On Monday, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, with nationwide reverberations. On Tuesday, Barack Obama denounced Wright and his statements. Judging from the talk I've been hearing from Democratic insiders since Wright's Monday speech, Obama did what he had to do. But the problem remains. Obama has now taken two positions on Wright. March 13: No, I cannot disown him. April 29: Yes, I can. Left still unanswered is the question: How can the man we heard deliver that speech in July 2004 about what unites us—in which his strongest line was "in the blue states we worship an awesome God"—how could that Barack Obama have attended the church of that Rev. Jeremiah Wright for 20 years? And not just attended: He and his wife contributed more than $20,000 to the church. It just doesn't add up. It undercuts Obama's very appealing theme of bridging divisions in our society.
I think this is going to be a continuing problem for Obama. As I suggested several weeks ago, it threatens especially to dampen the support Obama has won from young voters—the millennial generation. He has brought them out in great and unexpected numbers to vote for him in primaries and caucuses. It's not clear he will be able to do that in the general election—and the argument that he can has been one that has had weight with many Democratic superdelegates.
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My Creators Syndicate column this week looks at other problems Obama has as a general-election candidate. Polling shows him making a stronger race against John McCain in some important states, notably Colorado (nine electoral votes). But it has also shown him weaker than Clinton in some others, especially Florida (27 electoral votes). As I note in the column:
In 2000, Al Gore won 67 percent of the vote in Broward County and 62 percent in Palm Beach County—both have large Jewish populations. In this year's Florida primary, Obama lost those counties to Clinton by 57 percent to 33 percent and 61 percent to 27 percent. No Democrat can carry Florida without big margins in Broward and Palm Beach.
Let me set out those numbers a little more fully. In 2000, the Gore-Lieberman ticket carried Broward County by 209,821 votes and Palm Beach County by 116,790. Its next-highest popular-vote margin in a county was 39,293 in Miami-Dade, followed by 22,371 in Leon (Tallahassee). The final count showed Gore trailing by 537 votes. In 2004, John Kerry's margin in Broward was 209,199 and in Palm Beach 115,999. He lost the state. His next-biggest popular-vote margins in counties were 48,637 in Miami-Dade and 32,258 in Leon. Kerry lost the state by 380,978 votes.
Obvious lesson: No Democrat can carry Florida without large popular-vote margins in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Or even come close. There's just no other county in Florida where a Democrat can win by anything like such a large margin. And without overwhelming support from Jewish voters, no Democrat can win big popular-vote margins in Broward and Palm Beach. Obama's weakness among Democratic primary voters is apparent from the results in Massachusetts (check out Newton), New York (look at Manhattan or Westchester County), California (look at the totals in the West Side and San Fernando Valley districts in Los Angeles County), and Pennsylvania (look at Montgomery County). My Democratic sources with close knowledge of Jewish voters in these areas believe that Obama has real problems there.
Footnote. A regular reader sends along the link to a June 2007 Chicago Sun-Times article about Obama's electrifying speech to the national meeting of the United Church of Christ in Hartford. The last two paragraphs are interesting:
Obama made several references to the 9,000-member South Side Chicago church to which he belongs. Trinity UCC is a church that still believes in altar calls. Obama, the son of Muslim and Christian parents, answered that call as a young man, mentored by Trinity's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Wright was in Chicago Saturday but offered a videotaped introduction of the senator. During his talk, Obama received three standing ovations and, at the end, was cheered for nearly three minutes.