The Bradley effect

Hard to imagine now that we're just getting interested, but the race for the Democratic presidential nomination may well be over in two weeks. We don't have many preliminary bouts left.

The Democrats will vote in South Carolina this Saturday (why that state runs two primaries a week apart is beyond me, though, after all, this is the place that started the Civil War). Then comes Florida on Tuesday, followed by the Monstrous Super-Duper Primaries Feb. 5.

Twenty-two states vote then, from New York to California, and more than half of all delegates will be chosen. Here's my guess as to what will happen: Hillary Rodham Clinton will be so far ahead by the end of the night that the race may be close to over. (John Edwards is no longer a factor, unless one of the others comes down with brucellosis, or maybe parvo.)

Oh, Barack Obama will probably win a few states that night — his own Illinois, and maybe Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, places where African-American voters make up a large percentage of Democratic primary voters. Jesse Jackson won some of these states too, back when he was running largely symbolic campaigns for president in the 1980s. Yet elsewhere, I fear, the young senator will lose. Not overwhelmingly, but lose.

Many white voters will talk about voting for him, talk about being inspired by his message of hope and change. They may even convince themselves they will vote for him. But when they get in the voting booth or the caucus room, they just won't be able to do it ...

Because he is black. They call it the Bradley effect.

Twenty-five years ago, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was running far ahead in the polls in the race for governor of California. But when the ballots were counted, he lost, by less than 1 percent of the vote. Seven years later, exit polls showed Douglas Wilder, an African-American, winning the governorship of Virginia by a 10-point margin. This time, the black man did win — but by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote. Something was going on.

Then this year — shazam. Obama easily won the Iowa caucuses, where nearly all the voters are white. Maybe the Bradley effect is over, all us liberal optimists started dreaming.

Maybe the fact that he isn't a conventional African-American has made him immune from the Bradley effect. Maybe his charm has neutralized all this racial baggage. Maybe we really are ready for something new. New Hampshire came five days later.

Polls showed Obama leading Clinton by anywhere from 9 to 13 points. Even Hillary Clinton thought she was defeated. Then the votes were counted, and what do you know? A tremendous upset! Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama, 112,251 to 104,772. Well, it must have been her last-minute show of emotion, they said.

Last Saturday, Obama was seen as a cinch to win Nevada's caucuses. He had the biggest and most important union endorsement ... and lost again, 51 percent to 45 percent.

Welcome back from the dead, Tom Bradley.

This weekend, Obama has to win the South Carolina primary. But even if he does, it may not matter very much. South Carolina is overwhelmingly Republican. Democrats in the Palmetto State are disproportionately black.

Though black voters have shown great sophistication and diversity of candidate choice in this election, one would expect most to support Barack Obama when the chips are down.

Yet if Obama can win a solid victory in South Carolina, and parlay that into a victory in Florida on Tuesday, Jan. 29 — well, then, I will admit I might have been wrong, and all bets are off.

Otherwise — well, this business of life and race in America gets pretty discouraging. Now, if you honestly believe that Obama is as necessary and inspiring as all get-out, but he isn't ready to be president, well, I can certainly respect that. Sen. Clinton has served seven years in the Senate; he's been there only three.

She has vastly more experience at governing. When she mentioned that she had already been in the White House eight years, someone sneered, "So has the pastry chef."

Clever, but wrong. Hillary Clinton had an up close and personal view of how power and politics work. She learned a lot about how not to run a major initiative with the administration's health care proposal. She does bring far more knowledge than average to the job.

Yet experience isn't always the best indicator. Earl Warren was one of the greatest chief justices of the United States in our history. But when he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, he had never been a judge of any kind, anywhere.

Robert Francis Kennedy was a great attorney general. But he was appointed to the position when he was 35 years old and, while he had passed the bar, he had never really practiced law.

Sometimes things other than experience matter.

At least if you happen to be white.

GOP's big three:
Essentially, the Republican nomination struggle is now a three-person race, between John McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

McCain dealt Huckabee a significant blow, or so the media said, by narrowly defeating him in South Carolina, the place where McCain himself was destroyed by George W. Bush eight years ago.

South Carolina should have been solidly behind the fundamentalist preacher, or Fred Thompson of Tennessee.

But McCain won, and was suddenly propelled into something like front-runner status. Now here's what the networks didn't tell you.

John McCain got less support than eight years ago. Then, he received 43 percent of the vote, or 239,000 votes. This time, he got only 33 percent, and 145,000. (Turnout, for whatever reason, was also less).

The difference this time was that he didn't have one major opponent, he had three — Huckabee, Thompson and Mitt Romney.

What's interesting is that Thompson, who doesn't really appear to want the job, seems on the point of dropping out. Ironically, if he does, he may end up helping Huckabee, whom he dislikes, more than McCain, whom he likes and admires from their days in the Senate.

Honoring an American hero:
He was just a young guy, a veteran on the GI bill, trying to support a wife and two kids and finish his degree at the University of Michigan when they tried to throw him out of the U.S. Air Force and ruin his life. Why? His immigrant father took a paper from the old country. His sister protested segregation.

They told him, denounce your family, or else. But Lt. Milo Radulovich stood up and fought the system. Edward R. Murrow saw the case as the "perfect little picture" needed to expose how ugly life in America had become. Milo had no politics, but knew what was right. Thanks to his stubbornness, the great journalist was able to begin exposing what amounted to a form of fascism in America.

Late last year, Milo died of complications of a stroke. This Sunday, some of us will gather at Central United Methodist Church on Woodward Avenue in Detroit at 2 p.m. for a program that will remember this wonderful and modest little man, and explore just how important he was to our history.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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