05/31/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Fear of Islam Hurts Obama in Kentucky

Last week, I posted a video from West Virginia depicting the overt racism and pervasive fear surrounding Barack Obama's candidacy. While race has been a subtext since before Iowa, the conversation has been largely theoretical, with statisticians guessing at the salience of the Bradley Effect and pundits invoking the race card when they run short on facts. But in West Virginia, no one had to hypothesize about race. Some voters unabashedly voiced their discomfort with a multiracial candidate, while most people complained in a shared language of innuendos, claiming not to know Obama well enough or stating unease with his Muslim heritage.

One week after West Virginia, exit polls in Kentucky demonstrated more of the same. Over one fifth of Democrats said race was a factor in who they voted for -- of those, 88 percent voted for Clinton. I spent a day talking to voters throughout rural, southern Kentucky to better understand how race factored in.

To my surprise, few cited a discomfort with Obama's multiracial background -- in fact, most took offense at the suggestion. Instead, people repeatedly cited Obama's religious beliefs, or what they called his "true Muslim faith."

One might have thought that the epic Rev. Wright scandal -- which wedded Obama to the Trinity United Church of Christ -- would have extinguished the candidate's rumored connection to Islam. Instead, white voters' discomfort with the teachings of the Wright's black church has only strengthened the spurious claims about Obama's faith. Misinformation has spread through the Internet like a virus -- described in detail on Politico -- and as with any successful rumor, its carriers vaguely remember where they first heard it (somewhere on the internet) but fail to recall why, precisely, they believe it.

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