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'McCain Needs Another 9/11 Attack,’ Charlie Black’s Play Book

Here comes Charlie Black, John McCain’s campaign adviser, who recently remarked to Fortune magazine that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil would be a "big advantage" for the Republican presidential candidate. The comments drew a strong rebuke from the Obama campaign and embarrassed McCain while on the campaign trail. Questioned about Black’s comments during a news conference, the Arizona Senator said, "I cannot imagine why he would say it. It’s not true. I’ve worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America. My record is very clear."

Speaking to reporters, Black read from handwritten notes. "I deeply regret the comments. They were inappropriate,” he said. “I recognize that John McCain has devoted his entire adult life to protecting his country and placing its security before every other consideration.”

Such pro forma expressions of penitence notwithstanding, Black has repeatedly argued that McCain benefits any time national security matters are the news of the day. A veteran political operator, Black knows that the GOP wins elections by painting the Democrats as weak on terrorism and defense. It’s a truth that’s long been evident to Black, who has carved out a political career by taking advantage of war hysteria and the public’s fear of a terrorist strike.

Black, a 60-year-old successful Washington lobbyist, is a notorious figure within the GOP. Over the course of his career he has gained a reputation as a ruthless operator possessed of a merciless instinct for exposing an opponent’s flaws. A native of North Carolina, Black is the son of Southern Democrats who switched party affiliation in 1964 to vote for Barry Goldwater.

In 1972, he helped run the Senate campaign of Jesse Helms. Black was one of the designers of a strategy that labeled Helms’ Democratic opponent as too liberal for North Carolina, driving the point home with a slogan that declared Helms to be "One of Us." Helms went on to victory, becoming the first North Carolina Republican to be elected to the Senate during the twentieth century.

Three years later Black founded the National Conservative Political Action Committee, an organization which set a new standard for negative advertising. The group campaigned against six liberal senators in 1980, portraying them as soft on national defense amongst other charges. Black’s first hire at the 1980 Reagan campaign was the infamous Lee Atwater, an operative who later became well known for his slashing brand of politics. Black himself proudly hangs a personally signed photo of the Great Communicator on his office wall. On the photo, Reagan wrote that Black was "a man of ideas."

Black’s brain child was Black, Manafort and Stone, a lobbying firm which the GOP operator founded in 1980. The company, which soon expanded to include the slash and burn Lee Atwater, soon became one of the most aggressive and well-connected Republican lobbying shops in Washington. In 1996 the firm merged with Gold & Liebengood to form BKSH & Associates Worldwide.

Black, who enjoyed stints as campaign operator for George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, got to know John McCain in the late 1970s when McCain worked as the Navy’s liaison to the Senate. In 1996, the pair became close while working on Senator Phil Gramm’s failed presidential bid. One of five senior advisers to McCain, Black is a frequent campaign surrogate on television. On the trail, he sits in a big swivel chair at the front of the Straight Talk Express, joining in McCain’s rolling news conferences.

McCain and BKSH: Boosters for Invasion

In a sense, it is not too surprising that Black and McCain would wind up working together in the 2008 presidential race: both have been huge boosters of the Iraq War.

McCain was a longtime friend of Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi exile who drummed up claims that Saddam Hussein had WMD. An international con artist found guilty in absentia in Jordan for bank scams, Chalabi is most widely known for being one of the key pre-Iraq war intelligence propagandists who provided skewed information to support the Pentagon’s ultra-secretive Office of Special Plans. He was also a source for the now-discredited pre-war reporting of New York Times journalist Judith Miller. After the 2003 attack, Chalabi’s star dimmed when he was accused of leaking sensitive material to Teheran. He is still an influential figure in Baghdad.

According to a 2006 article appearing in the New Republic, McCain welcomed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), to Washington. On Capitol Hill, McCain pressured the Clinton administration to provide the Iraqi exile with money. The Arizona Senator even went so far as to call Chalabi “a patriot who has the best interests of his country at heart.” In 1997, McCain successfully pressured the White House into setting up an Iraqi government in exile. Despite opposition from the Pentagon and the State Department, McCain co-sponsored the Iraq Liberation Act, committing the United States to overthrowing Saddam and funding opposition groups. When General Anthony Zinni expressed some doubt about the effectiveness of the Iraqi opposition, McCain rebuked the military man at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Even as McCain was busy on Capitol Hill drumming up support for Chalabi, Black was doing his part at BKSH to hasten the onset of war in Iraq. The lobbying firm in fact had developed ties to Chalabi as early as 1999 and soon provided its political expertise to the INC. In an interview, Black remarked that his firm received $200,000 to $300,000 per year from the U.S. government to promote the INC. BKSH helped sell the disastrous Iraq war to the American public by promoting the supposed danger posed by Saddam’s regime and WMD.

