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Giles Slade Headshot

Blazing Saddles and Robert C. Byrd

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If the message from West Virginia muddied the waters of the 'race' for the democratic presidential nominee last week, the message Mississippians sent to the nation was nonetheless crisp and clear. Make no mistake: Travis Childers' victory bodes very well for the Democrats in November.

It was a dirty contest in Coffeeville between Mr. Childers and Greg Davis, a former mayor of a Memphis suburb, and a known and tested Republican quantity. There was a lot at stake, and after taking a whipping in a Louisiana special election earlier this year Republicans were taking very few chances.

The party provided telephoned endorsements by both the lesser Bush, and John McCain, and two popular Republican Governors appeared at Mr. Davis' side to rally the faithful. So too did good old Dick Cheney. Remember him? During his time in Mississippi, Mr. Halliburton, to his credit, said very little, took no visible kickbacks, outed no local CIA agents, and didn't go near any firearms.

How could they lose?

To sew it up, the Republicans designed TV ads that cleverly tied Mr. Childers to the 'liberal' policies of America's favorite Democrat. And, of course, the silent dog-whistle of racial resentment was blown louder and longer in Mississippi than it was in West Virginia (where it was blown by enlightened Democrats who have to be quite a bit more careful).

But blow it all you want these days, -by god--it doesn't work anymore.

Despite Travis Childers' ads that insisted he had never met Barack Obama, and also despite Childers' impeccable credentials as a died-in-the-wool southern conservative, black voters rallied to him as did many white voters who are by now completely disillusioned with the Bush administration's serial incompetence.

In choosing Childers, a salt-and-pepper electorate is sending powerful signals to Republicans and Democrats alike that this time the main electoral issue is fundamental course change for America. The fact that many Americans are looking past race to more pressing issues has very bad implications for the Republicans and for John McCain especially.

Race is taking a back seat in the real 'race' to November 2008. It's still there, of course. There were nasty incidents involving Obama's campaign workers in Indiana, and some white fool -- it's no surprise, I hope, that there are plenty around -- called Mike Norman at Mulligan's Bar in Marietta GA is offering T-shirts depicting Curious George eating a banana with the caption "Obama '08". Hillary's ability to endure, as well as Bill's strange remarks about race during the campaign are only intelligible in terms of the white working class support that has attached itself to the Clintons largely by default.

"No, I didn't say that."

"I don't think I should take any sH** for that."

(In their desperation, nouveau-rednecks gave John Edwards 7% of the vote in West Virgina. He wasn't even running... To his credit, he apparently knew what was going on and threw his support behind Obama). More to the point, West Virginia's elder statesman Senator Robert C. Byrd whose impeccable credentials include onetime membership in the KKK, has endorsed Obama as

a shining young statesman, who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure in Iraq, and to lead our nation at this challenging time in history

So despite its prominence, the fact that race has become a secondary issue in this visibly racial contest is an indication of how desperate America --including the Steelworkers Union-- is for change. Remarkable changes like these can invalidate the claim that a Democrat can't win without taking West Virginia.

West Virginia, I'm sorry, is going to show itself as a largely irrelevant anomaly when the rest of the country expresses its wish for a new broom that will sweep clean.

Just as in Blazing Saddles, like it or not, "the new Sheriff will be..."

a Democrat with new ideas.