Obama on tightrope in bat­tle to gain black vote

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Brian DeBose

Sen. Barack Obama will have a tough time gen­er­at­ing sup­port for his pres­i­den­tial bid among key black Demo­cratic lead­ers — many of whom are loyal to the Clin­tons — and he must guard against un­der­min­ing his electabil­ity by be­com­ing the civil rights can­di­date, cam­paign strate­gists say.

“It will be very dif­fi­cult for Obama to take those su­perdel­e­gate votes in the hip pock­ets of the Clin- tons. They have a lot of po­lit­i­cal IOUswith­thep­ar­ty­boss­esandthat will be very dif­fi­cult for Obama to ab­scond with,” said po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Sam Rid­dle, who helped the Rev. Jesse Jack­son win Michi­gan’s Demo­cratic pri­mary in his 1988 pres­i­den­tial bid.

“If they back Obama, most of them­knowor­sus­pect­they­havev­ery lit­tle­mon­ey­coming.Bu­tifthey­back Hil­lary and gar­ner black vot­ers for her, they know they can get some-

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thing,” he said, re­fer­ring to the po­lit­i­cal strength of Demo­cratic fron­trun­nerSen.Hil­laryRod­hamClin­ton of New York.

Sev­eral strate­gists said Mr. Obama,Illi­noisDemo­crat,will­have towalk­thetightrope­of­woo­ing­black lib­eral ac­tivists, in­clud­ing such po­lar­iz­ing­fig­ure­sas­theRev.AlSharp­ton and Mr. Jack­son, while avoid­ing lim­it­ing his ap­peal by lead­ing with his race and run­ning pri­mar­ily on civil rights is­sues.

“He has to be re­ally care­ful not to be la­beled ‘the black can­di­date’ be­cause it will put him in the po­si­tion of be­ing linked to Jesse Jack­son and Al Sharp­ton,” Mr. Rid­dle said.

Mr. Obama had his first op­por­tu­nity to talk with Mr. Sharp­ton about his can­di­dacy on Jan. 25 when the New York min­is­ter vis­ited Capi­tol Hill to meet with Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, first with Sen. Christo­pherJ.Dodd,then­with­Mrs. Clin­ton, and with Mr. Obama last.

Mrs. Clin­ton has a sim­i­lar prob­lem with fe­male vot­ers if she al­lows lib­eral fem­i­nists to usurp her cam­paign, said Mor­ris Reid, a for­mer Clin­ton­ad­min­is­tra­tionof­fi­cial­whois man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm Westin-Rine­hart Group.

“They are re­ally go­ing to be fight­ing for the black vote, but also, Hil­lary­will­havetofight­forthe­white sub­ur­ban women’s vote as well. Her base, that white-fe­male ed­u­cated wo­man, isn’t just go­ing to flock to her,” he said.

“Isn’titre­fresh­ingth­atDemocrats will have to fight for the black and His­pan­icvote?Imean,her­hus­band, Bil­lClin­ton,is­agodinthe­black­com­mu­nity. But Hil­lary and Obama will have­tomea­sure­up­to­him,”Mr.Reid said.

Demo­cratic strate­gist Donna Brazile said the com­plex­ion of the cam­paign en­sures a split vote along ev­ery con­ceiv­able de­mo­graphic of thep­arty,par­tic­u­lar­lythe­black­vote.

“The black vote is up for grabs, and no can­di­date — past or present — can sim­ply rely on their record,” she said. “In or­der to gen­er­ate sup­port, they will have to reach out, dis­cuss is­sues of im­por­tance to black vot­ers and in­clude them in the cam­paign as part of their broader strat­egy in win­ning the nom­i­na­tion.”

Mr. Rid­dle said Mr. Obama’s big­gest crit­ics may end up be­ing black po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, who view his “de-racial­ized” cam­paign — “di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed” to ev­ery civil rights-fo­cused black can­di­date who has run for pres­i­dent — as a po­ten­tial threat to their po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence.

To this point in the elec­tion cy­cle, with a year be­fore any pri­mary or cau­cusvote­shave­been­cast,thecan­di­dates’ mes­sages have been broad. They­will­haveam­ple­time­to­builda de­tailed mes­sage, backed by pol­icy ideas, but for Mr. Obama that dead­line is a bit shorter, Mr. Reid said.

“It works for him, and it is help­inghim­right­now,when­heis­s­peak­ing to large macro-or­ga­ni­za­tions,” he­said.But“hewil­l­have­todigdeep and pick out two or three meaty is­sues that he can re­ally dig down on, be­cau­seitis­go­ing­to­ge­tre­alol­dreal quick if he con­tin­ues to talk in th­ese gen­eral­macro­ton­estotheAmer­i­can pub­lic.”

While Mr. Obama has the in­flu­encetodow­ell,his­can­di­da­cyis­con­sid­ered by some as an ef­fort to se­cure the vice-pres­i­den­tial nod.

“Two-thirds of the large re­cip­i­ents of his Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tee are mem­bers of the Demo­cratic Lead­er­ship Coun­cil, which was founded by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton,” said Glen Ford, ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of black­a­gen­dare­port.com, a pol­i­tics and so­cial is­sues Web site.

“He em­braces those who are in power and in­gra­ti­ates with power, and yet, who is the power in the Demo­cratic Party? Two Clin­tons. So how­doesthat­trans­late­to­himtry­ing to­takeover?It­doesn’t,andI­don’tsee that com­ing from him.”

Don­ald Lam­bro con­trib­uted to this re­port

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