Obama = arugula?

That's the formulation of Newsweek's cover. It relates to the magazine's piece on the Democrat's "bubba gap."

It is true that the McCain team still expects Obama to be their opponent in November. It is also true that on the electoral maps of many prognosticators, Obama lines up better against McCain than does Clinton. Still, there can be no doubt after last Tuesday's 9-point loss in Pennsylvania that Obama is having trouble "closing the deal," as Hillary tauntingly put it, with the Democrats. Pennsylvania voters may just admire Hillary's grittiness and prefer her relentless focus on the needs of ordinary voters who clamor for health care and better schools and worry about losing their jobs to overseas competitors. She may seem more down to earth than her competitor, who is better known for his generalities, however uplifting. But in Obama's failure to lock up the nomination, there may be something more disturbing going on as well.

Americans do not like to talk about class, and they want to believe racism is a thing of the past. Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, paragons of the people, were decidedly upper class in background, style and habit, and no one seemed to mind (except some other members of the upper class, who regarded the Roosevelts as "traitors" for wanting to tax and regulate the rich). JFK and Ronald Reagan were princely in their own ways (of Camelot and Hollywood) and yet could touch the hearts of common men and women. We want our presidents to be everyman (or every woman), of the people for all the people. When Richard Nixon dressed the White House guards in uniforms more appropriate to the late Austro-Hungarian Empire, everyone hooted.

The most successful presidents have always been open and hopeful, sunny and optimistic about the promise of American equality and opportunity. But there has long been a dark side to democratic politics, a willingness to play on prejudice, to get men and women to vote their fears and not their hopes. Those prejudices fade and seem to die down, but they never quite go away. They remain embers for cunning political operatives to fan into flames.

An exit poll of Pennsylvania voters included a chilling number that makes one wonder if Americans, or at least some groups in some parts of America, are ready to elect a black president. In the poll, 12 percent of whites said that race was a factor in deciding their votes. To be sure, a quarter of those voted for Obama, and gender was also a factor (for 14 percent of women and 6 percent of men). Polling on race is tricky. In the new NEWSWEEK Poll, 19 percent of American voters say that the country is not ready to elect an African-American president. Yet when asked if Obama's race makes a difference, only 3 percent of whites say Obama's race makes it less likely they would support him, while 5 percent of whites (and 16 percent of non-whites) say his race would make it more likely they would support him. What people will do in the privacy of the polling booth remains mysterious. In the NEWSWEEK Poll, more than half the voters said they think "most" (12 percent) or "some" (41 percent) of the voters will "have reservations about voting for a black candidate that they are not willing to express." In close elections, decided on the margins, it is discouraging to think that a small minority of racists could make the difference.

Talking Friday on NPR, Gloria Borger used a different metaphor to describe Obama's difficulties in securing the nomination.

Hillary is like talk radio in her campaign tactics, and Obama -- who needs to more invoke talk radio -- Borger says, resembles cool jazz.

We've clearly got a long way to go until November, but my recent comparison of the Democrats to the Red Sox of yesteryear, at least for now, remains apt. And I agree with this assessment from Bob Herbert:

Senator Obama has been thrown completely off his game by a combination of political attacks (some fair, some foul), a toxic eruption (the volcanic Jeremiah Wright was a gift from the gods to the Clintons and the G.O.P.), and some pretty serious self-inflicted wounds.

You can almost feel the air seeping out of the Obama phenomenon. The candidate and his aides are brainstorming ways to counter the Clinton death-ray machine and regain the momentum. They need to generate some new excitement and enthusiasm, and they need to do it soon. ....

The big issue in this campaign is the economy and jobs. But if you were to ask most voters how Senator Obama plans to fight for them on this crucial matter, you’re likely to get a blank stare.

He should be pounding that message home with a jackhammer. Give the voters an economic program to wrap their arms around. Let them know: “I’m for you! And this is what we’re going to do!”

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