THE BLOG

GOP Strategist Says Racism Would Give McCain 15% Edge on Obama

04/29/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It gives me no satisfaction to report on what a GOP strategist recently told Politico's Roger Simon, as he reports tonight. I have said for months that race is a far bigger factor in the Obama-Clinton contest than most liberals will admit -- I mean, a significant number of whites who will not vote for a black man -- and will loom even larger in the general election. Simon says the "prominent" strategist predicted that McCain would get a 15% bump in his direction because of racism in a contest against Obama this fall.

That would explain the odd national polls that show McCain, or Bush II as he might be known, equaling or topping Obama in a face-to-face contest. It's true that there are similar poll numbers right now for a McCain-Clinton battle. But there is a long tradition of people telling pollsters one thing and voting quite differently in the privacy of the voting booth -- when race is a factor.

Simon cites an AP poll that revealed this month that fully 8% of the respondents said they would have real trouble voting for an African-American. That was always my belief, and why I had to laugh when liberals attacked Gov. Ed Rendell when he suggested that some in Pennsylvania will not vote for a black man. He was speaking the truth, but some, in the heady early 2008 Obama days, refused to believe it.

Politico's Simon says that he had asked the Republican leader whether taxes, or the economy, or the war, or like that, would be the key issue this fall, and the GOP guy replied: "You're missing the most important one," he said. "Race. McCain runs against Barack Obama and the race vote is worth maybe 15 percent to McCain."

That could be shaved down a bit, making a McCain-Obama contest a real tossup, given the latter's many strengths and the unpopularity of McCain's views with most. But I've always wondered if the real reason the Clintons think Obama is "unelectable" -- beyond the need to justify her own candidacy -- is not the ability to handle the 3 a.m. phone call, but the color of his skin.

It got little attention, but Tom McMahon, mayor of Reading, Pa., told USA Today yesterday, referring to his state, "We have a great heritage. America was started here, but sometimes we're a little too steeped in our tradition." McMahon says he got some angry calls when he announced his endorsement of Obama: "I think there's a bit of racism below the surface," he explained.

Some suggest that the 8% or whatever represent simply rightwing Republicans who would never vote for a Democrat, anyway. But to believe that only furthers the myth that racism is not a factor among a number of good old longterm Democrats -- or seemingly liberal college students.

None of this is meant to throw cold water on an Obama nomination. And if Obama wins or comes close on Tuesday then this theory will get largely shot down. But if he runs well behind -- especially if behind the latest polls and exit polls -- then the "race" within the "race" may take center stage.

Read the Politico story.
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Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and has been hailed by Bill Moyers, Glenn Greenwald, Arianna H and others.