Is the bottom falling out for Barack Obama? It’s too early to say that, but there are some disturbing signs. On the positive side, superdelegates still are breaking his way. Rep. Baron Hill, whose southern Indiana district almost certainly will vote for Hillary Clinton, came out for Obama. So did fellow Hoosier Joe Andrew, who previously endorsed Clinton and who was named Democratic national chairman by Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
(James Carville may have another name for him.) Obama is still well ahead among delegates chosen in primaries and caucuses, and he is not very far behind in superdelegates, either.
But what about the voters? Here there are some ominous signs. The latest Fox News poll, conducted after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s appearance at the National Press Club, showed Obama’s favorable/unfavorables at 63 to 27 percent among Democrats, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 73 to 22 percent. Suddenly she’s not the only one with high negatives. And 36 percent of Democrats say they would be disinclined to vote for Obama because of his longtime relationship with his former pastor. There’s more bad news in The Pew Research Center poll of Democrats. Obama’s national lead among Democrats is down from 49 to 39 percent to a statistically insignificant 47 to 45 percent.
These results are not outliers. The Rasmussen tracking poll showed Obama leading Clinton 49 to 41 percent before Wright spoke to the National Press Club. Afterward the numbers were 46 to 44 percent in favor of Clinton. The Gallup Poll had Obama leading Clinton 50 to 41 percent the night before the Pennsylvania primary. The results reported May 1 were Clinton 49 percent, Obama 45 percent.
Obama’s standing as a general election candidate also seems to have taken a hit. Gallup showed him tied with John McCain 45 to 45 percent before the Wright appearance and trailing 47 to 43 percent afterward; at the same time, it shows Hillary Clinton tied with McCain 46 to 46 percent. Similarly, Rasmussen has McCain now ahead of Obama 46 to 43 percent and McCain tied with Clinton 44 to 44 percent.
All the numbers in this deluge of numbers tell the same story. Not just liberal but also many conservative commentators said that Obama’s speech on race March 18, in response to ABC News’ broadcasting of excerpts from Wright’s sermons, had solved any problems he had with voters, or at least with Democratic voters. And it was hard to argue with that conclusion, at least as to Democrats. Obama’s loss in Pennsylvania April 22, in line with expectations, didn’t necessarily contradict that. The response to Obama’s repudiation April 29, in response to Wright’s remarks April 28, is clearly different.
One reason is that Obama now has taken two diametrically opposed stands on the minister whose church he attended for 20 years, who married him and his wife and baptized their children, whose sermon inspired the title of his 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope." On March 18, his response was: No, I cannot renounce my pastor. On April 29, his response was: Yes, I can.
Another and more important reason is that Obama’s long association with a minister who says that the federal government manufactured the AIDS virus to kill black people, who likens American soldiers to terrorists, who celebrates Louis Farrakhan as a great man — that long association tends to undermine the central theme of Obama’s candidacy. Obama has presented himself since his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech as a leader who can unite America across political and racial divides. He presented himself to American voters, most of whom, I believe, think it would be a very good thing if we elected a black president. (I personally feel that way.) "In the blue states," Obama told the convention in Boston and the nation watching on TV, "we worship an awesome God."
Now it turns out that the God worshipped in the Rev. Wright’s church was "awesome" in ways we didn’t expect.
The appeals of Obama and Hillary Clinton will be tested in the May 6 primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, the nation’s 10th- and 15th-most populous states. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polling shows Obama’s share of the two-candidate vote in North Carolina at 54 percent, down from 59 percent in April, and Clinton with 53 percent of the two-candidate vote in Indiana, where she trailed not long ago. A few pundits still are saying that Obama’s choice of pastor is a distraction, an irrelevancy. But some voters, perhaps in the belief that a president’s judgment and values have important consequences, don’t agree.