Race, gender loom in politics

By Karl Terry, PNT managing editor

A professor of political science told the Roosevelt County Democratic Women this week that this year’s presidential election would be historic because it will gauge the country’s ability to deal with gender and race in a political campaign.

Sue Strickler, professor of political science at Eastern New Mexico University says what is known as identity politics is being turned inside-out by the close race between a black man, Barack Obama, and a white woman, Hillary Clinton, for the Democratic nomination.

Identity politics is defined as politics that pull from the experience of particular groups, especially oppressed groups and provides for a bonding among those belonging to that group to support a particular view.

Because of the circumstances, identity politics has largely been taken out of the equation in the Democratic race, Strickler said.

“We have an amazing choice of candidates and there’s not a bad choice to

be made,” Strickler said. “Now we’re having to choose one over the other.”

Strickler noted ABC/Washington Post polls from last fall that show on an individual basis people say overwhelmingly they’re ready to vote for a black or a woman for president. With 86 percent saying they would vote for a woman if she was nominated and 92 percent saying they would vote for a black if nominated. The interesting thing is that in the same poll Americans say by a 30 percent lower margin that they don’t believe the country is ready to elect a black or woman.

Hispanic candidates fair far worse in the same poll with just 59 percent pledging individual support and only 39 percent saying they believe the nation is ready for an Hispanic president.

Strickler says as the conversation during the Democratic nominating process has continued the gaps between groups have narrowed and recently pollsters have noticed more and more movement back and forth. Most recently polls have noted a movement of white women from Clinton into the Obama camp.

“No matter who wins, we’re going to have either race or gender as an issue in the general election,” Strickler said. “Candidates will have to struggle (in that campaign) with how to defend their positions without being accused of playing the race card or gender card.”

Strickler says it’s extremely tough to predict what will happen as the campaign moves on because so many new voters, especially on the Democratic side have been brought into the mix.

“When you have more new voters coming into the base that’s more favorable for Barack Obama,” Strickler said. “He is campaigning on change and ideals.”

Solid turnout in their party this year has some Democrats hopeful.

“I think the exciting thing is twice as many Democrats as Republicans are turning out.”

“Once this is over we’re going to have a candidate and it’s either going to be a black or a woman,” Strickler said. “How do we bring that into the campaign in the general election? I’m afraid that’s going to be very nasty.”

Democratic Women president Linda Uttaro believes she has the answer.

“What I would like to see is a Clinton/Obama ticket, that would cut it right off at the knees,” she said.