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Could Obama Pull Off
His 30 Percent Solution?

Hillary Clinton says she's the most electable Democrat, arguing many polls already show her leading both fellow Democrats and in hypothetical match-ups against Republican candidates. But many in her party worry she is too polarizing to win enough votes among Republicans and independents to claim the presidency.

John Edwards says he can win in the South and other places where Clinton can't, although some are quick to point out that he didn't help to win any additional states when he was on the party ticket with John Kerry in 2004.

Barack Obama is now offering another questionable electability theory: The idea that he can turn out far more black voters than any other candidate, allowing him to win states in the South with sizable black populations that have trended strongly Republican in recent years.

"I'm probably the only candidate who having won the nomination can actually redraw the political map," Obama told an audience in Concord, New Hampshire on Monday. "I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I'm the nominee, goes up 30 percent around the country, minimum." Obama made the comments in response to a question from a voter who said she wanted to support the Democrat most likely to win, according to the Associated Press. "Young people's percentage of the vote goes up 25-30 percent. So we're in a position to put states in play that haven't been in play since LBJ."

Citing a specific example, he said, "If we just got African-Americans in Mississippi to vote their percentage of the population, Mississippi is suddenly a Democratic state."

The candidate did not detail why African-Americans would turn out in huge numbers for him but not for Edwards or Clinton, although he has suggested in the past that African-Americans will strongly back one of their own, much as Clinton's campaign has argued the same about women and Edwards of Southerners.

But more importantly, data from the 2004 National Election Pool exit polls suggest his assumptions may be off. In 2004 in Mississippi, black turnout was about 57 percent, compared to about 54 percent overall in the state. Blacks did vote in proportion to their percentage the population in 2004 -- about a third of people who voted in the state were black and about 33 percent of the voting-age population in the state is black -- yet Kerry still lost the state to President Bush 59 percent to 41 percent.

Obama's argument that he could increase the black vote by at least 30 percent in some states would be very difficult, if not impossible. For example, a 30 percent increase in the black vote in Mississippi would require 74 percent of black residents to turn out and vote, virtually unprecedented in recent American elections. And even with such an increase, white voters' support for Republicans in the state is so broad -- 85 percent of white voters backed Bush in 2004 -- that if every other voting bloc remained the same and black voting jumped, an unlikely scenario, Obama would still collect only about 45 percent of the vote in Mississippi based on Kerry's performance.

Obama aides said that the Senator also plans to collect more votes from Republicans and independents, as well as increasing the number of black and young votes, and those combined will allow him to go toe-to-toe with the Republican nominee in areas of the South. But one of the groups he is now aggressively appealing to, Democrats in Iowa, isn't quite as convinced of his wide appeal.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll in July found 35 percent of Democrats thought Clinton had the best chance of winning the general election, compared to 23 percent who named Obama and 22 percent who named Edwards.

-- Perry Bacon Jr. and Jennifer Agiesta

By Post Editor  |  August 21, 2007; 3:21 PM ET
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