In an interview on National Public Radio last week, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean touted the racial and gender diversity of the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. In what sounded like a slip of the tongue, he momentarily referred to the GOP as the "white party." Paging Dr. Freud.
The McCain campaign pounced on the remark. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and chair of Victory 2008 -- and one of the highest-ranking females in the McCain campaign -- issued a statement calling Dean's comments -- as if they had been intentional -- "insulting, inappropriate, and have no place in this election."
What Dean said was, "If you look at folks of color, even women, they're more successful in the Democratic party than they are in the white, uh, excuse me, in, uh, Republican party."
"He misspoke and corrected himself immediately," Stacie Paxton, DNC press secretary said Sunday.
In any case, Dean raised an issue that is rarely discussed in public and almost never by politicians: the marked racial division by party in American politics. Members of the country's largest minority groups -- blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans -- are predominantly Democratic.
According to 2004 statistics, white Americans are split evenly between the two parties with an equal percentage who are independents. But 90 percent of registered Republicans are white.
These cold numbers are reflected in the audiences Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and John McCain, R-Ariz., attract. In this year's presidential race, a crowd at an Obama public event often looks like a Benetton ad, compared to a McCain event, where the crowds are overwhelmingly white.
No doubt, a lot of this is because Obama is African-American (or, more accurately, half-black). The prospect of a black president has clearly excited many black Americans.
For more than 40 years, African-Americans have voted overwhelmingly Democratic for president, by margins of up to 9-to-1. Hispanics and Asian-Americans traditionally vote Democratic, but by smaller margins. A look at voter registration shows that 45 percent of Latinos are Democrats. Just 19 percent are Republican. Forty-one percent of Asian-Americans are Democrats compared to 18 percent, who are Republican. The Democratic party overall is 65 percent white and 35 percent non-white. Ninety percent of registered Republicans are white.
For the Republican Party, these figures may be ominous for the future, if not the present. According to a Census Bureau report last week, the country is rapidly becoming less white. It is projected that, in 2042, whites will makes up less than half of the population.
"The demographic trends favor the Democrats, because we are an inclusive, accepting party," Dean said in the NPR interview.
Last March, when McCain accepted the mantle of presumptive Republican presidential nominee, he vowed to campaign to all Americans, an implicit rebuke of past Republican nominees who often ignored minority voters. President Bush made a serious effort to woo Hispanic voters in 2000 and 2004, and it paid off with significant inroads in that traditonally Democratic bloc.
McCain has campaigned among African-Americans in New Orleans and Selma, Ala., during a week-long swing that his campaign informally dubbed as his tour of places Republicans don't normally go. He has also addressed black and Latino civil rights organizations, and targeted Latino voters with TV and radio ads in Spanish.