Barack Obama's Race Is a Lingering Factor for Some Ohio Voters, According to Focus Group

Democratic focus group gives pollster pause in the Buckeye State.

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Maybe Peter Hart is one of those Democrats who, like Chicago Cubs fans, have gotten to within a few games...outs...strikes of victory so often, only to have it cruelly denied, that they take a gloomy disposition into any favorable circumstance.

Or maybe the 2008 election ain't over 'til it's over.

Is there a Steve Bartman out there getting ready to lunge for a foul ball and deprive the Democrats of their triumph?

On a rainy and gloomy October day in Washington, the über-pollster Hart has conveyed an appropriately glum report for his fellow Democrats from a focus group he conducted in Ohio yesterday.

"Words that one often hears from the chattering class like 'in the bag,' 'over,' and 'done deal' seem premature for Ohio," Hart says. He predicts "a closer election in Ohio than what many of the public polls may suggest."

The economic mood in Ohio is dour. The Obama supporters have more hope and enthusiasm, and Sarah Palin is "more a negative than a positive," says Hart. The public polling data give Obama a lead and suggests that race will not be a deciding factor next week.

However, "there is not a focus group session where one cannot feel some undercurrent about the racial issue having some impact on people's decisions," Hart reports. If just 15 percent of likely voters are confessing to pollsters that they have feelings of racial prejudice, he notes, it "might represent as many as 20 million voters."

Now, many of them may live in states like Alabama or Texas, which are not going to go Democratic this year, but there's a good chance that a significant number live in Florida, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Virginia, Ohio, and other battleground states.

Hart's focus group, which he conducted for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, will be broadcast on C-SPAN tonight, at 8 and 11 p.m.

If you watch, pay close attention to a 62-year-old nanny named Cookie, who should be a cinched Democratic vote. A former legal secretary whose husband lost a good-paying job and now earns $8.50 an hour, she is a lifelong Democrat who has always voted Democratic. Cookie voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries and says she is undecided, but the way she talks, Hart predicts, "Senator Obama will not be winning her vote."

"Her problems with Obama are personal rather than policy oriented," notes Hart. "It seems likely that race is a component of her reluctance to support him."

Bottom line: "Ohio is close," Hart says, "and listening to these voters, Ohio may be even closer than one might suspect."

Hart "feels a sense of disquiet" about Ohio, "where the fears of those who are struggling economically extend far beyond the economy to social and cultural issues."

"Looking at the fundamentals, Ohio should be clearly blue, but listening to these voters, Ohio's outcome remains a question mark."

And so, perhaps, is the election.

  • Click here to read more by John Aloysius Farrell.
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  • Click here to read more about race.