Racial Undercurrent Is Seen in Clinton Campaign

(By Kevork Djansezian -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, December 23, 2007

It has unfolded mostly under the radar. But an important development in the 2008 Democratic battle may be the building backlash among African Americans over comments from associates of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that could be construed as jabs at Sen. Barack Obama's race.

These officials, including Clinton aides and prominent surrogates, have raised questions or dropped references about Obama's position on sentencing guidelines for crack vs. powder cocaine offenses; on his handgun control record; and on his admitted use of drugs as a youth. The context was always Obama's "electability." But the Illinois senator's campaign advisers said some African American leaders detect a pattern, and they believe it could erode Clinton's strong base of black support.

Here's a sample of how the issue is playing out:

From the "Tom Joyner Morning Show," Dec. 14:

Tom Joyner: "Yeah, man, they are coming after you now. So the story about the Clinton campaign putting out this statement not to vote for Barack Obama because he used drugs, and then yesterday I understand that she apologized and the campaign worker quit."

Obama: "Well, I think everybody knows, because I wrote about it in a book 10 years ago. . . . and part of the reason I wrote about it and I talk about it in schools is because I want young people out there to know that if they make the same kinds of mistakes that I made that they can get over it and that they can move on. . . ."

From columnist Derrick Z. Jackson of the Boston Globe, Dec. 15:

"That leaves open as to how far the Clinton campaign, whose poll leads have evaporated in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, will go to stereotype Obama as not only naive, but cast him in a sinister light in a nation where black drug use and criminality is exaggerated in the media . . . ."

" 'I don't think these strategies are very subtle,' Obama said. 'I won't speak to the racial element of it because I think, you know, if I were a white candidate, obviously, somebody suggesting falsely they were a drug dealer, it's never good.' But in sum, Obama, who has written about his teenage drug use in his memoirs, said, 'There's been a series of these kinds of tactics that at some point we've just got to send a clear signal this is not what we're about.' "

From Black Star News of New York, Dec. 19:

"So the Clinton campaign decided to use the race card. A senior campaign official, Billy Shaheen, the co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire, warned voters that Obama might not be the suitable candidate because were he to win the Democratic nomination, those nasty Republicans could bring up the fact that Obama has admitted to using marijuana and cocaine in his youth. Might the Republicans not even ask whether Obama had also been a drug dealer? This was clearly playing to the deep seated stereotype that some white people harbor -- of Blacks as natural born criminals and drug dealers."

Huckabee's Message Simple for Christmas

Practically every candidate running for president is up with some sort of Christmas commercial ranging from the serious (Sen. John McCain's retelling of Christmas in a POW camp) to the humorous (Rudy Giuliani's appearance with Santa.)

The Fix chose three of the ads -- Giuliani's, as well as the commercial by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in which she is wrapping a variety of presents corresponding to the issues of her campaign and former governor Mike Huckabee's "reason for the season" spot -- and asked a variety of unaffiliated political operatives for their takes.

Here's what they had to say:

The favorite, by far, of our informal panel was Huckabee's ad. "Huckabee's ad is the most effective because it was first, it is simple, and, in case there was any doubt, it reminds viewers of his singular strength -- that he's a Christian," said Democratic consultant Stephanie Cutter. "He is just so genuine that it really does give you a good feeling," said Democratic pollster John Anzalone, a sentiment echoed by Republican pollster Glen Bolger: "Huckabee's is the best, because it is not political and shows a sense of genuineness about the guy."

Reviews were more mixed for the ads by Giuliani and Clinton.

Of Giuliani's "Santa" commercial, Democratic pollster Dave Beattie said: "It attempts to use humor to makes promises and criticize the process, but unlike Huckabee's and even Hillary's ad, it is more about the process of politics rather than political belief and motivation." Jennifer Burton, a Democratic media consultant, was more complimentary -- arguing that Giuliani's ad "succeeds in hitting his message points and using humor to make Rudy two-dimensional."

Not surprisingly the Clinton ad, like everything in her campaign, provoked strong feelings on both sides. "Hillary's ad is a clever treatment," said Republican media consultant Erik Potholm. "The spot does a good job of bringing the viewer in -- as if they are watching the latest ads for Macy's last-minute, holiday sale -- while reminding voters of her agenda." Beattie was far less sanguine about the ad's impact. "It treats the holidays as a prop, which probably does little to move voters and does little to keep expanding her image as a person rather than a politician."


Remember this name: Jay W. Ragley. The new executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, Ragley has long been the boy wonder -- he's 27 -- of Palmetto State GOP politics. He first came on The Fix's radar as political director for the party in the 2006 cycle before jumping over to serve as the South Carolina director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

In Ragley's new post, he will get plenty of national attention early next year when Republican presidential candidates descend on the Palmetto State for its Jan. 19 primary.

11 days: It's almost here. The Iowa caucuses loom as large as ever on the political landscape despite the compression of the nominating calendar.

37 days: Florida hosts its presidential primary. Will it be the last meaningful contest of the primary season?

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