NY Times: Campaign Stops: The Votes Are in the Suburbs

NY Times: Campaign Stops (9/19/8)

The Votes Are in the Suburbs

Joseph Biden’s experience in foreign policy may boost Barack Obama, just as Sarah Palin’s gender may aid John McCain, but the biggest benefit these vice presidential nominees bring to their tickets is an instinctual understanding of the people most likely to decide this election. These are the same voters who have determined the winner of not only the last five presidential contests but, more recently, control of Congress, governors’ mansions and state houses.

Although suburbanites once voted strongly for Republicans, today their preferences are harder to pin down. The reason for the change is both demographic and ideological: more minorities are moving to suburbia and bringing their Democratic voting tendencies with them. And the increasingly conservative image of the Republican Party at the national level has alienated suburban voters, who tend to be pragmatic — they are socially liberal, fiscally conservative and averse to extremism of any stripe.

Why? Because suburbanites are suspicious of city politicians, and much about Barack Obama — from his erudite speaking style to his fondness for arugula — screams “city slicker.” And then there is race. The nation’s most-segregated communities are in the suburbs. While many suburbanites would never think of themselves as racist, it’s fair to say that the color of Mr. Obama’s skin may make them uncomfortable.

Mr. Obama did well among suburban Democrats in several primaries, and the growing number of minorities in the suburbs will help him. But the white working class is still sitting on their white picket fences.

As a long-time resident and former local official in the Wilmington, Del., suburb of New Castle, Mr. Biden knows the suburbs. He went to school in the suburbs, raised his family there and started his political career there. He has wrestled with the fact that the suburbs are more congested and polluted and they’re less fiscally able to improve schools when more and more children don’t speak English. They’re downtowns are crumbling, public transportation is abysmal, sewer systems are overburdened and affordable housing is non-existent.

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