10/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama And The Midwestern Color Line

In fall 2006, before Barack Obama and his coterie of astute political strategists decided to launch his campaign for president, they burrowed into the polling details of the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee that year.

Why? That was the most recent contest in which race might have played a significant factor in the outcome of a statewide election. Democrat Harold Ford, an African-American Congressman, narrowly lost the Senate race to Bob Corker, a white Republican.

That razor-thin loss by a black candidate--in a Southern state of all places--signaled to the Obama brain trust that the racial divide in America might be closing enough that a black candidate with crossover appeal such as Obama could generate enough white votes in a presidential contest to pull off victory. So Ford's near success heavily contributed to Obama launching his historic bid a few months later.

But coming down the home stretch in this presidential race, those hopes are being tested, as Obama's team watches its candidate struggle to hold onto slim leads or fall behind in key Midwestern battleground states--despite political dynamics that seemingly would put Obama suitably ahead.

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