by Max Brantley
The NY Times dispatched a reporter to write for Saturday's print edition about the lack of enthusiasm for Barack Obama in Arkansas and his lack of campaign effort. It's a major piece. How to explain a paid staff and office in Louisiana, but not here?
But while Arkansas on paper might entice a Democratic candidate, Arkansas in person is a different story, and the fact that Mr. Obama’s campaign is not yet here reveals much about his strategic approach to turning red states blue.
In Arkansas, unlike other southern states, Democrats have maintained dominance by keeping white, conservative, rural voters — the ones that need the most convincing by Mr. Obama — in the fold. Arkansas’s population is whiter than the rest of the South; it is only 16 percent black, compared with 30 percent in Georgia and 21 percent in North Carolina. Its voters are older, less educated and include fewer transplants from outside the South. Virginia has elected a black governor; Arkansas has never elected a black candidate to statewide office.
The presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, does not have an office in Arkansas, but he visited in April and again last week, when he called Arkansas a “swing state” and promised to aggressively pursue “Clinton Democrats.” But Merle Black, an expert on Southern politics at Emory University, said the McCain camp most likely expected to do as well in Arkansas as in more solidly Republican states like Tennessee and Kentucky, where white Protestants dominate the electorate.
Among various prominent Ark. Democrats quoted (the Clinton angle in the equation is well explored) is a North Little Rock state senator:
State Senator Mary Anne Salmon, another member of the Arkansas Travelers, said Mr. Obama would have to battle buried racism throughout the South.
“People who feel that way don’t want to admit it,” she said. “They say things like ‘Well, he’s so young.’ I keep saying to people, ‘Well, he’s half white.’ ”
Let me add: A Republican strategist told me recently that he'd seen polling of Arkansas by legislative districts and that Obama didn't break out of the 30s in any district he'd seen polled. (Republicans presumably aren't polling majority black districts that they don't expect to contest.) The numbers are so bad that Republicans think this could be a rare race in which a presidential candidate, rather than lifting candidates down the ballot, could harm them. Will Republican state legislative candidates seek to hang Obama on their Democratic opponents? Sounds like it.