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Obama Running the Race

Ben Smith at The Politico has the story:

A key supporter of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama urged united African-American support for his presidential bid, questioning whether black Democrats still "owe" Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton their support, according to several people who attended a meeting of black Democratic politicians.

The comments by Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., which he confirmed Saturday, angered Clinton backers and deepened a sharp rift among African-American political activists.

"How long are you going to owe politicians for past favors?" Jones asked in a speech Friday to more than 100 members of the Democratic National Committee's black caucus and other political operatives gathered at the Washington Hilton for the winter meeting of the DNC, according to people who were there.

Obviously, Obama and his surrogates are going to do whatever they can to chip away at Clinton's support among African-Americans - which has been strong thus far. The interesting backdrop to the question of whether blacks will vote for Obama is just how much he needs African-American support to win the nomination given the paucity of black voters in crucial early states.

Obama's biggest primary appeal is among white progressives, and if he can leverage that appeal into a thumping of Hillary in Iowa and New Hampshire (and maybe even Nevada), won't that create the sort of wave effect that will propel him to the nomination?

Having watched Obama in the 2004 Senate primary, I agree with Mark Blumenthal that whatever misgivings or doubts African-Americans have about Obama are likely to fade pretty darn quick as he emerges, especially if he acquires the look of a winner with some early momentum.

And even if Obama manages to peel away only half of the African-American vote by the time South Carolina rolls around (assuming he wins in IA and NH), John Edwards' presence in the race might blunt the possibility of Hillary scoring the kind of decisive victory she'd need to turn things around (a la Bush in 2000) after early losses.