Obama and Race

Ryan Day

Senator Hillary Clinton took another big win in West Virginia on Tuesday, marking another predominately white, working-class state lost for Senator Barack Obama. Most estimates say that this loss will not affect Obama’s likely nomination as the Democratic presidential candidates, but polls run in West Virginia are the cause of some concern about Obama’s presidential race against John McCain.
What were these polls about? What else? Race, of course! Two of 10 white voters in the West Virginia Democratic primary stated that race was an important issue in their vote. And, as would be expected, the majority of those to whom race was a key issue voted for Clinton.
People repeatedly get angry with Clinton when she states that she just gets more of the working-class white votes. Now, as you probably know, I am no Clinton apologist, but here she is absolutely right. There’s no racism involved. She’s just making a realistic assessment of how voting demographics work this primary season.
From this point forward, I’m running on the assumption that Senator Obama is going to take the Democratic nomination for president — and, I might add that Obama is working under this assumption as well and beginning to focus on McCain in his campaign, a choice that I wholly endorse — but these poll results concern me. I had no idea that 20 percent of white, Democratic voters in West Virginia would come out and say that race is a direct issue concerning how they vote.
Call me naive, but I thought this country was beyond outright racism. I understand the concept of closet racism, I know it exists, and I would even say that I have family members who practice this, but to come right out and fill out on an exit poll that race has to do with how you vote? Absurd.
If these voters in West Virginia are concerned with race, then how much is the rest of the country concerned with race? How will this affect Obama’s future race against John McCain? Would otherwise Democratic voters vote for McCain simply because Obama is black?
This is a voter gap that McCain is going to hit hard. McCain has already started to campaign for white working-class voters to try and work a demographic that Obama just cannot seem to convince. Will the presidential race ever become racial in the way that the primaries did?
I don’t think that they will directly, but these poll results are very revealing. If race is such a large issue with this voting demographic, perhaps it is one that Obama will never be able to take, and McCain will be able to fill in the large hole created by voters dissatisfied with the Republican Party. If this is the case, Barack Obama and the Democrats will not be able to expect the landslide win against McCain for which they are hoping.