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A Perfect Calm for John McCain

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Thursday, May 08, 2008

John McCain has used these weeks of Republican calm to dive into the Democratic lunch pail. This strategy clearly assumes a Barack Obama candidacy. If demographics are destiny -- as the political sages keep telling us -- Democratic demographics may offer some choice cuts to the presumed Republican nominee. By dumb luck, Republicans have chosen their one candidate who projects a moderate image, hasn't alienated Latinos and offers an appealing life story to boot.

The core problem for Democrats is that Obama's backers are reliable Democrats, whereas Hillary Clinton's are unreliable Democrats. Less than half of the Clinton voters in Indiana said they would support Obama in a general election, which is a very bad sign. Add these largely blue-collar and rural whites to some swinging independents and you have a potential Big Mac Value Meal for McCain.

As the Democratic rivals continued their Deathmatch, McCain was rippling his compassion muscles before some of the wavering groups. His tour of the civil-rights battlefields and devastated New Orleans neighborhoods had zero to do with courting the black vote, which, with Obama running, would be totally out of play. The visits with poor rural blacks were choreographed to impress comfortable white suburbanites, who demand sensitivity on matters of race.

McCain's planned July address before the National Council of La Raza must be helping Mylanta sales near Democratic headquarters. Latinos have been a Clinton constituency, but as George W. Bush proved, they are amenable to voting for a friendly Republican. As co-author of the failed grand compromise on immigration -- widely scorned as weak on enforcement -- McCain can expect a warm reception by La Raza.

In making such overtures, though, McCain risks losing the tenderloin of Clinton's support -- working-class whites. Obama has done terribly with this group. And it's not just the old people. Pollsters at ABC News found Clinton leading Obama by 19 percentage points even among 30- to 40-year-old white voters who didn't go to college.

Obama will not doubt toil to close that gap, but his challenge is considerable. More problematic than his preference of pastor is his penchant for waxing sociological about rural whites. His comments at a fundraiser in San Francisco were regrettable for dismissing working whites' affection for religion and guns as an outgrowth of bitterness over their declining economic prospects. And still more damaging was the audience to which he was confiding -- the money masters who lay American workers off, or order the companies they invest in to do so, or neatly send their programming work to Romania.

Operating in Obama's favor is McCain's high regard for suppressing labor costs. If McCain is smart, he'll mix it up in his La Raza talk. He'll express love and respect for Latinos but also convey the message he delivered on Cinco de Mayo in Phoenix -- that "we would not have this problem if the federal government had carried out its responsibilities (to control the borders)."

Through careful wording, McCain can comfort white blue-collar workers and not offend most Hispanics, many of whom are also struggling against low wages. It is instructive to recall that in 2003, California's Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won a third of the Hispanic vote even though he opposed granting driver's licenses to illegal aliens and his Democratic opponent was a prominent Latino.

With a likely Clinton loss exposing the underbelly of the Democrats' white blue-collar and Latino constituency, McCain has his knives sharpened. If he can reprogram his robotic support for tax cuts favoring the rich -- and contain his fondness for cheap labor -- he may find a feast in the Democrats' lunch pail. Obama has a lot of work to do.

COPYRIGHT 2008 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

See Other Political Commentary.

See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop.

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