The Rev. Wright story seems to have receded since Obama's high-risk speech in Philadelphia last week, but it is unlikely to fully disappear for long. Strategists in both parties say that the man Barack Obama has called a mentor harbors a long history of racist remarks that will be rediscovered as the Democratic presidential campaign continues.
Obama's speech on the whole won raves for its eloquence and for his attempt to thread the needle between holding on to the core of his black base and his legions of white supporters. But some Democrats cautioned that the jury was still out on how the speech plays to a larger electorate.
"It was a risky speech," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile told me. But the legendary minority outreach adviser, who managed Al Gore's 2000 campaign, says the speech may not have put the matter to rest. "What Obama did was to give one of the broadest explanations of the politics of racism in America. Some people may walk away, unsure of Obama's message. But some will see it as an olive branch, a sincere attempt to get beyond race in America," she said. "I don't know if this puts the controversy to bed. Is it a sticking point in the elections? We don't know yet. We'll see what the voters say in the Pennsylvania primary next month."
Until last week, Obama had avoided framing his candidacy in racial terms, believing he could transcend race in a campaign for reconciliation, unity and change that cut across all demographic and political lines. To a significant degree, he had succeeded in doing that -- though it was blurred by the overwhelmingly black vote he won in primaries across the South and the Northern urban centers.
In fact, a large share of his vote total comes from states with few if any blacks, including Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wisconsin, Idaho, North Dakota, Wyoming, Maine and Utah, among others. In Wisconsin and Vermont, for example, he drew 54 percent and 60 percent respectively of the white vote.
But last week, race intruded itself into a Democratic nomination contest beset with more problems than it was ever expected to have at this point in the 2008 presidential sweepstakes.
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