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Democrats' white-vote dilemma

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

LAUGHLINTOWN, Pa. — Sitting on the back of his truck, a homemade turkey wrap in one hand and a bottle of water in the other, Mark said the Democratic Party he grew up with is vastly different from the one that exists today.

Mark, who didn't want his last name to be published, works on a Western Pennsylvania farm from March to November and runs a snow-removal company in winter. He last supported a Democrat for president in 1996, when Bill Clinton ran for re-election.

“From Al Gore to John Kerry to President Obama, I found their policies and tone very similar,” he said, explaining that they cater to urbanites and elites “and not enough to the rest of the country.”

He staunchly supported Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania's 2008 presidential primary “but I worry she's become part of this divisional politics that drives up urban votes ... and makes the rest of us just want to stay home.”

White male voters haven't felt that the Democratic Party has their best interests at heart since Lyndon Johnson, the last Democrat to win a majority of their presidential votes. The further left the party pulls, the more each successive candidate or president loses white male support.

That is particularly true in the industrial Midwest, South and West. The only white males whom Democrats tend to attract are elites in urban areas — and, of course, in Hollywood.

Republicans have a minority problem and a woman problem. Yet, in midterm elections, minorities and women do not vote as much as white men, and they voted more Republican in 1994 and 2010. (They slipped back to Democrats in 2006.) Both former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and former President Bill Clinton recently expressed frustration over the lack of organized Democrats trying to win back the white working-class vote.

Dean is particularly dismayed that state legislative chambers have swung Republican in historical numbers. Gone are the majorities he helped to build as the Democrats' national chairman, when he targeted values voters through ads on farm radio programs; Democrats hold majorities in only 40 of the nation's 99 state legislative chambers, and they hold both legislative houses and governorships in only 13 states.

A well-regarded Democrat strategist privately acknowledges that the party probably will lose legislative control in Arkansas and Iowa in November.

Part of the problem for Democrats is that they used divisional politics and class warfare so well to suppress Republicans that it backfired and suppressed white males from turning out for them, too.

“Gore, Kerry, Obama — all three made me dislike not just their rivals but them as well,” Mark, the worker with the turkey sandwich, said.

Obama lost white voters by the largest margin for a Democrat presidential candidate since Walter Mondale. But that 20-point loss to Mitt Romney didn't matter, because white male voters like Mark didn't show up for Romney, either.

So, do Democrats continue to write off the white male vote? Do they even need them in the future?

After all, the white vote, as a part of the whole electorate, has declined in every election since 1992; while still the dominant majority in the country, it has been turned away and turned off by today's Democratic Party, and has become the lost vote for the party of FDR.

White middle-class Christian men once were the backbone of the Democratic Party. They are your neighbors, they volunteer as firefighters, they serve as your kids' or grandkids' baseball coaches; they are the next largest plurality in the electorate behind women.

They are descendants of the Scots-Irish who forged this country in the 17th century, and of the European immigrant wave that landed in the early 20th century.

And they are caught between the politics of division.

In hindsight, Mark said, Mitt Romney lined up with everything he believes in: “But what he was proposing was drowned out by the image Obama gave of him being a rich guy out of touch and tone-deaf to the needs of the country.

“Turns out Obama was that guy, not Romney,” he said, jumping off the back of the truck and heading back onto the farm field with his crew.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (szito@tribweb.com).

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