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David Sirota

David Sirota

Posted: April 2, 2008 05:25 PM

Events Prove Race Chasm Article Correct


Earlier this week, I published this In These Times piece about what I called the Race Chasm, and how it relates to the Clinton campaign's strategy. I made some fairly bold assertions in the article, which some readers questioned. So in the interest of fact-checking myself post facto, let's take a look at events of this week and whether they prove the major assertions of the article.

The Race Chasm - Still There?

The first assertion I made was that the Race Chasm does indeed exist, and that states whose populations are above 7 percent but below 17 percent black have been very difficult for Obama to win. Now, in a series of polls, we see that chasm again in advance of the upcoming primaries. Here's what I'm talking about, excerpting from Politicalwire and Bloomberg News:

SurveyUSA - Obama Not Competitive in Kentucky: A new SurveyUSA poll in Kentucky shows Sen. Hillary Clinton crushing Sen. Barack Obama, 58% to 29%, in the closed Democratic primary to be held on May 20.


PPP Poll - Obama Holds Huge Lead in North Carolina: The latest Public Policy Polling survey in North Carolina finds Sen. Barack Obama leading Sen. Hillary Clinton, 54% to 36%.

Bloomberg News: Interviews with dozens of Democrats in this overwhelmingly white region -- where voters will go to the polls in the May 6 primary -- suggest residual concerns over the controversy involving Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Recall that Kentucky and Indiana is in the Race Chasm demographic (a new poll shows Clinton leading in Indiana, by the way), and North Carolina is outside the Race Chasm. The difference between Kentucky and North Carolina is especially striking considering their relative geographic proximity. That comparison alone suggests the Race Chasm is at work. More generally, these polls suggest that there's a solid chance the Race Chasm will continue affecting the primary campaign, especially with the Clinton campaign pushing the Jeremiah Wright story.

Race and "Electability" Arguments - Connected?

Let's just review what I wrote in my article on Monday:

Clinton has two reasons to try to highlight race and maximize the Race Chasm, both related to the second pillar of her firewall: the superdelegates...In trying to maximize the Race Chasm by focusing on race-tinged issues, Clinton is tacitly making an "electability" argument to superdelegates...Part of that "electability" argument hinges on portraying Obama as "unelectable" -- and what better way to do that than stoke as many race-focused controversies as possible? It is a standard primary tactic: Launch a line of attack -- in this case, the "Wright controversy" -- and then claim the attack will be used by Republicans to defeat an opponent -- in this case Obama -- should he become the general election candidate.

This was no genius insight, of course. It's just an honest reading of what's going on. Yet some readers who emailed me took offense to this, saying that Clinton wouldn't meld the race issue into an "electability" argument with superdelegates. Yet, that is precisely what Clinton operative Harold Ickes said the Clinton campaign is now doing. In a story out on Tuesday - just a day after my article came out -- TPM reported that Ickes acknowledged the race-tinged Wright "controversy" is "a key topic in discussions with uncommitted super-delegates over whether Obama is electable in a general election."

The rest of the campaign media has now jumped all over the story. I hate to say I told them so...but I told them so.

One final note -- I'm not writing this follow-up post to gloat, but just to explore whether my assertions hold true with changing events (and let's be clear -- things could change further and the trends I identified, while correct in the historical context, may certainly cease). That's something way too many commentators refuse to do -- which is why political analysis in the media is so vapid. But, alas, that's a subject for another day.