Ewan Watt looks at the demographics and concludes that the Democrats need Bill Richardson on the ticket.
The way in which the Democratic race has transpired will likely provide some solace to Republicans and conservative 527s who had anticipated with whom their respective candidates would face off in ‘round II’.
Bearing in mind the media circus surrounding Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton it was hardly surprising that Bill Richardson’s withdrawal from the Presidential race received so little attention. Richardson’s withdrawal was due to financial problems; he would be unable to compete with the respective war chests of the two frontrunners. However his involvement in the 2008 Presidential race is hardly likely to end there. In fact, Republicans should take note of New Mexico’s commander in-chief – he may pose a greater threat to the GOP than either Obama or Clinton.
Looking at the last seven Presidential elections one wonders how on earth the Democratic Party has found their candidate residing in the White House on only three occasions.
Although the Republicans tasted some success in the South with Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, a real southern strategy was developed by Richard Nixon and latterly Lee Atwater, who cited constitutional objections to ‘bussing’ and fiscal conservatism, tax cuts and states rights respectively. Thus without a solid southern constituency the Democrats have won the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on only three occasions since 1968 – through the Jimmy Carter anomaly and the political genius of William J. Clinton.
Some might say therefore, that in order to become President, a Democrat must ‘win’ the South. Unfortunately for the Republicans this is not so.
As Governor of New Mexico, any Democratic candidate would be certifiable to pass by the opportunity to have Bill Richardson as their running mate. A negotiator, Hispanic, tax cutter and commander in chief (the last time America directly elected a Senator to the Presidency was John F. Kennedy in 1960) who continues to enjoy a 65% approval rating, Richardson is the greatest asset that the Democrats could have hoped for at election time since Bill Clinton.
If Richardson is on the Democratic ticket, the chances of a Republican winning the White House look slim. The reason? Demographic shifts.
In the 1960s, Robert F. Kennedy wrongly asserted that all the North-Easterners migrating to the South and West would retain their heritage and become Democrats. Unfortunately for Kennedy and the Democrats, Southern and Western customs quickly swallowed up the new inhabitants. However, could the Republican Party be making the same mistake?
Having focused much of their respective campaigns on illegal immigration, the Republican Party appears to have done all it can to alienate one of the key groups that elected George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 – Hispanics. Although Bush never commanded an absolute majority of the Hispanic vote (mainly Protestant Hispanics), the 40% that he won in 2004 was enough to give him majorities in key swing states in the Southwest.
Of course, the fact that the United States has around 12 million illegal immigrants needs to be addressed. Having spent time at the Republican National Committee I can vouch for the fact that illegal immigration easily the most emotive issue with the party’s base. Nevertheless, whilst the Republican candidates all jostle over who has the toughest policies on border control the Hispanic vote is deserting the Party – as it did in droves during the 2006 mid terms.
Looking ahead to November, New Mexico, Florida, Nevada, Colorado and even Arizona (56 electoral college votes in total) will be the key swing states. As the fastest growing group of voters in these states, Hispanics are likely to play a decisive role in each. Obviously this hangs on both parties retaining the large swathes of voters who repeatedly cite illegal immigration as their primary concern. Should Obama or Clinton choose Richardson as their running mate, the Republicans may end up facing an uphill battle to retain the very votes that Karl Rove saw as forming the newest part of the Republican coalition that Ronald Reagan helped nurture. As Rove anticipated, the Hispanic vote is now organised – although volatile in itself – and capable of deciding elections.
So, several dilemmas within the GOP remain. Whilst the Democrats seem split, the GOP appears to be splintered. One only needs to encounter a Rudy McRomney bumper sticker with a large red score through it to understand that none of the frontrunners has galvanised the grass roots.
Yet, the return of John McCain could be the Republican’s saving grace.
Now McCain’s problem is not his national popularity. The Senator from Arizona is seen regularly as one of the most respected figures in American politics. McCain’s problem is his tumultuous relationship with the party base. A maverick, McCain recently sponsored a bill with liberal Edward Kennedy that would have provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants – just when his Presidential campaign was on the ropes. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law has limited the issuance of advertisements late on in the election season, which evangelicals feel has infringed their right to political speech. Still, it is McCain’s consistency and “straight talkin’” that has commanded him respect amongst moderates and independents.
Like Richardson, McCain represents a swing state. In fact, Arizona is the fastest growing state in the union. Having never ‘flip-flopped’ on the immigration question, McCain could be the Republican’s only chance to retain its share of the Hispanic vote. In addition, McCain’s maverick style may in fact endear him to Republicans and independents who have been alienated by George W. Bush.
Still, questions will remain as to whether the party’s volatile coalition could hold together under McCain. Would evangelicals forgive him? What about his vote against Bush’s tax cuts? Absurdly, could Hillary unite the Republican Party behind McCain? Or could the base turn towards a ‘Ross Perot’ a la 1992.
Looking at the swing states, McCain’s surge could not have happened at a better time for the GOP. Although an endorsement from the late Jerry Falwell is unlikely to be enough to mend McCain’s relationship with the part of the GOP’s base, the possibility exists for a joint ticket with the Reverend Huckabee. Also a McCain Presidency may only last one term – could this be enough to appease the evangelicals? More importantly, McCain remains the GOP’s best chance of confronting Richardson and winning those key swing states. Who knows, perhaps citing Richardson’s willingness to open a dialogue with Fidel Castro could also even swing Florida.
With an extremely volatile electorate, 2008 is likely to be the most open Presidential election in living memory. Unlike the South, West, North East, or Midwest, the entire region of the Southwest is very much up for grabs. After licking his wounds, Bill Richardson will be in the Governor’s mansion waiting for a phone call to deliver the Southwest. Only this time he will be on fertile land with endless resources at his disposal.
The Republican Party has the candidate and the ticket to stop the Democrats but the outcome will depend on how much the Republican coalition wants to win – or how much a faction member wants to prove a point.