Reagan Democrats or swing voters are described by the New York Times as white working class people who did not attend college. These are the people described in Thomas Frank’s best seller What’s the Matter with Kansas? His book is a discussion of how this portion of the population, traditionally left leaning was won over by the right. He says that it had to do with Republicans successfully characterizing Democrats as intellectual elitists and selling themselves as defenders of traditional values on issues such as abortion and gay rights. In this way the people whose economic interests are not promoted by Republicans were brought into the fold. This shift on an entire demographic from left to right is a huge accomplishment of the Republicans.
The upcoming election, like many others, is about winning over these voters. This is Senator Clinton’s base and in substantial part accounted for her runaway win in West Virginia. Securing this base has always been a primary part of Clinton’s strategy. She accomplished this but lost the left as well as other constituents. McCain has defined his base as Bush’s base, recognizing at the same time that this is a miserably unpopular president, so he must gather voters from the center to have a strong bid for the presidency. So both Obama and McCain will inevitably rush to the center during the campaign.
The Democrats have many things going for them this time: a highly unpopular war, economic troubles, particularly severe now but present in both Bush terms. While working people have experienced difficulties, the wealthiest people have enjoyed an unsurpassed (literally) bonanza, separating themselves by historic margins from a declining middle class.
The likely Democratic candidate however has not been embraced by the swing voters. This is a problem for the Democrats and the reason that the intense rivalry between Clinton and Obama is injurious to the party. In attacking Obama Clinton was driving swing voters from him when the party needs to attract them to win. In a sense her behind closed door arguments that he is not electable were fueled by the divisiveness of the campaign for candidacy.
McCain’s rush to the left to gain the center already seems a little desperate. What else can explain a strategy to avoid absolutely all critical environmental votes in order to be able to campaign as an environmentalist. Candidate’s position always are distorted in their need to capture the center, so Obama is likely to also make stretches. He is already awakening to the vital importance of symbolism (an area in which the Clintons are extremely capable) and has begun wearing the flag on his lapel, which is now more or less a uniform item for candidates.