county returns from Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary. In many counties outside metro Philadelphia, Clinton was so dominant against Obama (who outspent her by millions) that she won the Democratic primary with almost the same percentage margin that McCain (who was running against the fringe Ron Paul and the withdrawn Mike Huckabee) won the Republican primary. What should scare Democrats is that voters in those counties will determine whether the Democratic presidential nominee wins Pennsylvania's electoral votes in the fall.
Those folks are also similar to the voters who will decide whether Obama carries Ohio, Michigan and other industrial swing states come November.
So as usual, the Democrats are the Republicans' best asset when it comes to winning an election. Just more proof that it's better to be lucky than good, especially when the other side picks an adversary who makes sure you're lucky over and over again.

You can reach Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail:, or Web address:
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