The Democrats' Texas Hold'em

Illustration for article titled The Democrats' Texas Hold'em

-What is Sen. Barack Obama going to do about his Latino problem?

No use pretending he doesn't have one. The numbers don't lie. Sen. Hillary Clinton crushed him among Hispanic voters on Super Tuesday, defeating him by 20, 30 and 40-point margins in places like Arizona, New Mexico, California and New York. Obama's poor showing among Hispanics has prompted commentators – some with glee in their voices – to drone on about antagonism between black folk and Hispanics and that the solidarity between these two "communities of color" is just a myth.


I don't doubt for a minute that there are rivalries and different interests between black people and Hispanics, especially at the local level. But to suggest that Obama's defeat among Hispanics is due solely to animosity between two groups that have historically worked closely together on the national stage is absurd.

Obama's failure – so far – to attract significant Latino support simply may be an issue of time and class. Exit polls show Clinton generally beating him among those without a college degree and those making less than $50,000 a year – the working class that remain the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. They also show her defeating him among people most worried about the state of the economy. Among this group of blue-collar Democrats, it is the economy that is paramount, not the war in Iraq which is Obama's signature issue.

Well, only 15 percent of Hispanics over the age of 25 have a college degree, compared to 27 percent of the population as a whole. Hispanic median household income is $30,000, significantly less than the national median of $36,000. If Obama is having difficulty attracting blue-collar workers, what group of voters is more blue-collar than Latinos? And with an unemployment rate having gone up from 5.7 percent to 6.3 percent during the last year, who has more reason to worry? (The answer, of course, may be "African Americans," but Obama still has racial pride on his side with that group.)

All is not lost, however. In the run-up to Super Tuesday, few Hispanic voters knew much about Obama. The fact that he battled Clinton to a draw among Hispanic voters in his home state of Illinois indicates that when they know him, he does well. But, a compressed calendar between Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Super Tuesday left Obama little time to counter the impression among many Hispanics that their choice was between a man they didn't really know and the wife of a president under whom they did pretty well economically.

There are nearly three weeks until the Texas primary, the next one with a significant Hispanic presence. Obama has time to make a connection. Let's see if he can do it.

Steven A. Holmes is a writer for The New York Times.