Race mattered in the W.Va. primary, but will it keep mattering?
This is the second in a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who’s talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the election.
Charleston, W.Va. — According to the exit polls, I was hanging out with a bunch of racially challenged Hillary supporters at last night’s victory party here.
One in five West Virginia voters fessed up that race was an important factor in their choice of a candidate –- and they didn’t mean they saw Obama’s diverse heritage as a positive. How do we know that? Because of those who walked right up to pollsters and said out loud that race was the elephant in their donkey-party living room, 81 percent voted for Clinton. Not only that, but 7 percent of West Virginia voters went for John Edwards –- who ended his run decades ago, as measured in political time –- but was the only white dude still on the ballot. What does that tell us? Nothing we want to hear.
Yet right up until Election Day in November, nothing that can’t be mitigated, either. I say that because after the ’04 election, I spent 18 months roaming around 20 states, listening to women across the political spectrum rant and rave about Hillary Clinton: Never, ever, they said. And who are her biggest supporters now? The skepticism I heard from them didn’t seem to have much to do with gender, so maybe it isn’t the same thing. But last night, as I was listening to West Virginians vowing that they would never, ever settle for Obama, I couldn’t help wondering how long “never” would last this time.
In part, that depends on the preferred candidate of “hard-working Americans, white Americans.” Though it’s true that Clinton has been invited to exit the stage, the issue isn’t whether or not she quits the race, but whether or not she quits the race baiting. I know a whole wing of the Democratic Party thinks it horribly unfair to conclude that some of her campaign’s statements add up to that — “He’s not a Muslim … as far as I know,” plus likening Obama to Jesse Jackson, and “He would not have been my pastor,” and “one of the things they’re certainly going to jump on is his drug use,” and the shout-out to “hard-working Americans, white Americans” — but then, this is a campaign that’s been saying for months it doesn’t believe in math, anyway. (As a woman sitting near me at Hillary’s victory party said, when she saw her candidate’s lead narrowing even slightly, “Numbers lie.”)
Last night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow called Hillary the “understudy” candidate, hoping the star comes down with the flu. So if she’s Eve Harrington, does that make Bill her Addison DeWitt? And remember sweet, naïve Karen Richards, the Celeste Holm character who engineers Margo Channing’s failure to show up on opening night because she can’t believe Eve means any real harm? Sometimes, seeing no evil leads to no good.