[Dickerson] Presidential Politics 101

A word of warning: If you don't want to know who's going to win the presidential election, don't read further.

On the day that Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be nominated by a major party in a presidential election, addressed a majority female crowd at Memphis State University, I was standing next to Gloria Steinem in the press section, which consisted almost entirely of national media reps traveling with the 1984 vice presidential candidate.

Introducing Ferraro to the crowd was Jesse Jackson, his soaring vibrato uplifting an already estrogen-giddy audience. Ferraro, who earlier this year made scolding, racist comments about Barack Obama's candidacy, seemed happy to have a prominent black leader fronting for her. I never once heard her say that Jackson was there only because he is black, nor did she say that she was there only because she is a woman; in retrospect that must have been what she was thinking.

After the event, in an op-ed piece I wrote for The Commercial Appeal, I commented: "Watching Ferraro sweep the MSU audience with her eyes, I realized something important was happening in the field house that transcended anything Ferraro-the-candidate would say about the campaign. Each time her eyes danced from face to face, women—young women for the most part—jumped to their feet unable to contain their enthusiasm … . Alongside the symbolic importance of Ferraro's candidacy, this year's presidential election may prove insignificant."

Sadly, it took another 24 years for that symbolism to have practical relevance. The Memphis women that day are now the bedrock of Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

That fall, Ronald Reagan received 525 electoral votes to Mondale's and Ferraro's 13 votes, a total wipeout. Thanks to Jesse Jackson, Mondale-Ferraro received 42 percent of the vote in Tennessee, and 38 percent in Mississippi. Without Jackson, that percentage would have been way down in the trenches.

Today, when I think about Ferraro's recent inflammatory comments about Obama—and Clinton's equally negative rants—it makes me want to wear my patented irony smile.

This year's primary race between Clinton and Obama is exciting, as was the candidacy of Ferraro. Of course, campaign excitement really has very little to do with who ultimately becomes president. Presidential politics is more of a chess game than a rock event, played in silence, without a cheering soundtrack.

What looked like a slam-dunk earlier this year for Democrats now looks like a pending disaster, the result of one of the most strident Democratic primary campaigns in modern history. In the end, it will come down to the choices for vice president.

Democrats will announce their vice presidential candidate at their convention during the week of Aug. 25. Republicans will announce theirs one week later, during the week of Sept. 1. Advantage GOP.

There is no way that Clinton and Obama will run on the same ticket, unless Clinton agrees to play second banana to Obama (the only winning ticket possible). The reverse, Obama playing second banana to Clinton, is not even within the realm of possibility; Clinton has announced to the world that Obama is not qualified to be president.

If Clinton snatches the nomination away from Obama, black voters will sit out the election—unless the GOP gives them a reason to be excited. For her running mate, Clinton would likely choose a Hispanic or a white male from a western or Southern state.

That's when John McCain makes his move.

Clinton cannot be elected without the support of black voters. There are not enough middle-aged, white women and blue-collar voters to enable her to defeat McCain, who will likely choose an African American for his vice president. Both Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have said they are not interested, but if Democrats mistreat Obama at the convention, the smart money says that both would suddenly become available.

If Obama is the Democratic candidate, McCain could counter with a middle-aged white woman as his vice presidential candidate in an effort to profit from disaffected Clinton supporters among independent and Democratic voters, who undoubtedly will blame Obama for denying Clinton the nomination.

Any way you look at it, Clinton's polarizing "it's me or no one" candidacy will disenfranchise Democratic black voters and ensure McCain a victory in the fall.


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