CBS’s Smith: ‘Is America Really Ready to Elect a Black Man President?’

Still Shot of Harry Smith, June 4 At the top of Wednesday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Harry Smith teased an upcoming segment on Barack Obama becoming the first black nominee of the Democratic Party: "And the question, one of the many questions of the morning, is America really ready to elect a black man president? We have a brand-new CBS poll. The numbers will amaze you." At that point, co-host Julie Chen added: "You know who I would love to see handle that question?...Senator John McCain. It would be very interesting to see how he would handle that question." Smith agreed: "Yeah." Does Chen think McCain will say no?

Later, co-host Maggie Rodriguez provided a segue to the story when she explained that: "I came to town [New Orleans] last night to interview Senator John McCain as he kicked off his general election campaign. Here in this city where so many voters are African-American. That's an important demographic for the Senator to woo, especially now that the Democratic nominee is African-American."

Smith began the segment by once again wondering: "Barack Obama is the first African-American to secure the nomination of a major party. So that brings up the question, will race be a major factor in the November election?" He then quoted a new CBS News poll on the issue: "Brand-new CBS News poll. A question that's been asked for some years now, is America ready for a black president? And as of yesterday, the answer was 68% said yes. Go back to just 2000. The answer was only 38%."

Smith then talked to Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, Republican strategist Michael Murphy, and liberal professor Michael Fauntroy. He first got reaction from Trippi: "I think what Barack Obama's done is every day he's gone out there, proven his medal, proven where he is on issues and withered these attacks and everything, he's proven that he is ready. And that's made a lot of Americans say, 'you know what? Maybe this could happen.' I think it's a pretty amazing thing. It's a great, great day for the party and the country."

Michael Murphy offered a similar sentiment: "I think America absolutely is. I think it just got kind of litigated in the primary. And Barack Obama historically, I think, has made the case and he won, and he won big." It’s hard to see how one could argue Obama "won big" after such a drawn out primary fight.

Michael Fauntroy was more skeptical: "Well, I think the country is ready, but it should also be noted that so far we've just talked about a Democratic primary and there's still a general election to run. And so while the poll is reflective of registered voters, what we really look for in polls is likely voters. And so to my way of thinking, it's still an open question, though certainly we're moving in the right direction."

Smith then suggested that the question was in no way loaded and worried that people were lying to pollsters: "And certainly the way the question is asked is not particularly -- it doesn't have any hooks on it, doesn't have any barbs on it. And that whole phenomena we very well know about, about people saying in polls one thing, getting inside the polling booth and doing something completely opposite."

Of course, this not the first time Smith has wondered if America has overcome its racism, as he did on January 7 when he asked: "Is America finally color-blind?" after Obama won the Iowa caucus.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:01AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: And the question, one of the many questions of the morning, is America really ready to elect a black man president? We have a brand-new CBS poll. The numbers will amaze you.

JULIE CHEN: You know who I would love to see handle that question?

SMITH: Um-hm.

CHEN: Senator John McCain. It would be very interesting to see how he would handle that question.

SMITH: Yeah.

8:00AM TEASER

HARRY SMITH: In just a moment, a political roundtable discussion of the issue of race in the race for the White House.

8:01AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: I am now in front of St. Louis Cathedral. I can hear the bells tolling to mark the 8:00 hour as I speak. It is just one of the many treasures to be discovered here in New Orleans. I came to town last night to interview Senator John McCain as he kicked off his general election campaign. Here in this city where so many voters are African-American. That's an important demographic for the Senator to woo, especially now that the Democratic nominee is African-American. With more on that, let's go back to New York and Harry.

HARRY SMITH: Alright, thanks very much, Maggie. Last night, American history was made when Barack Obama claimed the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

BARACK OBAMA: America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face.

SMITH: Barack Obama is the first African-American to secure the nomination of a major party. So that brings up the question, will race be a major factor in the November election? Joining our roundtable discussion, Joe Trippi, a CBS News political consultant. He managed Howard Dean's 2004 campaign. You wanted us to mention that or not? Alright, Michael Murphy is a Republican campaign strategist. He has a list of successes as long as your arm. And Michael Fauntroy is a professor at George Mason University and author of 'Republicans And The Black Vote." Good morning to you all.

JOE TRIPPI: Morning.

MICHAEL MURPHY: Morning.

MICHAEL FAUNTROY: Good morning.

