Last December, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama slipped into presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's Manhattan turf to schmooze with the Democratic Party's liberal and left-money shot-callers.
Obama didn't even tell Hillary he was there. But then why would he? Both of them think that they might have to duke it out with each other to get the Democratic Party bid for the White House in 2008. Obama took the first step and set up his exploratory committee, and that almost certainly forced Clinton's hand.
But talk about their presidential top spot will and should stay just that, talk. First let's take Obama. Even he recognizes that much of the talk about his candidacy is more media talk than voter talk, and he said as much in his statement announcing his committee. But media-inflated hype is hype because there's not much else to report, or newsrooms are simply looking to titillate the public with celebrity doings.
If Obama is judged on his record, there won't be much to go on. Apart from a stem-winding speech at the Democratic National convention in 2004 that created the first buzz, we'd be hard pressed to name any meaningful piece of legislation he's rammed through the Senate; any groundbreaking foreign policy statement he's uttered; or point to any particular diplomatic coup he's scored with a foreign leader. The brutal truth is that Obama is too new on the political scene, too untested, too politically nice, too liberal and most of all he's an African American. That's simply too many strikes for anyone to seriously think he has a real shot.
If the Democrats in a moment of delirium shoved Obama to the head of their presidential heap, they can kiss off 170 electoral votes before the first ballot is cast. That's the number of electoral votes in the South and the border states. That turf is still mostly White, conservative, male, pro-war, anti-big government, vehemently opposed to any political tilt toward minorities and heavily influenced by ultra-conservative, Bible Belt fundamentalism.
That has been the bread and butter ticket to the White House for GOP presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. It will be the same for a GOP centrist conservative again in 2008.
There's even grave doubt that Obama can bag the majority of Black votes. In polls and surveys, Blacks have been lukewarm at best toward him. Again, he's just too new on the scene, too foreign sounding and looking for many of them. They suspect that he's a flash in the pan and will wilt under pressure.
As for Hillary — unlike Obama — she has phenomenal national name recognition. She can raise tons of money. She's morphed into a stateswoman like a seasoned centrist politician. She's the consummate party insider. But she's still Hillary, and to top-cat Republicans licking their wounds over their midterm debacle, she's still their made-in-heaven balm. Hillary is a living, breathing wedge issue. Like Obama, the Democrats can also kiss the South and the Border States goodbye with her at the top of their ticket.
The talk about an Obama and Hillary showdown, or even more preposterous an Obama and Hillary ticket (not sure in which order) has captured the imagination of some who think, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently mused, that America is ready to elect a Black president. Others, and that includes Hillary for one, think that America is ready to elect a woman president. This is more delusion.
Of course, when pollsters ask voters about the importance of gender and race when they vote for president, anybody that doesn't wear a white sheet or sport a Nazi swastika tattoo will swear that they don't vote color or sex. After all, who wants to come off looking and sounding like a bigot these days? Yet even at the risk of the gender bigotry tag, far more voters in a 2005 CNN poll said they were "more likely" to cast a vote against Hillary than for her.
In any case, it's a far different story when voters in large swaths of America step into the privacy of the booth. Color and gender still count, and count big for many.
The Democrats are convinced that they are within striking distance of snatching the White House and that Hillary and Obama are the best, or at least the best-known politicians. A shining star looks pretty in the sky, but in earthly voting booths, it's a far different matter. If either one or the other, or even more disastrously for the Democrats, both together, are the presidential top cats, their shine will tarnish fast.
BlackNews.com columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator.