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Democratic Delegates Bring Range of Views to Convention

August 25, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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Democrats are united ideologically, but carry wide-ranging concners to the Democratic conventions from their home states. Pollster Andy Kohut and analysts Stuart Rothenberg and Amy Walter examine the makeup of the Democratic delegates.

JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez has been out talking to delegates today. And he begins with a snapshot of the Georgia delegation.

RAY SUAREZ: At 7:30 this morning, Georgia’s 117 delegates kicked off their convention week with a customary meet-and-greet breakfast. The Georgia group mirrors many other delegations this year; more than half are first-timers.

LAVERNE GASKINS, Valdosta, Georgia: I believe in Obama’s message of change. And I think he is, without a doubt, the best candidate to become president of the United States. And so that’s what motivated me to be involved on this level.

SAI REDDI, Dublin, Georgia: I think the turning point was a couple of years ago, when I lost two of my fraternity brothers in Iraq. And then I started wondering, you know, when we grow up, do we just go out for the jobs that make a lot of money or do we go after the — do we go after how to make a difference in this world?

And I think this is my first opportunity to get involved and see where I can make a difference.

RAY SUAREZ: Georgia has voted Republican in the last two presidential elections. It’s now being declared a battleground state by the Obama campaign. R.J. Hadley is a hospital executive from Georgia’s second-smallest county and insists the Peach State is in play.

R.J. HADLEY, Rockdale County, Georgia: I feel that it can be done. I really do. I think that the Democratic base — Rockdale County is a Republican county. It has been a Republican county for a long time.

But when you see the people that are coming out to the events, you know, a lot of times the advertising is just online advertising and word of mouth, and the events are packed. I mean, people are coming out.

RAY SUAREZ: What about that cloud of division between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama delegates hovering over the start of this convention? New delegate and Clinton supporter Angela Trigg says she’s not totally on board with Obama.

ANGELA TRIGG, Clinton Supporter: There are hard feelings out there that I’m hoping that the convention will help heal. I’m hoping that the Obama folks and Obama himself will reach out to us and welcome us on.

There are, like me, there are some of us that are right there at the bumper of the bandwagon wanting to, you know, have that hand up. And so, if they just reach out to us, we’re low-hanging fruit. But there are some that’s going to be a little bit harder of a sell.

RAY SUAREZ: But you feel like you haven’t been invited in that way yet?

ANGELA TRIGG: Not really yet, no. This is day one, so we really haven’t had a chance that much yet, so I’m hoping — that’s what I’m hoping is going to happen. And so — it won’t take much for me. For some others, I think he’s going to need to explain about why Hillary wasn’t picked as a V.P.

RAY SUAREZ: Trigg’s friend and co-delegate, Laverne Gaskins, has been an Obama supporter from day one. She says she hopes this week will bring the whole Democratic Party together.

LAVERNE GASKINS: Well, it’s an opportunity to be around those individuals who support Obama’s message of change. And for me, this is a historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

And I support his message. I believe he’s the best candidate for the president of the United States. And that’s why I’m here. I want to share that message. I want to bring that message back to district one, and I’m happy to be here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The delegates' makeup

RAY SUAREZ: With me for more on the delegates are Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report and Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, National Journal's political daily.

Andy Kohut, we know some big, broad things about these 4,400 people, about 50 percent-50 percent, men to women. A quarter of them are African-American, a new high. But public opinion researchers have been looking closer. What do we know about the delegates?

ANDREW KOHUT, President, Pew Research Center: Well, we know that the delegates, compared to the voters, are older. Sixty-three percent of them are 50 years and older; only about a third of Democratic voters are that old.

Eighty-one percent are college graduates. Many of them have graduate degrees, compared to 42 percent among the Democratic public.

And there are more men here. You know, this is a party that's dominated by women, but 51 percent of the delegates, according to the CBS-New York Times poll -- and that's where the delegate survey comes from -- are men.

So there are some -- there's a lack of congruity in some demographics, but, in terms of issues, they're pretty much on the same page, although the delegates tend to be a little more liberal on most issues, whether it's providing amnesty to illegal immigrants, or being pro-choice, or favoring gay marriage compared to the typical Democrat. And, obviously, these delegates are much more liberal than the average voter.

