President Obama’s pathetic showing in the Democratic Primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky last Tuesday shows a serious lack of enthusiasm – or even of support – among Democratic voters. Running unopposed, Obama got only 57% of the vote in the Kentucky primary (the rest went to “uncommitted”) and 59% in Arkansas (41% went to an unknown candidate who did not campaign and had just filed to be on the ballot as a lark). Earlier in the primary season, Obama garnered only 59% of the Democratic vote in West Virginia, running against an inmate of a Texas prison and 57% of the Oklahoma Democratic vote against various nominal candidates.
To put this terrible performance in its proper perspective, consider that President Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the 1968 presidential race after winning just 58% of the vote in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary against antiwar candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn). And McCarthy was no nominal opponent. The focus of the antiwar movement at the height of the Vietnam conflict, his candidacy galvanized young activists throughout the country (including me).
The fact that Obama ran so poorly in these states is very significant. The Obama campaign is spinning that none of these are states the president has a chance to carry in November. But Clinton carried both Kentucky and Arkansas in both of his presidential races.
But, more important, Obama does expect to carry the vast bulk of Democrats throughout the country. Such tepid approval anywhere in the country among his partisans has to be deeply worrying for him.
Bear in mind that this president hopes to win re-election primarily by generating huge turnouts among his base which includes young, black, and Latino voters. To not only fail to produce a high turnout but also to lose significant portions of his voter base is an ominous sign for the Obama campaign.
Sean Trende, writing in Realclearpolitics.com, notes that the only presidents who have “received less than 60 percent of the vote in any primary were: Taft ’12, Coolidge ’24, Hoover ’32, Johnson ’68, Ford ’76, Carter ’80 and Bush ’92.” All but Coolidge were defeated for re-election.