Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Hillary's Hail Mary: Ripped from the Koach Karl's (Rove) Playbook?

It’s Ohio primary eve and HRC is pausing, on its 68th anniversary, to “mark the Katyn Massacre of Polish prisoners during World War II” by Soviet troops. Sen. Clinton is also speaking up for Polish Americans and the “Polish nation and for all the peoples of Eastern Europe who have emerged from the darkness of the 20th century,” who also just so happen to enjoy a long and storied legacy in Cleveland’s historically working class white neighborhoods. Turnout in ethnic Cleveland is likely to be boosted even higher in Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s OH10 CD where the former presidential candidate is struggling to win renomination.

When you consider the strategy, it’s hard to not speculate that HRC really is making her last stand in Ohio; even taking a cue from Karl Rove’s playbook. Cuyahoga County is now famous as ground zero in George W. Bush’s reelection campaign, where Rove reportedly stanched steep losses with a ground game that fanned out to Catholic and Orthodox churches on Sundays with leaflets appealing to the conservatism of elderly parishioners in historically labor heavy precincts, tying John Kerry with the opposition to a statewide gay marriage ban initiative on the ballot that year. That minimized loss in urban areas, coupled with heavy gains in rural and exurban counties, the legend goes, saved Ohio, and reelection, for Bush.

It may have pulled a Republican electoral majority out of the fire one more time, but it’s not a very forward looking strategy as it relies on voters who may turnout in big numbers now, but who are literally dying out. Prof. Murray documented how George Wallace identified these voters decades ago - and taught Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan how to win them over - when they were far more numerous. (Check out Ward 14, home to St. Stanislaus Church, an anchor of Cleveland’s Polish community, and nearby wards where Wallace cracked 20%.) But, it was their very “white flight” - and hence, diminishing numbers - that defined their new voting habits.

While working these areas - home to the white working class voters and where HRC’s strongest demographic, older white women, turn out in droves, may pay off one more time - just like it did for Bush in 2004, the socially conservative or anti-foreign trade messages that win votes here are likely to alienate the growing numbers of younger, increasingly college educated white voters moving into the city and swelling the inner suburbs - or bleeding electoral votes to places like Northern Virginia or the Denver suburbs, coloring previously deep red states in a purple hue. More affluent, educated, liberal and integrated Shaker Heights, in contrast, is likely to be Obama territory.

The fantastic map above highlights this divide starkly by overlapping the 2004 presidential vote with results from the gay marriage referendum on the same day. It includes all of Cuyahoga County, but Cleveland’s cleavages are clear, too. HRC will try to maximize her performance with “Blue Collar Whites” and “Rural/Exurban Whites” - dwindling demographics in decimated precincts - and minimize her own losses in areas heavy with black voters and among “rich conservatives” and “urban liberal sophisticates,” groups that have performed well this cycle for Obama.

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