FROM WIRE AND STAFF REPORTS
By all accounts, the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., was going very well as of the Florida Courier’s press time late Wednesday night.
President Obama was already looking ahead to the convention’s end. He is scheduled to return to Florida again to begin a two-day bus tour with stops at St. Petersburg College’s Seminole Campus and the Kissimmee Civic Center on Saturday and Melbourne and West Palm Beach on Sunday.
Four more years
Capping off the first night of the DNC, First Lady Michelle Obama made a forceful pitch for voters to give her husband more time to complete the job they had elected him to do four years ago. In a speech that alternately stilled and electrified delegates, the first lady said President Obama was continuing to push forward with his agenda for change despite setbacks in his first term.
The DNC’s first Hispanic keynote speaker, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, acknowledged how difficult things have been in recent years while calling for Obama’s re-election. “The days we live in are not easy ones, but we have seen days like this before, and America prevailed,” he said.
Democrats sought to tamp down a pair of controversies as they gaveled open the second night of their convention Wednesday, inserting the word “God” into their platform and restating support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Both had been omitted from the original draft and Republicans had seized on the absence to question both the Democrats’ faith and their commitment to Israel.
Still not enough
The convention boasts that four out of 10 delegates are African-American or Hispanic, and half are women. But though the DNC may be energizing women and non-Whites, it may not help them with the White working class.
“This is an issue we’ve been dealing with since the mid-’70s: How do you appeal to White males. And we’ve never come up with the right formula for it,” said Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina.
“Democrats have a problem with White middle-class voters,” added Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, which has studied that electorate in depth. “Those voters are very disappointed and very critical of Obama as president.”
Must work harder
Working-class convention-goers say more effort is needed.
“I believe the president’s losing support among the blue-collar workers. A lot of people feel he promised a lot, and they’re angry,” said Bob Miller, an electrician from Hatfield, Pa.
Many people Miller knows were already sympathetic to Republican social positions – opposition to strict gun control, for instance – but backed Obama in 2008 because of his message of economic hope.
Obama rewrote recent political history that year. Until the late 1970s, blue-collar Whites were usually strong Democrats. They tended to be labor union members, often with ethnic urban roots, and came from families that had voted for Democratic presidential candidates for generations.
A variety of factors pushed them away. Democrats became champions of affirmative action, which many Whites thought threatened their jobs and promotions. Cultural conservatives were often uncomfortable with the party’s pledge of easier access to abortion, gun control, and gay rights.
Democrats also seemed willing to keep tax rates up and to funnel dollars to the less wealthy – dollars that workers felt were often going to irresponsible people who were not working.
President Ronald Reagan successfully tapped this vein, creating an army of “Reagan Democrats,” a term that still lingers. Democrats occasionally won them back in tough economic times. In 2008, Republicans struggled to only a 46 percent to 44 percent edge, according to Pew.
This year, the Republican advantage has returned. A Pew survey released Aug. 23 found White working-class voters this year preferring Republicans 52 percent to 40 percent.
The gain among Whites crosses many lines. Democrats gained a big lead among Whites with family incomes below $30,000 in 2008. Today, that lead is gone.
Whites earning between $30,000 and $74,999, generally considered the working middle class, had split between the two parties four years ago. Republicans now have a 17-percentage point advantage.
Getting them back
The Democrats’ answer is that the convention is putting strong emphasis on economic security for the middle class and portraying Republicans as hopelessly out of touch.
“We’re going to have an honest conversation about where we were in 2008,” said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. “We’ve made progress.”
Democrats are reminding delegates how Obama pushed for the auto industry bailout, while Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was opposed. They’re telling viewers how Obama would maintain current income tax rates for people earning less than $250,000. Romney would continue current, lower rates for everyone, including the wealthy.
The Obama forces tout the 2010 federal health care law, which should make it easier for millions to obtain coverage by 2014. Romney wants to repeal it.
Ready to work
Dave Green is ready to spread the word. He’s president of United Auto Workers Local 1714 in Ohio, a crucial state where votes of his 1,500 members could help decide the election. The Lordstown, Ohio, Chevy plant, for years a popular presidential campaign stop, is running three shifts, up from one about four years ago.
Obama carried Ohio in 2008, but in 2010, Ohioans turned against Democrats and elected a conservative Republican governor and U.S. senator.
“A lot of people just thought the economy didn’t get good enough fast enough,” Green explained. “And a lot still vote single issue, against gays, for God and for guns.”
Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times and David Lightman and William Douglas of McClatchy Newspapers (MCT) contributed to this report.