Blandly unrepentant, Black has remarked that his firm did "standard kinds of public relations and public affairs, setting up seminars, helping them get speeches covered by the press, press conferences." Black proved highly useful to Chalabi, providing the Iraqi exile with access to high-powered officials in Washington. Chalabi even scored a seat at First Lady Laura Bush’s VIP box at the 2004 State of the Union address.

McCain: Working to Ensure the Occupation Lasts a Million Years

If you thought Bush and Rove was a Machiavellian pair, consider the relationship between McCain and Black. Both figures are at the nexus of the military-industrial complex and would like the occupation of Iraq to continue indefinitely. Already the Arizona Senator has declared his intention to stay in Iraq “for a thousand years or a million years” if necessary and there’s little reason to doubt the Senator’s word.

Though McCain seldom talks about it, he has gotten much of his foreign policy experience working with a cloak and dagger operation called the International Republican Institute (IRI). Since 1993, he has served as chair of the outfit, which is funded by the U.S. government and private money. The group, which receives tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, claims to promote democracy world-wide. The hottest country in which IRI currently operates is Iraq. According to the IRI’s own web site, since the summer of 2003 the organization “has conducted a multi-faceted program aimed at promoting the development of democracy in Iraq. Toward this end, IRI works with political parties, indigenous civil society groups, and elected and other government officials. In support of these efforts, IRI also conducts numerous public opinion research projects and assists its Iraqi partners in the production of radio and television ads and programs.”

A who’s who of corporate America chips in to IRI including Blackwater Training Center, part of Blackwater USA. In 2005-6 the mercenary security company which operates in Iraq donated $30,000 to IRI. Though Blackwater has fallen under scrutiny as a result of the company’s shooting of 17 Iraqis including women and children, the State Department recently decided to renew the firm’s contract. As if these corporate ties were not enough, IRI has also accepted money from Lockheed Martin, the world’s #1 military contractor. The firm has been a big McCain donor, giving more than $13,000 through its PAC to the Arizona Senator in 2006. Early on, Lockheed Martin worked to promote the war in Iraq. The company’s former vice president, Bruce Jackson, even chaired the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. There, Jackson made common cause with McCain, the group’s “honorary co-chair.” During the start of the Iraq invasion, Lockheed Martin’s F-117 stealth attack fighters were used to “shock and awe” the population. Jackson is now working on McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, serving on the Senator’s foreign policy advisory team.

Like McCain, Black has a lot of connections to the Iraq occupation. In 2003 he remarked that his political ties to Chalabi helped BKSH acquire valuable work in Iraq. “Due to our past representation of the INC,” he said, “we know and have worked with a lot of people who will be in the provisional government. We have a number of clients who are interested in doing business in Iraq.” Two years after the invasion Black cashed in on his insider influence when the Lincoln Group, a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence company assigned by the Pentagon with the task of providing pro-U.S. stories to the Iraqi media, subcontracted its work to BKSH. Lincoln’s job was to publish stories written by American troops so as to improve the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq. At the time, Black’s lobbying firm was well positioned to get the contract: BKSH was already representing the government of Iraq as its U.S. lobbyist.

Like McCain, BKSH also has ties to Lockheed Martin. Indeed, Black’s firm has lobbied on behalf of the defense contractor. What’s more, like the Arizona Senator BKSH has dealings with Blackwater and represents the mercenary outfit on Capitol Hill. Black’s firm even reportedly coached Blackwater CEO Eric Prince prior to a Congressional hearing. Aside from his historic ties to Lockheed Martin and Blackwater, Black also developed a tight-knit relationship with Civitas Group, a homeland security-focused consulting firm. Black serves as a member of the company’s managing board.

Having supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq through BKSH, Charlie Black may now hope that his candidate, John McCain, will benefit in the event of another terrorist incident. With the Arizona Senator safely in the White House, Black’s old pals at BKSH will be free to reap maximum benefit from McCain’s future wars.

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Obama and the School of the Americas

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President Obama? The Likely Reception from Brazil

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Promoting Iraqi Occupation For ‘a Million Years,’ McCain and The International Republican Institute

Though Arizona Senator John McCain seldom talks about it, he has gotten much of his foreign policy experience working with a cloak and dagger operation called the International Republican Institute (IRI). Since 1993, McCain has served as Chair of the outfit, which is funded by the U.S. government and private money. The group, which receives tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, claims to promote democracy world-wide. On the surface at least, IRI seems to have a rather innocuous agenda including party building, media training, the organization of leadership trainings, dissemination of newsletters, and strengthening of civil society.

