Barack Obama may be making unexpected inroads into a significant but under-reported (and, perhaps, under-appreciated) demographic: white racists.
According to a story on polling website FiveThirtyEight.com, an Obama campaign worker was on the phone, delivering her standard campaign pitch to a woman in southern Virginia, when the woman's husband broke in to the conversation. "We're voting for the nigger," he said, and hung up.
I suppose that, to someone in the Obama campaign, this is the ultimate mixed message, sort of a self-contained "good-news/bad-news" line. And although I don't expect that catchy phrase to start showing up in Obama commercials anytime soon, I suspect that the Obama folks are happy to get anybody's support, even if the voter in question has to pull the Obama lever with straining muscles and clenched teeth. (And that's probably the last time I'll be able to use the "pull the lever" metaphor, as mechanical voting machines seem to be going the way of telephone dials and slide rules.)
While the 538 story is, of course, no more than scant anecdotal evidence, I think it may represent the flip side of what I'm seeing here in the suburbs of Dallas. In past elections, my front yard has been the only one for miles around that sported a campaign sign for a Democratic candidate, while signs for Republican candidates were as pervasive as fire-ant mounds. This year, however, I've seen a widespread scattering of Obama signs, challenged by only a very few signs plugging the Palin-McCain ticket. I assume that most of my neighbors will still vote Republican this year, but they're not enthusiastic enough about it to advertise the fact. They'll do it, but they're not happy about it. Conversely, there may be more than a few whites who, even though they're appalled by the depressing Palin-McCain ticket, are not entirely comfortable with the idea of voting for a black presidential candidate. They're not happy about it, but they'll do it.
I'm hoping that Obama's surprising strength among those who espouse the racist lifestyle may counteract the somewhat discredited "Bradley Effect," in which non-blacks tell pollsters that they're voting for a black candidate, but once they're in the voting booth they can't bring themselves to actually do it. If the Bradley Effect actually exists, it might cost Obama, say, five percent of the popular vote. But if Obama can pick up the votes of the eloquent gentleman from Virginia and other members of the racist community, maybe it'll all even out in the end.
Me? I'm voting for...