I have new piece out today in Salon arguing that, had Hillary Clinton kept her support levels to just 20 percent among African Americans, she would be leading the popular vote and down probably 100 total delegates. And if 20 percent seems like a ridiculous supposition, consider that she got 19 percent in South Carolina--a state that voted long after the supposedly-dooming Iowa caucus result, and one in which many if not most blacks voted without having heard Bill Clinton’s crass analogy* about Jesse Jackson twice having won the state—and 22 percent in Tennessee on Super Tuesday.
But the key argument of the piece is that Obama fundamentally changed wine track/beer track calculus by moving black voters from the latter to the former coalition:
Since the days of Adlai Stevenson -- which is to say, since the civil rights movement finally guaranteed the franchise for black voters -- the fate of candidates favored by so-called wine-track Democrats usually ends the same way. From Eugene McCarthy to Ted Kennedy, from Jerry Brown to Howard Dean, they make a big initial splash with the white liberal base, only to end up high and dry when working-class whites and blacks together align behind somebody else. What makes Obama different is that he has unified white liberals and African-Americans -- a powerful coalition Clinton needed to prevent. Given that roughly three in five black Democratic voters are women, Clinton's blunder here was preventable, and it may well have doomed her 2008 bid for the White House.
As to that last point, given that three-fifths of black primary voters are women, shouldn’t she have been able to triage her hemorrhaging black support a bit?
* I'm getting the usual angry emails from Clinton supporters saying that all Bill did was state a fact about Jackson winning SC in 1984 and 1988, and that Jesse isn't mad, so, why all the fuss? The fuss, I must remind people, is that three days earlier, at an all-black event in Kingstree, SC, which I have on tape, Bill Clinton in the second sentence out of his mouth after the thank-you's was bragging about how SC helped saved his failing campaign by giving him only his second win. So, on Wednesday, while appealing to black voters, to Bill winning the SC Democratic primary is a crucial and meaningful event, but by Saturday winning there is, oh, you know, just the state that goes to black guy. In short, Clinton was giving a partial truth when he mentioned Jackson's '84 and '88 wins yet stopped short of mentioning his own, crucial win there. Of course, that win came come so much later, like, the VERY NEXT presidential cycle. (Must have just slipped his three-day-old memory.) This, for the record, is the moment Bill lost me: Willing to say one thing to a black audience while appealing to their votes...and just the opposite when trying to spin the (mostly non-white) media elites on the meaning of those black votes.