The hottest country in which IRI currently operates is Iraq. According to the IRI’s own web site, since the summer of 2003 the organization “has conducted a multi-faceted program aimed at promoting the development of democracy in Iraq. Toward this end, IRI works with political parties, indigenous civil society groups, and elected and other government officials. In support of these efforts, IRI also conducts numerous public opinion research projects and assists its Iraqi partners in the production of radio and television ads and programs.”

By law, IRI must operate independently of the Republican Party. However, a former institute grant recipient, Ghassan Atiyyah, the Director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, said he parted ways with the IRI over his criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the war. In 2004 Atiyyah, who pressed for a secular, liberal government in Iraq, received $116,448 from IRI. "Instead of promoting impartial, better understanding of certain ideas and concepts, they [the IRI] are actually trying to further the cause of the Republican administration," Atiyyah said. Though Atiyyah said IRI never asked him to censor his views, it became clear to the Iraqi that the two parties disagreed politically. When his funding ran out, neither pursued the relationship. "It is a civilized divorce," he said. (Atiyyah eventually fled Iraq for Britain after his life was threatened).

Who is Running IRI?

Such criticisms aside however, IRI’s overall mission statement on its Web site fundamentally strains credibility. How can the IRI, which is caught up in an incestuous political web with the power elite in Washington and U.S. corporations, claim to be an agent of positive change in Iraq? Although officially non-partisan, IRI is closely aligned with the Republican Party. Dick Cheney received the organization’s Freedom Award in late 2001. Other winners have included Condoleezza Rice, Ronald Reagan, Lynne Cheney, Colin Powell, and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai.

IRI’s leadership spans the spectrum of center right, far right, and neoconservative factions of the GOP. Most of the organization’s staff and board have links to right-wing think tanks, foundations, and policy institutes. Former Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer, the disastrous colonial administrator who used to wear a blue blazer and hiking boots, sits on IRI’s Board of Directors.

Also sitting on the board is Randy Scheuneman, a former member of the neo-conservative outfit Project for the New American Century. Scheuneman had long-standing ties to the Iraqi National Congress or INC, a loose coalition of Iraqi dissidents and opposition groups headed by the Iraqi flim-flammer , Ahmed Chalabi.

Shady Scheuneman’s ties to McCain go way back even before IRI. In 2000, he served on the Arizona Senator’s foreign policy team during McCain’s unsuccessful presidential bid. Like McCain, Scheuneman was also active in the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which helped push for official government as well as public support for the invasion of Iraq after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Meanwhile, a who’s who of corporate America chips in to IRI including Blackwater Training Center, part of Blackwater USA. In 2005-6 the company donated $30,000 to IRI. Though Blackwater has fallen under scrutiny as a result of the company’s shooting of 17 people including women and children, the State Department recently decided to renew the firm’s contract.

For Blackwater, the benefits of supporting McCain and IRI are clear: already the Arizona Senator has declared his intention to stay in Iraq “for a thousand years or a million years” if necessary. Behind the scenes, Blackwater is surely praying for a McCain victory in November: Charlie Black, McCain’s chief adviser and a successful Washington lobbyist, has represented the mercenary outfit as well as Chalabi. Black’s connection to Chalabi began in 1999 and continued up until the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

McCain, IRI and Chevron

Though George Bush has scoffed at suggestions that the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with oil, recent press reports give some credence to such claims. In April, Chevron announced that it was involved in discussions with the Iraqi Oil Ministry to increase production in an important oil field in southern Iraq. The discussions were aimed at finalizing a two-year deal, or technical support agreement, to boost production at the West Qurna Stage 1 oil field near Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city.

It turns out that Chevron, like Blackwater, has donated to McCain’s IRI. What’s more, since McCain solidified his position as the GOP’s nominee, Chevron Chairman David O’Reilly gave $28,500 to the GOP. Meanwhile lobbyist Wayne Berman, McCain’s National Finance Co-Chairman, counts Chevron as one of his principal clients.

According to Progressive Media USA, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit, the Arizona Senator has benefited handily from Big Oil. McCain has taken in at least $700,000 from the oil and gas industry since 1989. In Congress, the Arizona senator has worked tirelessly to advance the interests of the oil industry. For example, McCain’s tax plan gives the top five oil companies $3.8 billion a year in tax breaks. McCain meanwhile has voted against reducing dependence on foreign oil, has twice rejected windfall profits tax for Big Oil, and has voted against taxing oil companies to provide a $100 rebate to consumers.

