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Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Memo to Senator Obama

Given his successes, it's easy to argue that Barack Obama doesn't need advice. But how he'll handle race going forward is by no means a settled issue. Our open letter.

In Hand: The president's official seal is set
By Evan Thomas | NEWSWEEK

The good news is that you have all but won the nomination. The bad news, if we are willing to face reality, is that the country—some parts of it, anyway—may not be ready to elect a black president of the United States. It is hard to get a precise fix on the problem. Voters generally deny to pollsters that race is a factor in casting their votes, but when they step into the privacy of the polling booth, their prejudices can sometimes emerge. Probably only a tiny fraction of voters are outright racist. But race is not irrelevant to many others, black or white; exit polls vary greatly by state, but show that 10 to 30 percent of primary voters considered race as they voted (if white, those voters broke overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton; if African-American, they voted for you).

NEWSWEEK pollsters recently created a "Racial Resentment Index" to measure the impact of race on the 2008 election. White voters were asked a series of 10 questions about a variety of race-related topics, including racial preferences in hiring, interracial marriage—and what they have "in common" with African-Americans. About a third of these voters scored "high" on this index; 29 percent of all white Democrats did. Overwhelmingly, these Democrats are the ones most likely to defect to John McCain in the fall. (Among "High RR" white Democratic voters, according to the new NEWSWEEK Poll, Clinton leads McCain by 77 percent to 18 percent, while you win by only 51 percent to 33 percent.) Many Democratic voters in West Virginia interviewed by a NEWSWEEK reporter on primary night, May 13, did not hide their animus toward you as a kind of exotic alien. Menina Parsons, 45, said she will not vote for Obama in the general election because "I don't think he's real. I don't think he's American."

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