Reaching 'invisible Americans'

RAY SUAREZ: But, Stuart, does that push the candidate in that direction? Or does the candidate have to keep his eye on where the people are rather than on the delegates that get him the nomination?

STUART ROTHENBERG, Rothenberg Political Report: Well, you have this interesting situation where the candidates, the nominee, Barack Obama, is going to be talking to delegates in the hall, but also talking to Democrats and to all voters through the television.

And you have different constituencies, different values. If you look at the folks in the hall, the Democrats in the hall, it's really stunning to me. Five percent of Democratic delegates have a high school degree or less, 5 percent; 42 percent of all Democratic voters have a high school degree or less.

This is a dramatically more higher educated group in the hall, much wealthier. If you look at the family income numbers, dramatic differences.

So he's talking to these folks in the hall who are part of the elite, and yet they're trying to deliver a more general manager to a much more working-class electorate out there, electorate as a whole.

RAY SUAREZ: But those 4,400 people, Amy, are also going home to pull the Democrats' card, aren't they? This is an important audience.

AMY WALTER, Editor-in-Chief, The Hotline: Right. And you need these people to be enthusiastic, right? These are the folks that -- you wouldn't spend the time, and the money, and the energy to come here if you weren't going to line up behind your nominee.

But what I found interesting in this survey was the fact that people who said they had supported Hillary Clinton or were Hillary Clinton delegates much less enthusiastic about Barack Obama, even now, and obviously in the piece it showed that, as well.

But this isn't anything new, either. Remember, back in 2004, John Kerry got up on his big night, and did his salute, and there was military paraphernalia everywhere, and the talk was all about the war, and yet almost to the person out in the audience, they were against the war in Iraq.

So I think they're quite aware that the focus is on the people who are at home. And this goes back to the Hillary Clinton message, which I think it's much less about Hillary Clinton's delegates than it is about the demographic groups. I don't think they're tied to her in terms of loyalty.

I think, as Stu pointed out, it's an issue of getting to those so-called invisible Americans, the people who aren't here now who Barack Obama needs to get onto his side.

Supporters of Clinton, Obama differ

RAY SUAREZ: Andy, what about the changes since 2004? They were also measured in these polls.

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, the last four years have been very, very good to the Democrats. The Democrats now enjoy a 37 percent-28 percent margin in party affiliation over the Republicans. Four years ago, it was even, 33 percent to 35 percent. The Democrats have made gains among young voters, among middle-income voters, and in the suburbs.

The party still has its base, however, among people who earn less than $50,000, African-Americans, people who live in the big urban centers. But all things being equal, this is a very strong political climate for the Democrats.

Even so, even in light of the divide between the Hillary Democrats and the Obama Democrats -- and that's pretty apparent in the polls -- Hillary Democrats are older. They're more conservative. They're less well-educated.

The biggest difference between a Hillary supporter and a Barack Obama supporter Democrat is the percentage white, working-class -- white, not college graduate, 37 percent among the Obama people, 52 percent among the Hillary people.

Obama's challenge in swing states

RAY SUAREZ: So how does that change the hand that the new Democratic nominee has to play with in November?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, I think it's pretty clear that Obama has to go after certain constituencies -- most of whom are not in this building at this moment -- but...

RAY SUAREZ: And drive up the turnout?

STUART ROTHENBERG: ... are in -- well, he has to drive out, certainly, the base, the base groups that Andy mentioned, but he also has to appeal particularly to these white, working-class voters, many of whom live in Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and Ohio.

And he has to try to energize them to turn them out for the Democratic Party to make sure that they don't go over, flirt with, or go over to John McCain. And, of course, he has to -- he has to get swing voters in Colorado and Virginia, has to have a big African-American turnout.

So there are a number of constituencies here that he has to address in these swing states that will really, frankly, decide the election. We're only talking about six or eight states that are going to elect the next president.

RAY SUAREZ: Thank you all. Good to talk to you.