McCain, IRI and Lockheed Martin

As if these corporate ties were not enough, IRI has also accepted money from Lockheed Martin, the world’s #1 military contractor. The firm has been a McCain donor, giving more than $13,000 through its PAC to the Arizona Senator in 2006. According to the Center for Public Integrity, lobbyist Vin Weber, one of McCain’s top political advisers, counted Lockheed Martin as one of his most important clients.

Early on, Lockheed saw that it could benefit from the war in Iraq. The company’s former vice president, Bruce Jackson, even chaired the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. There, he found common cause with Scheuneman, the group’s President, and McCain, the “honorary co-chair.” Jackson also worked with Scheuneman through The Project for the New American Century, a group that the Lockheed man directed personally.

Jackson goes way back in GOP circles. Between 1986 and 1990, when he was working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, he served under Dick Cheney. He also worked under prominent neo-conservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. In 2000, he chaired the Republican Party Platform’s subcommittee for National Security and Foreign Policy when George W. Bush ran for president.

Jackson was also involved in corralling support for the Iraq war from Eastern European countries, and even went so far as to help to write their letter of endorsement for military intervention. Not surprisingly, Lockheed also had business relations with these countries. In 2003 Poland shelled out $3.5 billion for 48 F-16 fighter planes which it was able to purchase with a $3.8 billion loan from the U.S.

During the start of the Iraq invasion, Lockheed Martin’s F-117 stealth attack fighters were used to “shock and awe” the population. Jackson is now working on McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, serving on the Senator’s foreign policy advisory team.

The mainstream press has completely failed to analyze McCain’s long term involvement in the Iraq imbroglio. If they were to delve too deeply, the corporate pundits would have to confront the uncomfortable truth that the military-industrial complex and the oil industry have played an integral role in the invasion and occupation. Surrounding the whole affair are shady figures such as Black, Scheuneman and Jackson and unscrupulous companies like Chevron, Blackwater and Lockheed Martin. At the center of the vortex are none other than IRI and John McCain.

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Meet the King of Beers: John McCain and Latin America

As the presidential campaign heats up the media has failed to analyze John McCain’s ties to corporate America and in particular to the beer industry. Anheuser-Busch, the nation’s largest beer producer, has proven highly instrumental in McCain’s rise on the political stage. McCain’s wife Cindy was the daughter of a multimillionaire Anheuser-Busch distributor and her beer earnings have afforded the Arizona Senator a wealthy lifestyle including a private jet and vacation homes. In the early years of McCain’s Washington career, Anheuser-Busch’s political action committee was among the Senator’s donors. Though McCain’s fundraising base is now far broader than his family bank accounts and Anheuser-Busch, executives from the company have been important and longtime supporters.

Though Anheuser Busch is most known for its domestic beers such as Budweiser (which some ridiculously refer to as the “King of Beers”), the company has also become something of an international player. For example, Anheuser-Busch has a stake in Mexico’s largest brewer, Grupo Modelo, which makes Corona, Negra Modelo, and Pacífico. Since the mid-1980s, the company has had particular success in the United States with Corona, a light-tasting beer — often served with a wedge of fresh lime — that became popular with many young adults.

For Modelo, a strong incentive for entering the deal with Anheuser-Busch was the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA: under the accord, U.S. import duties on Mexican beer were eliminated. As a Senator, McCain has been a big booster of economic globalization which has made consolidation of the beer industry possible. The Republican presidential hopeful supports NAFTA and has in fact assailed Barack Obama for his criticism of free trade. According to labor unions, NAFTA has cost the U.S. at least one million jobs, a fact of little apparent concern to the Arizona Senator. Though the agreement has led to a social and ecological disaster in Mexico, McCain does not support special provisions which would protect workers and the environment. In recognition of his efforts, the right wing Cato Institute gave McCain a 100% ranking when it came to promoting the free trade agenda.

McCain, IRI and Anheuser-Busch

On Capitol Hill, McCain has long opposed Third World governments which seek to contest corporate supremacy and free trade. Since 1993, McCain has chaired an outfit called the International Republican Institute (IRI). The group, funded by U.S. taxpayers and private money, bills itself as non-partisan and claims to promote democracy world-wide. On the surface at least, IRI seems to have a rather innocuous agenda including party building, media training, the organization of leadership trainings, dissemination of newsletters, and strengthening of civil society.

