Obama on tightrope in battle to gain black vote
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-
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