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Is race the drag on Barack Obama's poll numbers?

August 18, 2008 |  7:56 am

As more and more attention is paid to Barack Obama's failure to stake out a solid, sustained poll lead in the presidential race (as of Sunday, the Gallup daily tracking survey pegged the contest a flat-out tie), more and more attention focuses on the often unspoken -- race -- as a key factor.

In a recent New York magazine piece, John Heilemann wrote:

"Call me crazy, but isn’t it possible, just possible, that Obama’s lead is being inhibited by the fact that he is, you know, black? ... The desire to ignore the elephant in the room is easy to understand, but Obama will not have that luxury."

David Paul Kuhn, examining the same dynamic at, wrote:

"Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford University political scientist, notes that several political forecasting models today predict the Democratic candidate winning a clear majority of the vote, a threshold that has thus far escaped Obama in polling. But he adds that those predictions are for a generic Democrat under 'normal circumstances' in a year where the Republican Party is in dire straits."

“ 'The real question is: Why is Obama, then, underperforming?' Iyengar added. 'There is something about Obama that is causing something of drag.' Iyengar believes that something is Obama’s race."

None of this will come as any surprise to Mary Bruns, a 65-year-old grassroots worker for Obama in Nevada who, as The Times' Seema Mehta reports, was among those attending an appearance Sunday by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in Reno.

Bruns confided to Mehta that comments she hears as she goes door-to-door on Obama's behalf has her worried that simple, old-fashioned prejudice will derail Obama's presidential bid.

Older people in particular, she says, make comments such as, "We can't vote a black person in there; they'll think they rule the world."

Wrote Mehta:

"If people will say that to her face, the retired nurse wonders what they say behind closed doors. 'I think a certain segment of the American population is just ignorant,' she said. 'I don't give them the time of day.'"

Bruns told Mehta she is pinning her hopes on a large turnout of young voters, such as her son, who switched his registration from Republican to Democrat to support Obama.

“I have a great faith in the young people; they’re color blind,” she said.

-- Don Frederick