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Superdelegates And The Wright Controversy

Former Mondale campaign manager Bob Beckel has an interesting column up at Real Clear Politics. Here's what he has to say on Wright:

Obama's other electability issue depends on the outcome of the controversy surrounding his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. This story broke at an especially bad time for Obama given the five week news hiatus before the Pennsylvania primary and intensified press scrutiny from reporters who felt an obligation to be tough after the Clinton campaign's endless complaints about soft coverage for Obama. ...

Unless it is proven that Obama lied about not being in the pew when Wright delivered the controversial statements in question then, for the vast majority of Democrats at least, he is likely to put this crisis behind him.

But the Republican right wing has seized on the Wright story and is unlikely to let it go. For John McCain this has serious downside potential. Anger in the black community towards Republicans is established and immutable. But if conservatives are perceived as exploiting yet another race story, anger could spread to moderate Republican and Independent voters, many in the suburbs, where the Republicans have been bleeding support the last decade.

For those supporters of Hillary Clinton who see the story as a way of selling superdelegates on Obama's unelectability, the downside is far more dangerous. If the Clinton campaign is caught using the race card, particularly after Bill Clinton's 'cracker tour' of South Carolina, it will assure a Clinton defeat in November. Not only will blacks boycott the polls, so will many of the millions of young voters Obama has brought into the political process.

(Many liberals like myself, who would be happy to support Hillary Clinton if she earned the nomination, would abandon her if her campaign seeks to exploit the Wright controversy either in the remaining contests or with superdelegates.)

This is why you basically never see the Clinton campaign touch the Wright story. (I was on a Clinton conference call this weekend; I thought I heard tumbleweeds blowing when a reporter brought up Wright.) There's almost no way they can actively exploit it, particularly after Obama's speech. They just have to hope it does the job on its own--or, to put it in less cynical terms, that Democratic voters think Wright is as big a problem for Obama as the Clintonites presumably think he is.

Update: Ambinder says the Clintonites are under strict orders from campaign manager Maggie Williams not to breathe a word about Wright, for basically the reasons Beckel mentions. Then, as if one cue, Clinton surrogate Lanny Davis breathes several words about Wright (enough to ask two questions!). (H/t Ben Smith.)

--Noam Scheiber