May 23 2012

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Democratic Primaries as a Wake Up Call for Team Obama?

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The Felon Who Won 40% in Dem WVA Primary

Yesterday should have brought some welcome relief to Team Obama.

 A WSJ/NBC News poll released last night showed the President leading Mitt Romney 47%-43%.  While the result was ultimately within the margin of error, it was better news a Mason-Dixon poll from mid-May, which had Romney in the lead.

A tight race is a story line that Team Obama can run with. It can be used as a tool to prod the Democratic base out of their collective stupor, and provide an opening to deploy advantageous “wedge” issues that might play adventageously for POTUS to an every decreasing number of undecideds.

But like so much of President’s intended messaging in May, other, unwelcome news made the headlines. In ostensibly uncontested Democratic primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky, President Obama struggled to get 60% of the vote.

In Arkansas, an unknown Tennessee attorney named John Wolfe, Jr.,  garnered 40% of the vote. Worse, in Kentucky, “undecided” took 42% of the vote, leaving President Obama with just 57.9%.

This comes on the heels of Obama losing 41% of the Democratic primary vote in West Virginia to a convicted felon, Keith Russell Judd, who is serving time in a Texas correctional facility.

Democratic officials and pundits laugh this off, noting that the President has already won enough delegates to win the Democratic nomination, and claiming that these votes, in non-Democratic states, are nothing more than obscure protest actions.

That might make a good talking point for “Hardball” but any thinking politico would be foolish to dismiss what is clearly a distressing phenomenon.

Consider that while Obama was struggling to get 60% against “undecided” in Kentucky, Mitt Romney, who is actually running in a contested primary, won 66% of the vote.

These developments are compounded by an unfavorable historical review. While there were protest candidacies and some vote slippage in 1996 and 2004, neither Bill Clinton or George W. Bush suffered losses like Obama in their uncontested re-nominations.

Clinton biggest challenge came (also) in Kentucky, where his top ballot challenger won 16% of the vote. In Alabama, Clinton lost 15% of the vote to challengers. Otherwise, he dominated his primaries with wins in the 90’s.

Likewise, while with the exception of New Hampshire and Rhode Island, where Bush took better than 80% of the vote, Bush regularly won between 95-100% in the rest of the primaries.

You have to go back to George H.W.Bush, who faced the official protest candidacy of Pat Buchanan, to find losses on the scale of Obama’s yesterday. Indeed, when Pat Buchanan took 38% of the vote in New Hampshire in 1992, it was seen as a full scale fracture in the Republican Party and a sign of a coming Democratic wave, even though Buchanan was no threat to Bush’s nomination.

But even with the history, does it matter? Consider this.

2008 was a historic election for the US, based both on the Obama candidacy and the financial crisis.  But despite all the hoopla, only 56% of voting age Americans turned out to cast a ballot. The huge GOP tidal wave of 2010?  38%.

Voter apathy is edemic in the US. We have one of the worst voting records in the developed world.

Now, despite that fact, a significant number of Democrats in West Virginia, Kentucky and Arkansas turned out, even though there was no credible opposition, to cast a vote against the President – Democrats.

George Clooney fundraisers and insipid trash talk about the good citizens of this trio of states cannot make up for what appears to be a structural problem for President Obama, one that he ignores at his own peril.

While they are at it, Team Obama should also ponder this: John Wolfe, Jr., who won 40% of the vote in Arkansas, is on the Democratic ballot in Texas. As Mitt Romney looks forward to wrapping up the GOP nomination in Texas next Tuesday, what message will Texas Democrats send to the White House?

Perhaps Team Obama should consider some defensive organizing in the Lone Star state to prevent another embarrassment – a clear harbinger of possible problems on the horizon.


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