After an extended period of exhibiting relentless optimism about Barack Obama's prospects on November 4, I have reason to offer one note of pessimism. Having just spent a stretch of time in my home state of Georgia, there are definite signs of a racial backlash developing--against Obama himself, to be sure, but also against the heavy early voting turnout of African-Americans.
Heavy early voting has been a regular local news story in Georgia for several weeks now, and the visuals, along with much of the commentary, has made the disproportionate turnout of African-Americans a centerpiece. And among conservative white folk I've talked to, a sense of genuine racial panic seems to be setting in, fed, of course, by the McCain-Palin campaign's incessant references to Obama's scary character and ideology. While black turnout in Georgia and across the Deep South is definitely going to be up significantly over 2004, I now think it's going to be partially offset by higher white turnout.
Now Georgia was always going to be a reach for Obama, but the same dynamics are probably in play in North Carolina, another state where heavy African-American early voting has been in the news:
More than 210,000 blacks who are registered as Democrats have cast early ballots in the Tar Heel State — compared with roughly 174,000 registered Republicans overall. Four years ago, the number of GOP early and absentee voters was more than double that of black Democrats.
African-American early votes have already been "banked," of course, so I'm not suggesting that any backlash would exceed them in electoral power. But it could be a factor in a close race in NC (less so in Virginia, where restrictive rules on early voting have made it less dominant in campaign reporting).
The phenomenon I'm talking about isn't, to be clear, any sort of "Bradley Factor," wherein white voters tell pollsters they are voting for an African-American candidate, while ultimately going the other way. The voters I'm talking about are loud and proud, and sometimes openly racist, about their sentiments. But they may turn out at significantly higher-than-normal levels, as the racial polarization virus spreads.
If I'm right, is this a problem for down-ballot Democrats in GA and NC like Jim Martin and Kay Hagan? Maybe, but maybe not. I talked to several frenetic quasi-racist McCain voters in GA who nonetheless are voting for Martin. They may fear Barack Obama, but they don't much like Republicans this year.