Hope vs. Fear

By Ed O'Keefe

May 27, 2008 8:58am

Opinion by Matthew Dowd, ABC News Political Contributor

So, Barack Obama slowly moves towards locking up the nomination and begins to turn his sights on John McCain.

McCain has a big week with denunciation of conservative pastors, release of medical info, and his wife releasing last years taxes while he interviews first three prospects for vice president, and Hillary Clinton seems odd woman out struggling to understand her lost dream and putting her foot in her mouth related to a Kennedy assassination and claiming sexism is responsible for her troubles.

Hmmm, so where do we stand and what can we understand from all this?

As I have mentioned before, Clinton looks like to me that she is tired, slightly desperate and going through the stages of grief from a lost dream. She has been in denial, moving through anger and sadness, but seems stuck in bargaining, while still needing to get to acceptance.

Maybe someone can set up a 12 step program for politicians who have a hard time coming to terms with leaving the stage. First step as always is admitting you have a problem.

I feel for her as her arguments for staying in get more and more convoluted and rather bizarre. Using her logic, no losing candidate should ever drop out. Huckabee should have stayed in because you never know what could happen. Or Biden or Dodd or Edwards or Richardson should have stayed in the race because who knows what might happen?

My guess: acceptance in the stages of grief will come on or around June 3rd.

To me, in a exceptionally simplified explanation, the Democratic primary race boils down to hope vs. fear. All voters have a combination about wanting their leaders to understand and feel their fears (whether it be about the economy, or health care or the war, etc.) but ultimately the majority of voters want to vote their hopes.

If one was to factor out certain demographics in this race (African-Americans supporting Obama; older white women supporting Clinton), then one is left with the following data: voters under 30, voters with college education or higher, and more upper income Democrats by and large support Obama from state to state. This group has reason to be optimistic whether because of youth or opportunity or circumstance, and appeals to hope resonate very strongly.

Contrary to this, Clinton gets voters over 30 who make less than 50k and don’t have college education.  And this is true from state to state. It’s not an Appalachian problem as some have suggested. It’s just that there are many more of these type of voters in those states than in other places. These voters are much less optimistic, have been through many struggles without much showing for it, and pure language of hope doesn’t connect well.

Obama is very good on the hope side of the equation, but many of these Clinton voters don’t get a sense he understands their fears. And Clinton has been very good on the fear side of the equation, but hasn’t connected on the hope part.

As the likely Democratic nominee, Obama is going to have to show he understands these voters fears and struggles, before they are open to a language of hope. This is absolutely imperative as he moves towards the general election against John McCain.

The best candidates in national politics ultimately show they feel and understand voters’ fears but then ask them to vote their hopes. Kennedy did this well, Reagan did this well, Clinton did this well, and even President Bush did this well at times.

Obama, if he is going to win, will have to learn from the primaries that while the conclusion is hope, he needs to walk with voters fears for a bit.

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