White Men Hold Key for Democrats --Contest May Hinge on Blue-Collar Vote; Opening for McCain?
In a Democratic presidential nomination race that pits a black man against a woman, the victor may well be determined by white men.
The working-class white men who toil in the steel mills and auto plants here are part of a volatile cohort that has long helped steer the nation's political course. Once, blue-collar males were the bedrock of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal coalition. They became "Reagan Democrats," helping to propel Ronald Reagan into office in the 1980s. Bill Clinton won many of them back to the Democratic Party in 1992. Two years later they were "angry white males," resentful of affirmative action and the women's movement, who helped Republicans capture Congress.
Now this group of voters is set to help determine the Democratic nominee, and the next occupant of the White House. Working-class white men make up nearly one-quarter of the electorate, outnumbering African-American and Hispanic voters combined. As the Democratic primary race intensifies, some of these white men are finding it hard to identify with the remaining two candidates, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.
"It seems like someone else should be there," says Dan Leihgeber, a smelter in a steel plant here, who is supporting Sen. Clinton. "It's like there's someone missing."
As the Democratic race moves toward primaries in blue-collar strongholds -- today in Wisconsin, Ohio on March 4 and Pennsylvania on April 22 -- the allegiance of blue-collar men is up for grabs. While Sen. Clinton runs strongly among working-class women, she and Sen. Obama are perceived equally favorably among working-class men, according to a January Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The two candidates have seesawed among blue-collar men in the primaries: Sen. Clinton won them in Georgia, Missouri and New York, while Sen. Obama captured the working-class male vote in New Hampshire, California, Maryland and Virginia.
Blue-collar men could also emerge as an important swing constituency in November -- either backing the Democrats' eventual nominee, or shifting to some degree toward Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, whose war record and straight-talking approach could make him appealing to many working-class men.