In reality however the IRI serves as an instrument to advance and promote the most far right Republican foreign policy agenda. More a cloak-and-dagger operation than a conventional research group, IRI has aligned itself with some of the most antidemocratic factions in the Third World. In Haiti, IRI helped to fund, equip, and lobby for the country’s two heavily conservative and White House-backed opposition parties, the Democratic Convergence and Group 184. The latter group, comprised of many of the island’s major business, church and professional figures, was at the vanguard of opposition to Jean Bertrand Aristide prior to the Haitian President’s forced ouster in 2004. In Venezuela, IRI generously funded civil society groups that were militantly opposed to the Chávez regime.

Significantly, Anheuser-Busch has donated tens of thousands of dollars to IRI. On a certain level the brewing company’s financial support is not very surprising. If it can avoid it, the company would undoubtedly like to turn back the tide of so-called Pink Tide regimes which have come to power in recent years. As I explain in my current book Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan 2008), nationalistic governments from Venezuela to Brazil to Argentina have opposed the creation of President Bush’s corporately-driven Free Trade Area of the Americas.

McCain, Anheuser Busch and CAFTA

Hoping to outflank hostile left wing regimes in the region, the Bush White House has been busy over the past few years hammering out free trade agreements with more conservative governments. In 2005, the U.S. Congress passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA, which cuts tariffs among the United States, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Having reaped maximum gain from NAFTA, Anheuser-Busch is likely to benefit from an expansion of corporate-driven free trade in Central America. In Honduras, Anheuser-Busch introduced Budweiser in 2006. The following year, Heineken announced that it had reached an agreement with Anheuser-Busch to produce and market Budweiser in Panama. The production and bottling of Budweiser in the tiny Central American nation is a major achievement for the company, as it provides a starting point for expanding the brand to other markets in the region. What’s more, under CAFTA U.S. beers will be able to enter Central America duty free by 2015. The beer industry hopes that CAFTA will spur increased per capita consumption, particularly in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, thus leading to greater profits.

McCain has been an important backer of CAFTA and voted for the agreement in the Senate despite the fact that the deal, modeled after NAFTA, does not contain adequate environmental or labor protections.

Not only does McCain support CAFTA but he also wants to expand free trade to other governments throughout the region. Despite Colombia’s status as a human rights and labor nightmare, the Senator backs a pending trade deal with the Andean nation. McCain’s lobbying on behalf of the Colombia deal stands to benefit his political benefactor Anheuser-Busch: in February, 2006 the company introduced Budweiser in the Andean nation.

Touting the virtues of mediocre Budweiser, Esteban Amoia, a regional marketing manager for Anheuser-Busch International, remarked that “Budweiser has exceeded expectations in Colombia…and there is a growing demand for the brand’s clean, crisp and refreshing taste." Encouraged by Budweiser’s success in Colombia, Anheuser-Busch is now marketing Bud Light. Amoia added that the beer could “become the brand of choice for young, fun-loving men and women who are on the move."

From his earliest days as a politician, McCain has eagerly enmeshed himself in an insidious political web with Anheuser-Busch. If it weren’t for Cindy McCain and her beer money, the Arizona Senator might not have achieved great political power in the Senate. In exchange for Anheuser-Busch’s support, McCain looks out for the beer company’s long-term interests abroad. Truly, it might be said that the Arizona Senator is the “King of Beers” in Latin America.

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Obama’s Electoral Dilemma: Latinos or Reagan Democrats?

Though it might have appeared in the early primaries that Barack Obama would be able to transcend race and put together a winning coalition of whites, blacks, and Latinos, that hope has been dashed. If the nominating process has revealed anything, it is that the country is seriously fractured along class and racial lines. Having won the affluent, educated white vote and African American vote and lost the Latino and poor white vote, Barack Obama must now figure out how to reassemble a viable electoral coalition.

It’s a known fact that the Democratic Party has been seriously hemorrhaging conservative, downscale white male voters since the days of President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. Disaffected by social and political change, many Blue Collar whites no longer saw the Democrats as champions of their working class aspirations and concluded that the party was instead working primarily for the benefit of others: the very poor, the unemployed, African Americans, and other political interest groups.

By the early 1980s these traditional Democratic urban and rural lower middle class voters, located primarily in the Midwest, turned out for Reagan. Socially conservative, they were attracted by Reagan’s message of moral values, so-called fiscal responsibility and national security. Many of these Reagan Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton during the primaries and probably ate up the news media’s racist handling of the Jeremiah Wright story.

For some time, DNC Chairman Howard Dean has been determined to expand the Democratic Party beyond its usual base in the Northeast, Illinois and California so as to compete with the Republicans on their own home turf as well as in key battleground states. After Obama wins the nomination, there will surely be calls from within the party that the Illinois Senator should try to recapture the votes of the so-called Reagan Democrats.

