Hillary Clinton has moved into a statistically significant lead over Barack Obama among Democratic voters for the first time since early February, according to a Gallup Poll released this week. (Reuters) Superdelegates who could end up picking the party’s presidential nominee are still waiting for a clearer picture of what voters thought of Obama’s high-profile speech on race relations, after the controversy over incendiary sermons by Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, stalled his climb in the polls. (The Wall Street Journal)
What the commentators said
“Obama had to walk a racial tightrope” in his big speech, said Nikki Schwab in U.S. News & World Report online. Wright’s assertion that God should "damn America" may have caused Obama to dip in the polls, and Obama’s artful address may help him climb back. But “the damage of Wright's remarks and the effectiveness of Obama's speech have yet to actually impact the race” in any real sense, and won’t until Pennsylvania voters go to the polls on April 22.
“Obama has always been a tough sell in largely white Northeast Philadelphia and in the city's blue-collar river wards,” said Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico. And his speech, “although widely praised by the pundit caste and Obama supporters,” may have only widened “the gulf” between him and “the Budweiser class.” Obama talked with rare candor about “one of the most toxic issues of the day,” but what many working class voters heard was that he refused to “disown” Wright, so their “outrage” endures.
But there's little question the "brilliantly honest" speech solidified Obama's support among "better-educated and higher-educated" white voters, said James Klurfield in Newsday. It's still possible the widely circulated YouTube videos of "Wright fulminating against the devil white man" will be his "downfall." But it's also possible that his historic speech will keep him from losing "big" in Pennsylvania, and that could be all he needs. "The superdelegates are watching."
“It's not exactly like answering the phone at 3 a.m. to handle a national security crisis,” said the Chicago Tribune in an editorial, but Obama’s handling of the Wright crisis “has shown he is calm and confident under pressure.” His speech might not solve all his problems, but it will help. There can be no doubt now that Obama “is an uncommon politician, an uncommon leader.”
Obama’s speech will, and should, cost him, said Rich Lowry in the New York Post (free registration). Not because he spoke the truth, but because voters recognized that his words, though “swaddled in high-mindedness,” were nothing more than a long-winded attempt to fool the public. “The reason Obama had to give a 38-minute speech is that he was incapable of saying four unadorned words, ‘I made a mistake.’”