Race and the Democratic debate

Race and the Democratic debate

The challenge faced by Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee in Tuesday’s Democratic-primary debate is to knock the aura of inevitability off Hillary Clinton. The most likely strategy is to play a race card; that is, to force her to express opinions on racial issues that might create tension between her and Barack Obama.

Minority support for Mrs. Clinton is strong. Gallup polls in August showed that Mrs. Clinton is viewed favorably by 80% of black voters and 58% of Hispanics. Should daylight open between her and America’s first black president, however, other Democratic candidates will have reason to believe that they can take away her black support and begin unraveling the coalition that twice carried Mr. Obama to the White House.

Mrs. Clinton is in close races in Iowa (which holds its caucus on Feb. 1) and New Hampshire (whose primary is Feb. 9), states dominated by white Democratic voters. But she has big leads in states with large minority populations, beginning with South Carolina (Feb. 27 primary) and moving across the South in early March.

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