Robert Novak

The demographics are most important. Clinton has dramatically lost support among blacks, trailing Obama 58 percent to 24 percent. It is a virtual dead heat among white non-Hispanics, 32 percent to 30 percent. Therefore, the 12-point overall lead derives from a 59 percent to 19 percent Clinton edge among Latinos.

In California, the Latino vote is notoriously undependable in actually voting, especially when compared with African-Americans. How the Clinton campaign deals with Hispanic voters is a sensitive matter, but sensitivity never has been a hallmark of the Clinton style.

Insensitivity was reflected in a recent issue of the New Yorker, when Clinton's veteran Latino political operative Sergio Bendixen was quoted as saying, "The Hispanic voter -- and I want to say this very carefully -- has not shown a lot of willingness to support black candidates."

That brief quote from an obscure politician has generated shock and awe in Democratic circles. It comes close to validating the concern that the Clinton campaign is not only relying on a brown firewall built on an anti-black base, but is reinforcing it. A prominent Democrat who has not picked a candidate this year told me, "In any campaign I have been involved in, Bendixen would have been gone."

But not in Hillary Clinton's. During the Jan. 15 debate prior to the Nevada caucuses, where the Latino vote was important, NBC's Tim Russert read the Bendixen quote and asked Clinton, "Does that represent the view of your campaign?" Her response was chilling: "No, he was making a historical statement."

Asked whether Latinos will refuse to vote for him, Obama got a laugh when he replied: "Not in Illinois. They all voted for me."

But this is no laughing matter for Democrats. The Clintons are making a risky gamble that black voters will not be offended by Hillary Clinton attacking Obama for legally representing a Chicago slumlord or for clearly identifying him as the black candidate for president. They are betting that African-Americans will forget the slurs of January and loyally troop to polls in November.


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.
 

 
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