DENVER — The path to the White House passes through the blue-collar communities in Ohio where President Obama campaigned last week — and the middle-class suburbs of Colorado where he did well four years ago.
The two states illustrate the imperative for both parties to assemble coalitions that cross class lines. Obama did precisely this in 2008. In Colorado, 58 percent of the state’s voters had college or postgraduate degrees — and Obama built his nine-point margin over John McCain largely within this highly educated group. In Ohio, where 39 percent of voters had college or advanced degrees, Obama scored a five-point victory. He edged McCain across all educational groups.
Typically, Democrats tie themselves up in strategic knots debating whether their future lies in the center or on the left. Should they concentrate primarily on upscale voters, who usually combine liberal social views with moderate-to-conservative economic views? Or should they focus instead on working-class voters, often social moderates or conservatives who respond to appeals rooted in economic populism?
Two moderate Colorado Democrats who won in the face of the 2010 Republican tide see a way out of this dilemma. The key to a philosophically coherent cross-class coalition, they suggest, can be found in widespread unease over the loss of American jobs to overseas enterprises and the need to restore traditional American advantages in education and innovation. An Ohio Democrat with a rather different ideological profile, Sen. Sherrod Brown, broadly shares their view.
Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper are middle-of-the-road former Colorado businessmen who fare well with moderates and independents. In separate telephone interviews, they suggested that voters in working-class precincts in Ohio and middle-class enclaves in Colorado may have more in common than political punditry normally allows.
Bennet sees one overriding question in American politics: “How do we re-couple economic growth with job growth and wage growth?” Note that Bennet focuses not just on growth in general or even job growth. He adds the essential component of wage growth, as important in Ohio’s blue-collar neighborhoods as it is in Colorado’s suburban office parks.