Already, the desperate Hillary Clinton campaign has been turning to racial politics, appealing to Hispanics in order to counter the built-in advantage Barack Obama has with black voters.
What makes this strategy dangerous and ugly is that Pennsylvania, with 10.7 percent African-Americans and 4.2 percent Hispanics in its population mix, is ripe for this kind of racially divisive political strategy. Worse yet, outside several major urban areas, and especially the Philadelphia region, the state is largely white, and largely arch-conservative--so much so that the large swath of the state that lies between Philadelphia in the southeast and Pittsburgh in the far west, is frequently called the Alabama of the north.
It doesn't bode well for the Obama campaign heading into the April 24 primary that Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter, has openly predicted that many of the state's white voters will not vote for a black candidate.
Clinton, whose own staff has played the race card in multiple ways (one ranking staffer asserted that Hispanics don't like voting for black candidates), including trying to paint Obama as a black candidate in the South Carolina and Georgia primaries, is likely to go full out with this divide-and-conquer strategy in Pennsylvania, in an effort to head into the convention with the last large state on the primary list added to her camp.
It's a terrible strategy--one that betrays the party's basic premise of being the working people's party--and it dooms the party's presidential candidate in the November election if it succeeds in winning the nomination for Clinton.
Obama, if he is to avoid the same fate his campaign suffered in Ohio (where he was trounced by Clinton as white voters voted for her in droves), or in Texas (where he lost in a squeaker because Hispanics went heavily with Clinton), will have to combat Clinton's strategy with a two-fold, almost self-contradictory effort: one, he must encourage massive turnout and support by black voters, especially in the Philadelphia area, , and two, he must run his state-wide campaign on a rigorously non-racial basis, so as to minimize his losses in the conservative middle reaches of the state.
An additional problem for Obama: Pennsylvania's primary is Democrats only. Obama has been appealing to independents, but any independent who might want to vote for him here would have to be reached before the March 24 deadline for changing one's party affiliation with the Board of Elections.
Those are all tough hurdles. If Obama cannot jump them, my guess is Pennsylvania will go the way of Ohio. Then Clinton will pull out the stops to convince the super delegates to give her the nomination. If she succeeds at that, having first played the race card, and then the political insider card, the election in November will be Republican John McCain's to lose.
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This story was published on March 6, 2008.