The sharp racial division among Democratic primary voters in Mississippi this week serves as a stark reminder of the pitfalls that lie ahead for Democrats as they slog toward the November presidential election. African American voters gave Barack Obama fully 92% of their votes, while Hillary Clinton won no less than 70% of the white vote, according to exit polls commissioned by The Associated Press and a television news consortium.
Racial divisions have been less stark in other states, but the issue has been visible, bubbling steadily under the surface. It is getting harder and harder to ignore. Clinton has enjoyed a consistent advantage among white women, while Obama has led strongly among blacks. White men have been more evenly split between the two, though racial trends can be seen there, too. As the battle drags on, the race threatens increasingly to become an Iraq-style tribal feud rather than a debate on issues.
This year’s election should have been the Democrats’ to lose. Americans are weary and frightened after seven years of Bush misrule. The stakes in November are enormous, given the magnitude of the issues — Iraq and jihad, global warming, the Supreme Court, the ballooning national debt, a housing and credit crisis, and a looming recession.
But the emergence of two powerful, history-making candidates has scrambled the picture. Each contender claims a large, passionately devoted following. Considerable percentages of each candidate’s backers say they would not vote for the other one for president. As the fight drags on and the two fighters continue to bloody each other, the prospect of a Republican victory grows more and more plausible.
If the two contenders and their fellow Democrats do not find a way very soon to tone down the rhetoric and focus on the real issues, they could find themselves facing four more years of conservative rule. That can’t be what they had in mind.