Obama’s anemic wins

    In the journalism business, a “dog bites man” story has little news value, because, after all, it’s not unusual for a dog to bite a man. Which is why it’s so tempting to dismiss last night’s Democratic presidential primary results, in Kentucky and Arkansas, as a non-story with scant news value, as just another manifestation of dog bites man.Indeed, it’s tempting to dismiss Barack Obama’s anemic wins (58 percent in both contests) as a non-story, given the states’ longstanding antipathy toward Obama, antipathy that dates back to the ’08 Democratic primary season. But the Kentucky and Arkansas results are not entirely insignificant. There’s one electoral factor that Obama partisans would be well advised to view as worrisome.Granted, the case for dismissal is strong. That region of the south – which is heavily populated by culturally conservative, downscale rural whites – didn’t warm to Obama even when he was the hottest commodity in presidential politics. Kentucky and Arkansas Democrats thrashed him in the ’08 primaries, choosing Hillary Clinton in landslides. And in November, those states went heavily for John McCain, even as Obama was winning the largest nationwide percentage of votes since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In fact, Obama did worse in Arkansas than ’04 Democratic loser John Kerry.Given that history, one might ask whether it’s such a big deal that incumbent Obama coughed up roughly 42 percent of the Arkansas primary vote to some little-known lawyer named John Wolfe; that he lost the same share of votes in Kentucky to a non-existent challenger known as “Uncommitted”; and that both sets of results virtually mirror the May 8 tally in West Virginia, where a federal inmate who got on the Democratic ballot managed to draw 41.6 percent of the vote. Yes, Obama is weak in the Ozarks, but so what? He was never going to win those three states in November, anyway. All three have been generally trending away from the national Democratic party for a long time.That dog-bites-man interpretation is true – as far as it goes. But here’s what the Obama team should be concerned about:There are millions of culturally conservative, downscale rural whites, harboring similar sentiments, in the states Obama needs to win. The hostility to the president may be more virulent down in Appalachia (exit polls in 2008 identified a clear racial factor), but some of the southerners’ concerns are shared by the same voter cohort elsewhere: most notably, the belief that Obama epitomizes the highly-educated upscale elite that has allowed liberals, gays, minorities and secularists to run rampant (his ’08 remark about people clinging to “guns and religion” has never been forgotten). If strongly motivated to vote, these culturally conservative folks – who are populous in southeastern Ohio, central-southwestern Pennsylvania, and rural North Carolina – could leave Obama with little margin for error in those key states.All told, the 58 percent primary tallies in Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia, while ostensibly mere incidents of dog-bites-man, nevertheless could be a portent of trouble for Obama in swing states where he can ill afford any softness in support. Which brings me to the current situation in Florida – another crucial battleground. The new Quinnipiac poll, released today, says that Mitt Romney has opened up a six-point lead; back on March 28, Obama was up by seven. The race there is clearly volatile, and it’s likely to be close in November. But Obama’s prospects for winning may hinge on whether cultural conservatives in the northern Panhandle opt to stay home or cast ballots for Romney en masse, evincing some of the hostility seen last night in Kentucky and Arkansas. Obama partisans may be tempted to shrug off Obama’s 58 percent primary tally against “Uncommitted,” but presumably the perilous state of play in critical Florida will rightly strike them as cause for concern.——-  Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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