Scenario #1: Recapturing White Reagan Democrats

In scenario #1, Obama could have Latino New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson campaign on his behalf in the American West but devote the lion’s share of his time and resources into trying to win back Reagan Democrats. By putting a centrist Democrat or Republican on the ticket with military credentials such as Virginia Senator Jim Webb or Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, Obama may hope to win back this voting bloc. Obama could also turn to Senator Jon Tester of Montana, another conservative who appeals culturally to the white male constituency. Yet another option for Obama would be to offer the vice presidential slot to Hillary Clinton in an effort to mend fences within the Democratic Party. Hagel or Tester might make Obama more competitive amongst Reagan Democrats around the country, but both Montana and Nebraska are solidly in the Republican column and would be difficult to tilt. Hillary Clinton might argue that if she were the vice presidential nominee she could put Ohio and Indiana into play, two states that she won in the primary season, or Florida.

If Obama is going to follow the Reagan Democrat strategy, picking Jim Webb of Virginia might be a better choice. Webb is not just a Reagan Democrat wannabe, he is a Reagan Democrat. A Vietnam veteran and former Secretary of the Navy under the Great Communicator, Webb is an anti-war Democrat who would give Obama leverage in Virginia. The state, which has 13 electoral votes, turned out heavily for Obama on primary day and the Illinois Senator did well amongst a range of different voting constituencies there. If you average the recent polls, McCain is winning in the state but not by much.

With Webb on the ticket, Obama could take the state and maybe even make neighboring North Carolina competitive for the Democrats. Right now North Carolina is considered close and Obama won the primary there by a wide margin last month. The southern state, home to Fort Bragg, has a long military tradition and having an ex-Secretary of the Navy could tip the state in favor of the Democrats. If Obama furthermore promised to give John Edwards a position as Attorney General, the former North Carolina Senator might be able to help sew up the state.

In this scenario, Obama narrowly loses the American West and Latinos but does well amongst the Reagan Democrats elsewhere in the country. If we assume that Obama takes the entire Northeast (and New Hampshire stays in the fold) and his home base of Illinois plus the neighboring Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, and he holds on to California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, plus Webb and Edwards help Obama win in North Carolina and Virginia, the Democrats could triumph in the election by a razor thin margin, 270 electoral votes for Obama to 268 electoral votes for McCain. However, if Webb is able to make an impact upon Reagan Democrats in the Rust Belt, the margin of victory could be higher.

Scenario #2: American West Latino Strategy

On the other hand Obama could pursue another strategy. He could deploy John Edwards or Hillary Clinton to the Rust Belt in an effort to woo Reagan Democrats but put the lion’s share of his campaign resources into winning the Latino vote in the American West. Because of the growing importance of the Latino vote in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, such a strategy now becomes possible (for more on this, see my earlier article: “Obama’s VP Quandary: Time for a Latino on the Ticket? June 2, 2008). What’s more McCain is now vulnerable on immigration having flip-flopped on the issue: in 2006 he was a key sponsor of legislation which sought to regularize the situation of illegal immigrants. Now however he says he’s “gotten the message” that the border must be “secured” before any other reforms can be carried out.

Obama could choose Latino New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as his running mate which would probably tilt New Mexico to the Democrats and put nearby Colorado and Nevada into play. An African American and Latino on the same ticket would represent a new historic first in U.S. politics. Obama could fly to Albuquerque and deliver one of his eloquent speeches about race. The Illinois Senator could talk about how African Americans and Latinos have both suffered discrimination. He could then argue that it is time for the two groups to band together.

What are the chances that a Western strategy might succeed? Unfortunately, Obama would face some daunting math. Let us suppose that he hangs on to the traditional Democratic stronghold of the Northeast plus New Hampshire, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. If Obama can hold on to these traditional Democratic states and then add Latino states like New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada he would do well but still lose the election with 261 electoral votes against 277 for McCain.

Scenario #3: Latinos in American West and Florida

But consider another scenario: Obama could dispatch running mate Richardson to Florida during the campaign. Though Richardson is from the West, perhaps he might be able to sway Florida’s Latino voters, which now number more than one million, and bring them into the Democratic column. The idea of hinging one’s electoral strategy upon Florida is surely disquieting to the Democrats, but winning the state back is not as crazy as it sounds. At present, the state is leaning in McCain’s direction but still could tilt back Democratic. By November the number of Latino Democrats in the state will probably exceed the number of Latino Republicans for the first time. According to exit polls, the Democrats won the Latino vote in the 2006 mid-term election. It was the first time in 30 years.

