What Was Obama's Advantage Over McCain?

Democrat Barack Obama has won handily over Republican John McCain. For some insight into the election results, Steve Inskeep talks to two analysts. Mark Mellman is a Democratic strategist and pollster. David Frum is a conservative columnist for the National Review Online, and a former speechwriter for President Bush.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Let's get some more perspective here where Republicans as well as Democrats are going. Mark Mellman is on the line. He's a Democratic strategist. Good morning.

Mr. MARK MELLMAN (Democratic Strategist; Pollster): Good morning.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And he's joined by David Frum, a conservative writer. Good morning again to you.

Mr. DAVID FRUM (Columnist, National Review Online): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: They're both regular guests on this program. And David, let's start with you. We asked Senator Ensign if he saw a bright spot for Republicans, the way the Democrats saw a bright spot when Senator Obama was elected in 2004, or a sign of the Republican future. The senator didn't seem to have one, do you?

Mr. FRUM: I don't think there is a bright spot, but I think there is a clear map for the future. When we get all the numbers in, here's what I'm going to predict we're going to see. There was a big shift - a big change in turnout, a big increase in turnout among ethnic minorities and a big shift in Democratic preference among college-educated whites. The Republican future depends on changing one or the other of those two trends, either doing better among ethnic minorities or doing better among college-educated whites. The latter path looks to me more promising, and that is going to mean a different approach to the environmental issues and social issues to make the Republican Party more appealing to those people who expanded Barack Obama's coalition.

INSKEEP: Just to be clear, college-educated whites, that's the group the Republicans have normally won in the past.

Mr. FRUM: That's a group that the Republicans have normally dominated in the past, but we have lost. And they are rapidly growing. As recently as 1990, only 22 percent of white Americans had a college degree. Today, twenty-eight and a half percent of white Americans have a college degree. And they just don't respond to the kind of bedrock conservative cultural appeal that was the core of the Republican message in this election.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly sticking with you, where does Sarah Palin fit into this equation, as you see it? After all, last night John McCain said he saw her future service with the country, as well as the Republican Party?

Mr. FRUM: Well, we all want to serve the country, of course. But she, for reasons of her own doing and reasons that were not of her own doing, she came to symbolize exactly the kind of Republican Party that so many of the people we used to win no longer want to vote for. And we have to ask ourselves, how can you have a party of enterprise, of business, of limited government, like Senator Ensign said, that isn't winning in places like the suburbs of Connecticut, the suburbs of Philadelphia? If we are shut out of those - I mean, God bless Joe the Plumber, we want his vote. But he alone is not enough to carry a party to national victory.

INSKEEP: Democrat Mark Mellman has been patiently waiting here. I want to bring you in. David Frum just mentioned a couple of key groups where he thinks the future lies, ethnic minorities and college-educated whites. Do you think that's where the future battleground is, Mark Mellman?

Mr. MELLMAN: Well, those are critically important battlegrounds. Obviously, we saw Senator Obama do extremely well with those groups. We saw Democrats, in general, do extremely well with those groups. But we have to also focus on the times. The reality is voters leaned heavily into change. People were extraordinarily dissatisfied with the economy. That was the dominant issue in this election. People interested in change, interested in the economy, overwhelmingly supported Democrats.

And of course President Bush was extraordinarily unpopular. Voters who did not like the approach that President Bush has taken overwhelmingly voted for change, overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama and for Democrats up and down the line. So it's going to be important for Democrats to deliver on that promise of change. It's going to be important for Democrats to be able to make some changes in the way the economic fortunes of the country are leaning, to make some changes in the way we're conducting our foreign policy. That's going to be the way Democrats can consolidate these gains and make sure they don't dissipate in the coming years.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, you seem to be suggesting this is the kind of win that will allow Barack Obama to govern.

Mr. MELLMAN: I think it will. I mean, I think people will come to the Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, recognizing a strong endorsement of change, recognizing that folks do want to follow the kinds of policies, the kinds of plans that Barack Obama has laid out for the country. And I think that the Congress would do well to give the new president the chance to implement his policies, implement his plans. And hopefully, that will make a real and positive difference for the country as a whole. And if it does, Democrats will be rewarded for the long term.

MONTAGNE: Thank you both for joining us. Mark Mellman is a Democratic strategist. David Frum is a conservative writer. Thanks again.

Mr. MELLMAN: Thank you.

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