Obama's Indie Crash

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

Male independents could doom the Dems.

Barack Obama did not descend from the clouds. Polling was involved, as were focus groups and the usual marketing machinery. You didn't hear much about number crunching in 2008; you don't hear much about it now. Obama couldn't, and can't, be seen as unsoiled and sui generis if his handlers talk too much about mechanics. But that does not mean they aren't busy. In fact, they are nearly frantic, as Democrats face the possibility of losing not only the House but the Senate.

Obama's lead pollster, Joel Benenson, and veteran Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin have zeroed in recently on one particular slice of the 2010 electorate: what Obama senior counselor David Axelrod calls "indie men"--independent male voters. Obama won over these voters in 2008, and they may be all that stands between Democrats and catastrophe this fall. But this time he'll have to use a completely different strategy to lure them back.

It's easy enough to understand the arithmetic of the midterms. Republicans are united and motivated, if only by their almost pathological fear of the president. They will turn out. Staunch Democrats, by contrast, are long past the giddy high of Obama's historic victory. Minorities and other liberals are disappointed by what they regard as Obama's lack of zeal--and he isn't on the ballot in any case. These deep-fried Democrats will not show up to vote at anywhere near the record levels of 2008, and neither will young and/or first-time voters, who rarely come out for midterms. So if Democrats are to avoid a wipe-out, they need to protect some of the big gains they made two years ago among self-described independents, who, in some polls, make up 40 percent of likely voters in November. And most independents (51 percent) are males. "They're a significant number," says Mark Mellman, the polltaker for Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, "and a decisive number."

As Butch Cassidy once asked, who are those guys? They don't differ much from the country as a whole in income and education, though they are slightly younger on the average. They are overwhelmingly white (87 percent in the Benenson-Garin poll). There are few evangelical Christians among them, but more Catholics than in the overall electorate. …