Clinton wins a polarized Nevada vote
State presages rise of identity politics: Hispanics sided with her, blacks went for Obama.
It was union brother against union brother, bellhop against bellhop, at the Democratic caucus held inside Caesar's Palace casino. What divided them wasn't hard to see. On Sen. Barack Obama's side sat most of the African-Americans. On Sen. Hillary Clinton's, the majority of whites and Hispanics.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The pattern repeated itself throughout Nevada on Saturday. Two-thirds of Latinos went for Senator Clinton, according to exit polls, and more than 80 percent of blacks chose Senator Obama. The two groups were evenly divided, making up 15 percent of voters. That left white women to decide the vote, breaking 55 percent to 31 percent for Clinton. She won the contest 51 percent to Obama's 45 percent. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards won just 4 percent of the vote.
Identity politics have risen partly in response to the racial sparring between Clinton and Obama earlier last week. But more fundamentally, say experts, its prominence highlights the lack of ideological and policy daylight between the Democratic front-runners.
"All the first-tier concerns [of Democrats] about the war, abortion rights, civil rights -- they aren't in play. That's all for November. So what's left to argue about? Identity, experience, second-tier stuff," says Bruce Cain, director of the University of California Washington Center in Washington, D.C.
Indeed, the policy portions of the stump speeches this week were numbingly similar. Clinton talked about clean energy providing new jobs that couldn't be outsourced. So did Obama. Universal healthcare was universally promised. Immigration? Both wanted a secure border but no mass deportations.
There were only a few detectable differences. Obama wouldn't mandate everybody to buy health insurance, Clinton would. Obama would increase the Social Security taxes paid by the wealthy; Clinton would not. Clinton wants a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures. Obama hasn't gotten down to specifics.
Although the race generated great excitement, partly because of the opportunity to elect the first woman or black president, the way voters split represented a setback of sorts for the ideal of a gender-neutral, race-blind society.
"Despite Obama's rhetoric about this being one nation, those things still matter," says Ted Jelen, a political science professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. "When I attended my own precinct, you didn't need a sign to tell you which side was supporting which candidate."
To be sure, gender, race, and ethnicity weren't the only factors. Age remained relevant, with Obama capturing the young and Clinton the elderly. The much discussed distinction "experience versus change" split voters, too.