The race for the Democratic presidential nomination continues apace on the other side of the pond, with Hillary Clinton (for now at least) falling behind Barack Obama following the latter’s inspired campaigning before and after Super Tuesday. Obama has now won several primaries on the trot, and he has displayed a star power that makes Clinton look dull by comparison.
Obama is amongst the most extraordinarily talented orators of his generation in US politics, and he is able to mobilise voters well beyond traditional Democratic constituencies. His supporters are younger than Clinton’s, and many have an almost messianic zeal about them which has seen him stretching leads even further on the day in places like Virginia and Maryland than the polls suggested as his activists and voters mobilised on the day.
And yet Barack Obama has had a problem throughout in connecting with the bedrock white working class voters who still make up much of the Democratic electorate in the rust belt and the big cities. In particular the labour unions whose members are still vital to the Democratic “ground war” in election campaigns have been loath to let go of the Clintons. This surely must be a case of “better the devil you know” given Bill Clinton’s record of support for big business against the common person, but nevertheless the unions’ support for Hillary has broadly held.
In the space of two days last week, Obama picked up endorsements first from the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union and then from the Service Employees’ International Union. Both of these are of huge significance as they may assist Obama to break out of his current constituencies – namely black voters, college graduates, professionals and the young – and to eat into Clinton’s core support from the lower income brackets. He will certainly gain vital ground troops in the Texas and Ohio, which can only help his cause as he tries to catch Clinton in those states.
I for one hope this trend continues; whilst I originally supported John Edwards, I nonetheless cannot discount the sheer political shockwave that would be generated by an Obama victory in November. His programme is by no means as progressive as Edwards’ was, and I would not want to overstate at all about what legislative changes would come from an Obama administration. Yet I suspect that his mere election would re-draw the political map in ways that would change party politics in the USA for a generation. In particular, a race between Obama and John McCain, a hate figure for the hard right in the Republican party, would see the Reagan coalition that has sustained the GOP since 1980 breaking apart. That in and of itself, combined with the indisputable message that would be sent by the election of a black candidate whose biggest selling point is his opposition to the Iraq war, leaves me at least hoping that Obama does well. Evidently there are growing numbers of people in the labour movement who agree, and I hope this stands him in good stead during the weeks and months to come.