Obama and race in California

With a new ad featuring an image of his white mother and a trip to her home state of Kansas, the Obama campaign is checking more than one racial box.

Published January 30, 2008 9:04PM (EST)

Barack Obama went up with a new ad in Northern California that I just saw this morning, and I have to say it's powerful. It's about healthcare, and he tells a story that's now a staple of many of his speeches, about his mother's troubles with insurance while she was fighting and ultimately dying of cancer at age 53. One noteworthy image in the first frames: A photo of Obama as a child, with his adoring mother, Ann Dunham, who was, of course, white.

I say "of course"; we know she's white. But there's something particularly powerful about seeing her in this ad. There's a lot of debate about whether the South Carolina campaign somehow made Obama "the black candidate"; this looks like an effort to push back. So did his trip to his grandfather's hometown in Kansas yesterday. I think it's brave, and fascinating. Tell me what you think.

In the video below I talk about whether Latinos will vote for Obama next week in California. Hillary Clinton has a big lead among Latinos, although I haven't seen a poll taken since Obama won South Carolina (with the votes of a majority of whites under 30). To the extent that most Latinos favor Clinton, I don't think it's mainly racial tension (although tension exists); I think it's a lack of familiarity. Over time, Latino voters might well warm to Obama, but he doesn't have much time in California. The upside of Obama's running for president so early in his Senate career is that he's still new and fresh -- as he likes to say, he hasn't had the hope "boiled out of him" in Washington. The downside is that, well, he's still new and fresh, and he doesn't yet have the relationships that the Clintons do. We'll see what he can do in the next week.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections