Obama Builds a Reluctant Majority of the Discontented

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By Francis Wilkinson

In today's Los Angeles Times, Mark Z. Barabak tells the tale of Culinary Local 226, a 54,000-member union that may be crucial to President Barack Obama's chances of winning Nevada. The largely Hispanic union is sufficiently peeved at Obama that it had previously threatened to sit out the election.

Dispirited or not, Local 226 is now working for the president. Why?

"The Republicans left us no choice," union leader D. Taylor told Barabak. "We're a little later to the game than usual, but we're fully engaged."

Unions generally support Democrats, so perhaps Local 226 would have come to Obama's aid regardless of developments in the Republican Party. But read between the lines of Tom Edsall's latest column at nytimes.com, and you see a similar motivation at work. White working class Pennsylvanians are generally not thrilled with Obama, but the president does have one thing squarely in his favor: He's not Republican Mitt Romney.

Many Hispanic voters, who strongly opposed Obama's record deportations and are disappointed by the president's inability to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, similarly might have been up for grabs had Obama faced a different opponent. As it is, Romney is in danger of receiving a lower share of the Hispanic vote than John McCain did in 2008.

Fear has been the great motivating force of Republican politics in recent years. Fear of terrorism. Fear of changing cultural norms. Fear of immigrants and the demographic changes that will produce a nonwhite majority by mid-century. Fear of government. Fear of free-loaders. Fear of Barack Obama.

But all the Republican base-rousing and Tea Partying and Obama-obstructing of the past four years has produced another sort of fear: fear of what Republican rule would bring. I've written before that Romney's biggest electoral obstacle is the Republican Party. Here is Noah Millman making the same point at the American Conservative and Michael Tomasky doing likewise at the Daily Beast. According to the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls, 57 percent of voters believe the country is on the wrong track and only 38 percent say it's on the right track. If the current trajectory of the presidential campaign continues, it appears Obama will win re-election by rallying the discontented middle of the electorate. Many of those voters may not be eager to vote for the president. They're just afraid not to.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

-0- Sep/24/2012 16:42 GMT