Race is such a volatile minefield that it can explode in an election even when it appears not to. This was the case in Obama’s White House win in 2008.
A Harvard researcher found that race cost Obama 3 to 5 percentage points of the popular vote in the 2008 election. If race had not been a negative factor in the election, Obama’s win over GOP presidential foe John McCain would have been a walkover in the popular vote. The even more troubling thing is that the loss of white support came largely from conservative white Democrats, who simply stayed home rather than vote for Obama. In an AP-Yahoo poll, one-third of white Democrats said they had negative views of blacks. More than 40 percent of them said they would not back Obama.
It took a virtual holy crusade to the polls by blacks, Latinos and young persons to give Obama the margin of victory, especially in the crucial must win swing states. Polls and surveys show that Obama will score big again with these groups in 2012. Blacks especially will almost certainly give him a crushing off the chart percentage of their votes. So from a pure political need and investment standpoint, Obama’s time and resources will be spent trying to shore up support from wavering — and even bigoted — white Democrats. He will make repeated trips to blue color neighborhoods, schools and workplaces in the Heartland swing states. All with a careful eye of reinforcing the notion that he is indeed, as he has repeatedly said, president of all the people.
Biden’s active appearances at black and Latino gatherings, then, is Obama’s way of assuring African-American and Latino voters that he has not forgotten them, or completely taken them for granted. In what could still be a racially charged election, this is not just safe politics, it’s probably necessary politics.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.