On Thursday's "Good Morning America," correspondent Claire Shipman discussed race and Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary and managed to skip two key reasons as to why white voters may have chosen Senator Clinton over Barack Obama. Shipman never mentioned Jeremiah Wright, Obama's incendiary reverend and a man who made controversial comments about white people, among other groups.
She also glossed over and minimized Obama's comments about small town Americans being "bitter" and clinging to guns, God and xenophobic sentiment. Now, considering that many of these rural voters were white, this would seem to be an important component to a discussion of the issue. During the segment, however, racism was the only explanation Shipman explored. She intoned, "And some new data does suggest what nobody really wants to think, that race may be an issue." The correspondent later added, "Are some Democratic voters pulling the lever for Hillary Clinton because they don't want to vote for a black man?"
(Of course, it should be pointed out that Shipman's ABC colleague, George Stephanopoulos, in May of 2007, famously stated on his "This Week" program, "I guess I think that anyone who's not going to vote for Barack Obama because he is black isn't going to vote for a Democrat anyway.")
During a tease for the piece, co-host Diane Sawyer wondered if "there's a hidden message in the [primary results]." Continuing this theme, University of Maryland professor Ronald Walters was featured briefly to suggest that the reason Clinton is still in the campaign is because she doesn't believe that Obama will be able to pass the "race" test.
The ABC reporter did dispute an assertion by Obama campaign manager David Axelrod that white working class voters could be assumed to go for the GOP candidate. Shipman contended, "And writing off a whole voting block could seem as elitist as Obama's controversial 'bitter' comments about the same group." However, there was no real discussion of the impact of Obama's "bitter" remark and no mention at all of Reverend Wright's inflammatory remarks.
A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:10am, follows:
DIANE SAWYER: And race in the race to '08. We take a hard look at Barack Obama and whether there's a hidden message in the numbers.
DIANE SAWYER: And we turn now to the presidential campaign. For the Democrats, rolling toward Indiana and North Carolina in two weeks. And Senator Obama who has the advantage in the popular vote and the pledged delegates wants to show that he can seal the deal in a state with blue collar workers and blue collar voters and a lot of rural voters as well. So, what is his campaign going to do? What is his campaign about? Senior national correspondent Claire Shipman has decided to take a look at numbers and address the highly charged questions about race.
CLAIRE SHIPMAN: Diane, it is clear now that after Pennsylvania, Barack Obama is struggling with the white working class in some states despite an enormous amount of spending. And some new data does suggest what nobody really wants to think, that race may be an issue.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: Why can't he close the deal?
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: The way we're going to close the deal is by winning.
SHIPMAN: That's the public question, but the unspoken issue now bubbling into public discourse--
[Clip from radio's "The Michael Baisden Show]
CALLER (The Michael Baisden Show): The main issue is race. And you cannot stop it.
MICHAEL BAISDEN: So does that mean, Bruce, that he doesn't have a chance?
CALLER: If America is truly, honestly, ready to be honest, I don't think so.
SHIPMAN: Are some Democratic voters pulling the lever for Hillary Clinton because they don't want to vote for a black man? Jon Stewart joked about the race issue.
["Daily Show" clip]
JON STEWART: Will you pull a bait and switch, sir, and enslave the white race? Is that your plan?
OBAMA: That is not our plan, Jon.
SHIPMAN: But it may be more than late night fodder. 13 percent of white voters in Pennsylvania said race was an important factor for them. 75 percent of them voted for Hillary Clinton. Now, that's similar to the women who said gender matters, 14 percent. And 77 percent of them broke for Hillary. But here's what is critical: Those white voters who called race an important factor were asked whether they support Obama or McCain in the general election. Only 54 percent of the Democratic voters said Obama. The rest said they would support McCain or they wouldn't vote, the implication that race for them would trump party loyalty.
PROF RONALD WALTERS (University of Maryland): The reason why Hillary Clinton is staying in this race is she feels that he will not be able to pass this test. And it's not the test of intelligence. It's not the test of politics. It's the test of race.
SHIPMAN: The Obama campaign tried to downplay the matter.
DAVID AXELROD (Campaign manager): The working-- white working class has gone to the Republican nominee for, for many elections. So, this is not new that Democratic candidates don't rely solely on those votes.
SHIPMAN: But that's not right quite. And writing off a whole voting block could seem as elitist as Obama's controversial "bitter" comments about the same group. And within hours, Bill Clinton jumped on those remarks.
BILL CLINTON: And, today our opponent's campaign strategist said, well, we don't really need these working class people to win. And I'll tell you something, America needs you to win and, therefore, Hillary wants your support.
SHIPMAN: Still, many say the numbers could reflect a tough primary race and that minds will change.
WILLIAM GALSTON (Brookings Institution): I would expect that a fair number of the white voters who now say it's, you know, Hillary Clinton or the highway, will in fact end up casting their votes for Senator Obama if he is the nominee.
SHIPMAN: And it's also important to remember, we are talking about a small number of voters here, potentially insignificant in the general election but it is something to watch, Diane.