June 1, 2008, 9:00 pm
Can New Voters Deliver November Victory for Obama?

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, specializes in polling of electoral battleground states, including Ohio and Florida. Click here for Brown’s full bio.

In presidential campaigns, as on Wall Street, the phrase “this time is different” elicits skepticism among practitioners who may want to believe, but understand the lessons of history. Traders worry about stocks that rise too far, too fast, because they fear the dreaded market correction. Political pros question a recently successful strategy that does not jibe with the record of the past.

Let’s be clear: Sen. Barack Obama may indeed be different from most politicians. Not only will he be the first African-American nominee of a major U.S. political party, but also he is truly gifted with rare communications skills and charisma. At the same time, he is betting the White House on the same Democratic demographic strategy that has given us a variety of Republican presidents over the past generations.

Ever since reformers seized control of the Democratic Party in the 1970s, most of their presidential candidates - that is, the losing ones - have based their game plan not on winning more of the existing electorate but on increasing the pool with new voters who lean their way. Sen. Obama brought out millions of new voters — most black, white liberals and young — attracted by his persona, his calls for change and a voting record the nonpartisan National Journal rated as the most liberal in the U.S. Senate for 2007.

‘Eggheads and African-Americans’

But he did relatively poorly among the white working-class, a more politically moderate group among whom the only two Democrats to win the White House since 1964, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, did well. Paul Begala, who helped manage Mr. Clinton’s 1992 campaign and is supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton this time, warned that the Obama victory was based on “eggheads and African-Americans” but not the much more numerous Joe-and-Jill six-pack voters.