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Column: Obama's Work Cut Out For Him

This story was written by Andrew Vickers, Daily Texan

For all intents and purposes, the bruising Democratic primary finally ended Tuesday night when Barack Obama captured enough delegates to win the party's nomination in August. But while the electoral math made a Hillary Clinton nomination a virtual impossibility for months, the former first lady's lingering pretensions to power have exposed a major weakness in the current Democratic coalition.

Though Clinton's whining refrains were starting to sound like a Weezer single (and the resemblance to the "geek-rock" band, who seemed fresh in the early 90s but now rides the inertia of past success to popularity, doesn't end there), her nagging persistence presents a real dilemma for the Democratic Party, which faces a closer race than they originally predicted back in the darkest days of the Bush presidency. By selecting John McCain, Republicans have shown that they're not content to throw up another Bob Dole to be outgunned by the Democrats. And by nominating a Harvard-educated black man, Democrats are putting their longstanding reliance on the power of under-educated whites and outdated trade unions to the ultimate test. Of course, it's still unclear whether core Republicans will stand by their man, but McCain's "maverick" history (not to mention whiteness) could take a huge bite out of the independent voters Democrats had hoped to woo and win.

Thus, Clinton's appeal to two large groups of voters in key battleground states - older middle-class women and poor white men - is ignored at Obama's peril and to McCain's delight. In an election that could very well hinge on only hundreds of votes, like Florida in 2000 or Ohio in 2004, Clinton's support in these key demographic groups will be essential to Obama for a Democratic victory. And though Obama is surrounded by what has proven to be one of the best political teams in history, the real test of his party's coalition has only just begun, and the senator from Illinois will need a powerful strategy to capture or replace these votes in November.

Obama's current weakness with female Democrats can be easily handled without bowing to pressure and selecting Clinton as a running mate. After getting exposed to a little more Michelle Obama, women won't be worried about not having the powerful voice of a female professional and concerned mother in the president's ear. There is also little chance the party's feminist wing will make good on threats to swing toward McCain's pro-life stance and his promises to "limit the scope of judicial power" (translation: overturn Roe v. Wade). Additionally, mothers are bound to think long and hard before casting a vote for a man who seems willing to extend the occupation of Iraq by America's sons and daughters in an overstretched military for 100 more years.

Obama's real challenge lies instead with winning over our working-class friends in the Rust Belt. Opinion polls confirm that back-country voters in the essential region stretching from Pennsylvania to Minnesota remain every bit as narrow-minded and powerful as those who grace our own fair state, and the region's diminishing economy has left a latent bitterness that could bite any candidate brave enough to resist pandering to protectionist policies and rhetoric.

But resist Obama must. By pampering the manufacturing unions, xenophobic protectionists and Big Agriculture, Democrats have been buying votes on the cheap for years. But doing so this time would be disastrous for the party's mid- and long-term prospects.

As globalization and the information age continue to "flatten" the world, America needs a president both to guide the immense (and growing) clout of the nation's service industries through the challenges of the 21st century and to break the hard truth to its manufacturers that "a lot of jobs aren't coming bck," as McCain had the courage to say at a Michigan campaign stop in January.

While these words would be a bitter pill for current "NASCAR Democrats" to swallow, it's the kind of talk that appeals to fiscal conservatives aghast at the economic, foreign and social policies of the Bush administration and the growing population of people who have been educated about the benefits of free trade. By simply allowing Barack Obama to follow his heart and training on economic issues, Democrats will be poised to scoop up an ever-increasing number of educated city and suburb dwellers horrified by the excesses of Bush's "compassionate conservatism."

For the last year, young Democrats smitten with Obama have wondered to whom, exactly, Clinton appealed. Luckily the prolonged primary campaign has allowed us to figure that out. Now we just need to figure out how to avoid making her mistakes again. Here's hoping Barack Obama retains the courage of his convictions in the grueling months to come - by leaving protectionist-minded Democrats to whatever past century they wished they belonged.

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