Obama's problem with white, male voters:D

THE MOST remarkable fact of the 2008 presidential election is that it remains a close race. Democrats have not known such favorable political terrain since 1932, yet what should be a blowout is looking like a blanket finish.

The fundamental reason is white men. Like Al Gore in the summer of 2000, Barack Obama is roughly splitting white women. But only 34 to 37 percent of white men support Obama, according to the Gallup Poll's latest weekly index of 6,000 voters.

In fairness to Obama, he inherited the problem. Not since 1976, when Democrats last achieved a majority, has a Democrat won more than 38 of every 100 white, male voters. That Obama is nearly at par with Democrats' poor performance is hardly good.

Obama remains narrowly ahead because of black, Hispanic, and youth support. Those strengths may prove brittle. Large black populations are mostly in states Obama will surely win, across the Northeast, and states he will surely lose, the Deep South. Hispanics are a nonfactor in Heartland swing states like Ohio. Young voters are notoriously unreliable.

On Election Day, high youth and black turnout will matter in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nevada. But as Hillary Clinton demonstrated, Obama's strengths may not matter enough.

Obama's one clear gain with white men, over Gore and John Kerry, is with those under age 30. But those gains are undercut by a poor showing with older white men, according to Pew Research Center summer polling. The same effect, though more mild, is also true for white women.

Pundits will be tempted to blame racism. Yet Colin Powell would have won white men and likely defeated Bill Clinton in 1996. Liberals have long placed white guys atop their ticket. Look where that got them. Democrats have won three of the past 10 presidential elections.

Many Democrats explain their failures in a respect that reaffirms their self image; the good fight for black equality caused a racially motivated "Southern flip." In the Deep South, that was true. But nationally, political white flight occurred in the South and the North. It also reached its crescendo with Ronald Reagan's election - not during the peak of civil rights debates.

This impulse to cite the color of the issue as the issue was recently applied to Obama's Appalachia difficulty. Race did matter, and will matter. But if Obama were white, would we have expected him to win rural voters? Like Gary Hart or Paul Tsongas, Obama was not Appalachia's kind of Democrat.

That weakness is neither inalterable nor politically fatal. His unique personal attributes may, amid the near implosion of the Republican Party, galvanize enough minorities and young voters to squeeze out a win. But a majority coalition, that does not make.

In search of that coalition liberal analysts tend to subscribe to the "Emerging Democratic Majority," a plan to wait out demographic shifts - more Hispanics, more young voters, more educated whites. In short: "Why should I change, let America." That strategy failed George McGovern. Give it a couple more decades. The portion of white, male voters remains about five times the size of all Hispanic voters. And a college education has not led more white men to vote Democratic.

Latinos are increasingly vital to Democratic ambitions in Florida and key western states. Yet electoral math ultimately concerns the sum. Minority groups can more easily tip vital states for Obama if aided by gains with far larger blocs of the electorate, none more than white men.

In the end new majorities do not merely "emerge," even for Richard Nixon. It takes proactive efforts. For Democrats, the potential reward is massive.

White men make up the largest portion of independents. More than one in three voters who will choose the next president remains white and male. And McCain's support is soft with these men, compared to George W. Bush's bids.