Obama’s road won’t be easy

Now that it seems certain Sen. Barack Obama, barring some catastrophic occurrence, will be the first African American to carry a major party banner into the presidential election, will he persevere all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

That’s a question difficult to answer at this stage, especially when the demographics that will have carried him to the Democratic nomination, don’t add up to an easy road to the White House, despite a lousy economy and the Iraq quagmire left by Republican George W. Bush.

For instance, in a number of those states in which he defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Republicans can be expected to win in the fall balloting. That’s in sharp contrast to the big states Clinton won and that Obama can’t get to the White House without. Even more important is the voter breakdown. Clinton in this long affair has won a solid majority of the white vote and the advanced age vote (60-plus) and the union vote.

Blacks understandably have voted overwhelmingly for Obama, but are there enough of them to carry the day in a general election even with the support of young people, who have traditionally not shown up on election day, and white urban liberals? Only if majority whites and Hispanics who voted for Clinton stay the course after this often brutal brawl that has had party leaders admittedly on edge for weeks.

How and when Clinton throws in the towel may be the key to November success. Should she make good on her promise to carry on until the last primary is over in June and even into the convention in Denver in August, despite dwindling support and funds, it would make the job of trying to reunite the party more difficult. If she decided to be generous and back out earlier, which seems unlikely now, a smiling lukewarm endorsement from her would send a message to her supporters that could be devastating for Obama.

Many Clinton backers resent the fact that once again women have been denied the chance to break the sexist barrier in presidential politics. At least partially responsible for their anger is the decision of a number of former Clinton associates and supporters among super delegates to the convention to declare early for Obama. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose own political career was advanced by holding two major positions in Bill Clinton’s administration, is among the most openly disliked of these.

Hillary Clinton is savvy enough to realize that if ever she is to have a repeat chance at the White House, she must at least convince Obama’s supporters and party leaders without going overboard that her backing for him is genuine and that her fealty to his candidacy is not just lip service. If she could accomplish this and Obama still loses in the general election, her own contentions during the long primary campaign that he is unelectable would be validated.

Republican Sen. John McCain, after all, is 71 and the odds are good that he might serve only one term in a job that is notoriously stressful both mentally and physically. This would leave Clinton in perfect position to seek the 2012 nomination.

What is certain is that the presidential election process has become inordinately expensive, debilitating, acrimonious, ugly and is badly in need of reform. By the time it is over voters will have been bombarded by almost three years of constant speculation, announcements and actual stumping — a political orgy that has sorely tested our democratic system.

For their part Democratic Party leaders are preparing to discuss altering the selection system to avoid a repeat of the current situation, including abandoning proportional distribution of delegates based on one’s percentage of the votes and returning to the old winner-take-all approach. Had that been in effect, Clinton would already have won the nomination.

Also high on the list of reforms will be altering the timing of primaries to eliminate the early influence of Iowa and New Hampshire contests. As of now the Democratic National Committee finds itself in the increasingly uncomfortable position of denying Michigan and Florida delegates a place at the convention because the states ignored DNC orders not to move up their primaries.

Clinton won both states, although Obama chose not to be on the ballot. Her forces have been charging that this disenfranchised Democrats in those vital states from participating in the nominating process, leaving their allegiance to the party uncertain in November voting. Clinton supporters still hold out hope, slim as that may be, that the delegates ultimately will be seated. Even if that happened, it probably would not change the outcome of the convention.

Only the Democrats could have come up with this nightmare.