The ugly truth about New Hampshire

by Jim Longworth

Thus far, no one in the race for president has played the race card, but what happened in New Hampshire might just be our first indication that prejudices, not principles, may prevail in 2008.

Yes, Barack Obama won the much touted, but meaningless Iowa caucuses, which propelled him to a sizeable lead over Hillary Clinton in the pre New Hampshire polls – as much as 13 percent. But when the Granite State votes were tallied, Clinton bested Obama by three points. Pundits attributed the upset to Clinton’s show of emotion a few days prior to the election, but I for one don’t believe that Obama could misplace 16 percent of the voters in three days, especially in the wake of his Iowa victory, and tons of favorable media coverage.

Unfortunately, the explanation may be far more sinister than the sudden welling in Hillary’s tear ducts. I believe that New Hampshirites had no intention of awarding their delegates to an African American, so they lied to pollsters. They said they were supporting Obama, but once they entered the voting booth, they cast their ballot for Clinton.

Is there any empirical data to support my suspicions? In a way, yes.

A Pew Research Center study last year confirmed that minority candidates do better in pre-election polls than in actual elections. Researchers concluded that white voters want to sound color blind to pollsters, but carry strong racial preferences into the voting booth.

ABC’s “Good Morning America” followed with their own report back in February 2007 when Jack Trapper told Dianne Sawyer that, “Eighty-four percent of Americans say a candidate being black would not effect their vote… [however] some experts say that 15 percent of white voters lie.” But if that’s the case then how could Obama have won in Iowa? Easy. Remember that whites and blacks meet together in a caucus, and no one is going to profess their prejudice in an open setting like that.

Moreover, history confirms the result of these hidden prejudices. For one thing, nearly every president has been elected after serving as either a US senator, governor or vice president. Thus far, we have elected a total of five African-American senators, two governors (my good friend Doug Wilder was the first since Reconstruction) and no vice presidents. And so, it is easy to see that without any blacks in the prerequisite office-holding pipeline, none could advance to the White House.

But as we expose these hidden prejudices, we must also realize that many people of color also refuse to vote for an African American for president. And that brings me to Hillary.

It is almost certain that, barring the end of race prejudice, Clinton will emerge the Democratic nominee. Obama has Iowa in his column, and will probably win Nevada and South Carolina (where blacks are almost the majority). After that, Hillary just has to hope that Edwards doesn’t release his delegates to Obama. If she gets the nomination, though, Clinton may find herself the victim of the same kind of prejudice that could be keeping Barack from making history this year.

Diana Grossman Kahn, professor of gender and women’s studies at Oberlin, says, “I am doubtful that a woman can be elected president. People are still imbued with the stereotype of a president as a ‘father,’ or a military leader.” If Kahn is correct, Hillary would lose to the eventual GOP (male) nominee.

It is sad to think that over 40 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, that a majority of voters would still refuse to elect a woman or a person of color to the highest office in the land. I hope that we can stamp out prejudice and racism during this election cycle, and learn to vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of gender or race. And, wouldn’t it be great if Obama and Clinton became running mates? That would really put us to the test. We might just prove to the world that our hidden prejudices have finally given way to a sense of fairness and equality. Or then again, we might just maintain the status quo, and continue to keep the White House white.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” which can be seen on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48 (cable channel 15).