Farrakhan's Pennsylvania Admirer

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, April 26, 2008

The old Irving Berlin tune "The Song Is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On)" captures the aftermath of Pennsylvania's Democratic primary -- with a twist. The contest is, indeed, over. But the tune that's slow in parting is more of a sour note than a sweet sound.

It's not that the outcome was disturbing. Hillary Clinton's double-digit victory was forecast weeks ago. She also achieved a key objective: raising doubts about Barack Obama's electability in November.

No, for me, the unpleasant tone that lingers is the exit poll in which 1 in 10 white Pennsylvania voters said a candidate's race mattered. Those voters went with Clinton by a proportion of 3 to 1.

Clinton's top strategist, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, said something like that could happen.

In a February meeting with members of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board, Rendell said that some whites in his state "are probably not ready to vote for an African American candidate."

To buttress his point, Rendell observed that he won his 2006 gubernatorial contest against Republican Lynn Swann by more than 3 to 2. Rendell said he probably gained an additional five percentage points because Swann is black. (Swann, a Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer, was the first African American from a major political party to run for governor in Pennsylvania.)

Which gets us back to that exit poll.

It suggests that whether a tax-cutting, fiscally conservative African American Republican named Swann or an Ivy League-educated, upwardly mobile black Democratic U.S. senator named Obama is on the ballot, some whites, as Rendell warned, can't get past his color. And that's the case although black Pennsylvanians have historically and consistently marked their ballots for white candidates.

That sad exit-poll result, however, didn't come close to matching, in impact, the political deception displayed during the campaign.

Recall last week's ABC debate in Philadelphia and the way Clinton managed to link Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to Obama.

No Clinton mistake there. Wright and Farrakhan are toxic to many voters. Suggesting that Obama and the two men are as close as pages in a book virtually seals the Illinois senator's fate with large voting blocs.

But here's where it gets a little scuzzy.

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