Dean’s Digital Divide

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You’ve got to hand it to Howard (who knew?) Dean. He’s worked the Web like no previous political candidate, harnessing the mighty power of the mouse to rake in the bucks and out-“buzz” his rivals. But it now seems to be dawning on Dean’s campaign that there’s a whole lot of voters out there in the offline world — and that he needs them to win. So look out for a coming shift as Dean increasingly reaches across the digital divide — beyond his mostly white, well-heeled, Web-savvy base, to blue-collar and minority voters who log on less. The big question is, Can he pull it off?

Salon’s Farhad Manjoo points out that Dean blew everybody else away in the second-quarter fundraising race, thanks to a devoted Internet following of “intellectuals.” (They must love that.) There’s a racial dimension to this. According to a study cited by the Associated Press “60 percent of whites” go online often, as compared to only “40 percent of blacks.”

But Dean might struggle to bag the votes he’s after. He lacks a rags-to-riches bio to work into his campaign, a la Gephardt: For starters, he was raised on whiter-than-white Park Avenue and educated at whiter-than-most Yale. (In what other white-collar job does that actually hurt your chances?) The AP reports:

“…Dean’s success with minorities, a crucial constituency for any Democratic candidate, has been limited and political analysts wonder whether he can broaden his appeal.

‘I think it’s going to be difficult for him to connect,’ said David Bositis, a political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank focused on black issues. ‘He doesn’t have any history with blacks.'”

Also, Dean’s stance on both gun control and civil-unions might hurt him with minorities, reports the AP.

“Gun control is popular among inner-city residents faced with high crime rates. And while some equate discrimination based on sexual orientation with racial discrimination, many blacks do not see those prejudices in the same terms, viewing the matter through the prism of religion.

MSNBC’s Tom Curry points out that one entree to the minority, as well as the blue-collar, vote, is a major union endorsement. The good news for Dean is that he looks set to get one of the most major endorsements around, that of the Service Employees International Union:

“Winning the blessing of the 1.5 million-member SEIU, the largest and fastest-growing union in the country, would be a triumph for Dean, who has not yet won any major union endorsements.

Since SEIU has many black, Latino and immigrant members, if it backed Dean it would help diversify his campaign beyond the affluent, white college graduates who form the base of his support.

On Monday Dean addressed 1,500 SEIU members at a Washington hotel and lambasted critics who say his liberalism is a political liability. Again, Curry:

Dean mocked the arguments of those who would say, ‘Oh, that Dean is so liberal — he didn’t support the war, so he can’t win the presidency.’

‘What about the schools and the hospitals and the health care…Our budget deficit is going be more than a half a trillion dollars and we could insure easily every man woman and child in the United States of America for that amount of money. Where are your priorities, Mr. President, are they here with our people or are they somewhere else?'”

Dean, says Curry, is kissing up to SEIU members, playing on their presumed indignation that every dollar spent in Iraq is a dollar robbed from health-care programs for low-income people.

But, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jo Mannies points out, Dean’s “unusual mix of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism” has rounded up “largely old Nader backers,” whose politics are not an obvious fit with those of minorities and workers.

‘That might be a sticking point,” said Alan Smith-Hicks, a black electrical engineer attending a Meetup session for Dean in Baltimore last week. ‘They’re concerned he’s too liberal, that he’s going to make gay marriage a federal law.’

‘At some point, he’s got to come to terms with it,’ William Mayer, a political scientist at Northeastern University, said about minority outreach. “The good news is that none of the top-tier candidates are doing any better with minority voters than he is.’

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