Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy represents a challenge to the Democratic Party establishment and to many old civil-rights leaders.
Although the 46-year-old Obama is himself hardly a youngster, he is embodying the hopes and idealism of the under-30 crowd. His supercharged rhetoric about breaking the stranglehold of the party establishment is more important to the younger generation than the tenor of his politics, which veer from left to right and back again.
This appeal is what lies behind his powerful showing on Super Tuesday.
He won at least 13 states, compared to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s nine. Commentators underplayed his victories in Missouri, Connecticut and Utah. These are states that demonstrate the breath of Obama’s appeal. He won with enthusiastic support from higher-income voters, those who label themselves independent, youth, and those who view change as the most important issue in the race. Except for the urban areas in Missouri, these states contain few African-American voters.
One block of losers in the political whirlwind of Super Tuesday were the black leaders who backed Clinton. As in South Carolina, Clinton enjoyed the support of many local and national black politicians, civil-rights leaders, celebrities, and ministers. However, across the board, black voters overwhelmingly went for Obama, proving not only that South Carolina was not a fluke, but that a generational shift in black leadership is occurring.
In his Georgia victory, where nearly all the old-guard civil-rights leaders fronted for Clinton, including former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Obama won 87 percent of the black vote. Even more striking, he won 95 percent of blacks between the ages of 30 and 44.
In California, which he lost, he took 78 percent of the black vote, despite Clinton having the support of black elected officials such as Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
At the same time, in nearly all of these states, he ran away with the white youth vote.
A generational divide has arisen right in the heart of the Democratic Party. These trends do not bode well for Clinton should she become the nominee. No Democratic can win without strong support from black voters and independents, at least a decent percentage of men and a big turnout from young voters.
For better or for worse, the Democratic race now boils down to delegate collection, although it is seems very likely that neither Clinton nor Obama will win enough elected delegates to grab the nomination. Given the closeness of the race and the distribution of delegates so far, a brokered convention is looming on the horizon. This is a scenario ripe for backroom dealing and undemocratic maneuvering.
Should the nomination be ultimately determined by the unelected superdelegates or the unfair allocation of the currently disbarred Michigan or Florida delegates, an implosion may occur.
The party leadership must move very carefully in how they handle the Obama insurgency not only for the upcoming November election, but for the future of the party — and even our democracy.
It would be a grave mistake to slap in the face all the young voters and African-American voters who have rallied to the Obama candidacy.
Clarence Lusane is an associate professor at American University and author of many books, including, most recently, “Colin Powell-Condoleezza Rice: Foreign Policy, Race and the New American Century.” He can be reached at email@example.com.