Mississippi votes, and candidates argue about the race card... again

It's Mississippi's turn to go to the polls today -- the last Democratic contest until April 22nd. For the first time of this entire campaign season, I will not be able to liveblog the results since I am traveling. A detailed analysis will naturally be posted first thing in the morning.

The polls close at 8pm CT, and Barack Obama is the overwhelming favorite to win this race. Mississippi could be the primary featuring the highest proportion of black voters, though that will also probably mean that the electorate will be that much more racially polarized (a poll last week suggested that Clinton could get as much as 70% of the white vote). And two new polls released today show Obama comfortably ahead -- though perhaps by less than what he is allowed to hope for:

  • ARG shows him up 54% to 38%. That's an 8% improvement for Clinton over a few days, as she was led 58% to 24% in the previous ARG poll. 65% of whites vote Clinton, and only 15% of blacks.
  • Insider Advantage comes out with the opposite trendline but ends up with roughly the same lead for Obama: They had the Illinois Senator only up by 6% last week, though they specified that they were finding many undecided black voters who were likely to end up in Obama's camp. And indeed today's results show Obama up 54% to 37%.
Despite the lack of suspense, the results will be very important; as always, the margin of victory is just as significant as the victor. Clinton's challenge will be to hold Obama's margin as little as possible; a good result for her could be to break 40% (she got 27% in SC and 31% in GA). Mississippi only awards 33 delegates, so she could then limit the delegate spread more than we are used to seeing from Southern states. And don't underestimate the importance of any extra delegate Obama gains here: Clinton is playing an improbable game of delegate catchup, and she did not really accomplish anything to this end on March 4th. At this point, she needs every single delegate she can get.

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign is losing control of Geraldine Ferraro, known as the first female VP candidate of a major party back in 1984. The Torrance Daily Breeze published an interview of her yesterday in which she said that Obama was only winning because he was a black male:

If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.

This instantaneously created a controversy, with most commentators deriding the suggestion that Obama was having an easy time as a black candidate with a name that Republicans are so excited about repeating in its full form. Obama aide Axelrod clamored for Ferrero's head ("Ferraro should be denounced and censured by the campaign") but the Clinton campaign refused to do anything about the comments, with Hillary granting a "It is regrettable that any of our supporters on both sides, because we’ve both had that experience, say things that kind of veer off into the personal. We ought to keep this on the issues."

The Clinton campaign proceeded to imply that Obama was seeking to divide the country, i.e. that he was purposefully playing the race card here to once again accuse the Clinton camp of racism and build up sympathy. This is an argument they had use in South Carolina as well, angry at what they saw as a media frenzy to distort the Clintons' words and frustrated that Obama was willing to feed that frenzy. And to some degree the Clinton's push-back was legitimate. I noted back in January that Hillary's quote on King and Johnson had been cut of an important qualifying part and that Bill's fairytale speech was very explicitly devoted to the Iraq War and nothing else.

But Ferraro is taking the argument much further than Clinton ever did, turning the "Obama is playing the race card" push-back into its own caricature and thereby undermining her own credibility. Here's how Ferraro reacted to the controversy today:

Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this campaign down and says let's address reality and the problems we're facing in this world, you're accused of being racist, so you have to shut up. Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?

That the Clinton campaign is refusing to denounce Ferraro (without really going as far as defending her) suggests she might be content to be letting the race issue back in the conversation... not that it really worked last time. Is this part of making a play for white ethnics and other groups of voters who might sympathize with Ferraro's comments? We saw in Ohio last week that that is the constituency that could save her, after all. Frankly, Ferraro's attacks seem way to transparent to give the impression of being part of a coherent strategy but we will know in the coming days how the Clinton campaign chooses to deal with this.



  • About the Ferraro remark "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position." It follows that if Hillary Clinton wasn't married to Bill she would not be in her position and if John McCain hadn't been a prisoner of war he would not be in his position. The stress of this campaign seems be getting out of hand.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 11 March, 2008 19:47  

  • if Obama doesn't denounce and reject and fire Donnie McClurkin for his anti-gay views and speeches, I see no season why Ferraro needs to apologize.

    Obama was the first offender.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 11 March, 2008 20:45  

  • Clinton makes such a big thing about Samantha Powers "Monster" comment and also about Farrakhan (who had no association with the Obama campaign) but when it is a member of her campaign (NY chair) she does not criticise much less "reject and denounce". Talk about double standards.

    Whilst we are at it does anyone think Ferraro became the VP candidate in 1984 for any reason other than being a women?? Mondale said as much - that he was determined to have a woman VP candidate even if there were better candidates. She was a congresswoman for 6 years - Obama has been a Senator for 3-4 years and a Illinois State Senator so her has more experience than her and she was on the ticket!!

    By Anonymous Guy, At 11 March, 2008 20:50  

  • sorry, u don't know what u're talking about

    Hillary is US Senator for 7 yrs 2 months. Obama, only 3 years 2 months.

    get your facts right before you go back supporting your monster.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 11 March, 2008 21:23  

  • Anonymous of 21:23 - read my second section I was referring to Ferraro not Clinton. Before commenting READ.
    She (Ferraro) was chosen solely for being a women - less experience/elected office years than Obama and Mondale said he wanted a woman regardless of experience.

    By Anonymous Guy, At 12 March, 2008 06:21  

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