What is Barack Obama's biggest remaining obstacle on his road to the White House? A nationally prominent Republican sums it up in a word: "Bubba."
"The Bubba vote is there, and it's very real, and it is everywhere," former House Majority Leader Dick Armey recently said. "There's an awful lot of people in America, bless their heart, who simply are not emotionally prepared to vote for a black man."
Sad, but true. I hate to nickname the problem "Bubba." I used to have a beloved Alabama uncle named Bubba. I loved "Unca Bubba." He taught me how to milk a cow when I was seven years old. I'll be eternally grateful.
"Bubba" began as country slang for "brother." I don't know how it became a label for working-class white folks, but I'm sure my late Unca Bubba would want Dick Army and the rest of y'all to know that there are a lot of black Bubbas, too.
Anyway, as Armey implies, Obama fared worse in the primaries with white working-class males and their wives than he did with other identifiable groups of voters. That has also been typical of his party. Democratic presidential candidates have lost the white male vote in every presidential election since 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson, himself a quintessential Bubba in his younger days, beat Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Bill Clinton, another notable bearer of Bubba credentials, came closest in 1992. He was aided by third-party candidate Ross Perot's challenge to President George W. Bush, who, despite his Texas tenure, remains a bit Bubba-challenged.
Yet even Bubba knows something about political correctness these days, so he won't always tell the truth to pollsters. As a result, you will not always hear Bubba speak as candidly as Army, who now chairs the conservative think tank Freedom Works, spoke to editorial and reporters at USA Today and Gannett News Service, where he made his comments.
Nevertheless, as Armey said, race-based voting is "deplorable, but it is real." That's why, Obama has more reason than McCain to feel nervous about close polls.
In fact, if he fails to show at least a six-point advantage in the polls by Election Day, I expect John McCain to be our next president.
Where do I get that number? I'm no math whiz, but it did not take numerical genius for me to notice that Obama fared best in caucus states, where the voting happens to be conducted in public. Where votes were cast in the privacy of voting booths, Obama tended to do worse than polls predicted. When Obama showed a lead in the polls that fell within the margin of error, it tended to mean a victory for his principal opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Now new evidence has emerged to back my six-point theory. A new and unusually comprehensive AP-Yahoo poll that takes a look at racial attitudes offers this unsettling news: "Statistical models derived from the poll suggest that Obama's support would be as much as 6 percentage points higher if there were no white racial prejudice."
Of course, that's a rather grand statement, considering how difficult racial prejudice is to identify, let along measure. White people don't have to be racist to vote against Obama, any more than black people have to be a racist to vote for him. There are plenty of other reasons to vote for him or against him.
For example, how do you separate race from apprehensions that he's "maybe a little too sophisticated?" Or the relentless e-mails carrying false rumors that the Christian Obama is really a Muslim as if that would be a terrible thing?
Besides, Bubba might well be among the most inclined to see the 90-plus percent black turnout for Obama as justification to vote along racial lines, too, as if white people have had such a tough time as a race in this country.
Yet, one of today's quintessential Bubbas offers encouraging advice for Obama. Former President Bill Clinton, appearing on "The View," gave three good reasons why he thinks Obama will win: 1.) "Two-thirds of Americans are having trouble paying their bills." 2.) America is "growing more diverse," pulling the electorate toward Democrats. And 3.) voter registration is "up for Democrats and flat for Republicans in the 20 most important states."
Indeed, the fundamentals for a Democratic sweep are strong, partly because the fundamentals of the economy are so weak. That's a big reason why McCain's convention bump has faded and Obama has been running even or slightly ahead. But for Obama, if history is our guide, "slightly" isn't going to be good enough.