This is a story about one woman. Her vote, ultimately, may not make a difference in this election, since she lives in California, one of the bluest state on the map. If a Democrat needs to campaign in California, he's in big trouble, which is why Barack Obama's only appearance in this state, a few weeks ago, was to pick up $9 million to be spent elsewhere.
But even if her actual vote may not decide this election, my friend Rosie is precisely the sort of voter who both candidates are targeting. She fits the profile of the voter in the middle. She is not a fan of Barack Obama. John McCain had a chance with her. He doesn't anymore.
After her husband died, leaving her with five children to support, Rose came to this country from El Salvador. She slept on the floor, taking any job she could find. We don't talk about that period very often, but it was bad, very bad.
But the time I met her, twenty-something years ago, she was a legal resident of the United States, sharing an apartment with her four youngest children. Her two oldest sons served in the military after graduating from high school, one Army and one Marines. They both fought in the Gulf War. Her daughter has a master's degree. Today, she owns her own home.
She loved Hillary. She was as passionately for Hillary as anyone I know. She went to vigils at her church where they prayed all night for Hillary. Hillary was, in many respects, someone she could identify with, not only because she is a woman, but because she saw her as the embodiment of a certain kind of woman: a woman who had worked hard, endured much, paid her dues, and deserved respect.
She did not like Barack Obama. Not one bit. Too young and too arrogant. What made him think, after all of two years in the Senate, that he was ready to be president? Why couldn't he wait his turn, pay his dues, do a little bit of real work before seeking the brass ring?
Rosie is not, despite her many unbelievably fine qualities, a model of progressive race relations. Her neighborhood is mixed, which is to say, mixed Hispanic and African-American. She fights with her next-door neighbor, an African-American woman, about everything from where the garbage cans should be placed to whether Rosie's dog barks too much, which she definitely does not. It would be funny, except Rosie doesn't laugh when she tells the stories. She really doesn't like this woman. They do not speak the same language.
And it isn't just the woman next door. Her youngest son, who suffers from serious epilepsy and therefore cannot drive, was mugged by two black men on his way home from the bus, which he takes to go to school and work. Only a neighbor hearing his cries saved him from worse.
A few months later, when she had jury duty, she was assigned to a criminal case in which a black man was the defendant. In answer to questions about possible bias, she was honest: She did not think she could judge the defendant fairly, given what had happened to her son; she could not say that she would evaluate the evidence without regard to race, or her own experience. She was excused. Did I mention, too, that her apartment was destroyed in the 1992 riots?
Rosie was someone McCain could have won. A disgruntled former Hillary supporter. A woman of a certain age. A Latina with no love lost for her black neighbors. A conservative on issues of national security, law and order, even immigration — having earned her citizenship, the hard way, she will tell you that we just can't afford an open border, and we should not reward those who don't play by the rules.
The other day, she came to me and told me she was voting for Obama. Not happily; not the way she voted for Hillary. But she cannot vote for John McCain.
She does not believe he will help people like her: People who are "lucky" to be covered by an HMO where the lines are endless and the care is too often haphazard. It was not her first choice, it was the only insurance she could get. Blue Cross twice rejected her, the first time because she took medication for gastritis. Gastritis? She was lucky to get coverage by the HMO. If she tried now, with arthritis and high blood pressure, not to mention a fussy stomach, even they would turn her down.
McCain talks about tax cuts, and more competition among insurance companies. Never once has she heard him talk about someone like her, who no one wants to insure regardless of the cost. He went back to Washington to save Wall Street, she says, but no one saved her son, who bought a house only to see its value drop as his payments increased. He paid off his mortgage, but lost money; it will take him years to save enough to buy another home. And there is John McCain, with more houses than he can count, determined to protect the rich against Obama's tax increases. He does not seem as determined to protect her.
McCain lost Rosie on all the most traditional of factors: Does the candidate understand the problems of people like you? Is he on your side? She is not entirely sure of Obama but she is sure about McCain. Whoever's side he's on, it's not hers.
As a Democrat, I have been through so many losing election nights (1980,1984,1988,2000, 2004) — five out of seven, and I'm counting — that I am slow, very slow, to believe that this one might be different. I know what it's like to think you're going to win, and then lose. I know what it's like to think you're going to lose, and get absolutely hammered. I know how losing elections feel. There is still time left. Things can change. But after talking to Rosie, I started thinking that a year that should be a big one for Democrats might actually turn out that way.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first female president of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for FOXNews.com.