Thursday, March 01, 2007



Why Obama will surprise national political pundits
Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Memo to all national political journalists, columnists, pundits, etc.:

Please, get a clue.

Perhaps because I live in and cover the politics of a state which has elected two African-American U.S. senators, a black mayor of our largest city and a black secretary of state who four years ago carried all 102 counties, I find your coverage of the "race issue" in the presidential contest to be utterly devoid of insight and context. I'll try to fill you in.

First, just because a prominent African-American leader endorses Hillary Clinton, that doesn't mean Barack Obama's campaign has suffered a mortal wound. It may seem unusual to you that some black leaders aren't supporting a black candidate, but, take it from me, this happens all the time.

Just look at Obama himself. Obama has endorsed Mayor Daley (who is white) over two black opponents. The reason is pretty clear: Daley is a surefire bet for winning his re-election and Hizzoner can help Obama raise money and eat into Clinton's support with other mayors and assorted big shots.

You want more evidence? Fine. Back in 2004, Cook County Board President John Stroger endorsed two-term Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes (white) for the U.S. Senate instead of Obama. Obama won Stroger's own ward by a huge margin.

That's another lesson for you. An endorsement by an influential black person does not usually translate into actual Democratic African-American votes for a white candidate who's up against a viable, attractive black candidate.

Yet another example along those lines was the 1983 Chicago mayoral race when incumbent Jane Byrne (white) was endorsed by a whole host of black political leaders. African-American Congressman Harold Washington came in at the right time, with the right message and the right campaign, set fire in the precincts and won the race, carrying the black wards by a large margin. In the end, the endorsements did Byrne no good.

Next, you "experts" assume that just because viable, credible black candidates end up winning overwhelming majorities of black votes that polls currently showing Hillary Clinton leading Obama among African Americans are somehow important.

Wrong again.

In Illinois, at least, large numbers of black voters tend to take their time making up their minds. In political parlance, they "break late."

Ten months before the March 2004 U.S. Senate primary (about where we are now before the Iowa caucuses), Obama's own polls showed him winning just 34 percent of the black vote. About a month before the primary, African-American voters began "breaking" in large numbers to his candidacy. As they began focusing on the campaign, black voters saw he was viable, liked his message and a significant percentage finally realized he was African American. He ended up winning just about all their votes.

This same pattern has been repeated time and time again during the past 25 years here. Harold Washington didn't start off his campaign with the majority of black support against a white female with a huge war chest and the powers of patronage and incumbency, but he certainly ended that way.

Like Byrne, Hillary Clinton is almost universally known and has a strong record of backing issues important to many Democratic African- American voters. Obama is far less known. It's perfectly natural that, right now, many black voters are siding with Clinton. But, if Obama's candidacy remains viable through early next year, I'd bet that the vast majority of African-American voters will end up with him.

To recap, because I know you're all very busy: Black leadership endorsements of white candidates over black opponents are not necessarily important because they don't automatically translate into black votes; and black voters take their time deciding whether to vote for a fellow African American, but if that candidate looks like a potential winner, they usually end up voting for him or her.

I hope this helps.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

No comments: