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 Saturday, May 24, 2008

African-American Suspicious Democratic Party Will Deny Barack Obama's Nomination

  Black unease as Clinton sticks around


SONYA ROSS, Associated Press Writer

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Some black people do the political math and see no way Barack Obama can be denied the Democratic presidential nomination.

Others do the math, and smell a rat.

Even though Obama is so close to winning that he's in search of a running mate, plenty of black people suspect the Democratic Party will get cold feet about this first-black-president revolution it started and unleash a superdelegate cabal to undercut him.

Their proof? The way the party brass has tolerated Hillary Rodham Clinton. Arguments that she's lingering in the race to position herself for 2012 don't wash with them. Look, they say, at the seriousness paid to her desperate bid to make the Florida and Michigan primaries - which weren't supposed to count - count after all.

Why, they ask, are the Democrats entertaining this idea? Were Obama in Clinton's shoes, they'd have sent him packing long ago, right?

"The Clintons are trying to move the goal post. If a black candidate were to try that, it would be laughable. For it to not be laughable now makes black people suspicious," said James Rucker, co-founder of, a Web-based voter advocacy effort born in the resentment over the botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

"We are a people who have very good reason to be suspicious, always," Rucker said. "We've gotten the message that our votes are wanted but if they're inconvenient, they're discarded."

It's not as if these voters' rat-sniffing tendencies lack basis in fact.

Take the disputed 2000 election that made George W. Bush president. Back then, black Democrats in Congress draped themselves in the Constitution, marched one-by-one onto the House floor and demanded in futility that every hanging chad in Florida be counted.

Now, with presidential history for black people within reach, these same black Democrats sit among superdelegates divided between Clinton, Obama and indecision, with very little to say about it.

As it is, there was festering frustration among black voters. Many were already fed up with the Democratic Party's habit of waiting until the last few months before a presidential election to seriously court the black vote, and were elated to see Obama turn that process on its ear.

Those with long memories haven't forgotten the resistance that leading white Democrats put up to Ron Brown's successful 1989 bid to become the first black chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Putting Brown in charge, they argued at the time, would turn being a Democrat into a black thing and scare white voters right into the arms of the GOP, a mentality that deeply offended many black Democrats.

In this current Obama-Clinton turmoil, they see shades of 1988. That's when the last serious black Democratic presidential contender, Jesse Jackson, was in Clinton's position and the DNC was pressing him to cede to then-front runner Michael Dukakis.

Jackson rode his desperation campaign into the party's convention in Atlanta, saying his goal was to ensure the platform addressed concerns such as homelessness and AIDS. Of course, Jackson also was a live option for vice president, but there was no serious talk about pairing him with Dukakis. A New York Times delegate survey at the time found a majority named Jackson as their first choice for veep.

Dukakis opted for Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, and Jackson's chance at history was gone.

Now, the chance at history is back, and the mere suggestion of having Clinton share Obama's ticket riles some blacks. She doesn't deserve to be Obama's veep, they say, not after the way she talked about race in the campaign.

Obama needs 2,026 delegates to claim the nomination. At last count, he had 1,970, including endorsements from superdelegates, and Clinton had 1,779. There are 86 delegates at stake in the remaining primaries in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota, but with Clinton still on the stump, Obama isn't likely to get his margin of victory from those.

He stands a better chance of winning with superdelegates.

So why, black voters say, should we simply trust them?

They are eyeing with much suspicion a May 31 meeting of the party's rules committee, called to find a solution to the Michigan/Florida delegate dispute.

Their doubts ricochet through forums such as an online petition drive that Rucker's outfit organized five months ago, before Obama seized front-runner status. Respondents - 34,000 to date - continue to sign on and vent directly to party leaders.

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