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How Oregon could help Obama defy ” White Working Class Problem”

Sam Stein

The Huffington Post

May 19th 4.45 pm

The popular refrain within political circles is that Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in Kentucky and Oregon will provide yet another demonstration of Sen. Barack Obama troubles among working class white voters. The Illinois Democrat, after all, is staring down a major loss in the former and a comfortable win in the latter.

It’s an incomplete if not misleading analysis. If anything, socioeconomic statistics show that Oregon, as much as Kentucky and perhaps even more so than Ohio, is a state comprised of the white, middle-to-low income individuals who work in a struggling but still important manufacturing sector. Indeed, if the Senator were to win in the Beaver State on Tuesday – and all signs point to a victory – much of it will be on the backs of the very voters whom pundits believe have written him off.

The population of Oregon, according to census estimates is roughly 3.7 million, 90 percent of who are white and 1.9 percent of who are black. Eighteen percent of all jobs are manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the median household income in 2004 was $42,568.

Compare those numbers to Ohio, the rust belt state where Obama’s failure to connect with white working class voters emerged as a popular campaign theme. There are, according to census estimates, 11.4 million people in Ohio, 85 percent of who are white and 12 percent of who are black – much less homogeneous than Oregon. Slightly less than 15 percent of the states jobs are manufacturing (less than Oregon) and the average median household income is $43,371 (more than Oregon). Kentucky, where Sen. Hillary Clinton is likely to have a major victory on Tuesday, is quite similar. The Bluegrass state has an estimated population of 4.2 million, 90 percent of who are white and 7.5 percent of who are black – again less homogeneous than Oregon. Less than 17 percent of the jobs are manufacturing and the median household income in 2004 was $37,000.

So why, if Obama is supposedly having such troubles among the white working class – as evidenced by his defeat in Ohio and impending loss in Kentucky – is he slated to do so well among those voters in Oregon? Perhaps it’s because the Senator’s problems are far more geographic than socioeconomic.

“Oregon is a state where race has not been an animating factor of political campaigns in the past. It has not been an issue since the 1860s, and it is not going to matter to people in the current election,” said Joseph Lowndes, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oregon and author of “From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism. “Lunch-pale, white Democrats have become the signifier for journalists and it has been overused. Because as Oregon shows it doesn’t matter.”  Link to complete article Huff Post>>

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