CNN Wonders If ‘Racial Undercurrents’ Will Stop Obama’s Success

NewsBusters.org - Media Research CenterTaking a page out of Chris Cuomo’s play book on covering Barack Obama and race, CNN’s Carol Costello on Friday’s "The Situation Room" speculated whether Obama can continue to get whites to vote for him, or whether his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary points to "the undercurrent about race that exists in this country."

Costello repeated a theory proposed by Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, that Hillary Clinton’s victory could be partially attributed to "poor, uneducated whites who don't participate in polls and who often don't vote for blacks." She also pointed out the fact that there are nine female governors, but only one black governor in the United States; as well as the fact that there are 16 female senators, but Barack Obama is the only black in the Senate.

For a bit of historical perspective, Costello brought up the so-called "Bradley Effect," named after Tom Bradley, a black Democratic candidate for governor in California in 1982, who lost to white Republican George Deukmejian. In one of the sound bites from the report, Charles Ogletree, a black professor at Harvard Law School, named Harvey Gantt (the first black admitted to Clemson University who lost twice to Jesse Helms in senatorial elections) and Harold Ford, Jr., the former representative from Tennessee, as possible victims of the "Bradley Effect."

The full transcript of Carol Costello’s report, which aired 28 minutes into the 5 pm Eastern hour of Friday’s "The Situation Room:"

WOLF BLITZER: Is the U.S. ready for an African-American president? Senator Barack Obama's strong showing so far in this campaign has many saying absolutely yes. Others, though, say it's too soon to tell. Carol Costello has been looking into the story for us. You've been talking to a lot of people, supposedly knowledgeable, on this very sensitive subject. What are they telling you?

CAROL COSTELLO: Oh, it is a sensitive subject, isn't it? Most I talked with today say it is too soon to tell. Obama seems to have transcended race, but can he in the long run? Already, critics say Obama's opponents are trying to create this subtle narrative of racial division. They deny it, but it illustrates show hard it is in this country to take race out of the equation.

COSTELLO (voice-over): The Iowa caucus created all kinds of excitement surrounding Barack Obama. His win in a predemoninantly-white state, and a strong showing in another, seemingly proves it -- Obama can transcend race. It's something Obama has always believed could happen.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA, DEMOCRAT, ILLINOIS: If I have your support, if I have your energy and involvement, and commitment and ideas, then I am here to tell you, yes we can, in '08.

COSTELLO: Maybe, but they are those who feel while Iowa and New Hampshire prove Obama can certainly get white votes, it doesn't mean he can continue the trend, that Obama's second-place finish in New Hampshire, despite polls that had him coming in first, illustrate the undercurrent about race that exists in this country. Andrew Kohut, in charge of Pew Research, has a theory. He says many of those inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire were poor, uneducated whites who don't participate in polls and who often don't vote for blacks.

ANDREW KOHUT, PRESIDENT, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: At least race should be considered, because we know that the kinds of people drawn to Mrs. Clinton are also the kinds of people who turn down surveys at pretty high rates. But we don't know much about whether the people who we don't get are like the people that we do get.

COSTELLO: Polls about race are notoriously difficult to analyze. Take this ABC/Washington POst poll conducted before the Iowa caucus. A whopping 88% of Americans said race would not matter in choosing a president. But pollsters say you have to take this result with a grain of salt. Few people are willing to tell a pollster they're racist. It reflects the 'Bradley Effect,' after Tom Bradley, a black man who ran for governor in California in 1982. Most polls showed him leading. But he lost to a white male candidate.

PROFESSOR CHARLES OGLETREE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Ask Tom Bradley when he ran for governor in California. Black man. Thought he could win. He didn't. Ask Harvey Gantt in North Carolina. Ask Harold Ford, Jr.

COSTELLO: And look at the stats. There is one black governor in the United States. They are nine women governors. They are 16 senators who are women, and one black man -- Barack Obama. Still, Barack Obama got plenty of votes in New Hampshire and Iowa, which are both 95% white. And you could say that trumps the polls. But there are many more people yet to vote, and racial undercurrents that are so hard to predict.

COSTELLO (on-camera): And let's face it: Obama has been genius at transcending not race, but racial issues. He's very careful to deliver a message that is not exclusionary. In other words, he's a member of the black community, but he doesn't vocalize racial grievances. So, so far, so good.

BLITZER: All right, let's see what's going on. Carol, thanks very much. A sensitive subject indeed.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center