The Democratic Convention was pitch perfect in publicly showcasing Democratic Party unity.
Speaker after speaker made the case for why President Obama should get a second term. But there is still the nagging worry among party members that more than a few Democrats will be MIA from the polls on Nov. 6.
If so, it wouldn’t be the first time it happened. For years, registered Democrats have far outnumbered registered Republicans. Given the top-heavy number of Democrats, the GOP on paper could never win the White House and would always be relegated to a permanent minority in Congress.
That’s on paper, and the operative word is “registered” party affiliation. Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and even George W. Bush won election — and three of them, re-election — despite the Democratic majority because they were able to woo just enough conservative swing state Democrats to vote for them or stay home on election night.
This didn’t happen in the 2008 general election, when Democrats showed up in greater numbers and slightly more than 90 percent of Democrats voted Democratic. This provided Obama with a margin of 8 million more votes than GOP rival John McCain, which gave Obama a comfortable, 60-plus electoral edge over the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
But that was 2008. The potential Democratic falloff in numbers this time is troubling. Even more troubling are the attitudes of some Democrats. In a recent poll the congressional newspaper “The Hill” found that less than 80 percent of Democrats said that Obama deserved a second term.
Another red flag is its July poll that found that one in five Democrats claimed conditions in the country have worsened in the past four years. They blame Obama — not Bush — for the downward turn. The Democrats didn’t say why Obama should be blamed for the sour economy and partisan warfare.
Their finger-pointing against Obama ignores the massive debt, deficit, corruption and waste of the Bush years, two costly, dubious wars, and a colossal tax giveaway to the rich and corporations. Then there was the open warfare the GOP declared against Obama before he even set foot in the White House.
There’s no way to tell how many Democrats who blame Obama for the alleged lousy state of national affairs will stay home on Election Day. But the thought that even a fraction of disenchanted Democrats will stay home in the crucial swing states is enough to jump the needle on the anxiety meter at the White House.
This fraction of wayward Democrats would translate into tens of thousands of lost votes. With polls showing that the GOP registration in some states is up, GOP voter enthusiasm is red hot and a decisive majority of Republicans think Romney is a better candidate than McCain, this would be disastrous.
There were two ominous warning signs even before the spate of polls that show a drop in enthusiasm among some Democrats for Obama. One was the Democratic primary battles that Obama waged against Hillary Clinton in 2008. Clinton beat Obama in the West Virginia, Kentucky and South Dakota primaries, and even more disturbing, in the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries. She did it mainly with white Democratic votes. Many of these voters were not shy in exit polls in saying that they could not bring themselves to vote for a black Democratic presidential candidate.
Four years later, the frozen racial bigotry is still there with some. A small number of Democratic voters in Ohio made it clear they still wouldn’t vote for him, and race was the reason.
The other warning sign were primaries earlier this year in which there was an actual Democrat in addition to Obama on the ballot in the primary election. This included the absurd write-in candidacy of a white federal convict from Texas on the West Virginia ballot. Obama averaged fewer than 80 percent of the Democratic vote in several of these states.
The good news is the biggest defection of white Democrats was in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. These are the states the GOP has a solid lock on anyway. But the four states that raised eyebrows with defecting Democrats were Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire and North Carolina. In three of these states, Obama got under 90 percent of the Democratic primary vote. In North Carolina 20 percent of the Democratic primary voters chose the “uncommitted option.”
Most of the disaffected, disenchanted Democrats that blame Obama for the nation’s problems will likely swallow their professed disappointment, anger and even bigotry and punch the ticket for him in November. Obama’s challenge is to make sure they do. The White House could hinge on it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.