Opportunity knocks for the Democrats

The most powerful election victories are won when a candidate cobbles together a coalition from a wide cross-section of the electorate. That is precisely what Barack Obama is doing.

Jedediah Purdy:

The most significant numbers that Obama posted Thursday night were not his impressive share of supporters — 38%, head and shoulders above Hillary Clinton and John Edwards at roughly 30% each — but the underlying explosion of caucus-goers. The Iowa Democratic party reported that around 230,000 people turned out. Compare that to about 125,000 in 2004, another high-stakes, hotly contested, wide-open contest. Two-hundred-and-thirty thousand isn’t just a new record, it’s closer to a new magnitude. First-time caucus attendees broke for Obama in huge numbers, with well over 50% supporting him.

That means Obama didn’t just beat out his opponents for Democratic voters. He created Democratic voters. A lot of them. [emphasis added] A candidate who can have that kind of effect on turnout and party alignment makes the slicing and dicing of zero-sum politics irrelevant. He opens up a whole new game.

Thomas Edsall:

Clinton is configuring her campaign to win in states where independents cannot vote. “Clinton got killed among independents and those few Republicans who crossed over,” an Iowa operative noted about last Thursday’s caucuses. …

African American voters have, over the course of the past year, been moving steadily to Obama. … “If Obama wins two white states in a row, that is going to send a signal to African Americans around the country. The African-American population is going to be excited beyond belief by the prospect of a black president,” says [Norm] Ornstein [of the American Enterprise Institute]. …

“If you put the three elements together, Obama’s appeal to independents, some cross-over Republicans, and combine that with a really energized African American community, that is a pretty powerful new math for the Democrats,” says Bill Carrick, a California Democratic consultant. [emphasis added]

David Olive:

By his appearance and unorthodox background alone, the only candidate who gives the impression of being an agent of change, in an election cycle that is primarily about change, not experience, is Obama. …

Obama is the son of a Kenyan economist and a Kansas mother with slave-owning ancestors. He chose to be a black American rather than a multiracial one. But Obama is conspicuously impatient with adversarial politics, racial and otherwise. He frames poverty, chronic unemployment, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy not as issues of racial victimhood, but as a betrayal of founding American ideals of fairness that has been no less punishing to Appalachian whites than inner-city blacks. Obama also bluntly chastises his audiences for substituting video games for parenting.

Barack Obama is only the third African American elected to the U.S. senate since Reconstruction, and now is the sole black member of that body. (More than a dozen women serve). For America and that part of the world that still looks to the U.S. for inspiration, the first black chosen to lead a major industrial nation would indeed be a transformative event.


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