02-19-2017  6:14 pm      •     

CHICAGO (AP) -- Barack Obama would not be leading the Democratic presidential race without the enthusiasm and high turnout of Black voters.
They spearheaded his comeback win in South Carolina, where Obama trounced Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards with the backing of four out of every five Black voters. They provided his margin of victory in many other states, and will play a key role in Tuesday's primary in Mississippi, where Clinton is the underdog.
But Obama's campaign saw the limits of Black support in last week's losses in Ohio and Texas, which kept Clinton's campaign alive. And the role Black voters will play in the next big contest, Pennsylvania's April 22 primary, is unclear.
Moreover, some analysts think it's possible Obama's heavy Black support is nudging some working-class White Democrats into Clinton's camp. If true, it could be an important factor in a contest that remains remarkably tight after a year of campaigning.
Obama, the son of a White mother from Kansas and a Black father from Kenya, won slightly more White votes than Clinton in Wisconsin, Virginia and a few other states last month, helping him to a string of wins and the overall lead in delegates to the party's national convention.
But Clinton won nearly two out of every three White votes in Ohio, and 56 percent of those in Texas, where she also ran well among Latinos. Strategists are pondering the results, wondering if Pennsylvania's demographic similarities to Ohio will deliver another important win to Clinton in six weeks.
Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political scientist who tracks racial trends and is writing a book on Obama, thinks Obama's strong support from Blacks made it easier for some Whites in Ohio and Texas to vote for Clinton.
"There's some of that," Walters said in an interview. He pointed to exit polls from Ohio, where 62 percent of all Whites lack college degrees and many are anxious about their jobs in a weak economy.
"This is a racially sensitive group," he said, referring specifically to Whites who earn less than $50,000 a year and did not attend college.
"They are the quintessential Reagan Democrats," he said. "They feel they've been left" and their resentment can have social and racial overtones.
In general elections, which pit Democrats against Republicans, the racial sensitivity of White voters has been pronounced and well-documented for decades. It's a chief cause of the realignment of the South, where Blacks remained intensely loyal to the Democratic Party as Whites moved to the GOP by the millions.
In the intraparty world of Democratic primaries, however, racial divisions are much less prevalent, and hard to measure. Many White Democrats, especially in the South, tend to be liberal, racially tolerant and usually happy to join Blacks in opposing Republicans.
The Obama-Clinton rivalry may be straining that comity. Some Blacks resented remarks Clinton made in New Hampshire, which they viewed as minimizing Martin Luther King Jr.'s role in achieving landmark civil rights laws. And after Obama's South Carolina victory on Jan. 26, former President Clinton seemed to equate the Illinois senator with Jesse Jackson as a candidate who could not draw widespread White support.
Many Blacks felt the Clintons "were trying to use race to their political advantage, to cede the Black vote to Obama and take the rest," said David Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which tracks issues important to Black Americans.
The Clintons said they intended no slights, and many Blacks still hold great affection for the former president and his eight-year term. But Hillary Clinton's sharp-elbowed campaign is alienating others, Bositis said, and it could hurt the New York senator in November if she becomes the nominee.
Bositis said it was unclear whether Obama's Black support is driving some working-class Whites into Clinton's corner, but he noted the steep drop in Obama's share of the White vote in Ohio compared to Wisconsin. One possible factor other than race, Bositis said, was Clinton's strong support within the Ohio Democratic establishment, starting with the governor.
One thing is not in doubt: Obama's candidacy and the closeness of the contest are triggering record turnout among Black voters. "In many states, the Black vote has doubled," Bositis said.
Similar turnout in Philadelphia's Black neighborhoods could help Obama next month. But he would have to make deeper inroads into Pennsylvania's White electorate than he did in Ohio if he is to avoid another solid defeat.
Meanwhile, Clinton continues to draw about 10 percent to 20 percent of Black voters, who sometimes have to defend their choice.
"She has the most experience," said Elexis Griffin, a Black worker at a law office who attended a Clinton fundraiser in Canton, Ohio. "Obama has only been in the Senate three years. I'm not anti-Barack. I'm just pro-Hillary."
Griffin, who is 25 and considering law school, said, "I sit here almost every single day and hear debating: Hillary or Obama? My closest friends, I have very much influenced their vote for Hillary. They accuse me of being against the social movement. And I accuse them of voting with their emotions and not looking at the facts."

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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