David Sirota made news with his recent In These Times piece about the “race chasm” in America. It’s an important article to read.
Sirota argues that Obama wins in states where race politics is not an issue, and that Clinton wins in states where it is an issue. Race politics exist in states in which the African American population is between 7-17% of the population. In states with less than 7%, like Iowa, Obama wins ostensibly between he is perceived as voters as the most qualified candidate rather than as the “black” candidate. Similarly he wins states like Mississippi because the black population is large enough so as to offset the racial based voting among some disquieted whites.
The Hillary camp exploits the race chasm in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana by reminding voters, not too subtly that Obama is black. Her campaign does this most explicitly by exploiting the Wright affair.
For a moment, let me discuss the implication in Sirota’s piece that states with low black and high black populations have somehow transcended ugly race politics. Specifically, I wish to focus on low black population states. Consider Iowa for example. that a 2007 University of Iowa poll among likely 2008 primary voters found that 49% considered undocumented immigration to be a very important issue. Consider Iowa’s white population is about 94% and its foreign born population stands at about 4%, although it has doubled since 2000.
Without having examined the matter as extensively as Sirota, I suggest the following preliminary argument and invite reader responses to it: 1) Race politics is deep seated and deeply embedded in American culture; 2) it exists on both sides of Sirota’s chasm–low and high black population states– 3) it plays itself out differently in low and high black density states; 4) immigration is a race politics issue; 5) it becomes a scapegoat for racial politics in states that have lower density black populations.
In sum, immigration is a proxy issue for race in states with low black populations. The thing the Clinton campaign forgets, however, is that although the race anxiety being fomented in chasm states may shake loose some Hillary votes in the upcoming primary states, these voters likely would vote Republican in the fall. Hillary’s sympathetic positions on immigration, I believe, would be sufficient to prevent Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana’s “Reagan Dems” from ever voting for her in the general election.