Truth the Clintons Can't Handle

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, February 23, 2008

Today, it's almost an article of faith among pundits and pollsters that Hillary Clinton can't win the African American vote because Barack Obama has that bloc sewn up.

A year ago, many pundits held another unshakable belief. The polls showed Clinton sitting pretty with black Democrats. Obama, of course, was as black then as he is now.

But Clinton trumped him among black voters, said the pundits. The numbers told the story.

Turn the calendar back to December 2006 and January 2007. That's when Post-ABC News polls showed the New York senator holding a commanding lead over Obama among African American voters -- 60 percent to 20 percent. A Post-ABC News poll last October showed Clinton with a 13-point advantage among African Americans: 51 percent to 38 percent.

A CBS News poll published Jan. 22, 2007, also revealed substantial support for Clinton among African Americans: She led Obama by 24 percentage points.

She was the Democratic heir apparent to Bill Clinton, the nation's "first black president," as Toni Morrison famously dubbed him.

Name recognition, loyalty to her husband and the belief that she was more electable contributed to Clinton's standing. So did the strong backing of several older generations of black politicians -- or at least that's what the pundits and the old-school Democratic pols thought.

Last year, Hillary Clinton was riding high: The black vote was hers to lose. So what accounts for her sharp reversal of fortune?

Hillary made the mistake of assuming that what was Bill's was hers -- she believed headlines that shouted such things as "Poll: Many Black Voters Don't Identify With Obama."

Now that votes are being counted, the Clintons have changed their tune, suggesting that Obama's color counts more with black voters than her years of service to America.

She tried to sell that idea after her loss in Louisiana's primary, dismissing votes for her opponent as coming from "a very strong and very proud African American electorate." Bill Clinton pushed that line when he suggested that if Obama won South Carolina's Democratic primary, it was because he's a black candidate in a state where blacks are a large share of the population.

"They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender. That's why people tell me Hillary doesn't have a chance of winning here," the former president said.

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