Misunderstanding Obama's Race Problem

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius finally said what seems to be the unspoken elephant in the presidential campaign - that Barack Obama's race will be a factor for some voters on Election Day.

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius finally said what seems to be the unspoken elephant in the presidential campaign - that Barack Obama's race will be a factor for some voters on Election Day. CNN's liberal bloviater Jack Cafferty points to alleged dirty Republican race baiting.

While both are right to bring up the race issue in this campaign, they are wrong to think it's the Republicans who are to blame. It's not, it's the Democrats.

And what's astonishing is that the media is largely ignoring the real story.

And here's why it's a Democratic problem; Republicans aren't going to vote for Obama no matter what color he is - because he's a liberal. They didn't vote for Gore in 2000 and they didn't vote for Kerry in 2004. Their vote is going to remain in the Republican Party. So take it off the table.

The underlying problem is largely due to the swing voter on the Democratic side.

Five years ago I ran Bobby Jindal's first gubernatorial campaign and although polls showed us leading in the final weeks of that campaign, election results told a different story (we lost by four points). In that campaign, we won the large metropolitan areas of Louisiana, but lost overwhelmingly in the rural portions of the state.

My view is that the same issues are coming to bear for Obama. And with the Republican vote not in play, these rural white Democrats in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, are coming over to McCain's side in droves (according to all of the recent polling). These are the same voters that supported Hillary Clinton's primary campaign in overwhelming numbers.

So why is it that Obama and his team are struggling to wrap up their own vote?

Michael Barone wrote about the problem recently, extrapolating from the latest polls:

"An old rule of American politics is that economic distress moves voters toward Democrats. Michigan, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania are in economic distress. But they haven't moved toward the Democratic nominee, as compared with 2004. The old rule isn't operating."

Barone identifies the stagnant polling among rural swing state voters, but I think his diagnosis is wrong by blaming it on economic factors. I think it's due to race, but not racism.

While race seems to have been a factor in Bobby Jindal's 2003 loss, it wasn't racism. Jindal, recognizing that the good citizens of Louisiana weren't racist - they just didn't know him - spent a large portion of his 2007 campaign in the very rural areas where he was soundly defeated in 2003. He got to know those voters on personal terms and in return, they saw him differently. The result was a resounding win in 2007 with 54% of the statewide vote.

Like Jindal's campaign of 2003, Obama's run for the presidency is truly historical. But just like Jindal's insurgent campaign, Obama needs more time to get to know these rural voters in target states - up close and personal - and the polls say he hasn't done it.

The ironic part is that Obama has already learned this lesson - during the lead up to the Iowa Caucus - where he spent months (if not years) getting to know the rural white Democratic voters of the state - and winning their vote. Obama needs more time to get to know these rural voters in Penn, Ohio, Michigan - up close and personal - and the polls say he hasn't done it.

Could the Obama campaign have taken this lesson from Iowa for granted and could it end up costing him the presidency?

Barring any major McCain/Palin gaffe or "October Surprise" scandal, I think it's theirs to lose. I'm not saying Obama can't win the presidency- just not this year.

Phillip Stutts currently serves as the president of Phillip Stutts & Company, LLC, a political and corporate consulting firm. He was the National 72 Hour/Get Out the Vote Director for the RNC and President Bush's reelection in 2004.