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Barack Obama And The Race Card: Tread Carefully

Here we go with the "loose lips" segment of the 2008 presidential campaign. Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning Wednesday in Missouri, was reported to argue that President Bush and presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, lacking a compelling positive argument, would use scare tactics to keep the White House:

"Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me," Obama said. "You know, 'He's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name,' you know, 'he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

The McCain campaign demonstrated that it is not completely incompetent at rapid response. Campaign manager Rick Davis issued a statement saying Senator Obama "played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck." Davis called Obama's remarks "divisive, negative, shameful, and wrong."

While Obama's comments may not have been quite as horrific as Davis described them, they certainly play into charges that the Illinois Democrat is not quite the race-neutral uniter he's been claiming to be. They are the kind of remarks that are better not made. They are typical of Obama's loose, free-floating style, but when they appear in print, they can be interpreted as off-putting.

The kind of voters who are likely to be turned off by Obama's remarks are precisely those his campaign should be targeting. A new Rasmussen Reports survey shows twice as many voters say they are undecided as said they were four years ago:

When given a choice between Barack Obama and John McCain for President, 14% of voters are uncommitted. That figure includes 6% who say they'd vote for some other candidate and 8% who are undecided.

But, while much has been made of John McCain's struggles with his party's conservative base, 33% of the uncommitted voters are Democrats while only 19% are Republicans. Forty-eight percent (48%) are not affiliated with either major political party. These results are from national telephone survey interviews conducted with 14,000 Likely Voters during the two weeks ending July 24. The sample includes 2,028 uncommitted voters.

If Senator Obama gives any hint of racial divisiveness, he can send these uncommitted voters running in the opposite direction.

By Bonnie Erbe