Traditionally, the Republicans have locked up the Latino vote by appealing to conservative Cubans. But in recent years Florida’s Latino population has gone through dramatic changes. In 1988, Cuban-Americans made up 90 percent of the Latino vote. Now, that number has fallen to 45 percent. The influx of other Latino groups such as Venezuelans, Colombians and Puerto Ricans, and the deaths of older Cuban-American exiles, account for the changes. In the crucial “I-4 corridor” in Orlando and Central Florida, Latinos are growing in population. Many Puerto Ricans have settled in the Orlando area, taking jobs in the state’s stable tourism industry. Colombians, Nicaraguans and other Latinos have also moved to the area and typically lean Democrat.

The GOP may not even be able to hold on to its traditional base within the Cuban-American community. In Florida, the Republicans are running scared because a younger generation of Cuban-Americans is shedding its traditional loyalty to the GOP. Younger Cuban-Americans are more concerned about the economy, healthcare and the Iraq War than U.S. policy towards Cuba. In addition, Fidel Castro is gone from the scene and as a result the Republicans don’t have their traditional whipping boy anymore. With Richardson on his team, Obama just might be able to turn Florida blue. If Obama carries the American West, the West Coast, some Midwestern states and the Northeast, and adds Florida to the fold, he beats McCain with 288 electoral votes to 250.

Reagan Democrats or Latinos?

So which strategy should Obama pursue, Reagan Democrats or Latinos? From the point of view of simple electoral math, putting Webb on the ticket and going for Reagan Democrats probably makes more sense. The Virginia Senator could potentially help tilt his own state and North Carolina, and might make a difference in swing states Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Richardson could put the West in play but these states don’t have as many electoral votes as the Rust Belt and Upper South. The New Mexico Governor could perhaps help in Florida. But the Sunshine State, despite recent demographic trends, is much more challenging for the Democrats than Midwestern swing states which are closer in the polls. Moreover the last thing the Democrats want to do is rely on Florida to clinch electoral victory: the GOP still has a lock on the governorship, which brings back bad memories of voter manipulation in 2000 under Jeb Bush.

On the other hand, from a political perspective there are serious disadvantages to the Reagan Democrat strategy. History has shown that Reagan Democrats are enormously wary of liberal candidates and are susceptible to right wing media propaganda. Assuming that Webb or someone like him helps Obama win back Reagan Democrats, the Illinois Senator may wind up compromising his politics on the campaign trail and wind up like Bill Clinton, a politician who won the White House but who ultimately caused irreparable harm to progressive politics. By contrast, if Obama put together a new electoral coalition comprised of youth, affluent Whites, Blacks, and Latinos, and actually won, he would end his campaign on a more idealistic note of “change” and have more of a political mandate to move the country away from the conservative politics which have so dominated the Clinton-Bush era.

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Obama’s VP Quandary: Time for a Latino on the Ticket?

Barack Obama has a problem: having done poorly amongst Latino voters in primary contests, he now faces the very real possibility that he could lose this crucial constituency in the General Election.

He can ill afford to do poorly amongst Latinos come November.

Latinos now make up a larger share of the U.S. population (15.5%) than they did in 2004 (14.3%). In fact, at 46 million strong Latinos are the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority group. They also a make up a growing share of the eligible electorate—8.9% in 2007, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, compared with 8.2% in 2004. What’s more, according to the Pew Hispanic Center Latinos increased their share of the primary vote in many states between 2004 and 2008.

The Democrats look at Latinos and see opportunity. About 57% of registered Latino voters now identify as Democrats or say they lean to the Democratic Party, while just 23% align with the Republican Party. This adds up to a whopping 34 percentage point gap in partisan affiliation among registered Latinos.

This gap, fueled by Republican bluster on illegal immigration, has been steadily increasing over time: in 2006 the difference was just 21 percentage points – whereas back in 1999, it had been 33 percentage points. In 2004, Bush got about 40% of the Latino vote, a record for a Republican candidate. But with Latinos leaving the GOP in droves, Democrats are thinking payback.

Nevertheless, Latinos’ electoral clout is undercut by the fact that many are ineligible to vote, either because they are not citizens or not yet 18 years old. In 2008, Latinos will comprise about 9% of the eligible electorate nationwide. If past turnout is any indication however, Latinos won’t vote en masse: experts project that Latinos will only constitute a disappointing 6.5% of the turnout come November.

Key Battleground States: Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada

So if Latino turnout is so low, why are the Democrats so concerned about this constituency? To answer the question one need only look at the electoral map: Latinos live primarily in key battleground states that the Democrats want to flip from the Republicans. Of particular interest for Obama is the American West. At this point it looks like the Illinois Senator may have his work cut out for him in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, states with large Latino populations.

