- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama will have a tough time generating support for his presidential bid among key black Democratic leaders — many of whom are loyal to the Clintons — and he must guard against undermining his electability by becoming the civil rights candidate, campaign strategists say.

“It will be very difficult for Obama to take those superdelegate votes in the hip pockets of the Clintons. They have a lot of political IOUs with the party bosses and that will be very difficult for Obama to abscond with,” said political consultant Sam Riddle, who helped the Rev. Jesse Jackson win Michigan’s Democratic primary in his 1988 presidential bid.

“If they back Obama, most of them know or suspect they have very little money coming. But if they back Hillary and garner black voters for her, they know they can get something,” he said, referring to the political strength of Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Several strategists said Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, will have to walk the tightrope of wooing black liberal activists, including such polarizing figures as the Rev. Al Sharpton and Mr. Jackson, while avoiding limiting his appeal by leading with his race and running primarily on civil rights issues.

“He has to be really careful not to be labeled ‘the black candidate’ because it will put him in the position of being linked to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton,” Mr. Riddle said.

Mr. Obama will have his first opportunity to talk with Mr. Sharpton about his candidacy today when the New York minister visits Capitol Hill to meet with Democratic presidential candidates, first with Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, then with Mrs. Clinton, and with Mr. Obama last.

Mrs. Clinton has a similar problem with female voters if she allows liberal feminists to usurp her campaign, said Morris Reid, a former Clinton administration official who is managing director of the political consulting firm Westin-Rinehart Group.

“They are really going to be fighting for the black vote, but also, Hillary will have to fight for the white suburban women’s vote as well. Her base, that white-female educated woman, isn’t just going to flock to her,” he said.

“Isn’t it refreshing that Democrats will have to fight for the black and Hispanic vote? I mean, her husband, Bill Clinton, is a god in the black community. But Hillary and Obama will have to measure up to him,” Mr. Reid said.

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said the complexion of the campaign ensures a split vote along every conceivable demographic of the party, particularly the black vote.

“The black vote is up for grabs, and no candidate — past or present — can simply rely on their record,” she said. “In order to generate support, they will have to reach out, discuss issues of importance to black voters and include them in the campaign as part of their broader strategy in winning the nomination.”

Mr. Riddle said Mr. Obama’s biggest critics may end up being black political leaders, who view his “de-racialized” campaign — “diametrically opposed” to every civil rights-focused black candidate who has run for president — as a potential threat to their political influence.

To this point in the election cycle, with a year before any primary or caucus votes have been cast, the candidates’ messages have been broad. They will have ample time to build a detailed message, backed by policy ideas, but for Mr. Obama that deadline is a bit shorter, Mr. Reid said.

“It works for him, and it is helping him right now, when he is speaking to large macro-organizations,” he said. But “he will have to dig deep and pick out two or three meaty issues that he can really dig down on, because it is going to get real old real quick if he continues to talk in these general macro tones to the American public.”

While Mr. Obama has the influence to do well, his candidacy is considered by some as an effort to secure the vice-presidential nod.

“Two-thirds of the large recipients of his Political Action Committee are members of the Democratic Leadership Council, which was founded by President Bill Clinton,” said Glen Ford, executive editor of blackagendareport.com, a politics and social issues Web site.

“He embraces those who are in power and ingratiates with power, and yet, who is the power in the Democratic Party? Two Clintons. So how does that translate to him trying to take over? It doesn’t, and I don’t see that coming from him.”

c Donald Lambro contributed to this report

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