Maxwell cited the Romney campaign's recent advertising blitz accusing Obama of gutting the welfare work requirement, a charge that's been debunked by fact-checkers, as well as Romney's boo-inciting speech before the NAACP and surrogate John Sununu's call for Obama to be more "American" as examples.
"When you are 'other-izing' the first black president and saying he's not one of us, you're talking to a very specific segment of your base," she says. "But the danger is independents don't like that. So he's walking a fine line. He's always walking a fine line--the primary was a perfect example of that."
Lorenzo Morris, a political science professor at Howard University, says the emerging undertone of racism--contributed by both sides--will be a net loss for Republicans.
"I don't think it's good politics," he says. "In the long run, if race continues to emerge as an issue, then I think it will be negative for the Republicans because they will be seen as a significant player in that."
Obama, the first African-American president elected in the United States, emerged victorious four years ago in a campaign marked by fervent questioning by some that he was even born in the country and therefore eligible for the presidency, as well as other racially charged criticism, although such accusations were generally quickly rebuffed by his opponent, John McCain.
Wilder, the first African-American governor elected in any state post-Reconstruction, says the tone of the race may just be a reflection of the divided electorate.
"There are some of us that had thought it would lessen after Barack Obama's election in 2008," he says. "And yet I can tell you here in Virginia, the animus, the feeling of almost direct opposition is obvious."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.