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Back to the margins

Several news agencies are wondering aloud whether last week's Pennsylvania primary was a harbinger of the demise of the Democratic Party if Sen. Barack Obama were to be its presidential nominee.

All of the focus has been on Obama not carrying the Reagan Democrats or blue-collar white voters.

Polls showed that Obama lost white voters without college degrees by 44 points in Ohio and 42 points in Pennsylvania. Those blue collar voters, historically, are the bread and butter of the Dem­ocratic base, although in recent years that demographic has voted Republican.

Without them, Obama can't win, according to pundits and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But what I think is more telling is that nearly everyone has overlooked the importance of the black vote, especially if Clinton were to get the nomination.

People seem to think that even though she attracted only 10 ­percent of the black votes in Philadelphia, blacks will overwhelmingly vote for her or any Democrat, no matter what.

According to an unscientific poll among my friends, black and white, the Democratic Party that thinks like that will be the Democratic Party that loses in November.

Since former President Bill Clinton let racial innuendo slip from his lips, and since Hillary Clinton couldn't rein in former vice presidential candidate ­Geraldine Ferraro or Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, among others, for their racial slights, blacks have left her camp in droves.

Bill and Hillary Clinton seemed to then toss aside the black vote as unnecessary or as unworthy of any effort on their part to win it back.

The verbal slights and the lack of effort to win back the black vote were a mistake.

If Clinton were to win the nomination, she would get 30 percent, by my observations, of the huge numbers of black voters who have been turning out for Obama.

The rest will stay home ­— feeling as though the nomination were stolen from Obama, as the 2000 election was taken from Al Gore — or they just might vote for McCain.

Impossible?

My father voted for ­Republican Richard Nixon over Democrat John ­Kennedy in 1960. Many of his black friends did the same.

At that time, some black voters were transitioning from a Republican Party they viewed historically as compassionate and sensitive to their needs, much like the Democratic Party today.

In the nearly five decades since, the black voting block is like no other in America, not women and not Latinos.

Bill Clinton carried 84 percent of the black vote in 1996, John Kerry won 88 percent in 2004, and Al Gore had 90 percent in 2000.

What happened mid-century to change a majority of black voters into Democrats?

The Republican Party began to diss black people. Many Southern segregationists who were Democrats hopped over the fence to the Republican side, taking their racist views with them and tainting what had been a good relationship.

Then Republican candidates started using black people as bogeymen in campaigns, further shutting off any possible re-entry.

Republicans thought they could win without the black vote. And sometimes they did.

Allowing Hillary Clinton to use these same tactics against a fellow Democrat who is black and in the lead clouds party lines.

The Democratic Party, if it selects Clinton despite Obama's lead — in the popular votes, in pledged delegates and in states won — might gain those states where white, blue-collar workers rule. But they risk losing the heretofore safe states with large numbers of black voters.

Blacks will see a black man who played by the rules, won fair and square, yet lost because of shady deals. Where will the level playing field be in that scenario?

Democrats coming up with some lame excuse to name Clinton over Obama will alienate black voters far more than Republicans did when they used Willie Horton as a fear tactic.

Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, knows that. He's been quietly courting black votes in Louisiana, Alabama and North Carolina.

So where do Democrats stand?

Obama cannot win in ­November if he doesn't attract more white voters. Some say he will attract those voters if he becomes the nominee. Clinton can't win without the black vote; no Democrat has won without the black vote since Franklin Roosevelt.

As it stands, the only way for her to become the nominee would be through back-room maneuvers.

Many blacks would see that as a betrayal.

What a mess this is.

It looks as if the war in Iraq will last four more years, at least.

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