Baltimore Sun: Race is expected to be a factor in W.Va. vote

Baltimore Sun

Race is expected to be a factor in W.Va. vote

Race was not on the mind of Michael Whitaker, 18, as he defendedBarack Obama during an impassioned conversation in the student union at West Virginia State University.

Whitaker, an African-American majoring in political science, touted Obama’s views on health care and taxes. But three white classmates preferred John McCain, and one sarcastically suggested that they were “too white” to come around to Whitaker’s point of view.

Whitaker brushed aside the comment. But after the group broke up, he fretted openly that race would affect the outcome of the presidential contest in West Virginia and elsewhere.

“People want someone who closely represents them, and race plays a major role in that,” Whitaker said.

“The argument is, they’ll go for McCain because of race,” said Robert Rupp, a political scientist at Wesleyan. “But I’d argue it’s more than race. They weren’t comfortable with [ John] Kerryor [ Al] Gore, and nobody used the race card then. It was more of, ‘That person, I just can’t identify with.'”

The discussion, to be sure, extends beyond West Virginia. With the first black nominee on a major party ticket, veteran observers remain uncertain how racial divisions will affect the outcome.

But across the nation, Obama has made unprecedented headway with white voters.

A recent New York TimesCBS poll found that for the first time, white voters are evenly divided between McCain and Obama, and Obama is faring better than his party’s recent candidates among that demographic. The last Democrat to win a majority of white voters was Lyndon B. Johnson.

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