In Colorado most recent estimates from the 2006 U.S. Census indicate that Latinos make up almost 20% of the state’s population. The state recently elected a Latino Senator, Ken Salazar, and the Democrats have chosen Denver as the site of their upcoming convention. In 2000 Bush won the state by almost ten points. Four years later Bush still won but this time his lead was cut in half. The state has nine electoral votes.

In New Mexico Latinos dominate even more, accounting for 44% of the population. In some cities such as Las Cruces and Santa Fe they make up as much as 50%. In recent years the state has become a true battleground: in 2000 Gore won New Mexico by a razor thin margin. In 2004 Bush won the state by a small but safe margin. In 2008 the Democrats are going to have to turn out Latino and Native American voters, two of their traditional constituencies, if they wish to capture the state’s five electoral votes.

By most recent census data, Nevada’s population is about 25% Latino. Las Vegas’s population is skyrocketing and Latinos represent a formidable presence in the city. Historically, Nevada has gone Republican but the Democrats hope to turn the state into an electoral battleground. In 2000 Bush won Nevada but only by three points; four years later it was much the same result against Kerry. The state has five electoral votes.

From Great Unifier to Polarizing Figure

Four months ago, it looked as if Obama might be able to bridge the color barrier and appeal to Americans of all different racial backgrounds. Following his electoral victory in the Iowa caucus, Obama addressed his white supporters. “They said this day would never come,” he said. Obama then remarked upon his own unique racial heritage which included “a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas and a story that could only happen in the United States of America.”

It was probably only a matter of time however before the issue of race would burst forth and poison the political landscape. Obama ran a deracialized campaign which sought to avoid the impression of overt blackness. Aspiring to be a Great Unifier, Obama probably hoped that race would simply disappear from the presidential race.

It didn’t.

On February 5 (Super Tuesday), racial divisions were on vivid display as Latino voters turned out for Clinton en masse. By the end of the day, Clinton had amassed 63% of the Latino vote to Obama’s 35%. Clinton’s biggest win amongst Latinos was in her native New York, where she drew 73% of the vote. The only state where Obama nailed the Latino vote was Illinois, but even there it was a virtual draw 50% to 49%.

One of Obama’s core strengths during the campaign has been the youth vote, but tellingly on Super Tuesday young Latinos were not as likely to vote for the Illinois Senator as white and black youth. Meanwhile, 28% of Latino voters on Election Day said that race was important in reaching their decision. Of those voters, a full 64% voted for Clinton while 35% voted for Obama.

In many other primaries held since Super Tuesday the Latino vote was inconsequential, but Clinton’s dominance of the Latino vote continued on Sunday in Puerto Rico. Hillary trounced Obama 68% to 32% on the island. That’s a slightly greater percentage than Clinton got on Super Tuesday, perhaps due in part to her name recognition and status as New York Senator where many Puerto Ricans reside.

On the other hand, race apparently played a role: according to CNN exit polls 31% of Puerto Rican voters said race was a factor in their vote, and of those 63% voted for Clinton and 37% for Obama.

Obama’s VP Stakes

Perhaps if Puerto Rico had voted in February, prior to the Jeremiah Wright affair, Obama would have done better. Unfortunately for the young Illinois Senator, Hillary has played the race card and now Obama must try to reverse the impression that he is somehow “foreign” in the eyes of many voters—including Latinos.

One way that Obama might hope to limit the political damage thus far is by picking New Mexico’s Latino Governor Bill Richardson as his running mate. Such a move would certainly represent a historic landmark in U.S. politics and inspire minority voters. With Richardson on the ticket, Obama could really put the West into play and reconfigure the entire electoral calculus. By pursuing a “Western Strategy” instead of a “Southern Strategy,” Obama could put together a new coalition of blacks, Latinos, and affluent whites.

There are drawbacks to such a scenario however.

Partly as a result of the Clinton slime machine, which injected race into the electoral contest, Obama now has a problem amongst not only Latinos but also poor whites. If Obama picks Richardson he may help flip New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado but ultimately wind up losing Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The Illinois Senator, who sought to overcome race at the beginning of the campaign, is now in a bind. Perhaps, fearing an electoral debacle in the Rust Belt and Appalachia, Obama will pick a kind of Blue Dog, centrist white running mate with a military background such as Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska or Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. By doing so, Obama may hope that poor whites and Latinos will forget all about race and Jeremiah Wright and come back to the fold. He’s got a lot of lost ground to make up amongst these key voters.

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