Barack Obama used his decisive victory in Mississippi Tuesday to launch a fresh fundraising appeal and fire off a counterattack against Hillary Clinton as the issue of race boiled to the surface of the Democratic presidential campaign.
Obama won the Mississippi primary, as expected, with 61 percent of the vote to Clinton's 37 percent, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting in unofficial Associated Press tallies. That gave him at least 17 of the 33 delegates at stake to Clinton's 11.
But Obama's victory didn't create much momentum because the number of delegates awarded was relatively low. The Illinois senator now has 1,596 delegates to Clinton's 1,484. It will take 2,025 to win the Democratic nomination.
The next primary is April 22 in Pennsylvania, which will award 158 delegates. The next six weeks will give the candidates a lengthy period to raise money, refine their messages, and attack each other. And they lost no time doing so.
Only a few hours after the polls in Mississippi closed, Obama sent out a fundraising E-mail to supporters declaring that, "Senator Clinton continues to run an expensive, negative campaign against us. Each day her campaign launches a new set of desperate attacks. They're not just attacking me; they're attacking you."
For her part, Clinton has been criticizing Obama for inexperience and naiveté. She says Obama is not ready to be commander in chief or to be the main steward of the economy.
The latest dustup focused on former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York, a member of Clinton's finance committee. Ferraro, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1984, told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif., "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept." Later, after Obama called her remarks absurd and as criticism mounted amid saturation coverage by the media, Ferraro added fuel to the fire. "I really think they're attacking me because I'm white," she said.
Wednesday morning, Ferraro told ABC's Good Morning America that her views were being distorted. "My comments have been taken so out of context," she said, "and have been spun by the Obama campaign as racist that it's doing precisely what they don't want done—it's going to the Democratic Party and dividing us even more." She added: "My concern has been over how I've been treated as well and hurt, absolutely hurt, by how they have taken this thing and spun it to imply that in any way, any way, I am racist."
For her part, Clinton disagreed with Ferraro's initial remarks and said, "It's regrettable that any of our supporters—on both sides, because we both have this experience—say things that kind of veer off into the personal." This was apparently a reference to an Obama foreign-policy adviser, Samantha Power, who called Clinton a "monster." Power quickly resigned.
The race issue has become more prominent as the campaign has intensified. Obama, who would be the first African-American president if he is elected, has been supported overwhelmingly by black voters. In Mississippi, for example, he won 90 percent of the black vote and only one quarter of the white vote, a polarization that has persisted in several southern states.
But the racial divisions have not been as pronounced in other parts of the country, where Obama's share of the white vote has been much larger.