COMMENTS: Racial Codes in South Carolina

After three straight days of economic headlines, the Presidential election campaign returned as Story of the Day. The week started with the run-up to the Republicans' primary in Florida. It ended ahead of Saturday's Democratic contest in South Carolina. CBS and ABC--anchored by Charles Gibson's substitute George Stephanopoulos--both led from the state. NBC chose a visually compelling, but ultimately inconsequential, hotel fire on the Las Vegas Strip. A blaze broke out in the facade atop the 32-story Monte Carlo Casino but all the rooms were successfully evacuated and no one was harmed.

The looming South Carolina vote was covered from the perspective of each major Democratic contender. NBC's Lee Cowan brought us the perverse--and implicitly bigoted--insight that Barack Obama's "commanding lead" might be bad news since it "could actually be costing him votes elsewhere." His argument was that the unprecedented enthusiasm Obama is inspiring from the state's African-Americans may alienate some white voters. I say "bigoted" because Cowan's reporting assumed that a significant numbers of white voters are so racist that they would never back a candidate who attracts enthusiastic black support.

ABC's David Muir (embargoed link), covering the John Edwards campaign, shared Cowan's insinuation, speculating that Edwards would benefit from white voters alienated as the contest became "racially polarizing." Muir was clear, however, that the polarization was the work of neither Obama nor Edwards. Muir quoted the Associated Press, without contradiction, in its fortunetelling conclusion that Hillary Rodham Clinton "won South Carolina--not the primary but in how her campaign has portrayed Obama as the black candidate."

Over to CBS' Jim Axelrod with the Rodham Clinton campaign. Axelrod did not refer to race relations by name. He just called Bill Clinton's campaigning on his wife's behalf "nasty…harsh…ignoring calls to dial back…agitated…irritated." Axelrod asserted that the Rodham Clinton campaign had failed in South Carolina: it "expects a double-digit loss" amid a "record turnout." Yet, referring to the performance of the Surrogate-in-Chief, Axelrod counterintuitively concluded that "as much as other Democrats, and not just Obama supporters, may find it distasteful, the thinking inside the Clinton campaign is simple: 'Hey! It works!'"

It worked, according to Axelrod, in the eyes of Republicans: "Judging from their attacks in their debate last night, she is the frontrunner."


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