07/21/2010 10:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Race, the Numbers and the Nomination

In 2004, twenty-one percent of the votes for John Kerry were cast by black voters, and before the 2008 primary campaign Hillary Clinton was the favorite to get them all. Wasn't Bill called the "first black President of the United States"? Hadn't he established his office in Harlem just to prove his black credentials? Hadn't Hillary been surrounded by black aides and advisors in her senatorial elections and on her staff?

It was that huge bloc that discouraged others from running against her and seemed to give her an insurmountable lead. So how could you beat her -- run a black man against her and get a forty percent swing in the primary votes. Hillary might have beaten John Edwards 65% to 35%. But switch the black vote around with a candidate like Barack Obama and Hillary loses 20%, while Obama picks it up and wins the primaries 55% to 45%.

The guys in Chicago, Abner Mikvah, Newton Minnow, David Axelrod and Barack's chief of staff Pete Rouse were smart enough to figure that out and connected enough to get the start up money to finance his campaign. Their only question was whether Barack was black enough to sew up the black vote. They answered it brilliantly. Poor Joe Biden praised Obama in the New York Observer as, "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Those are nice words about Senator Obama, but what did it imply about the rest of African-Americans? Obama's first response was gracious. He said, "I didn't take it personally and I don't think he intended to offend." Later in the day, when Senator Biden came under attack from other black leaders Obama, according to the New York Times, "issued a statement that approached a condemnation. 'I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate ... African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns and no one would call them inarticulate.'"

In a matter of hours Obama had transformed himself and demonstrated his credentials as a defender of every African-American who had ever entered a presidential primary. Biden had provided the opening and Obama had swept right through it. Once Obama proved his appeal to white voters by sweeping the Iowa Caucuses and black voters realized he might actually win the nomination ninety percent of them have voted for him in the primaries and provided him with the majority that appears to have won him the nomination.

It was a great political strategy for the primaries, but how it will affect the general election? Will Rovian political strategists make it part of a whispering campaign and attempt to cast Obama as a racial candidate? Given the nature of the Willie Horton and the Swiftboaters I would advise Obama's strategists to prepare for the worst.

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