WASHINGTON — Ten days before he was assassinated, John Kennedy met in the White House for several hours with his political advisers.
The 1964 campaign was taking shape — Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller were the leading Republican rivals. President Kennedy was worrying about what his party had to offer average voters.
“[W]hat is it that we can [do to] make them decide that they want to vote for us, Democrats and Kennedy?” the president asked. “We hope we have to sell them prosperity, but for the average guy the prosperity is nil. He’s not unprosperous, but he’s not very prosperous … And the people who really are well-off hate our guts.”
That conversation could be held in President Obama’s White House. He’s not running for re-election, but his Democrats face the voters in November’s midterm congressional elections.
His political heirs do so again in the presidential election two years hence. Now, as on Nov. 12, 1963, when President Kennedy thought out loud in front of his advisers, the average guy is not very prosperous and the people who really are well-off hate Democrats’ guts.
Democrats have some advantages. Three of the four biggest states have growing Hispanic populations. The fourth, New York, seems permanently out of reach for the GOP.
But that is not to say Democrats have smooth sailing. They face problems in 2016:
● The solidification of the Solid South. Republicans can count on the support of white voters who are as loyal to the GOP as black voters are to Democrats. Though Mr. Obama will not be on the ballot in 2016, Democrats speak a language white Southerners do not embrace.
Still, there are quiet but growing hopes among Democrats that they may return to power in Texas. Census figures show the Hispanic portion of the population of Texas is more than double the national rate. Whites now constitute less than half the state’s population. In 2012, 70 percent of Hispanics in Texas voted for Mr. Obama.
Yet Democrats harbor no such bright hopes in Oklahoma (67 percent for 2012 GOP challenger Mitt Romney), Alabama and Arkansas (61 percent each), Louisiana (58 percent), Mississippi (56 percent) — and a Southern-oriented state, West Virginia (62 percent). Those states account for 41 electoral votes, blunting the potential drift of Texas’s 38 electoral votes from the Republican column.
● Resentment over the state of the economy. Several studies indicate that the recovery from the Great Recession has been less robust than that of any prior postwar recovery, producing a job market more forbidding than that of previous recessions.
That notion was underscored by Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen, who noted that national unemployment is still higher than it ever got during the 2001 recession.
This is a particular burden to blacks, who won’t have as great an incentive to vote in 2016 as they did when Mr. Obama ran in 2008 and 2012. It also is a burden to younger voters, who may not be as mobilized for the 2016 Democratic nominee as they were for Mr. Obama in 2008.
● The Clinton factor. If Hillary Clinton doesn’t run, the party has a weak bench, led by Vice President Joe Biden and followed by a handful of relative unknowns.
But the difficulty a Democrat faces succeeding Mr. Obama is perhaps the party’s most difficult hurdle — and the most surprising. Many analysts believed that 2008 signaled a generation-long Democratic breakthrough. That seems less plausible today.
In the long run, demography suggests Republicans are in trouble. In the short run, the issues suggest Democrats may be in trouble.
David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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