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Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, GOP political guru Karl Rove, and the parade of Hispanic and black speakers at the Republican National Convention either said or were testament to one belief and that’s GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney can’t win with just white votes. The rationale is simple he doesn’t have enough of them. The supposed standard break point for GOP presidential candidates to bag the White House is they must get sixty percent or more of the 104 million white voters, who make up close to seventy five percent of the nation’s voters. In eleven major polls, Romney averages slightly more than 53 percent of white voters. The CNN poll is the most generous and gives him only 55 percent of the white vote. Getting the supposed magic number of white votes in the GOP column is even more crucial given the crushing majority overall of Democrats to Republicans. There are 55 million registered Republicans and 72 million registered Democrats.
The surface bad news for Romney then is that if the percent of white votes that he now has doesn’t change drastically before November 6 he will be just another GOP presidential also-ran.
There are three problems with this. It focuses solely on raw numbers and raw percentages. It’s not the number of white voters, but where they are that matter more than the overall numbers. The election will boil down to which candidate tops out in the must win swing states. The number and percentage of white votes that Romney gets in these states are far more important than a simplistic fixed percentage of overall white votes. In the two most crucial states, Ohio and Florida, the number of GOP registered white voters has risen since 2008. The racial and religious demographic of those voters match pitch perfect with the type of voter that the GOP banks on to win. Nine out of ten of them are white and the majority self-describe themselves as highly religious. At the same time, the number of black and Hispanic voters in those states has slid down.
In another must win swing state, New Mexico, the number of Hispanic voters has plummeted nearly 30 percent since 2008. Overall the percentage of black voters has dropped 7 percent and the percent of Hispanic voters has dropped 5 percent. That’s a drop off of over 2 million black and Hispanic voters since 2008. The drop off does not take into account the blatant and sneaky voter suppression tactics that GOP governors and GOP state legislators have worked feverishly to put in place to further damp down the black and Hispanic vote.
One estimate is that 17 million Christian evangelicals, the overwhelming majority of whom were registered Republicans, played hooky from the polls in 2008. If even half of them had shown up in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, the states that Obama won by single digit margins the outcome could have been far different. The GOP and Tea Party will push hard to make sure that doesn’t happen this time around. They and the conservative Super PACS will spend staggering sums to get conservative white evangelicals to the polls in the battleground states.
The second problem is white votes were decisive two years ago in the national elections. More than 60 percent of non-Hispanic whites voted for GOP House candidates in 2010 was the highest total in nearly two decades, and came close to the record percentage of white voters that backed Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in 1984. In those elections their Democratic opponents George McGovern and Walter Mondale snared only one state. Both Nixon and Reagan won big with white votes by skillfully implementing the Southern Strategy. That relied heavily on a mix of racially leaden code words, themes, and issues that subtly and overtly prick and inflame racial antipathy toward blacks.
Obama walks a racial line that’s just as delicate as Romney’s. He must match the 95 percent figure he got of the black vote in 2008, and the 75 to 80 percent of the Latino vote. He must also get the same big numbers turnout from them. He also must insure that there is no tangible defection of conservative white Democrats that distrust, dislike, or are openly hostile to his presidency in the key battleground states either by staying home or worse backing Romney.
The magic 61 percent figure of white votes that Romney allegedly must have to win then is just a paper figure. There are many tough and unpredictable variables that could make the number nothing more than an academic talking point. One GOP presidential candidate did prove that the 60 percent threshold Romney supposedly must get of white votes is not chiseled in stone. George Bush Sr. in 1988 got 59 percent of the white vote. But he still beat Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis. Conservative white voters have been the trump card for Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and George W. Bush to snare the White House. Romney banks on getting them in big, but more importantly strategically well-placed, numbers to win.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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