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Strange days for Hillary and Barack

Matt Bai has an astute read on the once-unimaginable way in which race has upended the Democratic presidential competition. Read the whole thing, but here's the nut:

Mr. Obama has always seen himself, near as we can tell, as a man who transcends ordinary conventions about race, who isn’t really a “black politician.” And yet here he is being compared to Jesse Jackson and depending heavily on his connection with black voters to forge the kind of coalition he needs. Now race is his firewall, not Mrs. Clinton’s — the main thing that makes him, at this late date, such a formidable insurgent. One can imagine that it’s not easy for Mr. Obama to get his head around that.

The post-South Carolina reality has to be even more disconcerting, though, for Senator Clinton. This is a woman, don’t forget, who came into politics during the civil rights era and who has, at every opportunity in her public life, dedicated herself, along with her husband, to the idea of racial equality. And now she wakes up to find—in fact, she probably understood it weeks ago, when she decided to go hard at Mr. Obama—that not only have those black voters deserted her, but that her campaign now hinges, to a large extent, on racial polarization. This is unpleasant but undeniable: the more white and Latino voters perceive Mr. Obama to be the candidate of black America, the more likely Mrs. Clinton is to win. Strategically, the Clintons have adapted to this reality. Personally, however, it is a direct contradiction to everything they have tried to embody for decades, and it has to hurt.

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