[REVISED – 10-13-08]
The race for the White House is
omnipresent -- on the nation's airwaves and in its newspapers. And because the
contest is historic, with the nomination of Senator Barack Obama as the
Democratic Party's candidate, the whole world is watching. VOA has been examining whether America is
ready to send a black man to the White House. Voice of America’s Jeffrey Young
has this first report in a five part series.
The November 4th election will be
like none before it. For the first time, one of the two major party candidates,
Senator Barack Obama, is a person of color. Along with picking the next
President of the United States, some voters will also be confronting their
racial attitudes. In asking people all over the country whether they are ready for
a black president, some of their responses were:
Person 1: "I think we're ready.
Oh, I hope we're ready"
Person 2: "I just hear people's
comments, yeah. That will be the day when we have a black man running our
Person 3: "I'm not sure. I'm not
sure. I'm really not sure."
Political analysts are also
expressing their views. Professor Larry Sabato, at the University of Virginia, says
Obama's skin color will be an unavoidable factor come November, "Let's not
be naive. There is still some racial prejudice, and it is not just in the south
and or in the border states. I think
that it is a real problem for Obama. And, it is one that is tough for him to
address. The more he talks about race,
the more people will think about it. And yet, if it is unaddressed, it could be
an even bigger problem."
Barack Obama's nomination will break
a huge barrier. But he is not the first black person to bid
for the White House. In 1972, New York Democratic
Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm sought but did not get her party's nomination.
In 1968, when Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the House of
Representatives, the nation was emerging from years of civil rights marches and
sit-ins aimed at ending racial segregation and discrimination in the south.
All that culminated in April 1968
with the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Across
the country, black anger and frustration boiled over into the streets.
Sixteen years later Jesse Jackson
campaigned for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination. He drew some 3.5 million votes in the
party's primaries. In his second unsuccessful bid, in 1988, he won double that
Barack Obama is presenting himself as
a different kind of candidate, says Thomas Mann, with the research group The
Brookings Institution, in Washington, "Obama represents a newer
generation of a minority candidate. He is not out of the civil rights
generation. He is not confrontation. And, he is not running as an
African-American. He is running as Barack Obama."
Obama's campaign has attracted white,
Latino, and Asian-American supporters along with African-Americans. It has
energized young people to a degree not seen since the voting age was lowered to
18 in 1972. On the surface, one could assume that Obama's broad-based support
and poll numbers will serve him well on election day. But researcher Vesla
Weaver at the University of Virginia says there is a caveat. She
says, in previous elections, black candidates have been handed an unpleasant
surprise, "I think a lot of that does have to do with people getting into
the voting booth and doing one thing, and coming out [of the booth] and saying
they did another. And that a
non-trivial portion of that is due to a racially biased response."
In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom
Bradley's exit polls in the California governor's race had him ahead. But when
the votes were counted, he lost. In the 1989 Virginia gubernatorial
election, black candidate Douglas Wilder was ahead by ten points in
pre-election polls. But his margin of victory was -- in the end -- less than one
analysts call this the "Bradley Effect." They say it is still a