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As Long as We Remember...

July 30, 2008

The Obama Phenomena

Kevin E. Dayhoff

With less than 100 days to go before the November presidential election, both presumptive candidates for the Oval Office continue to look for a key – knock-out – issue that will put them over the top.


Will it be the price of gas? Offshore drilling? Or the economy? At this point, where do the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan play in the mix? Is it the environment?


Or will it be the “Obama Phenomena?”


In a scene stolen from “The Graduate,” a colleague recently pronounced that the key is this “Obama Phenomena” and the African-American vote.


Remember, in the 1967 film "The Graduate,'' Mr. McGuire offers one word of advice to Dustin Hoffman's character, Benjamin Braddock: “Plastics,” in a suggestion that a utopian world hinges on it.


My colleague said the “Obama Phenomena” and the African-American vote in such a hushed and reverential tone that at first I thought he was pulling my leg.


He was not. He was a serious as a heart attack.


“The key’ll be the black vote for the black candidate…,” he continued with an all-knowing professorial nod.


Now, I’m just as intrigued, err, baffled, by the longest presidential campaign in history as the next historian, but one thing I do know – he’s wrong about the African-American vote.


As I attempted to explain the pragmatic numbers in the equation, he insisted that African-Americans in the south will put the Democrat presumptive presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, over the top.


Ay, caramba.  Where to begin?


Thomas F. Schaller, the political scientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the author of Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, contends that the Democrats should simply bypass the south and put their efforts into the mid-west and western states.


James Joyner, the publisher of Outside the Beltway and the managing editor of the Atlantic Council recently picked up the story here and quotes Dr. Schaller: “…that the notion that Barack Obama has a good chance of winning Southern states because he’ll energize black turnout is based on fallacious reasoning…”


Just as it is anyone’s guess, however intelligently derived, as to what issue will put either candidate over the top, it remains equally unclear as to which particular voter segment will determine the next election.


Will it be the Hispanic vote? Or will it be middle-aged soccer moms? How about the senior vote – or younger voters?


Odds are it may be a combination of several voter sectors, which will certainly have the African-American vote as an important component.


However, for the first election in decades, anyone who believes that black voters will pull the lever in lockstep with the Democrat Party, have not kept up with the latest trends, or are being disrespectfully simplistic.


After years of being taken for granted by the Democrats, the African-American vote continues to fragment.


To be certain, to state the obvious, not all African-Americans think alike and conventional wisdom is beginning to realize that this voter block is beginning to vote issues more than party.


Moreover, this election will be decided by the middle voter demographic – the independents, the “undecideds,” the voters who vote for Democrat candidates in one election – and the Republican candidates in other elections.


Many continue to believe that the election has yet to be decided – by events yet to be determined; such as the vice presidential choice.


Setting aside some of the obvious reasons, many believe that as long as the polls indicate that the contest is essentially a dead-heat tie, the veep selection will be critical to round-out the respective tickets in order to jockey for an edge.


Of course, the obvious dynamic is the underlying current of conversation which continues to comment on Sen. John McCain’s age.


On the other hand, Senator Obama is a 46-year-old who, in the words of Democrat pollster Peter Hart, has “a narrative that is very unusual and that few other Americans can relate to… Add to that the fact that he has had four years in the United States Senate and very little international experience. That’s a large leap for the American public to make.”


More specifically, many objective political scientists understand “that’s a large leap for the American public (Black or White or whatever) to make.”


The same New York Times article that carried Mr. Hart’s observances, also noted accurately: “Beyond that, Mr. Obama faces an opponent in Mr. McCain who has a history of appealing to independent voters and occasionally defying his own party. Mr. McCain’s advocates said during the primaries that he was the strongest candidate for the general-election contest for just these reasons.”


Meanwhile, one of the few matters of politics on which my colleague and I could agree is that both Senators Obama and McCain remain likeable candidates, and that allows voters to reflect more on the issues as opposed to the many unlikable personalities in the last number of elections.


However, the “Obama Phenomena” is an historic change; but it will remain to be seen if it will be the dynamic that puts him over the top this November.


My friend will be voting the “Obama Phenomena” this fall. Pressed further, he explained that he was voting for change.


I could barely contain myself as I explained I’m voting the economy and although I recognize that Senator McCain is not an economic genius, if Senator Obama wins this fall, his tax and spend policies with leave us with only “change” in our pockets.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:


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