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Race, gender threaten to derail Dems

By this time next week, Super-Duper Tuesday will be over. Twenty-four states and American Samoa will have staged presidential primaries or caucuses on the same day. We will be able to measure statistically just how dumb Democratic voters are in Georgia, across the country and in the South Pacific.

By then we should be able to tell whether it's more important for Democrats to run the first black or the first woman for president.

Democrats have already made it clear in South Carolina that the race and gender of their candidate are far more important than selecting a nominee with adequate credentials to take over the toughest job in the world. It is interesting to note how many South Carolinians, white and black, turned their backs on native-son populist John Edwards to support a black senator from Chicago or a woman senator from New York.

By contrast, most GOP voters have quit listening to the bullying snake handlers who have run their party in the past. Instead, they seem ready to choose a competent presidential candidate. Sen. John McCain or Mormon Midas Mitt Romney - serious people with an understanding of big, complex problems - is likely to win the nomination.

Let's get back to knocking the Democrats. They need it. They are passing up a golden opportunity to win the White House and keep it awhile. George W. Bush has not been a satisfactory steward of the American destiny. The country is in sad shape on several fronts. At least that is what the polls tell us that the electorate believes.

However, Democrats are acting like Democrats. They are about to let the Republicans kick their tails in this year's election. Many - especially the important black contingent of the party - have decided to zero in on electing Sen. Barack Obama as president.

Other voters, particularly Democratic white women, prefer Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The Obama crowd has all but announced it will pick up its marbles and go home if Obama doesn't win the nomination - or if he continues to be dissed. Suppose disappointed blacks decide to sit out the election because Obama fails. Clinton, the probable Democratic candidate, would be hard put to win without black voter help.

My colleagues in the big media, particularly television, have done their share to sabotage the Democrats. In South Carolina, the networks and the cable news outfits must have told us 10,000 times that "the Clintons have raised the race issue" or "Bill Clinton mentioned Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson and played the race card."

Are New York pundits really so ignorant of the country's politics south of Hoboken that they can't tell a race card from a hanging chad? Do they believe no one would consider race unless Bill pointed it out? Did they believe white Southerners would recoil in shock when Clinton mentioned indirectly that Barack was black?

In the South, no one can "raise" the race issue. It is already raised as high as it will go. One cannot have a referendum on a school flagpole without dealing with race. Civic do-gooders cannot rescue Grady Hospital or even dole out criminal justice impartially without considering the implication of race. The network folks like to say that racial discord is the elephant in the Southern living room that no one wants to discuss. They are dead wrong. Hardly anyone, except the wimped-out big-city papers, tries to dodge the issue. In some ways, the political South is more divided along racial lines than it was 40 years ago.

In the 1970s, Andrew Young could (and did) run for Congress in a majority-white district and won in a walk. In the same decade, Wyche Fowler ran in a majority-black district and won.

I doubt that Young or Fowler could win a fresh election today. In a black-versus-white election contest, voting inevitably falls along racial lines. Former Congresswoman Denise Majette, a black who said God directed her campaign, won the 2004 Democratic nomination for the Senate against well-qualified and well-heeled white opponents. Republican Rep. Johnny Isakson blew her away in the general election.

In the South, blacks have a commanding grip on Democratic politics - just as white Scots-Irish did for more than a century after the Civil War.

In the mold of old white political bosses, black leaders want to be certain their own kind win elections and hold high positions.

That's fine and understandable, but puhleeze put qualifications ahead of race or gender. Despite high negatives and a won't-shut-up hubby, Clinton probably has the makings of a well-qualified president. However, too many of her supporters start their pitch for her with, "She would be the first woman." Who cares?

Being president is a serious job. It is not like being governor, where you just run around cutting ribbons and making smarmy real estate deals - or senator, where the White House stamps your schedule and points you in the right direction every day.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at shipp1@bellsouth.net.