Senior Correspondent

WASHINGTON ( – The demonization of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)–who has gone from once being labeled “not Black enough” to earn the support of Black voters–to being depicted for White voters as being “too Black,” seems destined to continue all the way to the November general election.

The campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, desperately behind in pledged convention delegates, popular votes, and the numbers of state primary victories, has successfully pinned a “Black militant” image on Sen. Obama, who ironically came to prominence in this campaign when he decisively won an early campaign contest in the overwhelmingly White state of Iowa and ran strong in New Hampshire.

A poll of Democratic voters conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the television networks and The Associated Press found that Mrs. Clinton drew 63 percent of the White vote while Mr. Obama drew 90 percent of the Black vote, according to published reports. More strikingly, Adam Nagourney wrote for “Young@Heart,” the poll found that 18 percent of Democrats said that race mattered to them in this contest – and just 63 percent of those voters said they would support Mr. Obama in a general election.


Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, which unashamedly boasts the support of feminist leaders all over the country, has been able to play both the “gender card,” and the “race card,” to her advantage in her effort to soil Mr. Obama, and to paint him in the eyes of Democratic Party “super-delegates” as unelectable.

“I think it’s a combination of not only the ‘Bradley effect,’ but what I’m calling the ‘Willie Horton-ization of Barack Obama,’” Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, professor of political science at Howard University told The Final Call, “with the intentional misinterpretations of Michele Obama’s comments earlier about: For the first time in her life she’s really proud to be an American, how that has been compromised and turned into, ‘she’s not American;’ to the Rev. Dr. (Jeremiah) Wright and all of that intentional misinterpretation of his comments.”

The “Bradley effect” is a term coined to describe five-term Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s unsuccessful campaigns to become governor of California in 1982 and 1986. Then, White voters told pollsters that they favored Mr. Bradley, a Black man, but refused to vote for him in the secrecy of voting booths.

Dr. E. Franklin Frazier, who wrote dozens of books, scholarly articles and book chapters, reportedly said the motive for public lynchings of Blacks in the South after the Civil War and before they were guaranteed the right to vote was: “The closer the Negro gets to the ballot box, the more he looks like a rapist.”

Today, Mr. Obama’s supporters insist, the closer he appears to get to the presidency, the more his opponents are trying to make him look like a Black man.

“I think it’s the ‘Bradley effect’ in terms of White folks now realizing that they may actually have to deal with this Black man and not want to vote for him,” said Dr. Leon, “as well as what the media is doing to kind of fan the flames and heighten peoples’ sensitivities to race in this case.”

“Race is intertwined with a broader notion that he is not one of us,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, which did an extensive examination of voter attitudes, particularly among Democrats who have an unfavorable view of Mr. Obama, according to Young@Heart.

“The big question about Barack Obama from the very beginning has been, is he safe?” said Peter D. Hart, a Democratic pollster not affiliated with any campaign. “Safe in terms of both the cultural values that he has, and about whether he is strong enough to be commander in chief.”

The affect of race on the Obama campaign is twofold: Voters opposing him simply because he is Black, and Democratic Party officials who will not support him because they do not think a Black man can win a general election.

So, instead of concentrating the campaign on the serious issues affecting the country, and the overwhelming opposition to the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and economic policies, the Clinton campaign has increasingly targeted the perception that Sen. Obama is “elite,” “out of touch,” and “too liberal” for American voters.

Sen. Clinton cannot escape responsibility for the attacks, from her husband and former President Bill Clinton’s assertion that Sen. Obama’s campaign is a “fairy tale,” to senior campaign advisor and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s insistence that Sen. Obama would not be as successful as he is politically, if he was a White male or a White female.

“Absolutely,” Sen. Clinton is to blame, said Dr. Leon, “primarily not because she’s in the race, but because of the tactics that she’s using. I have absolutely no problem with her fighting till the last dog dies, so long as her fight is based on the issues.

“But she has been–along with her husband–has been the primary instigators of the personal attack. Particularly in the Democratic race, where she has gone away from the issues and made it personal. And that is doing nothing more than giving the Republican opposition ammunition for their guns. I hold her responsible for the personalization of this thing.

“That is what I think is what has gotten to the core of the racial matter. Because they really can’t attack him on the issues, because on the issues they are really very, very close in a lot of ways, and so really all she has left is to attack him personally.”

The Democrats embrace of Sen. Clinton on these grounds, is potentially dangerous for them. Should Mrs. Clinton win the Democratic nomination after what appears to be race-baiting of Sen. Obama, there is a risk that she face severe Black backlash, and would be unable to mobilize the Black support she would need to win in November.

“In the short term, if Sen. Obama gets the nomination, he could very well lose to Sen. McCain because of the inherent racism in America. If the Democratic Party fails to give Sen. Obama the nomination for that reason, they are doing themselves long term–I mean generational–damage. Because the African American base, I think will run from them,” said Dr. Leon.

“If they go on this electability angle, they’re going to cut off their nose, to spite their face. As much as I’ve been telling my students: ‘History tells me that Sen. Obama will not be president, because history in America tells me that White people in America are not going to vote for a brother for nothing.’ I’ve got to go with history, until history proves me wrong.”