After the Potomac Primary, Virginia is the new Massachusetts and Texas is the new Florida. Barack Obama claimed a “Chesapeake Sweep,” winning all three primaries-Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia-by decisive margins. Hillary Clinton, whose campaign conceded these, is betting the house on the forthcoming delegate-rich primaries of Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, with no campaign stops announced for next week’s voting states, Wisconsin and Hawaii.
Clinton’s campaign is often quoted as labeling the Latino vote in Texas as her “firewall” (or, as The Guardian wryly notes, her “contrafuego”). Before the polls closed in the Potomac Primary, she was campaigning in El Paso, Texas. Deploying a strategy like Rudy Giuliani’s, of skipping and losing several states while banking on a win in a key state (as he did with Florida), Clinton is campaigning to retain her grip on the Latino, the lower-income and the female voting blocs. Exit polls from the Potomac Primary suggest Obama is beginning to shave some percentage points from her hold on these core constituencies.
While pundits opine over the unexpectedly competitive Democratic race, a key factor bears note: The voter turnout is unprecedented and, if sustained into November, could create an epochal shift in the U.S. political landscape.
Take Virginia. Could this red state be turning blue? The Democrats turned out close to 1 million voters on Tuesday, while the Republicans turned out closer to 475,000. Fact: Democrats turned out two and a half times more people than voted in the Virginia primary in 2004 and outvoted Republicans this time by a factor of 2 to 1. Democratic voters are turning out in droves, while Virginia Republicans seem to be sitting this one out.
This could presage two important outcomes. First, Virginia might shift from a red state to a blue state come the election in November. Although Virginia has reliably delivered its electoral votes to the Republicans for decades, John McCain should take heed, as the last Republican presidential candidate to lose Virginia was another Republican senator from Arizona (Barry Goldwater, defeated by Lyndon Johnson in 1964). Recall, as well, that the voters of Virginia were the first to elevate an African-American to governor, electing Democrat Douglas Wilder in 1990. This surge in voter turnout could also usher in a second Democratic senator in Virginia, replacing retiring Republican Sen. John Warner, who turns 81 this week.
Consider Colorado. This state, too, has seen a tremendous surge in voter turnout. In the recent caucus (handily won by Obama), Democrats turned out about 112,000 versus the Republicans’ 70,000. Colorado is described as a “purple” state, shifting from red to blue: The state has gone to the Republican candidate in every election since Dwight Eisenhower with the exception of Johnson in 1964 and Bill Clinton in 1992. In 2004, Democrat Ken Salazar won the Senate seat vacated by Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell, while Salazar’s brother John won a House seat that had been held by the right-wing Scott McInnis for 12 years. Like Warner, Republican Sen. Wayne Allard is retiring, and polls, along with the increased voter participation, point to a Democratic win for the Senate by the popular Rep. Mark Udall.
While there is enthusiasm and confidence among the Democrats that they can take back the White House in 2008, they still need to settle on their candidate. Threat of recession has grabbed the attention of many, but undergirding this political moment, behind the polls and the voter surge, is the war in Iraq. Ultimately, the Democrats have two leading candidates, one of whom opposed the war in Iraq and one who authorized it.
A year ago, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Clinton advised her potential supporters: “If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from. But for me, the most important thing now is trying to end this war.”
Clinton has staunchly refused to admit her war vote was a mistake. On a recent episode of “Meet the Press,” she claimed that the 2002 vote was not actually a vote for war:
“It is absolutely unfair to say that … was a vote for war. It was a vote to use the threat of force against Saddam Hussein, who never did anything without being made to do so.”
To which Tim Russert reminded her, “The title of the act was the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution.”
The progressive, anti-war wing of the Democratic Party has been revitalized. Now that Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards are out, anti-war attention is focused on Obama (even though his current plans for Iraq are virtually indistinguishable from Clinton’s-neither advocating immediate withdrawal). He is clearly benefiting from the voter surge. As are local candidates. Maryland’s anti-war Democrat Donna Edwards just won her primary, defeating an eight-term incumbent Democrat who voted to fund the war. If she wins in November, she will be the first African-American woman to represent Maryland in the U.S. Congress.
Yes, Sen. Clinton, for anti-war voters who feel that your vote on war matters, there are other candidates to vote for. And there are a lot of anti-war voters out there looking for good alternatives.
Denis Moynihan assisted on today’s column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 650 stations in North America.