01/26/2008 01:29 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Race-pectations Game

Maybe -- just maybe -- South Carolina of all places isn't the best state to use as a test for whether Barack Obama can appeal to both black and white voters.

Judging by the televised moving mouths, the conventional wisdom expectations game stands thusly: With Barack Obama's victory a foregone conclusion, the story of the today's primary contest will be race. A victory will be discounted if it's driven by black voters.

From today's New York Times:

As the Obama campaign looks beyond South Carolina to the obstacle course ahead, one question is the most worrisome to his strategists who have worked to calibrate a race-neutral candidate: Will Mr. Obama emerge identified -- and, by extension, constrained -- by his race?


But while Mr. Obama seeks to transcend race, his campaign cannot avoid the politics associated with it. A new poll on Friday, conducted by MSNBC/McClatchy Newspapers, showed that Mr. Obama was winning support from 59 percent of black voters in South Carolina but only 10 percent of white voters. The majority of the white voters are splitting their support between Mrs. Clinton and John Edwards, the native son.

The narrative goes like this: Obama did fine in overwhelmingly white states like Iowa and New Hampshire, but South Carolina's is the first primary in a state with a sizable black population, meaning that -- unlike Iowa and New Hampshire -- Obama has to balance appeals to both black and white voters, or more specifically holding onto the former without facing a backlash among the latter.

Perhaps. But is South Carolina the best state on which to administer that test to Obama? This is a state where debates about the propriety of flying the Confederate flag are ongoing. And so it's the place to test a black candidate's appeal among whites?

The answer of course is that we go to the primaries with the schedule we have, not the schedule we wish we had, as the noted philosopher D.H. Rumsfeld might say. But look where that philosophy got us.