Obama’s white working class firewall

The president is spending his last campaign day in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin -- states he was losing just a year ago

Topics: Barack Obama, Race, 2012 Elections, ,

Obama's white working class firewallU.S. President Barack Obama participates in a campaign rally in Lima, Ohio, November 2, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed)

President Obama is zipping around the Midwest to Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, states that are now widely considered his firewall, on the final day of his 2012 campaign. That’s because if he wins all three, given the pretty fixed red-blue map we all have emblazoned in our minds, he wins the election.

But a little over a year ago, the New York Times zeroed in on the Obama campaign’s looming 2012 challenge. He was way behind in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa that had carried him to victory in 2008. So the Obama team, the Times reported, was busy “charting an alternative course to re-election should he be unable to win Ohio and other industrial states traditionally essential to Democratic presidential victories.”

The trouble in the Rust Belt states, the Times and other outlets reported, was that “his support among blue-collar white voters far [was] weaker than among white-collar independents.” Trailing in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, the Obama campaign was focusing on states like “Virginia, Colorado and Nevada, maybe even Arizona, places where the new Obama coalition of minorities and college-educated whites would carry the president to victory.”

One year later, among the remaining swing states, the president is stronger in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa than in the Sun Belt. The fact that he’s spending his final day campaigning in those three states Monday underscores their importance. And his Rust Belt firewall may be white working class voters, particularly women. “If Romney were getting the same white vote [in Ohio] that he’s getting in Virginia, he’d be winning,” former John McCain strategist Mike Murphy said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

As the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein wrote Friday, nationally Obama is losing white men without a college degree to Romney 65-32 percent. But he’s doing 10-12 points better with that group in the Rust Belt, though still trailing.  Romney is also carrying working class white women 58-39, a smaller margin. But Obama is actually winning a majority of their votes in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa.

These numbers are crucial, because all three states remain disproportionately white (compared with the rest of the country, and particularly the states in Obama’s emerging Sun Belt coalition.)

So what can Obama’s strength in the Rust Belt tell us? It clearly has a lot to do with the auto industry rescue, of course, plus Obama’s getting tougher on China and trade, which hasn’t resonated much beyond the Midwest. The Rust Belt – on Hardball the other night, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown told me to call it the Tech Belt, which will take some getting used to, sorry, Sen. Brown – feels the positive economic impact of Obama’s decisions in ways other parts of the country don’t.

“In the Rust Belt the axis on which the decision occurs is much more focused on these questions of economic populism,” Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told Brownstein. “But in [Sun Belt] states where the suburban vote is more dominant the decision making is much more along the line of in step or out of step with the voters’ philosophical views [on social issues].”

“That [Bain] narrative is so much more resonant with blue-collar voters up there in the Midwest,” Garin added.

A Republican strategist put it more cynically, telling Brownstein: “The complaint that every other working class white person had about this administration—where was my bailout?—has been answered in Ohio.”

It’s possible that a pro-Obama tide will carry the president to victory in his Sun Belt swing states, too. Already Nevada has been widely put in the president’s column, as his strong support among Latinos outweighs his struggles with the state’s working class whites. But to flip Mike Murphy’s comment around, the president would be winning overwhelmingly in Virginia, Florida and North Carolina if he was doing as well with whites there as he is in Ohio.

What can we learn from this outcome, which would have been shocking only a year ago? That a Democratic president, whatever his or her race, has a strong shot with working class whites if their policies make an economic difference in their lives wins back the white working class. It’s hard not to wonder whether the president’s white support might be higher in Nevada, for instance, had he done more for its foreclosure victims, who certainly needed a “bailout.”

Some centrist Democratic analysts, like William Galston, say that means Democrats must turn back to bread and butter issues and away from “cultural” issues like contraception and abortion. “You’d need another insurgency of the center,” he told Browstein, to win back working class whites. But the numbers in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa don’t back that up, at all. The fact that Obama is running stronger among working class white women than among white men tells me that his focus on so-called women’s issues is helping, along with his auto-rescue.

It’s also time for Democrats to acknowledge that “so-called women’s issues,” like contraception, healthcare and choice, are very much bread and butter issues for most American women, including white women. Democratic analysts ought to be looking for ways to expand the party’s coalition, not fracture it by minimizing the power of cultural issues to expand the base.  I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the days to come.




More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>