1/26/08 Wash. Times (D.C.) A01
The Washington Times
Democrats say that the rancorous tit for tat between
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama is preventing any
meaningful discussion about issues affecting blacks here in a state
tailor-made for such discourse.
Even though blacks make up nearly 50 percent of the Democratic
electorate voting in today's South Carolina primary, the candidates
have skirted topics such as black incarceration rates, higher
unemployment among blacks and AIDS in the black community.
"I have been disappointed that crime policy has not been a major
issue," said Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, who has
endorsed Mr. Obama of Illinois.
Mr. Scott said with national incarceration rates for blacks at 2,200
per 100,000 and the recent racially charged marches in Jena, La.,
the candidates should be addressing racial issues, including the
current gang-suppression bill being debated in Congress and
crime-prevention policies through education and after-school
Political analyst Donna Brazile, who heads the Democratic National
Committee's Voting Rights Institute, said the press and the
candidates have been focused on the battle of personalities and that
is a disservice to voters.
"The problem I have with this race discussion is that we don't even
talk about race. We are talking about personalities, and we haven't
even scratched the surface on the issues: black unemployment, drug
addiction, recidivism and incarceration rates, AIDS in the black
community," Miss Brazile said.
"It's like people are scared to talk about these things, but they
have to if they want to have a really helpful dialogue about solving
these problems," she said.
Mrs. Clinton, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who's
done much of the campaigning here, have been trading accusations
with Mr. Obama all week, mostly in negative ads that deal with the
past. Mrs. Clinton targeted Mr. Obama for saying Republicans were
the party of ideas while Mr. Obama blasted Mrs. Clinton for voting
in favor of the Iraq war.
Some issues are simply too difficult for the candidates to talk
about for political reasons, said Michael Datcher, a political
commentator and professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los
"Obama does not want to be too closely aligned with the black
underclass because he is trying to run a mainstream populist
campaign and not be labeled as the black candidate," Mr. Datcher
Former Clinton adviser Dick Morris in his column this week said the
Clintons are trying to divide white and black voters nationally to
win the nomination.
"If Hillary loses South Carolina and the defeat serves to
demonstrate Obama's ability to attract a bloc vote among black
Democrats, the message will go out loud and clear to white voters
that this is a racial fight," Mr. Morris wrote in the Hill
A new McClatchy/MSNBC poll holds warning signs for Mr. Obama. He
leads Mrs. Clinton in South Carolina, but his support among white
Democrats fell in one week from 20 percent to 10 percent after race
became more of an issue in the campaign.
Mrs. Clinton's campaign strategists say they're not trying to stir a
racial debate, but they think the fallout has had the effect of
marking Mr. Obama as "the black candidate," something he has worked
Mr. Clinton reminded a South Carolina audience of the race's
"They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or
gender," he said. "That's why people tell me Hillary doesn't have a
chance of winning here."
Mr. Datcher said Mr. Obama's goal to stay mainstream has made it
difficult for him to speak about issues affecting black people
loudly and, when he does, only broadly.
"AIDS for instance is a traditionally liberal cause, and yet no one
is talking about that. That is an issue that is really affecting the
lives of black people, and Obama needs to take a chance and address
that issue," Mr. Datcher said.
At a round-table discussion Mr. Obama held with female voters in
Columbia yesterday, a law professor and former doctor talked about
"HIV rates are skyrocketing here," said Dr. Jacqueline Fox, a member
of Mr. Obama's health care advisory board. "We don't have enough
money to fund everybody who needs the HIV cocktail .. so they can
Mr. Obama answered her by describing his health care plan but did
not specifically address the HIV issue.
The Clintons by contrast, Mr. Datcher said, would have a hard time
talking about high incarceration rates and how mandatory
minimum-sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have
contributed to them.
"When Clinton was the president, we began to see that movement on
the sentencing disparity issue, and he wasn't willing to do much to
get it done," Mr. Datcher said.
"He wasn't fighting against it, that's for sure, even though
everyone knows that cocaine is cocaine whether it is powder or
When the U.S. Sentencing Commission recently took steps to remove
the disparity and the Supreme Court approved judicial review of
retroactively shortening sentences of more than 19,000 inmates, Mrs.
Clinton was the only Democrat to say she didn't support it in an
The Obama campaign yesterday said the candidate is talking about
issues important to everyone.
"Barack Obama has spent the last few days talking about how his plan
would help stimulate the economy. The only thing that is distracting
is the shift of focus from the issues to the horse race," said an
Obama campaign spokesperson.
*This story is based in part on wire service reports.