Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why did Obama lose Calif.? Look to its heartland

As Super Tuesday approached, Barack Obama's momentum in California strongly indicated that he would carry the state and become the Democratic front-runner for president. But Hillary Clinton won the state by almost 10 percentage points, and analysts focused on her strength among women and Hispanics. But there was another reason: Her strength in the state's interior.

"Obama, for all the interest he generated in wealthy coastal precincts, was failing in a frantic effort to gain traction in the California heartland: the Inland Empire counties of San Bernardino and Riverside, and the Central Valley stalwarts, Fresno and Kern counties," Joe Mathews writes in the Los Angeles Times. "There lies a different Democratic California, less known to outsiders than the gilded coast but no less important . . . the unofficial capital of the working class."

Mathews begins his piece with a Dust Bowl-Depression ditty: "Dear Okie ... if you see Arkie .. . tell 'im Tex's got a job for him ... out in Californy." He seems to argue that The Grapes of Wrath are still producing political juice. "We're two states: a coastal blue state and an interior red state," he writes. "The phrase that used to describe this phenomenon is 'California, 50 miles inland, is Arkansas.' It is, politically speaking, Oklahoma and Tennessee too. And while inland California is conservative and mostly Republican, there are millions of Democrats there as well. They cast their ballots in a way that closely resembles the voting patterns of the conservative Dust Bowl states whose job-seeking migrants settled the interior of Californy." Mathews, a grandson of Dust Bowl migrants, notes that Clinton's vote in those states (allowing for her roots in Arkansas) was similar to those in the four big interior counties. He acknowledges the Hispanic factor; the counties have very high Latino populations.

California's interior was once mainly rural, but no longer. By the Daily Yonder's county-by-county calculation, 96.7 percent of California's vote is urban, with 0.8 percent exurban and 2.6 percent rural. Clinton's margin over Obama in the state's rural counties was only 1.1 percent. The National Election Pool exit poll, based on precinct location, has it 50 percent urban, 42 percent suburban and 7 percent rural. Clinton's support in the poll showed no statistical difference among those categories. Her standout poll numbers were among Latinos (67 percent), women (59 pct.) and the poor and less educated, which supports Mathews' theory. Income categories below $100,000 all went for Clinton; those higher went for Obama. They tied among college graduates; he won those with postgraduate education and she won the rest, with increasing majorities as the level of education declined.

The Yonder's latest cut of the data says "Clinton has pulled more votes from counties that voted for George Bush in 2004 — while the Obama campaign has done best in the bluest of blue communities."

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