Obama and the Age Issue

It was the "Grandma Primary." Barack Obama lost Pennsylvania mostly because white working class women over 60 dominated the contest to an astonishing degree, and they backed Hillary Clinton by more than 2-1. The big question is what that means for November.
Obama carried men and younger and middle-aged voters, but that wasn't nearly enough.

Women made up an amazing 58 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania, a huge edge for Clinton right there and for any Democrat in the fall (the gender gap ain't going away). Whites comprised 80 percent of the electorate. Three-quarters of voters earned under $100,000. More than half had no college degree, with that number moving much higher among seniors. Most important, 40 percent of the voters in Pennsylvania were over 60, which is not surprising considering that Pennsylvania trails only Florida as the oldest state in the union.

Obama gets this. "If you look at the numbers, our problem has less to do with white working class voters [than] with older voters." he told reporters Wednesday. "They are very loyal to Senator Clinton. And I think part of that is they've got a track record of voting for not just Sen. Clinton but also her husband."

Obama did better among seniors in Pennsylvania, where he lost 59-41, than in Ohio, where Hillary crushed him by 41 points in that age cohort. That 69-28 drubbing tells us almost everything we need to know about why Hillary won Ohio by 10 points on March 4.

With targeted advertising, Obama can probably make up more ground among seniors in Indiana, if for no other reason than that there are fewer of them. Indiana is only the 28th oldest state, with 12.4 percent of its population over 60. West Virginia, by contrast, comes in just behind Pennsylvania as the third longest-in-the-tooth state. Not surprisingly, Clinton is favored there.
Looking ahead to the fall, age would seem to have its comforts for John McCain, now 71. He won the Florida GOP primary handily and leads Obama in the polls there by a comfortable margin. (Lots of white grandmas in the Sunshine State.) Hillary gives McCain much stiffer competition than Obama in old states like Florida and Pennsylvania, while Obama matches up better against McCain in younger swing states, like Virginia (44th in oldsters) and Colorado (48th).

Could McCain's age really help him beat Obama in Pennsylvania? His problem is Social Security. McCain recently told the Wall Street Journal that he continues to support President Bush's idea for private accounts. Whatever one thinks of that proposal on the merits, it's a pitiful loser politically. Every place Bush visited in 2005 when he was stumping for his plan saw a decline in his popularity numbers when he left town. Just as Ronald Reagan got beat 98-0 on a Social Security bill in 1982, Bush's idea went nowhere. In fact, it never even came up for a vote.
When Social Security gets discussed this fall, McCain had better duck. If anything, with the market down, privatization is even less popular now than in 2005. All the Democratic candidate has to say is, "If Senator McCain's idea had been adopted, you would have lost a chunk of your retirement in the stock market."

This suggests that Obama can win back the senior vote more easily than, say, Hillary or McCain could win over the African-American vote. So Grandma and grandpa are likely to return home in November and vote Democratic, regardless of the nominee.

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