(The Root) — So much of this election cycle has focused on political maneuvers straight out of the Jim Crow era: voter-ID laws designed to suppress minority votes and race-baiting, ad hominem attacks on the president that have sought to frame him outside the American mainstream — which is sadly still considered white by default, despite the changing racial and ethnic demographics.
Loud voices within the Republican coalition have steadily used race and cultural identity as a mitigating factor to defeat hope and change: from Mitt Romney’s campaign co-chair, John Sununu, to Birther-in-Chief Donald Trump or even VP candidate Paul Ryan, who recently claimed that President Obama threatens “those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place.”
All those dog whistles may just have fallen on deaf ears. The very people whom pundits had once written off as being the most susceptible to the GOP’s racially divisive message — working-class whites — are actually proving to be Obama’s firewall in key battleground states.
Widely reported last week were statistics showing Romney had secured the disproportionate support of white male voters — leading Obama 65 to 32 percent. But as Salon’s Joan Walsh recently pointed out, Obama is doing 10 to 12 points better with that group in the Rust Belt. In fact, Walsh explains, despite Romney’s lead among white working-class women in traditionally red states, President Obama is winning a majority of their votes in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. The reason?
It’s likely the successful auto-bailout program, passed by the president and opposed by his challenger. The auto-rescue package saved thousands of jobs in states like Ohio, where the population still remains much whiter than other parts of the country. In Iowa, unemployment is significantly lower than the national average, and Obama’s stimulus package in these key states has real, visible effects. The GOP meta-narrative about Obama’s failed economic policies simply doesn’t resonate there. Romney’s “47 percent” debacle, on the other hand, and his history with Bain Capital as a corporate raider who outsourced jobs have lost him the support of many blue-collar workers.
“If Romney loses it will be because he ran a 1992-style campaign that was aimed squarely at suburban white voters, while the president ran a campaign understanding the realities of a diverse and far more polarized electorate,” a Republican operative told Politico last week.
It seems — in the battleground states, at least — economics matter more than race, and what binds us as Americans is more than skin-deep.
The surreptitious efforts by Republican state legislatures from Pennsylvania, where the House leader stated explicitly that voter-ID laws were designed to help Romney win, and Florida, where Gov. Scott and his GOP-led legislature purged voter rolls and reduced early voting days from 14 to eight, have actually ignited a Democratic backlash, both in court and on the ground in efforts to register voters and get out the vote. Ohio, where the Republican state attorney general waged a nonstop campaign on early voting and has most recently attempted to change provisional ballot laws, has seen a similar liberal response and ignited minority communities to vote in droves.
The lesson? Old-school efforts to deny African Americans the franchise won’t go unchallenged again and are by and large a failed experiment in the Obama era. Likewise, attempts to spark division and resentment among blue-collar whites is slowly proving ineffective in the key places that matter in Election 2012.