My mother, a child of the San Bernardino County city of Redlands, has always been fond of reciting an old country-song verse favored by her Oklahoma forebears.
if you see Arkie,
tell 'im Tex's got a job for him
out in Californy.
Within the rhyme lies part of the answer to a riddle that has caused head scratching in Hollywood and other elite opinion-making precincts of our state: How did Sen. Barack Obama lose the state so badly, despite such a visible, noisy surge of support?
In the days leading up to the election, wildly inaccurate polls and media reports that fixated on Obama's celebrity endorsements left the strong impression that he would come close and perhaps pull out a from-behind victory. The coverage made Obama sound like the hot club on Melrose.
Television dwelled heavily on the tableau of an Obama rally at UCLA, attended by Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey and Maria Shriver, at which the first lady of California declared, "If Barack Obama were a state, he'd be California." In a column that appeared the day before the primary, the New York Times editorial page editor called it one of the best political rallies ever, and declared that Obama's campaign "seemed to have a monopoly on what is hip, young and glamorous in California."
Besides the fact that the three celebrity women at the UCLA rally don't qualify as young in a state as young as California, such analysis suffered from a common cultural, class and geographic bias about the state. And thus the story was missed. Obama, for all the interest he generated in wealthy coastal precincts, was failing in a frantic effort to gain traction in the California heartland: the Inland Empire counties of San Bernardino and Riverside, and the Central Valley stalwarts, Fresno and Kern counties.
There lies a different Democratic California, less known to outsiders than the gilded coast but no less important. The inland counties together constitute the fastest-growing parts of the state.
Riverside and San Bernardino counties, both media backwaters, boast more than 2 million residents each. This is the unofficial capital of the working class. The poverty rates in those counties closely reflect that of the state, but there are fewer rich people. Housing prices are about one-third lower there than the state average. Incomes are well below the state averages.
"Obama did the strongest in places like Santa Cruz County that are the exact opposite of the Central Valley and other inland areas," said Dowell Myers, a demographer at USC. "The inland areas are full of people struggling to hold onto middle-class status. They're not risk takers."
It is by now accepted wisdom that California cleaves, politically, not north-south but east-west. We're two states: a coastal blue state and an interior red state. The phrase that used to describe this phenomenon is "California, 50 miles inland, is Arkansas." It is, politically speaking, Oklahoma and Tennessee too.
And while inland California is conservative and mostly Republican, there are millions of Democrats there as well. They cast their ballots in a way that closely resembles the voting patterns of the conservative Dust Bowl states whose job-seeking migrants settled the interior of Californy.
So take a look at the Democratic primary results from these three states:
* Oklahoma: Clinton 55%, Obama 31%.
* Tennessee: Clinton 54, Obama 40.
* In Arkansas, where Clinton was first lady,
she had a special hold on voters: 72-23.
How heartland beat hip on Super Tuesday.
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