Sunday, September 30, 2007

Michelle Obama Admits What Hubby Won’t---A Loss in Iowa Will Sink Him

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama couldn’t sprint fast enough to publicly correct his wife when she candidly said that “Iowa will make the difference. If Barack doesn’t win Iowa, then it's just a dream.” An Obama campaign spokesperson said that Iowa’s only one state and a win or loss there won’t derail his self-proclaimed American Dream campaign. He’s dead wrong, and Michelle’s right. But Obama acts like he doesn’t know she got it right. He’s spent a lot of money in the state, and has more field offices there than Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. But he has skipped several key Democratic forums and events in Iowa.

Obama has spent some time chit chatting with farmers and local townspeople at coffee shops and diners in Iowa's back country towns. He’s talked about affordable health care, farm support programs, and the war in stump speeches in the state. However, his no-shows on the big ticket events have raised red flags about his prospects in Iowa and tells why Michelle has the jitters about them.

Iowa is crucial to Obama. It has little to do with it being the first state out the presidential primary box and that a win there gives a candidate’s campaign a rocket launch upward. Iowa is a bell weather of how effective a candidate is in connecting with mid-America voters. It’s a state small and folksy enough where voters can look a candidate in the eye and tell if they’re honest and sincere and can speak plainly on the issues. A candidate that flunks that litmus test is dead in the water. A candidate that passes it will front stroke ahead of the pack.

Democratic Presidential contender Howard Dean found that out in 2004. He had tons of money, lots of media hype, and supposedly represented the Democrat’s populist hope. He bumbled and stumbled with the regular folk in Iowa. This marked him as a high brow, arrogant loser. By contrast, Dean’s rival, John Kerry came into Iowa floundering in the polls. But he convinced the folk that he was a regular guy and could talk their talk on the issues. The rest of course with Kerry is history.
The ability to connect with a dairy farmer, a waitress, or a tractor driver helped Kerry and the inability to do that hurt Dean. That won’t be enough for Obama. He’s got an added obstacle that Dean and Kerry didn’t have. He’s the first black presidential candidate running in one of the whitest, most rural, and conservative centrist states in the nation. He’s got to do more than speak the language of mid-America. He’s got to convince the voters that he’s not a black presidential candidate, but a color neutral presidential candidate. The slightest hint that Obama will tilt toward minorities on the big ticket issues will thicken the clouds of suspicion about him.

He’ll also have to overcome polling day conversion. That’s the penchant of more than a few white voters to fib to pollsters and interviewers in a tight race involving a black and white candidate and say they will vote for the candidate solely on their competency and qualifications, not color. Then on Election Day turn right around in the privacy of the voting booth and vote on color. The conversion phenomena did in Harvey Gantt and Harold Ford in senate races in North Carolina and Tennessee, and Tom Bradley in the race for governor in California, and almost did in Doug Wilder in the governor’s race in Virginia. In pre-election polls, they had comfortable leads over their white opponents and were projected to win their races handily.

Obama has a companion problem with polling day conversion. Nearly all white voters say that they have no problem voting for an African-American for president. In the next breath they say that qualifications rank at or near the top of the list in determining their candidate choice. Obama has consistently ranked well beneath Hillary and Edwards on the qualification scale. That’s not exactly racial code speak for saying that Obama as a black candidate doesn’t have the right stuff. Yet it does raise another huge red flag that he’s got a long way to go to overcome voter suspicion about his qualifications. A suspicion that Hillary’s husband, Bill, fueled when he said that he was more experienced than Obama at a comparable stage of the presidential contest game.

A second place finish will not totally dash Obama’s dream but it will do little to dispel the doubts of the mass of heartland American voters that he’s still a political question mark. It will cast deep doubt on whether he can pull one or two Southern or Western states out of the GOP orbit. He’ll need substantial white male centrist voters to do that. That feat is mandatory this time around for a Democrat to cinch the White House. There is almost no chance Obama can pull that off.
Michelle didn’t need a crystal ball to predict that Iowa is the political and psychological break point state for Obama. She got it right. The question is is her hubby listening?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.