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January 25, 2008

No Fingerprints?

How did race get injected into the Democratic primaries? John Mercurio says that he knows the perpetrators, even if they left no fingerprints on the scene. The Clintons have manipulated the media into turning Barack Obama's ethnicity into a campaign issue -- a tack Obama wanted to avoid -- while claiming innocence:

First, a quick show of hands: How many of you honestly thought we'd make it through this Democratic presidential primary without a bruising debate over race? Whether or not the Clintons were involved, this conversation is hardly shocking. And before it's over, it will likely grow more intense.

What is surprising, however, is how skillfully, and with how much brilliant calculation, Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband steered the nomination campaign toward these turbulent waters. She's done nothing but win since this debate began and even if she loses on Saturday in South Carolina, she's framed the campaign in a way that lets her live to fight another day. Perhaps even more surprising has been the media's willingness to be played. ....

With a few able strokes, the Clintons have even managed to minimize the significance of the South Carolina primary, the first nomination contest where black voters will have a dominant voice. They've lowered expectations for Clinton and raised them for Obama, who will be challenged to parlay a win there Saturday into momentum by reporters who will surely frame it as a victory by a black candidate among black voters.

They may think they're pretty clever, and the end result might prove effective -- in the primaries. Mercurio hits the nail on the head with his analysis of the South Carolina primary. Even if she loses it, the media will shrug it off on the basis of the state's demographics. Even worse, that analysis will leave the presumption that Obama and not the Clintons played identity politics in the Palmetto State.

This strategy has its risks, even in the primaries. For instance, Hillary has fallen behind in Georgia, where she has two high-powered allies, John Lewis and Andrew Young. Rasmussen has her down six points to Obama in a state where she should handily lead, especially with those endorsements. Instead, Obama gets 59% of the black vote while Hillary gets 44% of the white vote in this Super Tuesday state.

If Hillary wins the nomination using these tactics, it may -- may -- rebound against her in the general election. It probably won't throw a significant amount of black votes to the Republicans, unless the nominee engages that community a lot more effectively than George Bush did in either 2000 or 2004. However, it will reduce the enthusiasm for the Clintons in the African-American community, which will likely resent getting manipulated in this manner, and a lower turnout there could doom Hillary's chances for a victory.

It's the political equivalent of playing with fire. And one doesn't have to leave fingerprints to get burned when doing that.


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