Obama Gets Encouragement and Warning From Wilder
Thu Apr 24, 9:01 AM ET
April 24 (Bloomberg) -- Doug Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, has both encouragement and a warning for Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
The encouragement is that Obama is approaching the race issue the right way, and the nation is ready to elect a black president. The warning is that it may not be as ready as polls suggest.
``Let's not kid ourselves again, the issue of race will not disappear; but I don't think it will predominate,'' the former Virginia governor said in an interview at his office in Richmond, where he is now mayor. At the same time, he said, even if Obama is the nominee and heads into the fall with an apparent lead, the election ``will be closer than any polls will suggest.''
Wilder, 77, is an authority in the matter. In 1989, he won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in the overwhelmingly white onetime cradle of the Confederacy. Polls taken just before Election Day had put him ahead of his Republican competitor by as much as 10 percentage points; he won by less than half a percentage point.
Wilder said he believes Obama has done a good job so far in blunting the race issue. ``Obama, by not running as an African- American, has been able to show that race is coincidental to his being,'' rather than the centerpiece of his campaign, he said.
The message Obama, 46, sends to voters is ```I'm not being dominated by any groups,''' Wilder said. ``That includes African- Americans.''
Wilder said he isn't surprised that Obama has run behind New York Senator Hillary Clinton among white voters in some states. Obama has faced more ``ingrained difficulty'' as a black candidate than Clinton has as a woman, Wilder said.
Bias against Clinton, 60, may have more to do with specific incidents that have reinforced stereotypes, he said. ``Hillary's reactions to things conjure up images that are not necessarily the healthiest in terms of hissy fits or reactions because of emotions, like the crying and the weeping and then forgetting somewhat that she did that,'' he said.
In Pennsylvania's April 22 Democratic primary, Obama lost by 10 points to Clinton, as white Democrats voted for her by a 65- to-35 percent margin. In exit polls, 19 percent of Pennsylvania Democratic voters said race was important in making their choice.
``He's struggling with them in terms of the nomination,'' Wilder said. ``I don't think that struggle will emanate through the general election because they have far more in common with him than they do with the Republican candidate.''
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I appreciate Wilder's words of support towards Obama.