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Race a complicated campaign issue

From the Washington Post's Gene Robinson
The results so far suggest that race is a more complicated issue in this country than it used to be, and more complicated than many people believe. Almost overlooked in the focus on Congress was the election of Deval Patrick as governor of Massachusetts -- only the second African-American to be elected as a governor in the nation's history. To me, that's a stunning result. Yes, Massachusetts is a reliably liberal state. But it also has a history of clannish white ethnicity -- as any black person who wandered into the wrong neighborhood of South Boston, say, ten or fifteen years ago could have told you. Patrick's election is genuine progress.

In other races, black Republican candidates were rejected by black voters -- Michael Steele in Maryland, Ken Blackwell in Ohio. You could spin this any of a number of ways. My spin is that black voters, not surprisingly, are as sophisticated as other voters in deciding where their best interests lie. The Republican Party could someday win a substantial chunk of the African American vote, but it will take positions and policies that genuinely benefit black Americans. Token black candidates at the top of the ticket don't cut it. 

And then there's the case of Harold Ford Jr. We don't quite know the result of the Tennessee race, but it looks as if Ford will lose. On the one hand, no one expected him to even make it a close race. There is genuine agreement among the political cognoscenti of all stripes that he ran one of the smartest campaigns of the season. On the other hand, he got slimed with an attack ad that had clear racist overtones, and that might have made the difference. So if Ford loses, maybe the lesson we should draw is best expressed in French: Plus ca change ...