Wednesday, February 6, 2008

California Count Highlights Obama's Challenges

The Super Tuesday winner changes depending on which campaign you ask. Both the Obama and Clinton campaigns claim the delegate lead, underscoring the lack of transparency in this arhaic primary process. After following the primaries for more than a month now, I'm still baffled at how every news organization can present a completely different delegate count.

What is clear is that it's anybody's race at this point. Both campaigns had their share of upsets and disappointments Tuesday, and in the end, they are neck and neck. If there is any advantage at this point, it would go to Obama, who seems better funded at this point, heading into what promises to be an expensive month ahead.

Despite Obama's runaway success in many states, there is much to learn from his losses, most notably, California. His ten-point defeat there is essentially a direct result of two major gaps in his campaign. He struggles to appeal to minorities other than African-Americans, and he struggles to appeal to working-class voters.

The disappointing turnout from the Latino and Asian-American vote seems counterintuitive. Obama should be able to leverage his status as the only minority candidate to garner support from Latinos and Asian-Americans, yet his refusal to make race an issue in this campaign has ultimately cost his minority votes.
Before anyone jumps down my throat, I'm not saying that Latinos and Asian-Americans will vote for him just because he's a minority. However, I do find it curious that his campaign message, which hinges on unity and hope and creating opportunity for all Americans, struggles to appeal to minorities. If nothing else, it underscores the complex racial mileu in America, one favors white candidates in more ways that is commonly understood. As a white candidate, Hillary Clinton can reach out to minority communities aggressively and without question. When Obama tries the same, he is branded as a "minority" candidate who can't appeal to white voters.

More troublesome is that in California, it wasn't even close. Latinos voted 2 to 1 for Clinton. Asian-Americans 3-1. I'll leave it to BlogObama readers to hash out why this is so, but ultimately, it's a mystery to me.

An even bigger issue for the Obama campaign s that voters earning less than $50,000 a year tend to lean Clinton. Does Obama's high-minded rhetoric alienate him from the American working class? Is Clinton leveraging her position on health care? How can Obama push those points of his message to communicate to the working-class American that he is the choice for them?

Super Tuesday has left me with more questions than answers, but in the end, this race is much closer than anyone would have expected nearly a year ago when Obama first declared his candidacy.

So, looking foward, how does the Obama campaign address these challenges?