SMITH: I'm going to put something up on the screen. Brand-new CBS News poll. A question that's been asked for some years now, is America ready for a black president? And as of yesterday, the answer was 68% said yes. Go back to just 2000. The answer was only 38%. What do you think? Is America ready for a black president, Joe Trippi?

JOE TRIPPI: I think they are. I think we are as a country. I think what Barack Obama's done is every day he's gone out there, proven his medal, proven where he is on issues and withered these attacks and everything, he's proven that he is ready. And that's made a lot of Americans say, 'you know what? Maybe this could happen.' I think it's a pretty amazing thing. It's a great, great day for the party and the country.

SMITH: Yeah. Michael, what do you think?

MICHAEL MURPHY: I think America absolutely is. I think it just got kind of litigated in the primary. And Barack Obama historically, I think, has made the case and he won, and he won big. So I think it will be discussed. It'll be out there as, you know, a dimension of the race. I hope it's not obsessed on by the media or anybody else because I think that's an insult to the country and to Obama. But I think the primary's done a lot to prove and those numbers back it up that absolutely --

SMITH: Right, right. Michael Fauntroy?

MICHAEL FAUNTROY: Well, I think the country is ready, but it should also be noted that so far we've just talked about a Democratic primary and there's still a general election to run. And so while the poll is reflective of registered voters, what we really look for in polls is likely voters. And so to my way of thinking, it's still an open question, though certainly we're moving in the right direction.

SMITH: And certainly the way the question is asked is not particularly -- it doesn't have any hooks on it, doesn't have any barbs on it. And that whole phenomena we very well know about, about people saying in polls one thing, getting inside the polling booth and doing something completely opposite. Here's my question. The Democrats have a nominee now, right, or presumptive nominee. Are they sitting around this morning saying, now what? I mean if you're in -- Terry McAuliffe and company, who was here just an hour ago, they were out partying last night, I didn't ask him if it was an Irish wake, what are they talking about this morning?

MURPHY: Well, I think the Obama people are talking about how to frame up the general election against McCain and how to give Hillary Clinton enough respect that she can finally fold her tent and get out of the candidate business which she seems to be a little slow to be doing.

SMITH: Right.

MURPHY: So there's a lot of party diplomacy going on, with, I think, Axelrod and the strategy people taking a look at McCain and the general election.

SMITH: Do they have to offer her the -- the vice presidency? Do they -- do they have to?

TRIPPI: No. But again the problem here is --

SMITH: Should they?

TRIPPI: The problem for them is if she continues to push this aggressively, that creates a bigger problem. They want to get on to McCain like they've been trying to do for the last several weeks. I mean in their view this thing's been over for a while but they can't say that because they want to be polite about this and Mike said --

SMITH: They've had this basketful of superdelegates that they've been tossing out --

MURPHY: I think she's going to try. In my personal view, and I don't give a lot of Democratic advice, is the best thing Obama could do would be to say no to prove he has a backbone.

SMITH: But does she -- does he have to have her because of all those states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and all those places, those blue-collar white voters, those older women that have been slow to come to his support, does he actually need her?

FAUNTROY: Six months ago I would have thought it would have been a complete disaster to have her on the ticket. But the reality is, when you look at the electoral map and where she -- where he's weak and where she's strong -- it makes a pretty strong case for her being on the ticket. Now, does he have to offer it to her? I'm not sure. But I do believe -- I do believe that of all the names that have been bandied about as potential Democratic running mates, her case is just as strong as anyone else.

SMITH: Maybe stronger. Real quick.

MURPHY: I don't think you pick the symbol of what you ran against. And it's unproven she can deliver anything. She got votes, but whether those votes follow her --

SMITH: Right.

MURPHY: Or were about other things, is open to question.

SMITH: Very quickly.

TRIPPI: There are other, Sebelius, the governor of Kansas. There are other women and other Democrats out there.

SMITH: Nobody in the country knows who she is. Hello.

TRIPPI: That could be good. That could be good for Obama.

SMITH: Oh. [Laughter]

TRIIPPI: No, in terms of -- in terms of having -- carrying on the new -- his campaign of a new -- a new politics of change.

SMITH: Sure, yeah, yeah. Real quick, real quick.

FAUNTROY: Well I would just say that, you know, it hurt her candidacy, her potential running mate is a problem, but she's a known entity.

SMITH: Right. Maybe too well known in the end, right. Which is what --

TRIPPI: But she could also -- it could be a strong ticket --

SMITH: Thank you all very much. Very interesting stuff. I think we're only just getting warmed up here. Yeah.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC